5 tips for crafting a memorable book description

book description

Jacket copy will never capture everything you want readers to know about your book or your achievements as an author. Just accept the fact that a book description is supposed to be a teaser.

I’m helping some friends write marketing copy for a new product they’ve developed, and it got me thinking about book descriptions (by which I mean the jacket copy, or the back-of-book description, or what some people call the blurb*).

* These terms are often mixed up, since “blurb” can also mean the quotes of praise that appear on the back of the book from other writers or critics.

You see, there’s a lot I could try to squeeze into the short description of my friends’ new product: how it’s made, who it’s for, how much it costs, what problems it solves, why that’s important, etc.

But they want one or two catchy sentences. Maybe fewer. And that means reducing things to their most essential and (hopefully) enticing — which, again, is why I started thinking about book descriptions.

If you’re trying to come up with a killer book description for your latest work, here are a few tips:

1. Throw your hands in the air (for brevity’s sake)

Jacket copy is never going to be “perfect.” It’ll never capture everything you want readers to know about your book or your achievements as an author. So give up on trying to pack it all in and just accept the fact that this is supposed to be, much like the descriptions on a menu, a teaser. First throw your hands in the air, and then use them to karate chop all the extraneous elements into submission. What’s left over will be in fighting trim.

2. It’s about crisis, not resolution

Whether you’re writing a handbook for electricians or a paranormal romance, you’ll intrigue readers by making them ask the question: “How does someone deal with the circumstance or problems presented in this book?” Your book description should lead us to that question, not answer it!

3. Set the mood

Should we expect candlelit dinner and smooth jazz? Or the buzz of a tattoo shop? Or wind whipping a mountain pass? Try to capture something visceral about the world your readers will inhabit. Even if it’s just one or two details, get MOOD into your book description!

4. Beg, borrow, and steal

By begging I mean: ask for help. Get your book-loving friends and fellow writers to critique your book description. Even better, ask them to write their own versions. Then you can “borrow” your favorite bits to create the final blurb. As for stealing, go to your local bookstore or library (or… online) and read through fifty book descriptions. Make note of what captures your attention. Also make note of what bores you. Steal the approach of the descriptions you like. Avoid the stuff that made you snooze.

5. Put your book description through the wringer

Just like your book, your book description should go through several (or more) drafts. Don’t settle on the first thing that comes to you. Work for it!

How have you crafted a memorable book description? Share your book description, and some thoughts about how you came up with it, in the comments below.

Image via ShutterStock.com.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out these four articles to help you write better jacket copy for your book:
The impossibility of jacket copy (In Order Of Importance)
How to optimize book jacket copy (Promediacorp)
Jacket copy sells books, so make it good (Publishing Trends)
How to write sales copy for the back of your nonfiction book (Authority Publishing)
Worth reading even if you don’t write nonfiction, as many of the same concepts will apply.

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Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."


  1. This is the back blurb for my book, ‘Tramps Like Us’ – Comments please.

    Rekindling a childhood friendship should never be this difficult.

    Angie and Sera learn that it requires more than remembering the past. It entails accepting each other’s new and different lifestyles.

    They came from fractured families and were inseparable as children on the streets of Naples. Two decades later, they travel in different worlds. Sera is an itinerant musician, Angie is a fashion model. When they attempt to adapt to each other’s new lifestyles, neither one counts on the obstacles placed in their way.

    Sera lives within his means. His friends are the bar owners who give him work, and the kindred spirits on the street. Angie now lives a stylish lifestyle. Her friends are glamorous and pretentious.

    They come to realize their lifestyles are incompatible, and it becomes a battle to see whether their relationship will survive. They begin to wonder whether they can remain friends after all this time. Is there any possibility that they will rediscover their roots?

    This is a love story littered with angst. A taciturn hero who expresses himself best through music, and a heroine whose warmth strives to conquer all obstacles.

  2. From Off Limits by Sabrina Devlin:

    Amanda Harrington had no idea she’d have the same physical training and defensive tactics instructor again her second time around. It was difficult enough being one of the few female students at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. Now she had to try and put the mistakes she’d made the first time around behind her and simply focus on what she needed to do to graduate. This time there would be no boys. No distractions. As for the unexpected complication of having Jake Marshall as her instructor again, she had nothing to worry about because student/instructor relationships are definitely off limits.

