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It's hard enough to write thousands of words for a book … But then you have to turn that into a few hundred words to sell it to readers.
In today's show, Bryan Cohen and I deconstruct book sales descriptions in detail.
In the introduction, I mention the expansion of indie authors into the print book market with Jamie McGuire getting her Createspace book into Walmart. I also talk about the beginning of my co-authoring experience with J Thorn, as well as my lessons learned from 4 years as a full-time author entrepreneur.
This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
Bryan Cohen is the author of How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step system for enticing new readers, selling more fiction and making your books sound good. He also writes YA novels and non-fiction, and is a stand-up comedian and entrepreneur. He's the co-host of the Sell More Books Show with Jim Kukral and also runs Best Page Forward, a copywriting service for authors.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the video or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- How Bryan got started in writing, including his start as a blogger and then becoming a student of successful writing habits
- On Bryan's outlining process and what works for him
- Best Page Forward for authors and the challenges of writing good copy, which are very different from writing good fiction
- Why a book's Amazon description is actually a sales description and not a summary of the book's narrative
- What writers get wrong in their book sales descriptions
- The most important aspects of fiction and non-fiction book descriptions, including the importance of tag-lines, adjectives and other descriptive words, and quotes
- Why author's shouldn't ‘set it and forget it' with their book descriptions
- The importance of using a tag line that is appropriate for your book's genre and when naming your character and/or setting in your description matters
- Using other authors' names in descriptions and why calls-to-action matter
- Bryan and Joanna's thoughts on the benefits and draw-backs of podcasting for both fiction and non-fiction authors
You can find Bryan at BryanCohen.com and at Best Page Forward. You can also get How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step system for enticing new readers, selling more fiction and making your books sound good on Amazon.
Transcription of interview with Bryan Cohen
Joanna: Hi everyone, I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today I'm here with Bryan Cohen. Hi Bryan.
Bryan: Hey, Jo, happy to be here.
Joanna: It's great to have you on the show, finally.
Just a little introduction, Bryan is an author of YA novels and non-fiction, a stand-up comedian and entrepreneur. He is the co-host of the Sell More Books Show with Jim Kukral, which is absolutely brilliant, and also runs Best Page Forward, a copywriting service for authors, which we're gonna be talking about today.
Bryan, you've written over 40 books, which is something I didn't know, even though we've been friends for a while. I was like, 40? That's amazing.
Tell us a bit more about how you got into writing.
Bryan: Originally, I started blogging at a website called Build-Creative-Writing-Ideas.com. I think you've probably got some similar things with The Creative Penn; you wanted to learn about publishing and I wanted to learn about not being lazy and actually sitting down and writing.
I started this website up to force myself to write and learn as much as I could about writing motivation. And within a couple of years, I had some data about which keywords were doing the best, and creative writing prompts was by far, the biggest.
And as soon as I learned about self-publishing, I put a bunch of my posts into a book and self-published that, which led to a lot of other creative writing prompts books, some of which are workbook combinations of my other books. So me having 40 books out isn't really 40 books, it's more like 40 products, some of which are just workbook versions of the others. I'm not some 40-novel-crazy person that's done this by the age of 32. So, I'm not insane, for that reason.
Joanna: Tell us about how you then moved into fiction, because that's a relatively new thing.
Bryan: I always loved the creative side of things with writing. I used to be in theater, and like you said, stand-up comedy, and I was a playwright for a while. But I never really found the groove of how to actually sit down and write a full novel until I really tapped into the self-publishing podcast, Story Beats Concept, and Steve Scott's, Writing Habit Mastery.
Eventually, when you hear the same advice enough times, you say, “Look, I don't care if you like pantsing, you need to write an outline because otherwise you're going to write yourself into a corner.”
After about five failed novels, where I didn't finish, I finally was able to finish the first Ted Saves The World book and from there, I was hooked.
I said, “Okay, this is the system that works for me.” And I did it four more times to finish through the fourth novel in that series.
It was all about finding a system that worked for me, and actually getting my butt in the chair to do it.
Joanna: I know now people will want to know, what is the system that works for you? Because like you said, around Build Creative Writing Ideas, you've been looking into this kind of habit-y stuff and trying to assimilate…I've heard you talk about trying dictation for example, which I've tried and failed at, as well.
What is the system that is working for you right now?
Bryan: What works for me is, I do a chapter-by-chapter outline of the book. I'll start that with some brainstorming, kind of on what could happen. I go back to my prompts days and think if that's true, what else is true, and brainstorm as many ideas as possible.
Then go into an outline, one or two sentences per chapter, nothing more, and just so I get the basic connect-the-dots framework for what's going to happen. From there, I turn that broad outline, which I do write by hand…I don't know why …it goes back to high school essay writing days, for some reason.
