Sunday, October 1, 2017

Writing Fiction Sales Copy

One of the challenging parts of getting a book out the door is knowing how to describe it to readers. This description is needed for websites and the back of the book. Writing good copy is an important passive marketing activity that will help sell your book.

There are many good articles to be found on the web for writing descriptions for non-fiction books. They just about all mention, "List the benefits of reading the book." The non-fiction advice mostly doesn't work for fiction. It was only recently that I discovered some advice for writing fiction book descriptions.

The book How to Write Fiction Sales Copy by Dean Wesley Smith has helped me enormously with fiction book descriptions that I wrote recently for some novels, and I recommend it for other fiction publishers.

I originally bought it as part of an ebook bundle for writers, and this book alone made buying the entire bundle worthwhile. (For the frugal among you, you can also find the material on his blog [].)

In brief, Smith's advice is to avoid using passive voice and avoid revealing too much plot.

The passive voice part is, for me, easy and obvious. Your mileage may vary.

The other part of the advice, not revealing too much plot, may seem counterintuitive. Don't you want to get into the plot in your description?

No, not really.

The more plot you reveal, the more you risk two things:
  1. Revealing spoilers.
  2. Making the reader think they know your story and, therefore, don't need to read it.
Much of the book (and blog postings) provides alternatives to revealing plot, with plenty of examples.

I made use of his first alternative, describing plot elements from only the first pages of the story. Sometimes this can be done artfully by repeating the first line of the novel or short story as the first line of your copy. This didn't work with the two books I urgently needed sales copy for. Instead, I merely described how the story started. I chose this approach because both stories begin in medias res. Let me show what I mean.

For suspense novel Bitter Vintage by M.L. Grider, I settled on this:

It started with a Tiffany lamp in 1995. Amy Dresden is used to turning men down gracefully. But when Pearce Martini sees her at an estate sale, he knows she is destined for him and doesn't plan to go away. 
Not knowing where else to turn, she goes to nextdoor gun dealer and ex-LAPD cop Helen Wu for advice. Amy never expected she'd own a gun--or wind up in the arms of another woman.
These four sentences make clear a number of things I wanted to be sure to convey: the setting (Los Angeles), the three main characters, the genre (suspense, escaping from a stalker), and that an unexpected lesbian relationship happens. And it took only five sentences. I did go more than a few pages in to bring in Helen Wu and the unexpected lesbian relationship, but I definitely wanted to mention Helen and I decided readers who don't want to read about a lesbian relationship deserved to know upfront that one figured prominently in the story.

For SF space opera McGuire's Luck by A.M. Jordan, I finally wound up with this:
They took something from Dorian McGuire, something precious, and he wants it back. 
He also wants his father to leave him be in Armstrong City on Luna, but old Gustave has other plans for his younger son. 
Soon, Dorian can count on only three things: his precious something, a lovely green-haired space captain, and what he has always relied on--his McGuire's luck.
This copy took only three sentences, although I chose to use three paragraphs. (I was also advised to tighten the first sentence, but I liked the cadence.) This one nails the genre (Dorian lives on the Moon; there is a space captain, so space travel is probably involved; the space captain is lovely, so there might be a romance), also brings in character description of Dorian (the protagonist), mentions a mysterious "something precious," and ends with a reference to the title. 

Smith describes many more techniques than drawing on the very early plot, some of which I applied to my descriptions, but I'll leave it to you to visit his blog or buy his book to learn them, which I promise you is worthwhile if you publish fiction. As for me, I'm not done. I'm going to apply Smith's techniques to rewriting book descriptions for other books I've published that are not selling as well as I'd like.