The first thing a reader sees when encountering your book online is the cover. But the second thing is usually the book description—and it’s here that you have a chance to persuade a reader to pick up the book, and give it a try. So getting that description right is job one. Luckily, you have author Brian Meeks here to help guide you through what it takes to write a book description that sells books.
It’s your deepest fear.
The book doesn’t sell.
Could it be your description? Join Mark Leslie Lefebvre as he interviews Brian Meeks about writing book descriptions that can ACTUALLY help sell books, based on data and analytics Brian has gathered and conducted showing that properly written book descriptions can get the job done in a matter of clicks.
Meeks, who has spent years researching and writing hundreds of descriptions will discuss the things that work, what doesn’t work, and some of the pitfalls authors can fall into when trying to write an effective book description.
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Mark Lefebvre 00:02
Hello, and welcome to Self-Publishing Insiders. This is Mark Leslie Lefevbre. I’m the Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital. And I am so thrilled to see not in person, although I got to see him in person last week in the virtual Draft2Digital Studios, Brian D. Meeks. Brian, welcome.
Brian Meeks 00:21
Thanks. I’ve been wanting to do this show for a long time. I’m so glad I finally wore you down.
Mark Lefebvre 00:27
I’m so glad I cornered you and basically, you know, put you in an armlock and said you better come on, share your insights with our audience.
Brian Meeks 00:36
I absolutely love what you do over at Draft2Digital. So this is kind of exciting for me.
Mark Lefebvre 00:42
Thank you so much. So we are going to be taking questions from the live audience at the end. But before we get into that, so Brian, we’re going to be talking about book descriptions. Before I get into that with you, I want to talk a bit about your background so people can understand your writing background and how it is you got into wanting to help authors with things like book descriptions.
Brian Meeks 01:03
Absolutely. Well, it began in 2010. I literally started writing a mystery novel as a series of blog posts, not thinking about publishing at the time, just something that was entertaining for my blog readers. About 10 months later, I had accidentally written my first novel. I hadn’t intended on being a novelist. It was just something that whenever, it was a woodworking blog, and whenever I didn’t have material about actually woodworking, I would add a chapter to the noir mystery, the Henry Wood Detective Agency that takes place in 1955. And so it just, over 9, 10 months, I went through, I developed characters, I had a bad guy, and then a dramatic conclusion. And as soon as I typed the end and published it for my readers, the comments were, that was great. I can’t wait for book two. And that’s really how it began. I’ve now written 19 novels, six nonfiction, done a little over 300,000 in book sales. And because I was an early adopter with regards to Amazon ads, back in 2017, I knew a lot of the answers to the questions people were asking. In 2017, Amazon opened up the gates to allow anybody to use AMS ads. And as such, people started to want to understand it. That led to me starting a group and teaching authors how to do the Amazon ads. Well, in my book Mastering Amazon Ads, which admittedly is a little dated, I want everyone to know that it’s from 2017. And because of that book, that’s one of the components that has brought so many people into advertising. And the bids that I talk about in the book are pretty low. But I digress. The point is, in that book, there was a chapter where I focused on the importance of understanding conversion rate for a description. This is something I brought over from the insurance industry. I worked at GEICO, where a 15-minute call could save you 15% on your auto insurance.
Mark Lefebvre 03:36
Oh, man, that was just brilliant.
Brian Meeks 03:39
That’s what I did is, I did data analytics in the marketing department. And so I brought conversion rate to publishing and tried to explain to people that you’re paying per click, you need to know how many clicks do you have to buy to get a new reader. Because if you’re paying for 30 clicks, that’s a certain cost to get the new reader. If you’re only paying for 8 to 10 clicks, you have a lot less invested, which means your chance of being profitable is greater. And so I wanted people to understand that it’s not just about putting up the ads and getting clicks. It’s understanding the effectiveness of the description. So I wrote one chapter about that. And from the book, that was the chapter that most people emailed me or hit me up on Messenger about, and that led to the book Mastering Amazon Descriptions, which led to me doing a lot of copywriting.
Mark Lefebvre 04:39
Well and actually that’s a good segue. So we’re going to be taking live questions in the last 15 minutes of this but there is a question that was already here from Gil and I want to pop it up because it is related to that and I think it is important because I also want to talk about the analytics that I know are important to you. And Gil said that he bought that paperback on Amazon advertising. And you extolled 8C, eight clicks I’m assuming that means, as being a benchmark for Amazon. So the question he asked there is, do you think the price has risen since then? Or how has that changed?
