Solve Reader Problems with Better Book Descriptions (for Non-Fiction)

Posted by: Kevin Tumlinson 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Books on shelves are nice, but that isn't what they're meant for.

A book can be a tangible indicator of your authority on a topic—but a book on the shelf doesn’t make much of an impact. A well-crafted book description will prompt readers to pick up your work so it can start changing their life.

Last week we took a deep dive look into how to craft a better description for your fiction book. And while a lot of that advice will translate just fine to a non-fiction work, there are some specific tips, tricks, and rules of thumb that can make your non-fiction book description even more effective.

If you haven’t read last week’s post, dig in here. It will make a great primer for book descriptions in general.

The structure of your book description will ultimately flow a bit like this:

  • State the Problem—This is the main event, and it’s no time to be subtle. You have only a few seconds to grab the attention of your potential reader, so tell them exactly what problem you intend to solve.
  • State the Solution—Just like stating the problem, here you’ll come right out and the reader exactly what they’ll get from the book. Again—no time to be subtle, or to try to play your cards close to your vest. At this point you’re providing the reader with the ‘what’ of your solution. The ‘how’ of comes in when they buy and read the book.
  • Proof of Authority—Here’s where you introduce any relevant credentials, experiences, or other authority-establishing criteria, to instantly build credibility with your reader.
  • Social Proof—This can tie in with ‘Proof of Authority,’ but in general you want to show the reader that not only are you serious about solving this problem, other people believe you’re qualified to do so.
  • The Call to Action (CTA)—The most forgotten part of any product description: You need to tell the reader exactly what to do when the time comes.

Let’s take a look at how each of these breaks down, and how we can pull all of these elements together into a book description that makes readers eager to jump in.

State the problem. For example ... everything is on fire.

State the Problem

If you were promoting a novel, your primary goal would be to provide escape and entertainment. But the goal of a non-fiction book is to solve a problem.

One of the biggest advantages a non-fiction author has is the simple fact that readers actually come looking for them. If you’ve written a book about how to crate-train your Chihuahua, you’ll have an easier time reaching readers who are interested in that specific topic because they’re searching for it specifically. The fiction author writing about psychic laundry lint staging an invasion of Earth from their rotating and tumble-dry home world will have a slightly tougher time, because very few people are searching based on those terms.

Advantage: Non-fiction.

But that advantage means very little if you never actually state the problem you’re solving.

Readers of non-fiction are looking for resolution, and they’re going to use specific keywords to do it. So the best approach in stating the problem your book solves is to use plain language.

This isn’t the time to wax poetic, or aim for Shakespearean levels of symbolism. Put it all out there exactly the way readers are most likely to hunt for it.

Think like your audience.

If you were trying to find a solution to this problem, what terms would you plug into a search engine? Use those terms as part of your description, so that your work is easier to find.

Which isn’t to say you can’t have a little fun with it. The most effective opening statements in a book description often have a little pepper to them. They’re a hook, designed to pique the reader’s interest by stating the problem they’re trying to resolve.

A few examples:

Do you want to learn a new language in 24 hours?

 Prepare yourself to take and master the LSAT.

Learn to write, edit, and publish your book in 30 days or less!

Craft better book descriptions that sell more books.

Each of those statements makes the purpose of the book as plain to the reader as possible. No guesswork needed.

State the solution. Such as "Only you can prevent forest fires. And ambulance fires. Just keep fires in fire pits, ok?"

State the Solution

Now that you’ve hooked the reader with the purpose of your book, and the problem you aim to solve, it’s time to tell them the solution to their woes.

The biggest objection authors usually have about this step is that they don’t want to give anything away. And that’s understandable—you just wrote an entire book on this topic, you definitely don’t want to reveal all of its best nuggets before anyone even opens the cover.

The problem is psychology.

Humans are funny. We tend to think in terms of problem-solutions sets. It’s the reason we like to play games, solve puzzles, and read mysteries. We will delay gratification in the name of entertainment, as long as we feel our expectations will be met eventually.

In other words, we’re willing to tolerate the delay in getting the ‘solution’ side of the problem-solution set, as long as we can get some entertainment out of it.

But remember earlier when we discovered that readers will come looking for our non-fiction books, because they’re looking for a solution to their problem? That advantage disappears if we don’t state the problem, but it also disappears if we don’t solve the problem.

When a reader searches Amazon or B&N or Kobo for books on a specific topic, they’re eager to find a solution. And they want that solution right now. So if they have to read your entire book before they get some assurance that their problem will be solved, they’re just going to turn to Google instead.

It helps to think of book retail sites as search engines.

We go to Google (or Bing, or any other search engine) to solve a problem: We want to know how many patents Edison filed, or how to tune a guitar, or how to weave a basket from human hair. And bam! Google provides.

We’re used to that sort of instant gratification.

But we turn to books because we want to go more in depth with our search. That doesn’t mean, however, that we’re prepared to wade through an entire book with no assurances that we’ll get what we need.

So the book description needs to provide those assurances.

For example:

Human Hair Basket Weaving provides you with a step-by-step guide to producing beautiful works of hand-woven hair art, using one of the most abundant resources in nature!

Learn how to:

—Grow and cultivate healthy, weave-ready hair right on your own scalp

—Harvest your hair without damaging follicles or ‘cropping too close’

—Build your hair-weaving loom using common household items

—Weave and color ‘hair twine,’ to add exciting visual texture to your creations!

