Data mining for the critical book description

Teddy bear with sign Looking for friend; Words: Help refine the book description; Author: Alicia Butcher EhrhardtCROWD-SOURCING IS THE NEW GOLD STANDARD

The purpose of a book description

The description of a book should do one thing, and one thing only: get a reader to click further.

The click may be to the book’s page on Amazon, to a Buy link, or to the Look Inside feature on Amazon. The next material seen, if it’s not the book, already downloaded onto a Kindle or Kindle app or a book in the mail, has to continue the process, but the first click which lands in a place the reader can make a decision should have an irresistible ‘Call to Action.’

The book description is the beginning of the words that form the Contract with the Reader.

Why fiddle with the book description after spending so much time crafting it?

At this point in the development of marketing for Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, the book description, originally crafted to attract the kind of reader I thought would like it, someone exactly like me (!), isn’t working.

Plus that turned out to be wrong: there is something that unites the merry band, a sensitivity perhaps to the way I’ve chosen to tell a story, or to something in the characters themselves, but I haven’t isolated it yet.

My gentle description of what is an intense book full of unexpected shadows is too mild. It expects too much of the general reader – and is not helping convert those who might reach the description into possible readers of the book.

Advertising – the soggy ground

The field of advertising is one I don’t wish to plow, because of the energy it takes to generate a hundred concepts until a few seem ‘possible,’ and then to refine the gold in those into ‘probable,’ and continue working an ad into ‘Yes!’

Companies spend a lot of money on advertising. I have neither the money – nor the time. So I’ve resisted doing the work.

I tell myself, ‘Finish the next book – then this one will sell.’ I think, ‘It’s good enough,’ or ‘The description is accurate,’ or ‘It doesn’t matter what I do.’

And maybe I’m expecting too much – and all this is moot.

But an ad I crafted for a summer issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly netted exactly one sale. I’m not getting it right.

Are there stones left unturned?

There are books out there whose readers I want, and I haven’t mined them yet to see whether there’s something I can use. Amazon has oodles of data – the whole book’s page is stuffed with information. Some of it I can’t get easily (or within my budget, such as Kirkus review) because the big publishers need a staff to do that for the books they’ve decided to push, and my staff consists of me.

‘Editorial Reviews’ can contain some pretty heavy hitters (‘Stephen King recommends that if you read one book this year…’) I don’t have access to – whether anyone reads the blurbs or not.

And I haven’t mined the 24 reviews, 21 of them positive, to really hear what my readers have said. The ones I already attracted, and who were impressed enough (yeah, I’m going with that explanation for now, rather than the chain-gang one) to write a review.

I intend to start doing this.

Especially the first: if I think Pride’s Children would attract readers who either liked, for example, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, or who specifically didn’t like it because of perceived flaws, I need to be spending some time looking at the description the copywriters at the big publisher produced for the book, and what the book’s readers have left in the reviews they wrote. I’ve done some of that – it could use a serious go-around.

That’s work I will do on my own.

You, my blog readers, have been kind

But I also want to ask my blog readers whether they think I’m doing the advertising part wrong – and what they think might work better.

Feel free to do one of two things:
1) Think for a minute and tell me what attracted you to read Pride’s Children, if you did, and
2) Anything you haven’t already told me about what I’m not doing right. Because I have saved, and will be rereading everything anyone already sent.

I have my own small data bank – that cache of all the words I’ve received already, kind or caustic – plus the reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and blogs, and I think I’m ready to do some more digging.

Email privately (abehrhardt [at] gmail [dot] com) if this blog is too public for you. I promise not to publish anything identifiable! And I’ll be taking suggestions in the helpful intent they’re offered. No hurt feelings.

For blog responses, here’s the easy link (no scrolling back up).


PS: price and cover are not up for discussion in this round – they are separate issues. I’ll reexamine both eventually, but right now I’m concerned with book description and ad copy. Just the words.

PPS: Don’t worry, writing NETHERWORLD is still my first priority. If you were worried.

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15 thoughts on “Data mining for the critical book description

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

    Well, this was an interesting experiment.

    Three people responded to my data mining question here. One loves it, the other two haven’t read Pride’s Children (thanks for stating your opinions, guys). I got NO private messages, such as ‘you’re doing X completely wrong.’

    I have to mine the rest of the data, from what I already have in the way of comments, and what is available on Amazon, but the immediate pressure to go change a blurb/description which separates those who are from those who are probably not my ‘tribe’ seems to have lessened.

    So I guess it was a success, if rather small in sample size.

    Or people who read my blog are extraordinarily afraid of my bite (joke – when I bite, I remove all identifying information).

    Good to know.

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  2. marianallen

    I followed you here after we connected on Holly Jahangiri’s blog. I read one of your free stories and wanted more of your writing. I think I decided to buy Pride’s Children: Purgatory when I found out the main character was coping with CFS; that, plus the excellence of the writing I’d read, plus the blurb, made me willing to part with actual money for an actual physical book.

    The friend to whom I loaned the book returned it grudgingly, saying, “You were right. It’s masterful. It felt so REAL.”

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Aww. You lent me out. That is such an honor.

      I do aim for real. I’m glad your friend liked it. ‘Masterful’ – I like that. You two just made my day.

      Here I am, contemplating changing the description, and you tell me it made you read. Which bits of the description? It would be very useful data.

      There are layers within layers, and pieces you won’t understand completely until the third book is finished – foreshadowing takes space – and I hope PC is the kind of book that will be re-read.