  3. Hi, here is blurb for my coffee table history / biopic non-fiction book, “Rajputana Chronicles: Guns & Glories”, soon to be published in India. Appreciate feedback…

    The Bachhawats who belong to the feudal aristocratic order of former states of Rajputana (Rajasthan), faced many ups and downs of life. They were brave and many sacrificed their lives fighting for the state. They were visionary administrators par excellence but at times were suspected to be pro-Mughal and pro-British. This is the story of a thousand years of the Bachhawat clan, which has stood the test of time.

    Capt Pitney, then a British Resident once described Mehta Pannalal as, “I have met royal persons and dignitaries in my life and sometimes been disappointed but one person I shall never forget is Rai Pannalal Mehta, former Pradhan of Mewar. I saw him first when he called on me in plain and spotless white with his uncurled white Rajput beard… I thought of myself that if that was the result of over five hundred years of breeding and generations of Mehtas, there was clearly something to be said for preserving such qualities for the further well-being of this clan.”

    Commander Pratap Singh Mehta, a veteran of Indian Navy and 1971 Indo-Pak war, is the great-grandson of the chivalrous military commander Lakshmilal Mehta and the illustrious Prime Minister of Mewar state, Rai Pannalal Mehta, CIE. He is both a mariner and an aviator. He has been a keen observer of the history of his ancestors, since they were nobles and the knowledge about these people, who dominated the affairs of the states as it is not enough.

  4. After countless revisions I narrowed down the book jacket description of my suspense thriller Bishop’s War down to this:

    The phrases “fast-paced” and “action-packed” have never been so fittingly applied as they are to Bishop’s War by Rafael Hines. This suspense thriller introduces us to Special Forces Sergeant John Bishop, decorated war hero, and nephew of crime boss, Gonzalo Valdez. When John returns home from Afghanistan his hopes for a peaceful future are quickly shattered as he is catapulted headlong into a succession of life-threatening events and corrupt intrigue. He battles against terrorist operatives in New York, a powerful Afghan warlord, and a psychopathic billionaire with powerful White House connections. When John’s uncle gets involved, he proceeds to treat John’s enemies to a bitter taste of mob vengeance. From that point on the ride speeds up and the reader will have to hold on for dear life. This is a thriller not to be matched for intensity and breathless excitement—not for the faint-hearted.

  5. I thought this was really helpful, especially getting the reader to ask how someone gets through the situation and begging, borrowing and stealing. Those 2 helped me come up with this:

    Beginning with the terrifying discovery that there will no longer be a place for her within the devout Christian community that has been her world, Anna Redsand’s honesty and fresh prose invite readers to join her on a journey both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Unable to reconcile the beliefs of her mission childhood in Navajo Country with the powerful stirrings of her adolescent sexuality when gay marriage is not marked on any map, she leaves behind all that she loves. Entering first into exile—the shame of being unwanted in the homeland—she strikes out into the uncharted territory of new religious, spiritual and political directions. Always striving for authenticity, continuing to long for home, she at last begins a deliberate experiment to see if return is possible, only to acknowledge that too much has changed. A story for seekers as well as those who have never challenged their held beliefs, The Silver Cup is a beautiful account of one woman’s arduous and persistent search

  6. Here’s my back cover copy in the process of becoming perfect (I hope!):
    Young Anny Klein has no idea who she is or where she’s come from. Little wonder, considering the truth of the story.

    Rise Above
    the true history of the Heppner Flood and a fictional story of what might have happened

    When the village of Heppner, Oregon is destroyed by a flash flood on the evening of June 14, 1903, every man, woman, and child left alive is changed–forever.
    Little Lilyann Harmon and her brother, Gilbert, are missing and presumed dead. Mac Harmon insists, over the objections of nearly everyone in town, that his children are still alive.
    Seventeen-year-old Shan Collins must learn to father his three youngest siblings. And then there’s Grace, whom he adores, but he can’t get up the courage to speak to her. Meanwhile Grace longs for Shan but knows she’s not worthy of him, or any man.
    And Karl Klein, like opportunists down through the ages, has taken advantage of the cover of darkness and disaster to serve his own ends. But ultimately, his actions cannot triumph over the truth.
    Feedback? Suggestions? Thank you!!!

  7. Thanks for including the link to my post on the Authority Publishing blog. We noticed a bunch of extra clicks so I stopped by to find out why! Great post and your recommendation is much appreciated.

  8. Here’s my back blurb for a children’s book about a dog named Muffin:

    When Muffin’s longing for adventure gets her in big trouble, tender-hearted Scott comes to her rescue. This true story is about a delightful little Yorkie, the family that lost her and the one that takes her in and comes to love her even as they search for her original owner. The endearing ending contains a beautiful surprise. Illustrated.