I'll take that outline and expand it into about six to eight sentences per chapter, so I know a lot more bullet points about everything that's happening. I know if I'm probably going to write two chapters a day, how many chapters I have outlined, it's going to take 25 work days, which, if I work five days a week, that's five weeks. I know I can plot it out on the calendar. Monday through Friday, for the next five weeks, I will sit down, write those two chapters each of those days.
And I've mentioned this on some more books shows, certainly, that I go to a writing co-op space, which is just this perfect little haven for writers, where people can go and not be bothered. And I know that not every city has that, so I feel bad, when I say, “Oh yeah, you should go find that place.” But I'm lucky enough to have found one here in Chicago. I go there almost every day probably now, but definitely Monday through Friday, when I'm writing the fiction. I go there, finish it and then it's in, I have that first draft ready at the end of five weeks.
Joanna: Which is great. I've struggled for years to try and come up with a routine. Yesterday, we're recording on a Tuesday and yesterday was my first day of the next novel, and I put in my diary, same, five weeks with the days in the diary, and I just go to a local cafe. So anyone can do that.
But to get away from the place where we do this other stuff, right? You do podcasting and loads of other stuff, so to get away from the desk. And then, like you say, just do the work. Although I use The Story Grid, Shawn Coyne's story grid, like one-pager outline.
I'm not as good as you at outlining. But all of that is brilliant and you're someone who has experimented with loads of different things and try to find best practices.
And now, you've got this great service for authors, Best Page Forward. First of all, what is it all about? And why is what you're doing so important for authors?
Bryan: It's funny because Best Page Forward is an idea that Simon Whistler, our friend on Rocking Self-Publishing, actually came up with for me in a Mastermind that we're a part of. And what he said to me was, “Bryan, you write good copy, you're a copywriter. That's your side job, that's your 20 hours a week job that you do.
What if you actually applied that to authors, which is your big focus with Sell More Books Show, with your non-fiction? Why not apply that to authors?” And I got to thinking, “You know, you're right, Simon, you brilliant guy, you.” I should try this out for authors, and what I decided was at first I would focus on book descriptions.
I look at so many book descriptions out there. And it doesn't matter if you're self-published or traditionally published, most of them are pretty bad, and they don't do a good job of actually pointing out what qualities the book has, what makes this book worth buying, how it fulfills this person's desires for whether it be paranormal romance, or non-fiction, on self-publishing. You need to sell it.
People aren't very good at selling, you and I both know this.
When I tried to just take on a few of these, just to try them out, I found that…you know, I liked doing this work and I think that I can help people while I'm doing it. I launched this in June, and within the first month, I had 100 orders because, obviously, people…either they know they're not very good at writing descriptions, or they don't like doing it, because they don't feel comfortable doing it.
Copywriting is so different from writing fiction or even writing non-fiction prose, that it's tough for people to get their heads around it, and that's something, with Best Page Forward, I've been able to provide.
Joanna: Obviously we're going to spill the beans on some tips for sales descriptions for people.
But first of all, what is the difference between copywriting and normal writing?
Bryan: We had a chat about this off the air because a lot of authors don't know what copywriting is.
Copywriting is essentially words that sell.
It can be in many different forms.
There can be copywriting for your e-mails, when you're putting together an auto-responder. Copywriting for sending a review request to a book reviewer.
Copywriting is really anything in which you are trying to get a certain objective. It's a persuasive form of writing that can be for selling, or can be for getting any kind of call-to-action, where someone will do something for you.
It's so different from fiction and the funny thing is, I know that there are so many fiction writers out there, who, if they kind of knew some of the basics, they could do this themselves. But most people kind of bang their head against the wall and say that it's really tough, and they strain. And it's because they haven't practiced the art of copywriting, which fortunately, I've gotten to do in my freelance line of work, and I really enjoy doing it.
Joanna: How I started writing them was like copying out other people's blurbs. I use the term ‘blurb' but we're talking about sales descriptions that go in the Amazon description box, just in case people are wondering.
It is that description, but the point is it's a sales description. They don't call it a sales description, do they? It's called ‘description,'.
Before we get into the details of the good stuff, what are the main things that people get wrong with that sales description?
Bryan: Ninety-nine percent of authors will only write a book synopsis in the description. I think traditional published book descriptions tend to have this problem a little bit too.
Even a great description won't necessarily sell, because when you're just telling basically what happens in a story from your ‘500 feet up' view it doesn't connect always with your reader.
I think that the first thing is that they'll just write a synopsis and not really pay attention to what is it about this genre, or the way I'm telling this story that excites other readers? And without that emotional investment from the beginning, it's going to be really difficult for a reader to connect.
And some will buy, and some best-selling authors have bad descriptions, but they could have more sales with a more emotionally connecting copywriting.
