11 Aug

The “Art” of “Writing” a Book “Description”

I hate writing book descriptions. They are not descriptions; they are ads. And they are not written; they are designed following analysis of a target entity to manipulate money out of that target entity.

This bothers me for a number of reasons.

  1.  I have an obsessive personality disorder, which comes with “demand sensitivity” and “demand resistance.” This means, in effect, that I am cynical about marketing past the point of immunity and into resentment territory. I call out bullshit in TV commercials every time someone turns on the TV. (“For a limited time, we’re extending our normal 30-day return policy to 90 days!” That limited time has been all of the time for the past decade, so your normal return policy is 90 days, assholes. BUT I DIGRESS.) I hate being treated like a wallet to be popped open and plundered, which is the entire point of the advertising industry. I feel dirty having anything to do with it.
  2. I believe accurate, comprehensive information up front is crucial for initial customer satisfaction — if you buy a product that isn’t what you were promised, you’re going to be angrier than if it was simply not to your taste. Ads are deliberately vague because they’re concerned with the sale, not the customer’s satisfaction with the product. Sales are better when people don’t have enough information to limit their interest. The more an ad reveals, the more likely the viewer is to say, “Oh, that’s not what I’m looking for,” which is not the result the advertiser is looking for.
  3. Writers are constantly told adverbs, adjectives, abstractions, and cliches are symptoms of bad writing. Ads are STUFFED with adverbs, adjectives, abstractions, and cliches because they’re evocative and vague (see above) without spending a bunch of the limited word allotment.

Despite my distaste, however, the public is conditioned for optimal marketing processing, and a product that doesn’t observe marketing conventions will not sell, so it’s a necessary evil in a business venture.

I hate doing it so much, I always think about hiring it out, but if you’re going to be manipulated on my book’s behalf, I’m damn well going to do it myself so I can explain how and why.

To that end, let’s break this down one sentence at a time.

An uncharacteristic act of spontaneity lands Ivy Miller in a tropical paradise.

“Uncharacteristic” combined with “spontaneity” is characterization so you know up front the protagonist is an uptight planner and that none of this story would have happened if she remained such. It’s also suitably vague — no potentially alienating reason is given for the deviation.* “Tropical paradise” establishes a vague starting setting. “Paradise” is an envy-evoking power word.**

*Since you’re here, I’ll risk alienating you with facts. It’s made clear within the first scene of the story that the deviation from routine was provoked by an ex showing up to propose a marriage of mutual convenience. There would be benefits for Ivy, but they’re offset by the he’s-an-ex-for-a-reason thing (nothing dire, just not suited) and the loveless-marriage-forever thing, hence her need for thinking room.

**Power words are the gateway to writing clickbait headlines. They are the emotional shorthand that bombards you from all media every day because there’s too much competition for your attention to waste time on words that aren’t hyperbolic. Google “power words” and behold list after list, or look at the descriptions of several books within a genre and note the similarities. Same target = same ammo.

There, she discovers the passion missing from her sensible life in the arms of a handsome stranger.

“Passion” is a lust-evoking power word and also a genre indicator — that’s not going to be highlighted in the limited word count on the backs of most non-romance books. “Missing” is a power word evoking lack and tells us the need that will be satisfied by reading this story — the problem of a passionless existence will be solved herein. “Handsome” and “stranger” are power words in the lust and mystery categories, respectively.

She returns home, where no one suspects she possesses a secret wild side — no one except the one-night stand standing in her parents’ dining room.

“Home” gives us a setting change for the bulk of the story, but don’t fret on it being boring and familiar because look at “suspects,” “secret,” and “wild” power wording mystery and lust into the locale. “Possesses” is cheating at power wording because it’s used in a mundane way, but since ads are all about hyperbole, I get bonus point for stuffing it in. “One night” is the first time reference as a nod to the title. And we finish with the twist: your vacation hit-and-quit is supposed to remain at a safe distance from real life.

I could have ended this sentence with an exclamation point, but I’d rather pull off both pinky toenails with pliers. So much for my bonus.

Bored out of your mind yet? Now imagine you actually had to compose this with all these things in mind. Fifteen straight hours banging your head against this wall.

And we’re only through the first third.

This cautious woman bears little resemblance to the brazen temptress who left an impression on Griff Dunleavy’s flesh, but he recognizes the sensual nature hidden behind the meek facade.

“Cautious” is more characterization. “Brazen temptress” is a lusty power word double header and also very romancey. “Flesh” and “sensual” are other lusty PWs. “Hidden” and “facade” are mystery-evoking PWs, and “meek” reminds us what a delicate flower the protagonist appears to be to anyone who hasn’t experienced her brazen temptressing.

He makes an indecent proposal: a fling in which Ivy plays all the parts cut from her everyday existence, which should supply enough variety to keep him intrigued for a while.

PW content: “indecent” (lust), “intrigued” (mystery). “Fling” is a genre trope with a familiar course — it’s all fun and games until someone loses a heart. “A while” is the second time reference.

His offer is too enticing to resist — and too good to last.

“Enticing” is a lusty PW (and “resisting” might be, if you’re into that kind of thing). The last bit hints at conflict in Romancelandia.

When Ivy’s reality demands full-time responsibility, the time for fun and games is over.

“Ivy’s reality” is vague in a non-alienating fashion but obviously less fun than playtime with Griff.* “Time” is, unsurprisingly, a time reference.

*Since you’re here, I’ll risk alienating you with facts. Ivy basically co-parents her sister’s kids, which is made clear early on, so it’s reasonable to expect that to escalate.

To keep his place in her life, Griff must prove they can have forever… one hour at a time.

We have the requisite but ultimately meaningless threat to the happily ever after explicitly guaranteed by the genre. “Forever” and “one hour” give us two time references in a row.

I see a few more, but you get the idea. It took 15 hours of labor to produce those 159 words. Most of the time was cutting specifics I felt were crucial but led to the need for more specifics, which bloated the word count and would encourage thinking rather than buying.

I’ll probably tweak it a bit before November (I see some words that aren’t BRAZEN!!!!!! enough), but this is the gist of it until sales prove how effective it is(n’t).

If you have further questions about my loathing of marketing or about parts of the story that won’t be spoilery, comments are almost always open.