  9. Once upon a moonless Halloween, long after the last shouts of “trick or treat” had echoed in the night, a cloaked figure emerged from the mist and walked along a dirt road that cut through a neighborhood of rundown Victorian houses. In front of the only house with a lighted window, the figure turned up the flagstone path to the front porch and climbed the steps. There the shadow peered inside through a gap in the curtains hung over a plate-glass window at the deaf tenant’s hearing dog inside. The black-and-white border collie growled. He knew it was a ghost.

    “Mauks, where ah you?” college student Lily-Rose Whitehorse called from another room. The dog’s ears perked up. He growled again as he backed away from the window and then turned and padded out of the room.

    The ghost drew something from a fold in its billowy white cloak–a cellphone–then tapped in a phone number. Somewhere behind the plate-glass window a muffled ringtone sounded a half-dozen times.

    The dog returned to the front room followed by a young Ojibwa woman who picked up a cellphone from the sofa and flipped it open but did not put it to her ear.

    The Chalk Ghost left a voice message on her phone that she would never hear: “Death calling.”

  10. This was the best I could come up with for my historical novel, SAND:

    Just about a hundred and fifty years ago, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the river Gariep is the northern border of the Cape Colony. Beyond lies uncharted country, untamed veld giving way to the great red dunes of the hostile Kalahari Desert. This is Africa.
    SAND is its story.
    Three white people, defying their Church and society, settle on the edge of the Kalahari to escape censure. One young man is the girl’s husband, the other her lover. One must die to secure their future.
    SAND is their story.
    Kora is the last hereditary chief of the Korana clans living along the Gariep. He has vowed to avenge his people, who have been hounded from their ancestral lands in the south by white settlers, but knows that time is running out. The river banks which shelter them will shortly become their last stand against the British Colonial troops.
    SAND is his story.

  11. I tried to make the blurb intriguing without giving away the main plot points.
    Calhoun: Sacrifice

    What would you do to save the life of your child?

    Anything, everything.

    James Calhoun, soldier until the MOD cutbacks threw him onto civvie street. Back into it as a military contractor, making more money in a week than he had in a year as a squaddie it seemed like the good times would never end. Now divorced and living on benefits in a one room flat, rock bottom after a downward spiral of anger and bitterness, his one solace is the weekly visit with his daughter. He has been told that she will die and only he can save her. But is the price more than he is willing to pay?

  12. This was very useful & thought-provoking. However, there’s a typo in the header for Tip No. 1: The second word, of course, should read “your” rather than “you.” Twitter: #AussieNightOwl, All-Star LinkedIn Profile/Phil Ross, FB Walls: Phil Ross & The Ross Organization-TRO

  13. Blurb for— Extraordinary Women, Extraordinary Times: Canadian Women of WWII

    While the world suffered through the madness of World War II, what was life like for the women of war?

    Extraordinary awoken, Extraordinary Times reveals personal accounts, many being told to us for the first time, of courage, survival and endurance.
    Sixty Canadian women will mesmerize and beguile you with their heroism, contributions and suffering as they share first-hand accounts of ferrying planes, decoding top secret messages, fighting with the Polish Resistance, or surviving the hell of Auschwitz.

    They will invite us into the world of military life, take us on a tour of a bomb factory, describe crossing the Atlantic in a convoy, tell us what is was like to drive ambulance, play professional baseball or leave home as a war bride. You will laugh and you will cry but foremost, you will be proud to be Canadian.

  14. Here’s my blurb: “ALL OTHER FREE PERSONS delivers history with a twist: Escaping indentured servitude, an illegitimate girl of ambiguous race confronts knavery and jealousy as she searches for her unknown father and claws her way to respectability in nineteenth-century New England.
    “Set mostly in the bustling and gritty whaling port of New London in the 1830s and 1840s, ALL OTHER FREE PERSONS tells the stories of real people and includes doses of prostitution, indenture, assault, rape, slavery, theft, bastardy, divorce, and incest.”
    I made a list of the words that I thought best described the book and then spent days — and days — adding and mostly subtracting.

  15. Here’s the final version of the book description for my published novel LOST TOUCH:

    Lina Colella is one of the most powerful psychics in the country. She’s helped the police solve more than 180 murders and missing persons cases.

    Her most dire case has just arrived: her brother-in-law was gunned down, the latest in a number of serial killings. And just when Lina needs her power most, a tragic accident puts an abrupt end to her psychic gift.

