By Victoria Jacobi
When it comes to Amazon book descriptions, you need to be creative to stand out. You’ve seen generic formulas for writing a book description as well as lists of things to include. You’ve also seen a lot of book descriptions that read the same and make your eyes glaze over.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll want to make sure to include relevant keywords, add reviews, maybe some comp titles. But the book description itself needs to be unique.
Give your blurb a focus. Your book description is your pitch. It will make or break a sale. You need to grab the reader’s attention and give them a feel for your story — and you do that by showing your book through a specific angle, a sort of synecdoche if you will, a part that represents the whole.
Here are five excellent book descriptions that do just that:
1. Hook readers with an original premise.
Many generic book descriptions simply focus on the book’s premise and major plot points: “Protagonist lives their regular existence until [insert inciting incident] and their world is turned upside down. Can they [insert existential question]?”
While this is a good first step for condensing the main beats of a story, this is only interesting if your premise is truly original — like V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. Let’s take a look.
When Addie La Rue makes a pact with the devil, she trades her soul for immortality. But there’s always a price – the devil takes away her place in the world, cursing her to be forgotten by everyone. […] Existing only as a muse, she learns to fall in love anew every single day. Until one day, in a second-hand bookshop in Manhattan, Addie meets someone who remembers her. […]
Not only is Addie LaRue’s premise unique, the story has two interesting ideas wrapped in one:
Interesting premise #1: What’s it like if no one remembers you? There are a lot of stories about individuals losing their memory, but what if everyone forgets about you?
Interesting premise #2: What if somebody then does remember you (and how come they can)?
The description gives rise to a number of intriguing plot questions. And, it’s simple and straightforward — an easy sell. So if your premise requires the explanation of a complicated magic system or simply doesn’t make your book shine, you may want to choose a different angle, such as setting.
2. Reel readers in with setting
Rather than pitching individual stories, the short story collection The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez uses all of its Amazon real estate to welcome us to the setting — and a chilling welcome it is.
Welcome to Buenos Aires, a city thrumming with murderous intentions and morbid desires, where missing children come back from the dead and unearthed bones carry terrible curses. […]
Just looking at the first line, the setting is a place that’s threatening to tip over into the unnatural. The uncanny atmosphere is eerily present, like something terrible you can’t look away from, and in fact, want to read more of.
The juxtaposition of a tourist-like welcome and the death imagery that follows
Very physical descriptions of “unearthed bones” and “a city thrumming”
Things are given agency that shouldn’t have agency: the city, dead children
Intentions and desires are disconnected from people like bodies without a soul
With carefully chosen language and imagery, the blurb transports us to a Buenos Aires that’s teeming with the dead. It’s what ties the short stories together. We don’t need to know about individual characters or plot lines because the setting is described so intentionally, it makes us feel uncomfortable with our own curiosity for this dark place: what ungodly thing is happening in this city? And when you make your readers feel something, you know your Amazon readers will hit “Buy now.”
3. Use voice to your advantage
A more difficult feeling to pinpoint is created by the book description of Natasha Brown’s Assembly.
The blurb appeals to readers’ heightened sense of language, not to invoke setting but voice. The opening paragraph begins with a quick succession of imperatives about how the protagonist should live her life, a crescendo that is bound to unravel.
Not only will this stand-out stylistic choice be appreciated by the target audience of literary fiction readers, but the mix of widely relatable statements (get an education, start a career) and unique dos and don’ts (step out into a world of Go Home vans) is also intriguing. Who is this narrator?
As you read on, you learn that the protagonist is a Black British woman, who in the face of something as seemingly innocent as a garden party is on the brink of an existential crisis, contemplating whether her carefully assembled life — nice title tie-in — needs to be disassembled.
Now re-imagine this blurb as a premise-focused description:
A Black British woman follows all the right steps: going to Oxbridge, starting a career, buying a flat; until a garden party turns the mirror on herself: is a life according to the rules what she wants?
Not the worst but… not captivating either. What intrigues us about this story is not the premise but the voice, the unique point of view — and that’s what the description gives us a taste of.
4. Make readers care about your protagonist
The book summary for Paul Wilson’s memoir Bad Karma makes us curious about the narrator. But more than that, it’s a masterclass on getting readers to care about what will happen to the main character in just a few lines.
In the summer of 1978, twenty-one-year-old Paul Wilson jumps at the chance to join two local icons on a dream surf trip to mainland Mexico, unaware their ultimate destination lies in the heart of drug cartel country. Having no earthly idea of where he’ll get the money to pay his share, and determined to prove his mettle, he does the only thing he can think of: He robs a supermarket. And, if karma didn’t already have enough reason to doom the trip, he soon learns one of his companions is a convicted killer on the run, and the other an unscrupulous cad. Mishap and misfortune rule the days, and mere survival takes precedence over surfing.
Young Paul Wilson is so naive, it’s almost funny. His ideas about how life works are straight out of a movie. He cares so much about proving his worth, he puts himself into life-threatening situations without even realizing it. His naivete and recklessness paired with dangers like robbing a store and travelling to a cartel-controlled country raises the stakes: what is going to happen to this kid?
It’s not just about giving your protagonist some quirky attributes but showing how this character may handle challenging situations in their own unique way. Lure your readers in with a preview of how your protagonist will be tested, and readers will want to know how it plays out.
5. Subvert tropes and promise something new
Another angle that readers will want to see play out: subverting tropes. If you’re writing in a genre known for its tropes (romance, fantasy, mystery), readers will want to see the tropes they know and love but with a fresh approach.
Emily Henry’s Book Lovers is a great example of this: an enemies to lovers story about the woman who usually gets dumped at the beginning of the rom com. Take a look.
Nora has been through enough break-ups to know she’s the one men date before finding their happy-ever-after. To prevent another dating dud, Nora’s sister has persuaded her to swap her city desk for a month’s holiday in Sunshine Falls. It’s a small town straight out of a romance novel, but instead of meeting sexy lumberjacks, handsome doctors or cute bartenders, Nora keeps bumping into…Charlie. […]
The summary balances genre conventions (enemies to lovers, small town setting) with fresh takes on those tropes (main character is the ‘annoying’ woman of the typical protagonist’s backstory, love interest is unusual for setting). The result? A romance story about those we usually don’t see fall in love on the page. The question isn’t what is going to happen — we know that Nora and Charlie will fall in love — but how. How does the woman who usually gets dumped find love? How will the small town love story play out with two city dwellers?
Subverting tropes in your blurb is a promise of a fresh and exciting story right up readers’ alley, and who wouldn’t want to sign up for that? So if you’re really breathing fresh air into your genre, flaunt it!
Whether it’s genre, character, point of view, setting or premise, each of these angles are key elements of a story and when done exceptionally well, they’re also the reason why readers will want to pick up your book.
To choose one of these angles for your blurb — whether you’re in the process of pitching your book and getting a literary agent or writing your Amazon book description — think about the feedback you’ve received so far.
Which strengths have editors and beta readers pointed out?
Which element is particularly unique or well done in your story?
That’s the element you’re going to want to zero in on in your book description to make it stand out.