Joanna: I think that emotion is something we forget. And also, it's very, very hard for authors to turn what might be a 70,000 word book into a couple of hundred words, really. And it is incredibly, incredibly difficult. One thing we should say up front, if people are worried about this, is that one of the best things about being indie is you can change it.
With all the tips we're now going to talk about, people can always go back and change their descriptions, right? So, this is not a big deal.
Let's look at the various aspects of the sales description. Let's start with non-fiction, because we're going to talk about non-fiction and fiction separately.
What are the most important aspects of a non-fiction sales description?
Bryan: I think it's really important to think about what problems a reader has, because the goal of a non-fiction book is to solve a particular problem for a reader. They're on Amazon, or they're on Google, or they're wherever, they're searching to find, “How do I fix, how do I make my book descriptions better? How do I write better e-mails?”
They're searching this and then they come upon maybe your product description. They want to know that your book addresses that problem. So right off the bat, you can have your hook, I like to call it a tagline, right up front, in which you have your hook, you can have something like, “Have you ever wondered how you could write better book descriptions in less time?”
Joanna: Wow, that is masterful.
Bryan: I would never say that but I think that when you have that hook right up-front, that question that's in the reader's, potential customer's mind, you are going to get them to keep reading. And that's the whole point of the tagline, non-fiction and fiction. To keep them reading because attention spans are short, and Amazon only lists a few lines now, at least on the desktop version.
You need to get them quickly.
Joanna: I agree with you that they have to know they're in the right place, basically. I was talking to a psychologist, he wanted to write a book on cognitive behavioral therapy, and I said to him, “Actually, people are not searching for cognitive behavioral therapy, they're searching for, ‘I'm depressed, need help with depression, or do you want some help?'”
We're always trying to put ourselves in the minds of the customer at this point, which is difficult when you've been in your own head for so long.
For non-fiction, should you outline the table of contents, for example?
Bryan: I think that it can be helpful, but I don't think it's necessarily the thing you have to do. I think at this point, it depends on how good your table of contents is, and you almost need to treat each chapter header like it's a mini headline, so that you're getting people to get invested. Maybe the headlines should be little questions…how do I fix this? How do I do that?
I think it's almost better to just list a few of them, in bullet point form, because people like reading bullet points, and maybe just hit your top four or five. I like to do something like, “In this book you'll learn…” and then there's five bullet points.
And something I think – this isn't exactly related – but I think something that non-fiction authors need to do that they aren't doing is establish their own expertise in the book description because people…you know this problem, you have trouble selling yourself sometimes, I have trouble myself sometimes, people don't always like to sell themselves.
So they sell themselves short when they don't mention why they are the person who should be turned to. A 20-year expert on financial advice, an experienced copywriter who has written 200-plus book descriptions. They need to know that not only does this book solve the problem, but that you're the person who is going to solve their problem and that they can trust you.
Joanna: You're so right, and I think this is really hard for people, and that's why having an external view point that you're giving people is great, or talking about it with other authors. I've always helped people with their CVs or their resumes. I'm like, “You've got to blow your own horn, because people don't know who you are.”
And so, often we just think, “Oh, people will just discover me and they'll discover how amazing I am.” But you're exactly right. You have to do that.
The other question I had here is you mentioned that, “In this book you will learn…” I heard a Michael Hyatt's podcast or something that the word ‘discover' is better than learn. So one of those copywriting tag words.
Bryan: Yeah, and I have seen ‘discover' used. I think that's…when you find good words, because…it's funny, the word ‘you' is also such a great word, versus a third person kind of way around it.
Joanna: It's better to have ‘you' than ‘I,' isn't it?
Joanna: “You will learn”, not “I will teach you.”
Bryan: Yes, for sure. So, when you find good words, ‘discover,' ‘you,'…and especially with fiction, really great adjectives like ‘page turner,' or ‘compelling.' When you find those words, test; everyone should try one description, try it for a couple of weeks, try another one. You should always test. But when you find words that work, and I mean, Michael Hyatt is a best-selling author and amazing speaker, so when he says something, you listen, of course.
When you find good words, you use them, and you can use them in every different description. People aren't going to look at different ones and say, “He used discover in both of those descriptions, I'm not buying.” No, of course not. When you find the good words, use them.
Joanna: The other thing, which is applicable to both fiction and non-fiction:
What about getting quotes from other authors? Should those quotes from authors go in the description? Are they any use? Do we have any evidence that they do actually sell?
Bryan: We do have evidence.
Bryan: BookBub did a study not too long ago, in which they tested their click-through rate, obviously people don't buy straight off BookBub, so they only know the click-through rate, not necessarily the buying rate. But they tested descriptions there, about 150-word description that they have on their pages. They tested quotes, and they tested quotes of authors versus quotes of publications.
And what they found was – and I think I'm going to get these numbers right – they found that when there's a quote from a well-known author in there, that click-through rate actually goes up 22 percent. And an author versus a publication, like say Publishers Weekly versus Stephen King, the Stephen King one or the author quote in general, is going to get 30% better than the quote from the publication, so quotes are great.