Brian Meeks 05:10
Okay, I’m not, I’m reading this as, “in which you extolled 8c” as being eight cents.
Mark Lefebvre 05:21
Oh, sorry. I was thinking clicks.
Brian Meeks 05:25
In the book at the time, when I began writing it, I was paying eight cents per click. The price has risen since then. The price has risen by 400 to 800% since then. And so it was very easy to run profitable ads, when you were getting eight cents per click. In fact, when I started, I had descriptions that were converting at 130. But I was only paying 8 cents a click. Okay, so I was spending $2.40 to get a new reader. My books are priced at $3.99 or $4.99. So I was making $3.45. So Book One was profitable right out of the gate. And then with readthrough, my return on investment at eight cents was 300 to 400%. But then as prices, but then I discovered the power of copywriting and was able to improve my conversion rate, and all these things. And so that was happening at the time that the book was coming out. And people were flooding in. And because of competition, the price grew. And the other component is that there are many, many authors now who do Amazon ads. And for the most part, they never test a lower bid. So the mindset is always, oh, my ad died, I should raise the bid, which is not correct, because ads die. And so you were paying 50 cents. And you’ve got this ad that you think is precious, and it died, which it is going to do. So then you raise it 25 cents a click? Well, okay, if you’re going to offer Amazon ridiculous amounts of money per click, they’ll give you more impressions. But it would have been better just to archive the ad, write a new one, and start getting a fresh batch of impressions. So because the market has shifted, where 95% of authors don’t like to do math or analytics, it is grotesquely inflated. I had a client that I worked with for 13 months where, in that time, and he has a very long series. So it’s a lot of readthrough, a lot of margin. During that time we kept his cost per click between I think 42 and 53 cents. And I constantly hammered on him to, we quit ads, replaced them, quit ads, replaced them. After 13 months, I thought he didn’t need to pay me my ridiculous fees, I’m grotesquely overpriced. And then he reached out to me about eight months after that with a question. And he sent me the Excel thing that we use to track his data. For 13 months, I kept his cost per click in check. As soon as he stopped working with me, he just ran it up to $1.30 a click. And that’s just massive damage to one’s ROI. And so that’s the biggest issue right now. It’s really hard to fight against a public that isn’t interested in running ads profitably.
Mark Lefebvre 08:48
I see. And it almost feels like that investment in your overpriced support probably spent that all on overpaying for some of the Amazon ads. But that kind of leads to something that I think is important is okay, I got the click. And whether it cost me eight cents or 45 cents or $1.25, we need to understand the analytics of, what are you actually making if it sells? But what, more importantly, converts that click when they’re looking at your book, what converts that look into a sale? And that is that is where you have spent quite a bit of time in the last several years helping so many people with.
Brian Meeks 09:30
Yes. What I learned from being active on Facebook and studying copywriting is that we as a species have this fractured attention span. Social media, we become this like love click scroll people because social media is designed to give us the dopamine hits. Every time we put up a post and people like it and love it, it feels good. It’s a virtual hug. So because of that, I started to think in terms of a reader. So a reader has gone to Amazon, they’re searching for a new book, they just finished their romance novel that they were reading, they want a new one, because they read five of them a week. So they’re doing a search. Romance, they see a cover, ooh, that looks good. They click on it, up comes the description. They give it a quick glance and decide if they’re going to read the description, or move on, because they’re still in the mindset of Facebook. They’re still just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, move, move, move, move, move. Which is ironic, because what they’re about to purchase is something they’re going to sit down and read uninterrupted, hopefully, unless they’re parents, for a couple hours. And so understanding this is where I began. And so my copywriting, my descriptions on Amazon, always begin with a very short first line. So typically four or five words with an ellipse, then there’s a blank line, because formatting is huge. I want everyone to think about Facebook. When you’re scrolling, if a friend has a post with a giant block of text, 15 lines in a single rectangle, do you read it? Well, very few people do. Same thing with Amazon descriptions. If you open up your description, and there are three paragraphs that are 5, 6, 7 lines long, and that’s it, probably 25 out of 30 people aren’t even going to read line one. And so you’re losing