The back-cover-copy. The dust-jacket-flap. Promotional copy. Whatever you call it, when your potential reader bites the bait of the title and swallows the hook of the cover design, the product description is what reels them in. It’s everything fascinating and wonderful about your story distilled down to a few hundred words that somehow still don’t spoil the plot. But if getting across the most interesting bits of your story in 1% of the words in the full-length version sounds easy, then I’m telling it wrong. This can be one of the most challenging Sales Tools to master.
If you’ve been following along, then you know that every book has three basic sales tools built into it. They are:
We’ve already spent a couple of weeks talking about how titles have to pull a change-up depending on whether they’re for fiction or nonfiction works and about how you may need design assistance on a cover, especially if you’re going to get clever with it. Now, finally, we arrive at the product description. Or, as I call it, Weaponized Plot.
Before we get to my hyperbolic statements, though, I need to point out the obvious. The product description is where you tell your potential reader exactly what they’re going to get in your story. They’ve been drawn in by the tone and feel of your cover and maybe enticed by a dash of clever in your title. They want what you’re selling, so now you have to give it to them.
There is no fancy dancing here. No bait-and-switch. If the reader is seeing the words of your product description, they are so close to sold that anything other than telling them exactly what your story is about could backfire on you.
How? Well, let’s say you allow the product description to be clever. They buy the book, they read it, and discover the story isn’t at all what they were led to believe. Friends, that’s an express train to the city of broken dreams. AKA, a one-star review.
Like I used to say as a salesman, now’s no time to let clever talk you out of a sale.
Now, let’s talk about hyperbolic statements.
If you watch action movies or actiony nighttime dramas, then you’ve heard the word weaponize. It usually means “distill a usually innocuous substance or item into its pure essence so we can use it to make flashy disaster scenes.”
When it comes to product descriptions – whose job it is to tell your reader exactly what they’re getting, remember – I can’t think of a better analogy than distilling your story’s plot down to its pure essence so as to blow a potential reader’s face off. In other words, weaponize that plot.
I’m going to own two biases right now. First, I am a marketing guy. I like powerful language with strong hooks and clear calls to action. Second, I mainly write action/adventure fiction with gonzo plots. I don’t neglect my character work by any stretch, but the plots are always pretty wild. This makes them somewhat easier to weaponize.
But my biases are not your excuses!
Filling Your Arsenal
Sure, it’s easy to weaponize plots about Viking warriors killing monsters or tween superspies infiltrating a mad ten-year-old’s undersea fortress. But I’m a firm believer that you can do this with just about anything.
- Romance – Go ahead and spoil the hilarious and sad misunderstanding that ends Act 2 and is the thing that made you write the story in the first place. If you do your job making us care about the characters and their burgeoning relationship before that, it’ll just hurt more knowing what’s coming.
- Fantasy – Nobody cares about your elf language or your fictional countries. Tell your prospective reader what it is that makes your heroes special and what it is about their weird world that’s going to bring that out of them.
- Science Fiction – Nobody cares how your ships go faster than light. Instead, tell what going faster than light does to humanity, both collectively and individually? How does a locked-door mystery on a space station circling a distant star demonstrate those changes?
- Thriller – Ha ha, just kidding! Thrillers are made entirely of weaponized plot. Now you just have to get it down to a short word count.
See? That’s not so hard. And if you can’t weaponize your plot, then maybe, just maybe, you should revisit it to make sure it’s strong enough to hang an entire story on.
Don’t Be a Tool, Use a Sales Tool
And that’s it for your basic sales tools! I hope you found something useful and enlightening in these posts. Or, barring that, something maddening that won’t let you rest until you explain how somebody is wrong on the internet. Most of all, though, I hope these posts made you realize that you might be overlooking your first, best sales tools in your title, cover, and product description.
Any which way, please let me know in the comments. If you want some homework, weaponize the plot of well-known stories into new product descriptions and leave them in the comments. It’ll be good practice and we might all enjoy trying to guess which story you’re talking about.