That's one of the reasons I recommend, if you have a quote from someone that typical genre reader is going to know, it should go right after the headline, because you want them to know, “Oh crap, Stephen King thinks this guy is awesome. I am going to buy this right away.” So you need that quote right in there.
If it's not from someone well-known, use it in the editorial review section, if there's going to be some quote from some person. Because readers look at a quote from someone they don't know as ‘some person,' then I don't think it's necessarily going to sell.
Joanna: Although I'm always really surprised by who people have heard of and who they haven't, you know? “Oh, wow, Seth Godin,” and people are like, “I don't know who you're talking about.”
Bryan: I have some of Godin's e-mails. I know Seth Godin, but it is funny.
Joanna: And another thing that is kind of related to both fiction and non-fiction is, and I see Nick Stephenson do this and he's obviously pretty good at this type of thing:
List out two things: a Q&A with the author, and also a list of the categories that the book has either been a bestseller in, or that actually is kind of ranked in for keyword reasons. What do you think about that?
Bryan: I've done it. I've definitely done it on my books. I don't do it for my clients. And the reason is I still don't know if it works. I have seen it work for permanently free books, and I will recommend that to people who are in that situation, as the first book in a series and it's permanently free. I'll recommend that, but I don't know. I'm not sold on it yet.
Obviously, a lot of people have tried it through Nick's stuff and I think that's great, because you need to try things. But, I want to discourage the, “Set it and forget it” mentality of book descriptions. Or their auto-responder e-mails, or their review requests, anything…I want to discourage that because people forget about them, and then they never get to test to see which thing could work better. And so, I think that's something people need to try.
They should try the Q&A thing. If it gives them results, keep it, but if they don't ever try anything with those, or they only tried the Q&A and then never test out without, or never test out a different way of doing it, they're never going to know if it does better. Authors are not always in the business mind-set, which I know you've tried to cure people, get them to think that way. Testing is a huge part of business. Knowing one way converts better than another is so important. It's such key data for authors to know.
Joanna: I am shocking at testing and I think there's lots of people now going, “Ah, don't mention the word ‘test.' I don't ever want…” because I at least spent…in my previous life, I used to do testing and software testing. It kind of brings me out in a rash. Luckily, now I've hired my husband into the business. One of his jobs is going to be split testing, because I just can't face it.
So, anyone listening, if you cannot face testing, something is better than nothing.
Bryan: Now, I don't want to overwhelm anybody.
Joanna: Yeah, so, just something is better than nothing. But definitely revisiting things every, at least year to actually update stuff. Even you realize that you've changed a lot. I just looked at some of the e-mails I wrote like a year ago, and you're just kind of cringing going, “Ah, I really need to update that.”
Bryan: Oh, for sure, completely.
Joanna: Was there anything else on non-fiction, or should we move into fiction?
Bryan: To hit the highlights again…your hook, your expertise and the problem you're solving. As long as you've got those in there, I think that you will do better than probably what you have.
Joanna: With fiction, let's talk about that.
When talking about a hook, what does that actually mean for fiction?
Bryan: I think that for fiction, you want to make sure your cover fits your genre. You want to make sure your hook fits your genre. If you're writing, and I've written a lot of romance descriptions lately, which has been super fun, because those have such a great hook. “He is dark and mysterious, she is scarred and tortured. Can they find love on the frontier?”
I love those because they have such a key hook that genre readers are looking for. They're looking for a certain kind of guy and a certain kind of girl, and asking if they can find love. That's so great, but even if you're not romance, there are great hooks to be found. If you're writing werewolf books, obviously people want to know about the werewolves. If you're writing a deep historical novel, people want to know what time period, which is another thing that BookBub recommends.
They want to know what time period it is, and they want to what the main driving force of the story is. So I think every genre maybe has a slightly different hook. But, if you know your genre, and you should if you're writing in your genre…for instance, with your thrillers, you know that people like to see that there's some kind of race against time, something happening and that the hero or heroine is in danger, and needs to save a lot of people.
If you're a thriller reader, you want to know that that's going to be in this book. And you take that, make sure it's in your hook, then put your own JF Penn spin on it, because your hooks are good. I looked at yours.
Joanna: Oh, thank you.
Bryan: You do a great job with your descriptions, so I can't sell you on them, darn. But, I think that if you know your genre, you can write a strong hook. It's just setting out to do so.
Joanna: I must say I've been rewriting mine for years. I still want to tweak it some more, but as I mentioned there at the beginning, what I did was write out over and over again other people's blurbs, to get the feeling. It's almost like the language. What I've written down here is hyperbole. It's like, “Must race against time to save the world.” It's so over-the- top and it feels really fake.