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      1. marianallen

        What caught my interest in the description:

        The tag line: WHAT YOU DO WITH AN OBSESSION COUNTS
        The stakes: “at exorbitant personal cost”
        The vocabulary: solitudinarian
        The definition: “A contemporary mainstream love story”
        The comparison: “in the epic tradition of Jane Eyre, and Dorothy L. Sayers’ four-novel bond between Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane”

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Darn it, Marian – that’s what I liked about it when I wrote it.

          You are definitely right smack in the middle of my desired tribe. Readers who get the references, and settle in to see whether I keep my promises!

          Now, how do I clone you?

          And how on earth can I change anything if it’s having the desired effect?

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Janna G. Noelle

    I have no suggestions to offer, having neither read Pride’s Children nor possessing any great knowledge in marketing, but I wish you well in this endeavour and look forward to seeing the end result.

    I wrote a description of my WIP years ago when I was just getting started. I was actually quite proud of myself for being able to sum it all up in a paragraph or two, and it did help me remain on track at the time. However, now that I’m deep into revisions, I realize that the story is actually about something else entirely – not the fact that the protag does X and hardship befalls her along the way, but rather about why she does X. (In truth, I’d argue that all books are actually about the why, which is a realization I just had at this moment while typing this comment.)

    You seem to have a clear sense of what your book is about, which will help. Now you just need to translate what’s inside your head into more words on the screen. This is already your stock in trade as a writer, so have no fear. You can do this!

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      It’s the proverbial blind men and the elephant.

      I need DIFFERENT descriptions for different potential audiences – because it is intended to have a wide appeal. The readers who have loved it have varied from a 20-year-old woman to a man many years after retirement.

      It is engineered. Dramatica lets you do that if you know it well enough. It is hard, and not obvious, but now that I’ve done it, I can see how it’s right about creating characters that elicit the right journey. Fortunately, it was in the direction I already tend to go, so it wasn’t hard for me.

      But now I have to find those readers out of the mass of general readers, and maybe you’ve just given me a real clue there: write the description the same way the story is.

      Huh. Thanks! If I hadn’t tried to write the above, it wouldn’t have hit me.

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      1. Janna G. Noelle

        …it is intended to have a wide appeal.
        Your current fans may vary, but demographically, I’m sure there are those among them who are a much better fit with all your book has to offer while others are just outliers within their demographic groups. I don’t think you want to spend too much time marketing to outliers, as there will be far few of them than your true right readers and in addition, they might not be as strong of a target as you think they are. To use myself as an example, I’ve read every one of J.K. Rowling’s mysteries that she writes under the name Robert Galbraith and have every intention to keep reading them. However, I have zero interest in reading any other mystery writer because I’m not actually a mystery fan. Your outliers may have loved Dorothy Sayers for whatever reason yet have no interest in anything else of that sort.

        I think if you envision too much diversity among your target audience, you’ll only be able to give each type of person a little of what they’re looking for in your description rather than giving your right readers everything they are looking for. If nothing else, for your Amazon description, of which you only get one, you should write it with that ideal reader in mind.

        But as I said previously, I don’t have any great knowledge in marketing, so these are just my humble opinions and perceptions.

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          All good points.

          I think it would have helped if, somewhere along the line, at least a few of the people I thought were my main audience group would have responded!

          Every one of the others has been a personal connection – and somehow we hit it off online on some group, discussion led organically to the book (instead of through the book description on Amazon), the person asked to read, I sent a copy or they bought one, and I turned out to be right that that particular person, who is now a friend, would like the book.

          It’s a mystery – and one that is less important once a book takes off and a larger group of people hear about it and decide to give it a try.

          Some of the book descriptions on Amazon are in that category: because the book is well-known, the description has migrated to one which includes the fact.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. ericjbaker

    Are you interested in the opinion of someone who hasn’t read it? If not, stop reading now. Or keeping reading and then say, “I wasn’t asking you, pal.”

    I think the excerpt is so short that one has no time to grasp it’s meaning before the description cuts to “So begins…” I feel like a concept started to form in my head just as I was forced to forget it and start again. It seems like an accessibility issue. What’s the hook?

    Bear in mind this is coming from someone who thinks writing query-style story descriptions is more painful than being eaten by sharks with rusty teeth.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Thanks, Eric. I meant it – if you haven’t read, then of course your feedback won’t include that, but it is appreciated and wanted.

      Okay – more of the excerpt to pull you in a bit more. It probably isn’t going to ruin a long book to be a little more revealing up front. You’re probably right.

      I don’t like query type descriptions. I don’t like plot descriptions which, like the movie trailers that make you feel you’ve seen all the good parts, seem to reveal everything you might read for. And I no longer know what I like.

      The main thing I DON’T want is to sound like a Romance. No offense to my Romance-writing friends, and they have wonderful fans and lots of success, but Pride’s Children ISN’T a Romance – it’s a love story of a far more complicated pattern – and Romance readers will be annoyed because it does NOT follow their conventions, plus is too long.

      So how to make a deeply psychological love story NOT sound like a Romance was a problem, is STILL a problem.

      Much appreciated. Maybe some day I’ll talk you into reading it. Some of my best customers have been guys.

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      1. ericjbaker

        It definitely doesn’t come across as a romance novel. I agree there’s a big difference between a love story and a romance (nothing wrong with either if that’s one’s taste) and that people often confuse the two.

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