them right out of the gate. Whereas with a lightweight description where the opening line is, Henry knew one thing, dot dot dot. Next line, dames were trouble, period. Next line, and there’s a blank line between them, will this client be the exception? And then it says read more. That’s 13 words. And it’s so short that when we’re getting them to the page, and they have just that nano, or we have that nanosecond to grab their attention. Henry knew one thing, dot dot dot, nobody is going to click away. At that point, their eyes will go to the next slide, we’re forcing them to stay engaged. Dames were trouble. Well, they’ve seen my cover. It’s Art Deco. So they kind of understand it’s not a contemporary mystery. And then, would this client be the exception? Well, who’s the client? And what’s going on there? It’s really hard to lose interest at the end of a question mark. And so they click read more, and then it opens up. And it’s this really lightweight description, which converts at one in eight. And at no point in that description do I mention anything that happens in the book. This is where authors go wrong. They have birthed this project, nonfiction or fiction. Nonfiction is a little different, because you do have to tell what’s in the book. But in fiction, it’s not the goal to write a description that has a bunch of spoilers and tells the whole plot points and ruins the story for them. The goal is to get them to want to read the book. And that’s what most authors miss. They’ve written this 50, 60, 100,000 word novel. Now, they’re trying to distill it into 300 words. So that at the end of those 300 words, you know everything that happened in the novel, and that’s a hard thing to do. And that’s why authors hate writing descriptions. But they shouldn’t think like that. That’s not the way to get readers to want to buy the book. Does that make sense?
Mark Lefebvre 13:55
Yeah, it does. Is it fair then to say, if I could say that in other words, is that those 300 words are not a description of what happens in the book. They are a description to convince you that you want to read this book.
Brian Meeks 14:12
Yes. That’s much more concise. If I’d said that, we’d have all sorts of extra time for more questions.
Mark Lefebvre 14:20
And we don’t want, no, so just a reminder that we will be taking live questions later on. So let’s get into this because this is a challenging thing, because I read your first book on mastering descriptions. And what I loved about it is you gave some perfect examples of. and you had permission from the authors you worked with, but here’s the original description, talked about what was good about it and how it worked. But then there was the comparison and it was almost like the, you know, the Hair Club for Men. I can make that joke because I’m bald, but it was kind of like, here he is without hair and here he is now with hair. Wow, isn’t that better? And that was a great thing. So it’s difficult when you and I are talking to do that. But what are some of the things? I think, like we have the idea that it’s copywriting. It’s sales copy, not describing the book, it’s not … What else, then you’ve got the little, almost feels like mini cliffhangers like to pull you to the next paragraph or the next line?
Brian Meeks 15:18
That’s a great description, because like I said, the first three lines are short, they have blank lines in between them, they click read more, they open it up. And the next thing I see is a paragraph that is around two and a half lines, sometimes maybe three and a quarter. But generally, never five, never a full four lines. It’s short enough that it has some, it doesn’t look daunting, but it also has some weight. So we don’t just want 10 short lines in a row. Because visually, when you open that up, it looks like a single block of text. And so that is erring on the other side. Once we get done with that first paragraph, where typically, it will be about the main protagonist. And I tend to focus on the protagonist that aligns with the gender of the readership. Romance is overwhelmingly read by women. So though there are two main characters, I put the female character first, because I want to connect with the female reader. And so that goes first. And then we have usually one, two or three lines that are short, that add something to it, maybe an additional hook, but those visually are linking up the next paragraph, which in the case of a romance is typically about the male protagonist. And we introduce him to the reader. And then I will give a little bit more, maybe I’ll do a third paragraph that is something where I’m talking about the interaction between the two of them. And the call to action at the end is always “you’ll love” some words, comma, “because” more words, and then “get it now.” And the reason for that is because that’s a call to action that has been proven by Copyblogger to be the most effective at getting people to convert.
Mark Lefebvre 17:27
So that’s similar to potentially, if you love this and that or if you enjoy this and that, then you’ll love this book that you’re looking at?