Do you think that over-the-top-ness, that hyperbole, is necessary in pretty much every fiction blurb, sales description?
Bryan: Yes. Particularly genre fiction, where it is kind of a race against time, where it's not out of the question to say those kinds of things. I think that it really matters from genre to genre.
I was writing a very realistic, historical fiction novel description the other day, and my client was worried that it would be too hyperbolic. If you're writing a very realistic, historical novel, maybe not…go away from the hyperbole.
But, in most cases, you're trying to hit general readers of that genre, and general readers of that genre want to know that it's a page-turner, that it's compelling, that it's edge-of-your-seat action. And you're right, it does feel fake when you're writing those kinds of things. But it's okay to be a little fake and test it, because if you find that a little bit of going over the top with your description sells more books, then that's what you've got to do.
Joanna: Yes, you've got to do it. And if you look at all the top selling books in your niche and they're likely, if they're not famous people, they are likely to have this type of description.
One other thing, a character name and some kind of tag about the character. Is that a rule for fiction?
Bryan: I think, if it's not, it should be. Specifics sell, and that's in any genre. If they don't know the character's name, they're going to have a tough time investing in them.
I like to do character name, character occupation and then the start of the emotional journey for this character.
What has happened in the past that's influencing their current actions? What's happening, if it's a later book in a series, what just happened in the series that is causing them internal or external conflict?
If you have that right away, that's almost another hook. You've just had your tagline hook and then you're starting the synopsis. Then you have your character hook right there. The more hooks you can get in there, the better. So I totally think that if it's not a rule to have the character and what they do and how they feel, then that should be a rule.
Joanna: The next thing that kind of happens is the complication, right?
We have to mention a few things about the complication and also the setting. Would that be right?
Bryan: Yes. As the reader, we want to know that there is something going on that has our main character's attention and that requires them to help. And I think that the setting can be baked in there.
In historical, it's very important to have the setting right away, because people who like Civil War set novels, they want to know this is during Civil War. If people like War of the Roses, they want to know it's War of the Roses time.
They want to know that, and BookBub has talked about having that up top in your description to help sell. So I think that you can bake in the setting wherever it makes sense. When the setting ties in with your conflict, which is always a good thing to have in your fiction anyway, when those work together, you can kind of interweave. Especially with really dense, epic fantasy, something I like to do is weave…have a little bit of the ongoing conflict whenever I mention another plot line.
So I'll say, “While the kingdom is under siege, Rafe Finnigan is plotting his revenge after his, blah, blah, blah.” So that you're not just at the top saying, “In a kingdom where, blah, blah, blah,” for three or four lines. That's already too long and you might say to yourself, “Three or four lines? That's nothing. My book is 250,000 words.” But you need to try to keep people interested.
It's like keeping the ball up in the air. Every time you have a really great hook of a character or of the story, you kind of bounce the ball back up in the air. If you have three or four lines that are uninteresting and they don't seem to move this conflict ahead, then you're dropping the ball. It's an exercise.
It really is an exercise in keeping attention.
It's a challenge. But I think that there are steps people can follow, certainly, to do that more effectively and more efficiently.
Joanna: Then really, at the end, we're asking a question and then the call-to-action. So mine's like, “Can Morgan Sierra save the world? Click here to download a sample,” or whatever.
At that question, is that how you would normally end a fiction as well? A question that leaves an open hook?
Bryan: I'll do 50/50. I'll do either a question or a really dire sounding statement. So, “Rafe Finnigan…” again, I'll keep using this fake character name I came up with. “Rafe Finnigan must put a stop to the king's reign or everyone he knows and loves will die.”
It could be phrased in the form of a question. “Can he stop them before they die?” I really think either works. What I like about the statement is it's really just a punch. It's really this punch in the gut, and you want to know what happens next, either way. I don't know if one works better than the other, haven't seen any data on it. Definitely something worth testing.
But I'm going to insert a slightly different thing in between that question and that call-to-action. I have a new thing I've been doing and…it's not new. I mean, I'm sure I borrowed it from somebody, but I like to call it ‘the selling paragraph.' And this is where you can fit in some more hyperbole and a little more information about the series itself. It's also good for keywords.
So I would say, “Rafe's Revenge is the first book in an epic fantasy series.” And then I would go on to, “If you like…” once again, we're getting the “If you.” “If you like pirate adventures, compelling prose, detailed characters, then you'll love ‘author's name's' incredible, introspective journey into the deep wilderness,” something like that.
Can you tell I've been writing a lot of these lately?
Joanna: But we're not putting other author's names in there, are we, because Amazon is not keen on that anymore?
Bryan: I think that I like the adjectives. I would rather do the adjectives, because I have heard on and off about Amazon not being happy. What I've heard though with that, 100 percent, Amazon does not want author's names in the keywords, in the seven keywords that you've provided. I've never heard of them actually flagging a description for having another author's name. I think really, if you want to play it completely safe, just adjectives.
