The publishing marketplace is flooded with thousands of new titles every single day, and readers are inundated with offers, messages, pictures, and pleas to buy. But startling copy can make someone stop and pay attention to your book.
Since self-publishing my first book Lip Service in 1999, traditionally publishing 18 books, hybrid-publishing 3 more, starting AuthorBuzz (the first ad agency for authors), and co-creating 1001 Dark Nights (a romance novella marketing initiative), I have seen the landscape go from manageable to crowded to very crowded to where we are now — absolutely insane.
Despite the flooded marketplace, AuthorBuzz has successfully helped launch authors’ careers, ratcheted their sales up to the next level, or maintained their sales momentum while everyone else in their genre was slipping.
How have we done it?
First, we recognize no two books are the same. No two authors are the same. And to stand out in such a competitive marketplace, you have to hook readers with compelling promotional copy that makes a book feel unique. In this post, I’ll walk you through how we develop killer copy for our clients’ book descriptions, advertising campaigns, social media posts, and author websites that helps them outswim their competition.
First, determine your target audience
Targeting the right readers — and catering your copy to that audience — is the most economical and efficient way to build your brand and sell your books. Study the marketplace. Scour your books’ “also boughts.” Use polling on Facebook. Do keyword research. Use any creative idea you can think up to learn more about who your reader is, what they read, and why they buy. Learn more about finding the right readers here.
The average reader spends less than eight seconds looking at a cover or reading an ad before deciding if they want to click. So the promotional copy needs to be super compelling and relevant to their interests. Once you understand your readers, take their interests into consideration with all of the copy you write — from the cover to the flap copy to the display ads. Every word and image should speak to that specific reader.
Note that you might have multiple target audiences, as different books can pique different readers’ interests. For instance, Randy Susan Meyer’s novel The Widow of Wall Street has a specific pull for book club readers as well as New Yorkers. Sande Boritz Berger’s novel The Sweetness appeals to readers interested in women’s fiction, history buffs, and those interested in the Jewish experience during World War II.
Tips for writing headlines and taglines
Once you know who your readers are, you can cater the headline and/or tagline in each of your advertising campaigns to them. Create a different variation for each audience. Don’t try to fit all of the value props for all the potential audiences in one line. The internet allows for segmented marketing, letting you target specific audiences with specific messages!
Tip #1: Be specific. A headline or tagline should either be clear about who the reader is or specific to the subject of the book. Being clever is good — it can make a message stand out — but it’s not required. Specificity trumps cleverness.
Tip #2: Use terms relevant to your audience’s interests. Saying something is “amazing” is not as powerful as saying it will appeal to the reader’s “inner shopaholic”. Use enticing phrases that will emotionally resonate with your target audience.
Tip #3: Shorter is always better. Probably the biggest mistake I see authors make is putting too many words in the headline / tagline. With only five seconds to make an impression, you want your pitch to be concise and quick to absorb.
Case study: For author Steve Berry we created two tagline concepts for each target reader: both appealed to the history buff but one pushed the message to the conservative thriller reader, and the other to the more liberal thriller reader. When running ads with these taglines, we then targeted each version to its corresponding audience.
Tips for writing book descriptions
When reading a book description, the reader wants to know why she has to buy this book as opposed to that book. So writing the book description is not that different from writing the book — if the first page of the book is astounding, the reader is more likely to keep reading. The same thing applies to book descriptions. Identify the reader in that description and tell them why this is the book they have to read.
Tip #1: Break up the book descriptions. Instead of including a dense paragraph of text, break it up into short paragraphs that are easy to read. Include four or five paragraphs at the most.
Tip #2: Don’t use vague language. Be specific about why readers should want to read this book, and use keywords that your target audience is searching for.
Tip #3. Don’t tell the whole story. A description isn’t a plot synopsis or a query letter. It should offer enough information to entice the reader without giving away the ending!
Tip #4: Convince readers why they’ll be interested in this book. If you’re not a household name with millions of books in print, remember that no one knows who you are or what you write. You must do the work for the reader to figure out why they want to read your book.
Case study: We tested ads for a client who had written a paranormal suspense novel. The ads generated clicks and sent thousands of people to Amazon. But the sales were truly abysmal. We knew it wasn’t the ad, so we looked at the book description on retailer sites. Not only was it really long — over 750 words in one dense paragraph — but it began with a long, detailed description of the main character. So we modified the book description to begin with:
“For fans of Deborah Harkness and Anne Rice comes a new tale of magic and suspense…”
Instead of launching into a description of the main character, we told the reader why they’d love this book. Basically, we said, “hey, this book is like other books you love, so keep reading.” Once we changed the opening, listed similar authors, and broke up and shortened the description, sales picked up!
Tips for writing BookBub Ads copy
I run BookBub Ads both for clients and my own books. They allow for the tightest targeting out there, similar to Facebook ads. And targeted ads mean very little wasted money. I have to do my homework first and determine which author’s readers I want to reach — but it’s always worth spending the time to get the targeting right.
Tip #1: Test more than one ad to decide which to run with. For example, you can A/B test three different campaigns with identical creative except for the copy, where everything else (targeting, bid, budget, etc.) remains the same. You might find all of them work… or that none of them work. But that’s one of the benefits to the platform; you can pause ads and run short, low-cost tests to find what works.
Tip #2: Narrow your audience with author targeting. Also, avoid picking the biggest names. For instance, I rarely use James Patterson, E.L James, or J.K. Rowling. I’m not looking for the reader who only buys the two top-trending books each year. I want active, avid readers who buy books often. So I go after the next rung down. Daniel Silva instead of Patterson. Lexi Blake instead of E.L. James. And I cater the copy to these audiences to match their interests.