Brian Meeks 17:38
The difference though, is the because. The five most powerful words in copywriting are You, Now, Instantly, Free and Because. We have been hearing sales pitches and calls to action our entire lives. This started on Madison Avenue back in the 50s. Four out of five dentists recommend Dentine gum. It’s you know, we hear these things and most of the calls to action because the marketers had figured out, when they tell us we will do something: “Your life will be better, because …” the words that come after the because don’t matter. Psychologically when we get to the because, the fact that it’s there, we believe the part that came before it. Copyblogger showed that in a typical call to action without a “you because,” that’s an A, and then they did a B and a C which was a “you because,” where B had some reasonable stuff that came after it, and C had kind of flopped that didn’t really add anything, that B and C greatly outperformed A. But B and C tied, even though the B added more valuable information after the because. And their conclusion was that we consumers, once we get to the because, it’s already made its point.
Mark Lefebvre 19:12
Wow. It’s like we’re making the point in our head before we even read what the text is.
Brian Meeks 19:18
Yeah, and understand that a really good description converts at one in eight. I just wrote one for a book by Alec Strathdee and his he’s reporting back now with statistically significant numbers of clicks that is converting at one in six. This is, I think it might be my best description yet. The point being is that at one in eight or say even one in 10, understanding that most descriptions with giant blocks of text that are a synopsis of the book convert at one in 30. It takes 30 clicks to get a new reader with a $4.99 book and a horrible description. And they’re almost all horrible. So that means that, you know, 96.6% of the time, you’re failing. If you have a one in 10, you’re failing 90% of the time. And so it’s still a game where we mostly lose. But failing 90% of the time is 300%, or 200% better than failing 97% of the time. So that short little move, which is why I also tell authors that if you’ve started learning copywriting, and you’ve rewritten your description, and you keep practicing copywriting, in six months, you can probably go back and redo your description and improve it even more, because one in 10, out of 100,000, clicks, gets, you know, 10,000 new readers. But one in eight was what, 12,500? Something like that.
Mark Lefebvre 21:10
I can’t do the math in my head without taking my socks off.
Brian Meeks 21:13
Fair. Fair enough. But and I don’t know that that’s exactly right. But it would be 12,500-something, I digress. The point is, that little bit of improvement that hour you spent taking your really good description at one in 20, or one in 10, and getting it down to one in eight, over the next 100,000 clicks that you pay for, is getting you an extra 2,500 sales. That’s a pretty good investment of your time to go back and tweak it.
Mark Lefebvre 21:49
So do you do recommend, so let’s say an author has a blurb that’s been working well. It’s punchy, etc. And then they’ve gotten better, they come back to it and they go, okay, I’ve got one I think is better. Because I’m a better writer, I’ve learned some stuff from Brian Meeks, etc. Do you recommend A/B testing?
Brian Meeks 22:09
Well, in a sense, yes, it should always be A/B testing because you have an existing one. And I would hope, though I know this isn’t reasonable. But I would hope any author that has taken my course or had one of my descriptions, where I wrote it for them, that they would over the next 30 days calculate the conversion rate. And then periodically, just check it. Now, it doesn’t move that much. If it’s one in eight, it might go to one in 7.9, or one in 8.1. But pretty much, a click is a click is a click unless you start doing something silly, like you’re writing horror. And you decide, oh, I’m going to advertise to the romance market. You can do things that are dumb. But assuming you’re trying to be efficient, then you’ve got this number. That’s you’re a, whatever that conversion rate is. One in 10, you’ve got you’re a. So when you put up the new one, absolutely. Make a note of the time that your new description goes live, because Amazon sends you an email. They say, it’s 6:22, your description is now live, make a note of that. And then I throw away the rest of that day, start the next day. And then for 30 days, track your clicks, track your downloads, if you’re exclusive to Amazon, you need to take those page reads and convert them into the downloads, which is simply page reads divided by the KENPC number. If you’re wide, you only need sales. A big mistake authors make who are exclusive is, they ignore the page reads. And if you leave out 75% of your conversions, your number isn’t very good. So if you’re exclusive, you need both sales and KU reads because those are real people, those are conversions. And since 66 to 75% of your new readers are going to be in Kindle Unlimited, you can’t just leave that out and authors get lazy. They just say oh, well, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to hire Brian. And then I’m just going to look at my bank account later. And in theory, if the bank account is bigger, it won. Well, that’s not really accurate. You need to know, did you have as many clicks and so forth? So yes, A/B testing is absolutely important. But it has to be done correctly. It’s not, look at the description on Tuesday, change it, and see if it did better on Wednesday.