    Despite losing her abilities, her faith in God, and her faith in herself, Lina vows to find the killer anyway. She keeps the loss of her powers hidden so she can work side by side with the local police.

    She only has fifteen days to find the killer before another innocent victim is murdered. As she unravels the clues, she realizes the killer is close by, and her family is in mortal danger.

    Can Lina confront her biggest weakness and her darkest fears to solve the most important case of her life?
    I had written a description of the book to pitch to my agent and to publishers. My publisher’s marketing team end up using my description as a base to write their own description, and then I revised the marketing team’s version into the final version you see above.

    There are a ton of plot and character elements that this book description leaves out, but the biggest thing we had to leave out was the book’s tone. The book has a strong dark-comic tone to it, and squeezing that into the description without bloating it proved to difficult, so we focused on enticing the reader with the premise.

  16. Here is my summery of my book that I gave some thought to:

    We live in a troubled world today, and the threats we face are many. The book describes how you can live in harmony and joy with full vitality, despite the negative signals you receive from the environment. The main purpose of the book is to describe effective techniques, making it possible for everyone to realize their dreams.
    The book also describes how you, individually or together with others in a group, can work to reverse negative trends and situations in life and get a positive change.
    Everything started many years ago, when I began to study the technology behind The Law of Attraction and when I studied, how to use the knowledge in The Secret to achieve, what I wanted and fulfill my dreams in life.
    After many years of studying, meditating and experimenting with this knowledge and these technologies in the background, I took a decision to write this book. I wanted to describe in a simple and clear way, that everyone can understand and use, how to achieve your dreams.
    With this book, I want to give you techniques that will enable you to fulfill your innermost dreams. I want to give you the key to, how you can achieve all the goals, you have set in life.

  17. The following jacket copy is from my 2013 novel “Bead of Sand.” I think it presents my story well, suggests the setting, and is as relaxed as the setting, without introducing a snooze factor.

    I’d like to see a blog post from you similar to this one, but for an elevator pitch or other pithy statement to promote a book on a business card – up to 20 words?

    Sally M. Chetwynd

    Rook Westfall likes working at Sennett Lakes Farm Museum – giving hayrides, milking cows, and mucking stalls – even if it does entail manure. But Dad grumbles that he should get a real job instead of escaping into a 19th Century fantasy, and Mum wants another daughter-in-law to contribute to her collection of grandchildren.

    Jiminy! Can’t a guy just live?

    Rook’s tranquil world somersaults, however, when he runs afoul of the Saltkill Gang during a violent storm. Stacy Morgan, a Civil War reenactor, interrupts the gang’s attack, when she stumbles onto the museum grounds. After rescuing Rook, she joins the museum’s seasonal staff, but her private demons keep Rook at arm’s length. A prickly friendship emerges between them as she reveals her tragic secrets, a trust the depths of which Rook can’t fathom until she’s gone. When Stacy leaves at season’s end, neither she nor Rook realizes that she takes with her a gift that will surprise them all.

    Set in a remote finger of the Adirondacks, with a winsome six-year-old, a reformed delinquent, and a wild nonagenarian, Bead of Sand is a novel of discovery and fulfillment, in a place where the past too easily overshadows the present.

  18. This is the latest draft of my marketing blurb for my manuscript. I watched a webinar from Writer’s Digest before writing it, and I had friends and my husband take a read through. It’s still not perfect…

    Jules’s best friend is prone to mysterious brushes with death. After a tragic New York City subway incident leaves him dead, Jules is convinced it was not an accident and sets out to find the truth. Her search for answers takes a strange turn and reveals an otherworldly secret about her and her family. They can see spirits.

    Jules is sent to a prestigious school in California run by the spirits of the most brilliant minds through out history. Attending Vita Post Mortem Academy, a high school where John F. Kennedy teaches American Ghosts Stories and Albert Einstein grades science tests, epitomizes Jules’s definition of weird. Despite her attempts to stay under the radar, Jules finds herself thrust into the spotlight.

    Laying low isn’t easy for someone in a family with skeletons in the closet. Fourteen years ago, Jules’s mother was working for an evil spirit until Jules’s grandmother thwarted his rise to power by sacrificing herself. Now, the evil spirit wants revenge and has his sights set on Jules. Needless to say, high school is going to be dreadful. Jules is determined to find closure with her best friend, protect her family, and keep herself alive, even if that means delving into the world of the dead.


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