Tip #3: Keep the copy short and sweet. Longer isn’t better, even if it explains more. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but remember that the goal is to draw in readers rather than show off every detail about the book’s plot.
Case study: We A/B tested BookBub Ads promoting Pam Webber’s The Wiregrass. One version included a short blurb from the Historical Novel Society, while the other version included a longer blurb from a New York Times bestselling author. In this case, the short blurb performed best even though the longer blurb was from a well-known author and really explained the book. I didn’t expect the shorter version to win — which is why testing is so important.
Tips for crafting author newsletters
Your newsletter lets you keep in touch with readers between books and notify them when you have a special offer or a new book out. It’s also one of the best ways to get preorders. But to make them work, you need to get readers to sign up, get them to open the newsletter, and prevent them from unsubscribing.
Tip #1: Get the right readers to sign up. The most carefully crafted newsletter copy won’t matter if the wrong people are subscribing! So make sure to offer relevant incentives for signing up to your newsletter. We learned this the hard way — for one author, we offered a pearl necklace from Tiffany & Co. to get readers to subscribe to a newsletter. Thousands of people subscribed, but once the winner was announced, thousands of people unsubscribed, and the author was out $1,500. Instead of offering one massive prize, give away your books or something small that’s relevant to your book. For example, one author with a book about an aviary gave away jars of honey to multiple winners, and gained highly engaged subscribers.
Tip #2: Cater the copy to readers’ interests. Even though your newsletter is about you and your books, the ones with the highest engagement are those that also focus on readers’ varied interests. For instance, I recommend other books I’m reading that would appeal to my readers and match my brand. I’ll also include miscellaneous topics that relate to my books — a perfume I’ve discovered, or a piece of artwork I’ve seen — because my readers are interested in the arts and lovely things.
Tip #3: Include incentives for subscribing in your books. In each of our romance novellas at 1001 Dark Nights, we include a message at the beginning and end of each book about our monthly contest. To enter, all you have to do is sign up for our newsletter. That way we’re getting our books’ readers to subscribe, not friends of friends who repost giveaways.
Tip #4: Timing is everything; don’t over-send. Emailing subscribers once a month is generally the right timing. Again, there are exceptions to every rule. If you write cookbooks and you do a weekly newsletter with one free recipe a week, your readers might eat that up. But if you write two mystery novels a year, once a month is a great schedule. It’s enough to remind your readers you’re still around, but not so much that they get sick of you.
Case study: Sign up for Randy Susan Meyers or Ann Mah’s mailing lists to see how their newsletters mix interesting or personal content with their books, and how well it works. You can read Ann’s July newsletter here. And here’s a great example from Randy where she recommends another author’s book that her readers might enjoy.
Tips for writing copy for an author website
An author website is a calling card. It lets readers searching for you learn more about your books or sign up to receive more information. Note that one of the biggest mistakes I see authors make is spending thousands of dollars on their websites and not having money left for advertising. By all means create a beautiful site, but spend commensurate with the rest of your budget. I wouldn’t spend more than $500-$1,000 on a site until you’re a bestseller. And always use the easiest program that lets you update fast so you can keep it current with your books, sales, events, and news.
Tip #1: Don’t clutter the homepage with too much copy. 55% of people spend fewer than 15 seconds on a webpage when they land there, so prioritize surfacing the latest book with buy links, the newsletter sign-up form, news/events, and social media links.
Tip #2: Place a big call-to action to buy the latest book on the homepage. Include links to all the retailers. Make the graphic big — no one can buy the book if they can’t figure out how to buy it. Keep the copy short and action-oriented, with highly visible buttons reading: “BUY THE BOOK!” Or “SIGN UP TO GET UPDATES.”
Tip #3: A/B test your website copy. For example, you can create different home pages and test them using Facebook or BookBub Ads. Send people to Page A in one ad and Page B in another ad, and using tracking links see which results in more engagement and sales.
Case Study: We A/B tested the homepage for a memoir author and discovered that the copy and graphics she was using needed a complete revamp. The page was far too crowded with images of more than 10 of her books and long copy descriptions for each title. I can’t share her work, but here is an example of C.W. Gortner’s site that has effective copy and call-to-action links.
Tips for writing social media content
Publishing content on social media is a great way to grow a community and build buzz for your books, but you have to be as careful as you are with your newsletters. Over-posting and over-boosting will chase away followers who feel inundated with advertising and decide they’re not getting enough interesting content from you.
Tip #1. Use a 90/10 content ratio. Post one update about your book for every 10 posts about anything else — a recipe for organic face masks, picture of an adorable bulldog, or other interesting content relevant to your genre that your readers would enjoy. Be careful not to talk about your book way too much.
Tip #2. Test the copy in boosted Facebook posts. We’ve seen professionally-crafted boosted posts sell thousands of copies. We’ve also tested many boosted posts and found that including an enticing line of copy from the book instead of a vague blurb generates more clicks and sales.
For example, including a line from my newest novel Tiffany Blues, “Tell me, Jenny Bell, what haunts you?” sold more preorders than including this quote from Kirkus Reviews: “Captivating. A lush, mesmerizing story.” I thought the review was perfect, so sometimes running tests will surprise you.
Tip #3: Treat preorder and book launch ads differently. Ads promoting a preorder are for existing fans, and ads promoting a book launch or sale are for both existing and new readers.
Case study: For Kristin Ashley’s novella, we created two different graphics around the preorder and launch to create buzz for each on social media. For the preorder, we catered to existing readers by referencing an iconic character from the series.
For the launch promotion catering to both new and existing readers, we used an enticing bit of dialogue from the book that would appeal to both audiences.
As you can see, settling on the right promotional copy depends on your specific audience, and testing that copy will help you find the variation that delivers the best results. If you have any copywriting questions for me, let me know in the comments below!
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The views and opinions expressed in this guest post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BookBub.