Mark Lefebvre 24:44
Okay, all right. So there’s got to be a way authors can use this. So potentially, in their Amazon ad, they’ve got additional sales copy on that little ad. You’ve got, with BookBub it’s even shorter, like the selective words you can put in a BookBub ad or a Facebook ad or even, you know, when I use a newsletter like Bargain Booksy, they ask you to put in a description that’s not your Amazon description. The same things apply for those pieces of ad copy. And how would you then truncate the already sexy Brian Meeks-style back cover copy, then like make it even shorter?
Brian Meeks 25:22
I wouldn’t truncate it, I would come up with a new bit of intrigue. Okay, if I’m doing a Facebook ad, I know I already have the bit about Henry knew one thing, dames were trouble. I might write a piece about Tommy the Knife, who’s the gangster in the book, and look and build intrigue through the relationship between Henry and Tommy in the Facebook ad. Because the Facebook ad gives you plenty of room, you can write, you have as much space as you need. The other ones you mentioned are less, but I would still think in terms of, can I convince them? Because on the ad is the click, that’s the conversion. Can I build enough intrigue to get them to click, and then once they click, I’m taking them to another place. And it starts all over again. I have to rehook them, I have to keep them engaged. And so I don’t think there’s value in truncating the existing one because, okay, they’ve seen that. They go to the, they open it up. And they see the first few lines are the same, in that little gap. They’ve maybe lost interest and they’re not hooked to reread it, because you’re asking them to, it’s a rerun. So try not to do that.
Mark Lefebvre 26:43
Cool. Thank you. Appreciate that. So I’m going to start to take some comments and questions. I have to add this, Roland says “Authors are going to love this interview because of the because.”
Brian Meeks 26:57
Can we give Roland a point? Is there some sort of point system? Because he just earned one, that was fantastic.
Mark Lefebvre 27:03
It’s an invisible no point. Okay, so question then, from Craig. Craig says, “Do you use the same practice for the back of a paperback as opposed to the online description? Or do you differentiate it in any way?”
Brian Meeks 27:19
Great question. The only difference is at the end of the Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, whichever, I always have “Get it Now.” Which I want people understand, Get it Now is like a Pavlovian bell. Get it now doesn’t sell the book, it’s just the sign at the end of the description that says we’re done. There’s nothing more to read, you’re already interested in this book, go up and do that. I don’t have this long thing where: scroll up and one click now, because I know you read 250 books a year, but I think you probably need a little hand holding on the process of using Amazon. So I’m gonna explain it in great detail, period, which is what some authors do. And that’s offensive to me. Just say get it now. I don’t put the Get it Now on the back of the book. I go up through the you’ll love this. And because the get it now seems ridiculous if they’re actually, you know, holding the book.
Mark Lefebvre 28:19
They’ve got it.
Brian Meeks 28:21
They’ve got it in their hands. They don’t need to get it now. So that’s the only difference. I have between front and back cover. Now with nonfiction, there’s times where I have suggested the author maybe go with a little more biocentric back cover. So sometimes we change that a little bit for nonfiction. But often it is just, because the thing with nonfiction is, nonfiction has different elements. You need to introduce the author. Why is this person someone you can trust to learn this thing? Then you have bullet points and it’s a little longer, and sometimes the nonfiction description doesn’t fit. So we have to adjust it.
Mark Lefebvre 29:06
Okay, cool. I like that. Thank you. It’s interesting to think about the difference in just the experience of the tactile versus the content. I want to share this content from Elyssa, who says, she agrees that dense chunks of description or text are “intimidating for people like me with dysgraphia. I can get lost easily.” So that is something that can be intimidating or frustrating for certain readers do.
Brian Meeks 29:40
Well, absolutely. I don’t have dysgraphia to the best of my knowledge. Honestly, I’m going to have to Google that later, since I don’t really know what that means. But I’m pretending like I know what it means and I don’t have it. But because I’ve spent so much time really focused on these lightweight responses and I do them In all my Facebook conversations, I do them in all my emails with readers, because understand, if somebody signs up for your email list, and you’re sending them these emails, and you give them these heavy blocks of text, it’s not a pleasant experience, they’re going to be less likely to open the next email. If you give them lightweight stuff that is easy to read, they will, at some level, remember that the next time they see your email. So you’re trying to train them that you’re not going to give them this War and Peace epic saga to slog through, it’s gonna to be easy to read. And if you can put some humor in, they’ll like it, and that impacts your future open rate.
