Words that Sell: Writing Marketing Copy for Your Novel

Let’s begin with the notion that brevity and clarity are the soul of wit. Or, at least, are the basis for what you can use to make your books stand out in a good way and attract a reader’s attention. Do readers automagically buy a book on the first reading of your best and most fabulous copy? Sometimes! In any case, writing good marketing copy helps your work find its people, and that is the name of the game.

What does marketing copy include? 

  • Your book description. This includes the two to three paragraphs that appear on the back of print copies of your book (we’re assuming you’re writing your own here) as well as on the websites that will sell your book. You will need short (a couple of lines) and long descriptions to upload your books onto the various sales platforms. 
  • Blurb – Sometimes used interchangeably with the description, but generally this refers to nice things another author says about your book. You don’t write this kind of review blurb, but you can decide which phrases to quote for the most impact.
  • Taglines. These are short phrases that capture the tone of the book. “Airships. Piracy. Murder. The Occasional Cup of Tea…” is the tagline for one of our steampunk titles, for example. “Winning What You Want May Cost You Everything” is another very popular example. Taglines are used on the back of your book and can be added to the description on sales platforms. 

Common mistakes:

  • The description is too long, detailed and/or dull.
  • The description tells the reader nothing about the book.
  • Blurbs rely on overused words and clichés.
  • Taglines are trite and/or tell the reader nothing about the book.
  • There are typos or grammatical errors.

Think of your description as something akin to an elevator pitch for your book. You’re aiming for something that a potential book buyer can skim quickly. Limit yourself to 3-4 sentences per paragraph and stick to 2. The description should include:

  • A lead in to your central conflict.
  • The name of your main character or characters (assuming a smallish cast).
  • Enough information to tell someone what kind of story they’re looking at.
  • Emotional payoff: what will they get from buying your book?  This can be stated (“Fall in love all over again”) or implied (“X must happen to do Y. But at what cost? The empire is about to find out.”)

There is really only one kind of reader that you’re looking for and that’s the one who that description will speak to, thereby inspiring them to buy and read your book. Not everyone who’s ever read a book or even all fans of your particular genre.  Think about that reader when you write your copy.

Are you writing your copy for the first time?

  • Do some research. Look at what other writers in your genre are writing about their books. Look at the word choices and descriptions and see what works for you, as well as what doesn’t.  
  • Make a list of things that resonate. Does a phrase intrigue you enough to want to learn more about that book? Can you come up with an original description of your own book that works the same way for you?
  • Make a list of other things you’re seeing as well – are some words and phrases overused? Just not working for you?

Look at taglines and ads too: 

  • Do they sound intriguing?
  • Do they sound enthusiastic?
  • Would you considered buying this book based on how they present it?

Some day, when we can have book tables at conventions again, it’s very helpful to watch people when they pick up your books and read the back. That reaction can be magical or disappointing, but either way, it tells you when your copy grabs someone’s attention. In the meantime, look at your reviews, particularly the ones from readers. If they are consistently “expecting something else,” that may be a sign to review your marketing copy and ask writer friends to help you vet it. Look at your click throughs too, if you are running ads, and experiment with those. And finally, bear in mind that mistakes are generally fixable. Marketing copy doesn’t need to be static and can grow with your work.

Catherine Lundoff

Catherine Lundoff is a Minneapolis-based award-winning writer and editor. Her recent articles and essays have appeared in such venues as Library JournalNightmare Magazine, the SFWA BlogThe World Remains Mysterious and Queer Voices: Poetry, Prose and Pride. She is the publisher at Queen of Swords Press.