You’ll note right away that even though we’re not providing specifics, we’re still providing resolution.

Anyone who is actually interested in hair weaving as a topic is going to feel assured that their questions about cropping too close or creating hair twine are going to be answered. They’ll be far more willing to invest in the book, knowing that it will be a wealth of solutions for their problem.

The easiest way to do this, by the way, is to use your book’s outline or Table of Contents (TOC). You’ve spent quite a bit of time crafting and organizing that TOC, to make it easier for readers to navigate your book. Get double duty out of it by using it to inform potential readers of what to expect when they make their purchase.

Proof of authority. You totally owned that s'more.

Proof of Authority

There’s an ongoing debate about what makes someone an ‘authority’ or an ‘expert.’

In general, however, you’re an expert when you become recognized as such. It sounds a bit tenuous and slippery, but the reality is there’s no actual baseline for authority beyond the recognition and acceptance of others.

That said, there are certain ‘proofs’ of authority and expertise that will lend greater credibility to your work.

Holding a PhD on the subject, for example, carries a great deal of weight. But simply having a certification in the field will put you at a greater level of authority than most people. And by providing these proofs of authority in your book description, you’ll have an easier time convincing readers to trust you and your book.

There are essentially three types of Proof of Authority:

  • Experience—Sometimes you’re an authority simply because of what you’ve done in your life, or what you’ve gone through. Someone who suffered through spousal abuse could be an authority on that topic, as could someone who has climbed Everest, or someone who has started a small business selling woven hair products. Chances are, if you’ve taken the time and energy to write a book on a topic, you have some experience with that subject matter. Summarize that experience to provide Proof of Authority to your potential reader.
  • Accreditation—This type of authority comes from official backing, and it can range from a simple organizational certification to a PhD or beyond. You receive this type of authority by accreditation from universities, government agencies, and official organizations. If you happen to have an accreditation that ties in with your subject, use it. If your official accreditation doesn’t exactly tie in—well, use it anyway. Having ‘PhD’ behind your name does a lot to establish authority in the eyes of a reader, as does any recognizable accreditation. Just having it will help.
  • Recognition—Not all authority is official. If you’ve had an endorsement from someone who, themselves, is an authority, include that in your book description. For example, if you’ve written a book on dog training that has been read and enjoyed by Cesar Millan, and he said something nice about it in an email—quote that. Likewise, if the Hair Weaving Society of Greater Poughkeepsie has proclaimed you Weaver of the Year, that also carries weight—with the right audience. Being recognized by an individual or an organization with strong ties to your subject matter will establish you as an authority in the eyes of will-be readers, and that will help cement their decision to buy your book.

Any or all of these proofs of authority will help your readers make a decision about your work, so use all that you can. There’s nothing at all wrong with using all three, if you’re able.

Social Proof—because everything's better with friends

Social Proof

Much like proof of authority, Social Proof is a shortcut that helps the reader to decide your book is worth their money and time. The two are incredibly similar, and only differ in who is offering support.

Social proof can come in the form of excerpts and comments pulled from reader reviews or even official reviews from Kirkus or other sources. These can be about your current book, a past book, or just about you as an author.

This can also include statements about you and your work from individuals whom you’ve helped in the past. If you’ve led a hair weaving seminar, get some of your prize weavers to make testimonials on your behalf, and quote these in your book description.

The idea here: Show the reader that someone else has read your work or otherwise had a positive experience with you.

Humans are pretty lazy by nature. We want (dare I say need) someone to help us make decisions (especially the simpler ones, which tend to gnaw at us even more than the big ones). We’re perfectly willing to outsource our opinion on what to read next. So including social proof in your book description will help shortcut the decision making process for your will-be reader.

Call To Action—You too can turn disaster into food

The Call to Action (CTA)

If one thing gets forgotten more often than anything else in the world, it’s my wedding anniversary. But the second most forgotten thing is the Call to Action.

Again, we humans—we are constantly looking for direction. Anything that makes decision making easier will always be appreciated. And in the end, if we’ve read to the bottom of a book’s product description, there’s a good chance we’re primed and ready to buy.

So now would be the time to say, “Go buy this book!”

It can be that simple. Or you could say “Buy this book to start reading today!” Or “Buy this book to start weaving hair baskets right now!” Or “Buy this book to begin your total mastery of the LSAT.”

Tell the reader what to do, so that they don’t have to decide all by themselves.

It's still about the story

It’s still about the story

Before we wrap up, there’s something else you should consider when crafting the perfect book description for your non-fiction book: You’re still telling a story.

In fact, storytelling is one of the most powerful tools in your bag. It’s the go-to resource of every good writer.

The perfect non-fiction book description will take a will-be reader on a journey from “I have a problem” to “I have the perfect solution.”

If it helps, think of it this way: The reader is your protagonist.

Walk your reader through the maze of their problem. Present them with the McGuffin—the thing they most desire (woven hair baskets, say). Show them the antagonist—life without their heart’s desire. And then show them that by reading your book, they’ll finally have the happy ending they’re looking for.

Everyone wants to be a hero. Make the reader the hero of your book description, and they’ll be engaged from the start.

The tips in this post will help you craft a book description that gives your readers everything they need to make their decision, and even helps to make the decision for them. That’s all it takes for your work and your passion to shape a few lives for the better.