Mark Lefebvre 30:41
That’s fantastic. It actually reminds me of something that I learned from Dean Wesley Smith. And he was talking about the old days, when he was editing for a magazine. And he would open up the manuscript because it was all very physical. And when he opened up and pulled the manuscript out, the shape of the text, of the manuscript itself, if it was giant blocks of text, he thought, oh, my God, this is going to be a lot of work. And so even the psychological impression to a reader when they see a printed page, the variation between paragraphs and single lines and space. And if it’s too filled with words, it suddenly does something subconsciously to you. So it can be the same thing, obviously, when you’re reading sales copy.
Brian Meeks 31:26
And think back to textbooks in college. I know, but you open them up and they’re so, these huge paragraphs that have, you know, four or five points they’re trying to make in one single thing. And it can be exhausting to try to get through and digest all of that. So yeah, Dean’s absolutely right.
Mark Lefebvre 31:50
Excellent, all the other new things that we are continuing to learn. So there is a comment, sort of, or a question that kind of hearkens back to the some were talking about earlier. And it’s Gil, responding to your previous comment. Saying, “Thanks for that, Brian, I’ve been doing what you suggest already, running 4 cents for a short while, archive, and then run again.” And Gil says it doesn’t seem to be any disadvantage to that.
Brian Meeks 32:17
Well, it’s not a disadvantage, it’s superior. The disadvantage is the people that try to hold on to ads. Because two things happen. One, if your ad, say it delivers a reasonable amount of impressions for three weeks, and then it dies. And you hold on to it for two months, where it’s not getting you anything, but you keep hoping. How many missed opportunities happened during those five, six weeks where it was doing nothing? Whereas Gil, once it’s done, archive it and move on. And over the course of a year, Gil is going to amass a far greater number of impressions by being quick to the kill. So get it, move on, get it, move on. Whereas these people that think their ads are precious will hold on to one for far too long. And it’s those weeks of relative inactivity that are costing them readers because they don’t have the higher performing ads. And when I say performing, I mean the number of impressions being delivered. So Gil is absolutely doing it correctly.
Mark Lefebvre 33:26
Wow. So it reminds me again of that writing advice. Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings. Don’t be afraid to kill those ads. Another comment, again, this lends to that visual. And Lexi says, “The mental investment of reading 10 sentences in a block and then four and five sentences into paragraphs is incredibly different.”
Brian Meeks 33:48
Yeah, Lexi’s right. You clearly have a really bright audience.
Mark Lefebvre 33:55
I think we do. I think we’re pretty bright naturally.
Brian Meeks 33:57
Some of the smartest people are here. You’re making me look cooler for being part of it.
Mark Lefebvre 34:04
Well, speaking of audience, there is a comment from Craig who did see you or watch the 20 Books Vegas talk that you did on blurbology. And so, Craig, if there’s any questions you would have asked had you been in the live audience that day, feel free to ask them. Or, Brian, what was one of the questions from that live talk that that you thought was a really great question, you’d be able to sort of ask and answer?
Brian Meeks 34:30
I’m trying to think back. I honestly don’t remember the questions because I’ve done enough presentations at conferences with this, you know, talking about descriptions, and the questions tend to be pretty much the same. For instance, the question about physical book backmatter differences is one that I get a lot. Now, I can’t say for sure that I remember if I had that question at 20 Books. They kind of blend together. I think one of the questions was something along the lines of, you know, Brian, clearly you’re really good-looking. Do you like supermodels?
Mark Lefebvre 35:14
And if so would you date me? Yeah, I get that all the time too.
Brian Meeks 35:17
You know, that’s something I want to put out there.
Mark Lefebvre 35:21
Fair enough. So a question that I had about the process is, that first line, you know, Henry knew this. That sort of thing. I’ve heard and seen work, a question, starting with a question. What’s the power of starting with a question as the very first line, or in the first, you know, was it six to eight words?
