Marketing: Writing a Killer Product Description by Randy Ingermanson

So far this year, more than 25 percent of the e-books on Amazon's Kindle Top 100 list have been self-published. That's a remarkable percentage, and it means that writers now have a shot at the big time without needing a major publisher to take them there.

If you want to make that Top 100 list, you're going to face stiff competition. Every part of your book needs to work. Your writing needs to be top notch. You need a great cover. You need to price your book competitively.

And you need a strong Product Description. (When you self-publish a book, Amazon lets you enter a Product Description, which is similar to the back cover copy on a printed book. Traditionally published books usually don't have Product Descriptions on Amazon; instead, they have Editorial Reviews, if any are available. If not, then they make a Product Description from the back cover copy.)

Let me give you my own thoughts on what makes a killer Product Description. I've identified four basic principles that can guide you. These aren't strict rules that you must follow to succeed. They're rules of thumb.

The first principle is that less is more. You only have a few paragraphs to catch the interest of your prospective reader. Keep them short, and pack the good stuff up near the top.

If you can summarize your story in a sentence or two, you might want to lead off with that.  Here's an example from the Product Description for Amanda Hocking's novel SWITCHED:

"When Wendy Everly was six years old, her mother was convinced she was a monster and tried to kill her. It isn't until eleven years later that Wendy discovers her mother might have been right."

The first sentence grabs the reader's attention right off the bat. Who wouldn't empathize with a six year old kid whose mother tried to kill her?

The second sentence jolts the reader with a surprise.
Is Wendy really a monster? If so, what kind? And . . .
how come she's lived to the age of 16 without knowing?

The second principle is that you need to lead with your strength. Is your book plot-oriented? Then lead with the plot of your story. If your book is character-oriented, then lead with character.

Here's a plot-oriented lead from the product description for John Locke's novel LETHAL EXPERIMENT:

"What if someone offered you $100,000 with the only stipulation being that a murderer would be killed if you accept the money? Would you take it? The people who choose to take it are about to find out the ramifications of their decisions to be part of this Lethal Experiment!"

That strong "what if" is intriguing, isn't it? It tells us absolutely nothing about the lead character (Donovan Creed). It tells us only the story premise. That's enough.

Notice that this Product Description simply assumes you'd take the offer. If you wouldn't take the money, then this isn't your kind of book. Then the Product Description sets the hook -- apparently, there are "ramifications." If you want to know what they are, you have to buy the book and find out.

Here's a character-oriented lead taken from the author's comments on THE PARIS WIFE, a novel about the first wife of Ernest Hemingway:

"Most of us know or think we know who Ernest Hemingway was -- a brilliant writer full of macho swagger, driven to take on huge feats of bravery and a pitcher or two of martinis -- before lunch. But beneath this man or myth, or some combination of the two, is another Hemingway, one we’ve never seen before. Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, is the perfect person to reveal him to us -- and also to immerse us in the incredibly exciting and volatile world of Jazz-age Paris."

If you love character-oriented fiction, then this is your book. The above intro tells you nothing about the plot, everything about who the lead character is.

The third principle is that your product description should raise a "Story Question."

The Story Question is the question you want to raise in your reader's mind: How will the story end? The ideal Story Question is a "will she or won't she" kind of question. Here's an example from an Editorial Review on the Amazon page for THE HUNGER GAMES, by Suzanne

"Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place."

Will Katniss survive, or won't she? That's the Story Question of THE HUNGER GAMES. Of course, the book is much deeper than that, but at it's core, it's about survival.

A good Story Question is phrased so that the reader knows it'll be answered by the end of the book. The above Story Question is elemental. Either Katniss will be alive or dead at the end.

The fourth principle is to use "social proof" whenever possible.

What is "social proof?" It's any evidence you can give that lots of people think your novel is good. Some examples of "social proof" are the phrases "award-winning author" or "New York Times best-selling novel."

One of the strongest pieces of social proof I've seen is this one, taken from the Amazon page for several of John Locke's novels:

"Every 7 seconds, 24 hours a day, a John Locke novel is downloaded somewhere in the world!"

That's strong social proof. If you do the math, that works out to sales of over 12,000 books per day.

Social proof means that you don't have to decide if the book is good. Somebody else has already figured that out. All you have to decide is whether you like this kind of book. If you do, then you know that it'll be good because all those other people can't be wrong.
That's the psychology of social proof.

Now it's your turn. Try your hand at writing a Product Description for your novel. Keep it under 200 words if you can, bearing in mind that many readers aren't going to read more than the first 50.

Remember the four principles that I outlined above:

* Less is more
* Lead with your strength
* Raise a "Story Question"
* Provide "social proof"

It's not as easy as it looks, is it?

Here's a homework assignment for you: Read the Product Descriptions of every self-published novel on the Kindle Top 100 list. You can do it in less than an hour, and you'll learn what you like and what you don't like.

Bear in mind that writing a Product Description is an art, not a science. You'll notice that some of the Product Descriptions on Amazon ignore all the principles I outlined above. Could you write a better one if you tried?

Your mission is to do exactly that for your own book.

The reason is simple.

If you self-publish your novel, the job of writing the Product Description falls on you.

If you work with a traditional publisher, you are almost certainly going to hate the back cover copy written by the marketing team. If you can do a better job, your publisher will usually be smart enough to take most of your suggestions. If you can't do better, then all you can do is grumble about what a hash your publisher is making of your marketing.

You might as well get started thinking about writing Product Descriptions now, because one way or another, you'll need to do it someday.

At the moment, there is one place to subscribe to this terrific e-zine:

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 25,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

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