If your book really is for the readers of a certain author, then I think you go for it. Amazon's not going to block an account. They're going to just say, “Hey, you shouldn't do this,” and then you can change it. Maybe that's a little loose and fast for people, but I think I'm willing to put an author's name in there if it really makes sense to do so. If adjectives work better, I'll go with the adjectives.
Joanna: That's actually where I'm looking. I haven't done the author Q&A thing like Nick suggests, but that's where I see him doing that. The question for the author is, “Why did you write the series?” For me, it's like, “Because I love Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, I wanted to write a religious thriller in the same kind of vein.” So it comes in more naturally in a Q&A thing. But all of this is personal choice to people listening.
Bryan: Oh, for sure.
Joanna: But then, the call-to-action…and one of the things with copywriting, which I learned years ago now but it still seems really odd, is:
You actually have to tell people to click, or you have to tell people to download stuff and you feel like an idiot, because you think, “Shouldn't they just do that naturally?” What is that final line needed, and what is a call-to-action so people know?
Bryan: A call-to-action, and I think the SPP guys did a good job getting the word out about this in Write, Publish, Repeat. A call-to-action is literally asking someone to perform a certain action. When it comes to a book description page, that action is to buy the book or download the book if it's free. You literally have to say, “Buy, book title, today, to jump into the adventure,” whatever. I like saying ‘today.' I'm a big fan of ‘today' in my calls-to-action. Not tomorrow, not just ‘buy,' you do it right now, and I've found some success with that.
That should be basically the last thing people see, or if you're doing the Q&A, I would put it maybe something before and after the Q&A, because not everybody is going to read all the way through that. It's probably the oldest copywriting principle there is. You need a call-to-action because it improves the percentage of people who buy.
Joanna: It's crazy, but we're all just animals at the end of the day, and we respond to these cues. You feel like an idiot, but it works.
Bryan: Yeah. Your psychology friend should just write a book about calls-to-action.
Joanna: I think there's plenty of them. Okay, so we've covered loads of stuff there about all kinds of things on sales descriptions. Obviously, people can check out your books to have a look at your sales descriptions, which obviously are just amazing. That's a tough one, Bryan.
Bryan: I know, I know.
Joanna: I'll link to all those in the show notes. We'll come back to that in a minute. I just had another question before we go and that is about podcasting, because you are the co-host of the Sell More Books Show with Jim Kukral. We all know it, you do most of the work and Jim sweeps in and is a co-host.
What are the pros and cons of doing a podcast, and would you recommend the authors do it based on what it's done for you?
Bryan: Well, first of all, I will say that Jim is awesome.
Joanna: Oh yeah. We love Jim. He's been on the show loads.
Bryan: Yes, we all love Jim and I really don't mind doing more work than he does on one side, because…and this really ties into my answer. I think getting into Sell More Books Show with Jim was really all about wanting to grow my platform. I really wanted to grow my platform and I knew Jim from Author Marketing Club and I saw the things he was doing and I actually rejected him for one of my multi-author Facebook events because I didn't have room left.
But, with that in mind, he was asking about, “Hey, does anyone want to do a podcast with me?” And because I'd connected with him beforehand, I was the first to raise my hand. Now, would I recommend this? Absolutely, podcasts are fantastic. And even if you have to do a lot of heavy lifting to make your podcast happen…and we knew this going into it. Our podcast is a weekly news show, in which we read descriptions of each news story and three tips.
So we knew, going in, we'd have to research the news, have to write those news descriptions. I was doing it right before I came on this interview, I was writing the news descriptions for the upcoming show. So we knew there would be a lot of work every week going into it.
But…and you know this, there is no connection quite like reaching people through audio. People feel as though they know you, and they do know you because they get to hear your little quirks and they get to hear your mistakes and your non-mistakes, and they really get to make this deep connection.
And we found some of these fans that we've been able to pull in from Sell More Books Show, they're just so engaged and we talked about this in our e-mail, how you've lifted a couple of ideas from us, we've lifted ideas from you. And the podcast community is so great, we all become friends.
Joanna: Oh, it's so incestuous, isn't it?
Bryan: Oh, it's bad in that way. No, it's very good. But, we get to know each other. I mean, when I met you in Charleston, Jo, like we just automatically had a hug because we knew each other from podcasting. And I met a lot of people over the last year who'd been Sell More Books Show fans.
If you're the kind of person who wants a deeper connection with people on a certain subject matter, I would recommend doing a podcast and figuring out a format that you can do every single week, so that you will be able to keep it going. Because we have news all the time, you have interviewees all the time. If you know your subject, then just go for it.
Joanna: For nonfiction only, do you think? Do you think any of the fiction podcasts are working?
