Saturday, October 8, 2011

Writing Descriptions

I hate writing descriptions almost as much as I hate writing a synopsis for agents and editors.  Luckily I don't have to do that part anymore but I still have to do descriptions.

The publishing industry (bunch o' know nothings for the most part) thought I wasn't served well by writing for television.  I beg to differ.  I learned a whole lot.  One thing you learn as a headwriter (and I want to make it clear I never worked as a scriptwriter.  Sure, I wrote scripts, lots of them, but that was never my job title) is how to sell story to people who are starting at zero.  You don't get to talk to them, you don't have the opportunity to "perform" and shine for them, using your sparkling personality to put the thing across.  They're going to read it in their office when they're probably in a not very good mood.  Every few months you have to write a document called a bible and it tells everyone involved where the story is going (before they start tinkering with it and totally ruin it).  There's a certain tone to it, a style.  You pick that up fast.

That's how I look at descriptions.  I still hate it but it's more than necessary, it's crucial.  How do you approach this, how do you think about this?

Instead of thinking about plot, think about theme.  If plot is "The queen died, then the king died" let's think of theme as "The queen died and because the king loved her so much, his life drained away and he died."  What is going on in your book that drives the story forward?  What are the characters feeling?  Emotions make people behave in certain ways.  Characters react to situations.  What's happening and how are characters reacting?

This is what will make your potential reader pass on the book or buy it.  Does your description connect with the reader?  Maybe not.  Not everyone will like your book even if you write a great description.  But few will buy your book if you just give them a cursory snapshot of the book thinking that will be enough.

It's not enough.  Here is the only chance you have to sell the book.  Here is where you change visitors to buyers.
Your eye-catching cover brought them here.  It did its job.  Now you have to convince them in a few short paragraphs that there is something in this book for them.

If your book isn't selling, look at your description first.  Is it as good as you can make it?  Can you rethink it?  Does it reflect what's best about your book?

I was speaking recently with someone who wrote a book that should by all rights be up at the top of the charts.  It sells nothing a month.  What is so creative and inventive about this book isn't mentioned in the description.  Why not?  I think the description lacks drama and conviction.  I think the cover is fine.  I think readers like a good cover but I think the order of importance is 1) write the best book you can (you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear etc.) 2) write the best description you can (if you don't have a good book, how much can you fix that in a description without lying?) 3) get the best cover you can to bring the people to you.

People will find you.  They will also ignore you .  I think a lot of books are bought because they are just on a list and everyone is buying it so more people just buy it.  But I think there is a substantial number of people just doing a search to see what they can find.  How many times a week do you go to Amazon, type in a search term and see what pops up.  I spent an hour looking for a book on King John yesterday.  Typed in Henry II.  Typed in Richard the Lion-Hearted.  Typed in Kathryn Swynford.  Books turn up.  You look at them.  That's how people find you.

Does Facebook help?  I have no idea.  But what I do know is that where you have to shine is at Amazon.  Make everything right there.  Amazon is there to sell books and they do everything they can to sell more books.  Let their business plan help you by doing the best you can at your job.

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