While a book’s cover is typically the first thing we see when discovering a new book, it’s the book’s description that is often the deciding factor when selecting a book to read or to purchase.
An unattractive book cover may prevent us from picking up a book in the first place. But a poorly written description can make us set a book back down, even when penned by a well-known author or even when it has an interesting premise or a gorgeous cover.
And while not all book descriptions are written by the author, a poorly written one by someone other than the author will likely reflect poorly on said author and their novel.
The description is our introduction to the book. It’s what’s meant to entice us to read beyond the few paragraphs it has on offer. Its sole purpose is to get us to take the gamble with our time and money.
A description fraught with grammatical mistakes implies that the book offers more of the same. Whether written by the author or publisher or someone else entirely, the lack of care in crafting that description and ensuring its correctness will put a potential reader on alert. If two or three short paragraphs can’t be given the attention they deserve, then what might be going on with the three hundred plus pages between the covers?
A description that reveals too little might not be enough to grab a potentially interested reader. A description that offers too much might do just the opposite. There must be enough to spark someone’s interest without giving away too many details that could potentially turn someone off. It’s a delicate balance.
A description that is muddled – a mishmash of ideas and half-formed thoughts – is not likely to intrigue, it’s more likely to confuse. If it takes a reader too long to figure out just what is meant by a description, it’s likely they’ll form the conclusion that the book was too confusing to describe.
A description that is deceptive may work in the sense that it will get that reader to invest the time and/or the money in that book. But the backlash is not likely to be positive. Bad “press” isn’t always a good thing. Especially not for an untested author. And a description that is wrong will likely have even more catastrophic results. At the very least for whomever wrote the description having not read or understood the book.
A description that feels like it’s been done before, over and over, can also dissuade some readers from making the decision to purchase. Especially when the same description has been used for an author’s work repeatedly. Not every one of their novels is a “pulse-pounding thrill ride.” And when patterns emerge, making the description seem like nothing more than a game of Mad Libs, readers might feel that the book is being churned out in similar fashion. Readers want to feel as if the author and publisher are just as invested in the story as they hope to become.
Descriptions that align themselves with specific interests can also be tricky. One wrong association and you can alienate an audience that might otherwise have been interested. While mentioning a love triangle, unrequited love, star-crossed love or a cliffhanger ending could potentially bring in certain readers, it might also turn other readers off. And descriptions that compare themselves to other novels or films will do the same if the potential reader does or doesn’t like what they’re being compared to.
Crafting a description is a difficult task. It’s meant to inform, but it’s also meant to market a book. So while certain choices are calculated risks meant to appeal to a target audience, there is no reason to take a gamble by putting out a description that is poorly crafted, poorly edited, poorly thought-out.
A book’s description is like a cover letter. It’s the first impression. It’s also possibly the last. So time, care, thought and perhaps a little money should go into making that description be the best it possibly can be.
What I think…
More than covers, my decision to read or buy a book has been because of the description. They are the “make or break” for me.
I have walked away from reading a book with a gorgeous cover because of a boring description that didn’t appeal. I have never walked away from reading a book with a less than appealing cover when the description wowed me. Ever.
I try to look past most descriptions that claim to be ideal “for fans of” if I’m not a fan of the books or films the story is being compared to, whereas if I love that book or film I will jump at the chance to read this compared-to book. I try to remind myself that it’s just a gimmick and that I should give the book a chance if there are other things that interest me.
Descriptions that don’t reveal enough when written by a favorite author don’t much matter to me. But if I don’t know the author, haven’t heard the buzz, I will likely wait and see. A sparse description makes me wonder just what the book is lacking for there to be so little to describe it. Of course this does not apply to descriptions for subsequent books in a series. Those could simply tease with a single word and it would be enough.
Deceptive descriptions infuriate me and will cause there to be a taint toward any future book by the author. I know it’s somewhat unfair, but I hate being deceived or misled. And I hate wasting my time.
Whereas a description that’s just wrong makes me sympathize with the author for having someone care so little for their book that they can’t be bothered to get the facts straight when describing it. Though it does make me wonder why the author didn’t say something at any time before publication about the errors.
I don’t mind too much descriptions that sound alike. There are only a certain number of ways to tease a book. But if they do feel like “insert adjective here” descriptions and are the exact same format for nearly every book by an author or put out by a publisher I do feel a little cheated. Not enough to dissuade me from reading or buying a book. But I do like variety in book descriptions.
But books with poorly written, confusing or poorly edited descriptions will make me say no to a book. Even if the book sounds like it might be interesting. If it’s a self-published book it immediately speaks to the quality of writing or care taken within. If it’s a traditionally published book, it potentially speaks to the quality of the editing, the lack of attention by the publisher toward this author’s work, the lack of care by the author to stand up for their novel.
The “Make” Description Tally
In the past year I’ve been sold on at least fifty books based upon their descriptions alone. Some teased. Some promised a love story. Some compared themselves to favorite films. Some were so well-written. Some pushed all the right buttons – love triangle, fast-paced, action-packed, tragic, cliffhanger ending.
Maybe I should make a list…
The “Break” Description Tally
In the past year I’ve walked away from one book whose description just didn’t appeal. It was quite lengthy but yet didn’t offer anything that made me interested in reading it. It had a beautiful cover and the buzz – and feedback – were positive, but I still haven’t quite gotten around to giving it a chance. Every time I read the description it serves to remind me why it hasn’t made it onto my TBR pile.
In the past six months I’ve passed on four novels with descriptions that I might have otherwise wanted to read. One I picked apart so ruthlessly because while it sounded okay, each of its sentences actually didn’t make any sense. One had some serious issues with grammar. One was just so confusing it left me puzzled about what exactly it was trying to say. And one was composed of sentences that were so disjointed I wasn’t sure that a) just one person wrote the description, b) they didn’t just copy/paste random sentences from the book to create the description, or c) they’d ever read or written a book description before.
Interestingly enough, all of them were traditionally published novels. Sadly, I still haven’t been able to take a chance on any one of them.
What do you think?
Is the book’s description one of the key deciding factors in what books you choose to read or buy? Have you ever decided to walk away because of a description that didn’t appeal? Even if it was by an author whose work you respect or enjoy?
Have you walked away because a description was poorly written, filled with grammatical mistakes or poorly edited or proofread? Or were you willing to give the author a second chance? And if so, how did that work out?
Do you mind if a description feels like a piece of marketing material more than an informative account of what can be expected in the book? Or do you love when a description teases and entices?
What is your take on book descriptions? I’d love to know.