Bryan: The only fiction podcasts I know of that work are the kind that where you're actually doing fiction, and there are some really good ones, I think one is Welcome to Night Vale.
Joanna: Welcome to Night Vale, that's like a serial. Scott Sigler is probably the best-known guy, he is doing it with his books. He's been doing a weekly fiction for…I think it's seven years now.
Bryan. Wow. Wow.
Joanna: I know, absolutely amazing. And I became a fan of him because of that. I think it can work, but both of us would acknowledge that this is really hard work, wouldn't we? I mean, it's super hard work, podcasting, and I almost gave mine up last year, because just the amount of extra time, and then in the end, I doubled down and went weekly because of you guys.
But I think it worked. The weekly show makes a really big difference, so that would be a tip from me. But equally, I think for me and you, partly the reason why I was interested in you, is anyone who makes it past 10 episodes, that's kind of my cut-off now when people ask me, “Can I go on people's shows?” I'm like, “Have you done 10 episodes?”
Is that your cut-off too? Like if people make 10, are they going to make it?
Bryan: I think that if you can do it for 10 weekly…oh, I'm going to say 12, just because I'm a big fan of three months, I'm a big fan of three months for forming a habit. And so I'm just going to be difficult and say 12. 10 to 12 episodes, if you can get those in the can and get your system down, because Jim and I didn't know what we were doing after the first couple of weeks, we had to keep working on it.
I think we actually had you on episode nine, so we still didn't know what we were doing by the time we had you to visit us. But you've got to get your system down, you keep working on refining. Jim and I are always looking for ways to improve, we just started our Patreon. We were influenced by you and your Patreon page. Lift ideas from other authors, other podcasters, keep working on refining your own, and if you can get through those ten, I think you can make it, you can have success.
Joanna: Fantastic. And that modeling idea, of course, lifting ideas from other people and persisting and trying is exactly the same for sales description. So we've come full circle.
Bryan: All the way around.
Joanna: So tell people where they can find everything about you, and also about Best Page Forward and where do you want people to go?
Bryan: Okay, well, I'm going to do three links, because I'm greedy. So, Sell More Books Show, you can go to SellMoreBooksShow.com. If you're interested in booking a description from me, you can go to BookBestPageForward.com. Here's the big one, here's the big one. I'm doing this big giveaway, I'm giving away $1,000 in my services for copywriting, so that's e-mails for your auto-responder, ads, author bio, descriptions, and more. I'm giving that away and anyone who signs up for the giveaway actually gets a free cheat sheet, my cheat sheet on writing better book descriptions.
Joanna: Ooh, I want that, I'm signing up. Where can I get that?
Bryan: Well, Joanna, and Joanna's fans, you can get that at AuthorCopy.com. If you go to AuthorCopy.com, you'll go to the giveaway page, put in your e-mail, and you will get the cheat sheet and a chance to win the $1,000 copywriting for authors' giveaway.
Joanna: Ooh, I hope I win, that's awesome.
Bryan: That would be awesome, that would be really cool.
Joanna: That would be so cool. No, and it's funny because I feel like copywriting, like I started learning from Copyblogger years ago, writing headlines, and there's so much we could talk about on that. So we might have you back on the show next year to kind of go through that.
I feel like we're in the maturing space in self-publishing, where talking about these things is becoming just much more normal, because it's an internet marketing world, copywriting. And there's so much to learn. So thank you so much for your time, Bryan. That was great.
Bryan: Of course, thank you so much for having me on.
J. Thorn says
Wink, wink @ Jo
Bryan Cohen is an unstoppable machine.
Bryan Cohen says
Aw shucks :).
Bryan Cohen says
Jo, thank you so much for having me on the podcast today!
If anybody has any questions about copywriting, selling for authors, etc., I’m happy to answer them here on the comments. I’ll try to stop back in multiple times over the next few days.
What do you want to know about copywriting for authors?
Thanks for the great podcast!
Do you think you could elaborate on Amazon frowning on name dropping in descriptions? Like what is their reasoning, have people gotten into real trouble or had their accounts/books suspended, that kind of stuff? Also do you know if book title dropping is a no-no too? Like, instead of comparing your book to the works of a famous author, making a direct comparison to a famous book? What about other retailers like Kobo or Nook?
Bryan Cohen says
Hey, Kitty! Thanks for listening.
I’ve never heard of an account being banned on any of the platforms for name dropping. If anything, you may get a notice from KDP support asking you not to use that name…
But that’s never happened with me and any of my name dropping (I mention Joss Whedon in my book descriptions for Ted Saves the World, and I’ve never had any trouble with that). I’ve done that on all platforms and I’ve never gotten a peep.
So I wouldn’t worry about getting banned. It’s not gonna happen. Just don’t put the author names in your keywords. That’s a no-no.
Bryan Cohen says
Thanks Bryan and Jo for lots of really helpful information. Memoir sort of falls between fiction and non-fiction and I’m drawing near the end of mine. It is a good story but I’m also weaving into it a lot of important factual information about inner ear c onditions. How should I tackle my description – focus on the story or how I can solve a problem or BOTH? many thanks.
Bryan Cohen says
Hey Philippa, I was just thinking about this question! I think you should treat it more like fiction to focus on the story, and you can use the “strange but true” aspect as a sort of hook.
And if the memoir can solve a problem, throw that in there too, but in most cases, memoirs are about the story and the emotion. Focus on those, and you should be in good shape. Thanks for commenting!
Gary Henderson says
Bryan, could you elaborate on this writing co-op you have found in Chicago? Googling that brings up a lot of things that I’m sure aren’t it, and I’m curious if they have something similar where I live, but I need to know what terms to Google. 🙂
Bryan Cohen says
Hey Gary, thanks for the comment! Here’s the exact space I was talking about:
I’d say good terms to work for are writers co-op, co-working space, meeting space, etc. Although, I’ve heard before that I’m pretty lucky for having a place like this in the city. If my wife and I ever move back east I’m probably going to need to Kickstart something like this :).
Thank you, Bryan and Joanna. Part of my day job involves writing and creating radio commercials, so I really enjoyed learning about this type of approach to fiction and non-fiction marketing.
Bryan Cohen says
Thanks, April! I think you’ve got a leg up on my authors when it comes to writing better descriptions and other types of author copy because of your job. That’ll serve you really well!
Heather Day Gilbert says
I LOVED your description of Amazon blurb-writing for fiction–that it’s an exercise in keeping attention. I can’t say how many blurbs lose me somewhere as we delve into a blow-by-blow synopsis of characters I haven’t even connected with. I like short, powerful blurbs with punch–and even those tropey catchphrases that are true to genre like “will they find love before the clock runs out?”. Great post.
And yes, YES. Please NAME that main character so we know who we are reading about. I know sometimes hook statements we submit to publishers/agents don’t typically include name, but even then, I always try to do that. It’s important to me as a reader and I figure it is important to wannabe readers too.
Bryan Cohen says
So glad you agree, Heather! We need to give the readers what they want.
For some great copy writing examples, listen carefully to the voice overs on movie trailers. They need to grab your attention fast and are often great examples of short, to-the-point, compelling copy that really sells!
Bryan Cohen says
Robert Scanlon says
Great episode, Bryan and Jo! (Only just caught up with this one – listening while driving to piano lesson and then later the same day, pressure washing the driveway)
I’m in the same mastermind group with Bryan and Simon and it was quite funny when Simon launched into the Book Description Service idea for Bryan (actually it had another name, which I cannot reveal under threat of death!). I agreed with Simon, as some months earlier, I’d told Bryan rather prophetically (and unknowingly!) on “The Split” podcast, that the publishing houses should pay him to write their descriptions, as he does a way better job.
When Simon said that, it just fell into place – and now Bryan’s seriously making a big difference. Amazing stuff!
Re: podcasts. I cannot believe, Bryan did NOT mention “The Split – a Young Adult Book Review Podcast for Readers and Writers” (to give it its full name!). Each week we review a full YA novel (and Bryan kicks off the show with HIS version of “the blurb”). This show has been great for a number of reasons, and I know for a fact that some listeners ARE being introduced to our own books, even though we never push them on the show.
We’ve also learned a lot more about the writing craft, and deconstructed a great deal about what the YA market seems to like (even in books we didn’t like!).
We’re up to Episode 48, and have recorded up to Episode 51 (we record two back-to-back every two weeks) – and it is huge fun.
I recommend it, if you love to chat and aren’t scared of a bit of exposure. The technical stuff fades into the background after a while, and workflows are easily systematized. (I do most of the tech work for this one, since Bryan has his hands full for the Sell More Books Show!).
The other person (who we all know) who is doing an interesting job of this with a mix of fiction and other media, is J Thorn, with his “Dark Arts Theater”!
Bryan Cohen says
Don’t hate me, Robert. I mentioned The Split on several other interviews in the last couple of weeks :).
Thanks for the comment!
Just excellent–exactly what I wanted to know. Thank you!
Nicky Reich says
Thanks for the article!
Nice revealing of the most important moments of case studies.
Tom Southern says
Hi Joanne, Bryan.
Enjoyed this and got so much out of all the info you shared.
Descriptions are something I struggle with a lot. Especially knowing how one differs a synopsis. I once asked an editor what a synopsis was and was told it was a description. But when I wrote one I was told this isn’t a synopsis, it’s a description. Confused. I was. Now, at last, you’ve helped clear the fog. Cheers!
Writing a description that entices readers to buy your books is vital. This
lays out the steps wonderfully.
And, having a transcript to go with it is really useful too, especially when
coming back to listen again.