Brian Meeks 35:47
A question is incredibly powerful. It absolutely works, I will tend to mostly use a question in the third line, because I feel like I’m building to the question and the third line. So again, line one, blank line, line two, blank line, line three is the question and then it says, read more. So remember, all those lines, they have one job, and that’s to get them to click read more. That’s not where we’re selling the book. Now, that being said, sometimes, in nonfiction, I start with a question. But ideally, that first line, its only point is to get them to read the second line. And the second one is to get them to the third. So it’s more of a building process. And I hit them with that question. And they have a greater chance of clicking read more. Now, for nonfiction, maybe it’s a book on substance abuse. “Are you at the end of your rope?” Question mark. That might be a great first line, I tend not to want to use in those first three lines, a question more than once. So I have to look at the importance of, not the importance, I try to think about the potential reader. Who is the person looking for the book, and often in nonfiction, that may be somebody that has a very real need, and you can get them hooked enough. But the next two lines may not be as strong. But it doesn’t matter because they answered yes, they have a problem. And they’re desperate for a solution. So they’re going to click the Read More.
Mark Lefebvre 37:28
Cool. Thank you. I appreciate that. I love that three step process. Thanks for outlining it. So a question came in from Bobby. And Bobby asks, how much, because you do this, you work with authors. But “How much about a story do you need to know in order to write the blurb?”
Brian Meeks 37:45
Almost nothing. And here’s the deal. When I talk to authors, or I have them as clients and I write their descriptions, I send them a form that has some questions. I’d like to know, what are the key words in your metadata? As I mentioned earlier, I want to have a feel for, is the distribution by gender balanced? Does it skew female for romance, male for military science fiction? Because again, I kind of want to know which character to put first. And once I have that information, if it’s an existing description, I will often go in and read those giant paragraphs despite the pain it causes me. And usually within those three huge paragraphs, there are one or two really good hooks that are buried in there that never get seen, because people won’t read it. And so I can get a little bit of information for the description from that. I then ask the author for, if this is fiction, can I have a bio of your protagonist? May have a bio of your secondary protagonist? The next step is, I mine the reviews. If a book has 40, 50, 600 reviews, those five star reviews often have hidden gems in them that people don’t think about. This is a great place. You may have written your book, and you may love all these things. But you didn’t realize the scene with the cat registered with so many people. And we go into those reviews, and you see four or five people mentioned, I loved Socks the cat (which is not a reference to the Clintons’ cat, though I did love Socks). I digress. But the point is, there’s stuff in there, so reading the book would make it harder for me to write the description. Because just like the author struggles, they have all these images and plotlines and cool twists that are running around in their head. How do you know what to pick? Well, if I don’t know that, if I just have the 50,000 foot view, I’m able to craft a better description than if I had read the book. And so I tell authors, if a friend comes to you for help, help them write the description when you don’t know anything about it. And you’re going to improve at the art of copywriting better than if you read the book.
Mark Lefebvre 40:22
Right, I love that. Thank you. That’s great to know. Because I think a lot of writers wonder, well, how can you how can you describe the book? You don’t know every single thing that happens in it? I guess that’s great. That’s a great point.
Brian Meeks 40:33
Like I said at the beginning, the Henry Wood Detective Agency description at no point mentions what’s going on in the book. It’s not necessary. Now that being said, I very rarely write a description as minimalistic as that one. I do give some very high points. You know, she went back to her hometown and the quarterback she loved was still there. Can they find a second chance? Something like that? And yeah, and also you have to understand the tropes. Whatever your genre is, you want to make it clear that the reader is going to get the tropes that they want, but you don’t need to spell them out.
Mark Lefebvre 41:15
Okay. Cool. Thank you. So a question comes in from Kit. And Kit asks, “Is there a danger of sounding too salesy or too manipulative with calls to action, etc?”
Brian Meeks 41:33
Mark Lefebvre 41:34
Okay. Can you elaborate on that?
Brian Meeks 41:36
Well, a lot of authors think, oh, I don’t want to sell my book. I don’t want to be salesy. It’s a mindset. You wrote a book that you enjoy, because a lot of authors start with, oh, I write the story I want to read. And so if you wrote a book that you enjoy, that has these fun elements in it, my book Secret Doors has two giant guinea pigs, they’re six feet high. I mean, they’re really big guinea pigs. They’re delightful. I love guinea pigs. And so it’s a wonderful book. And I know that if I get that book into readers’ hands, they’re going to enjoy it. So salesy is not being manipulative, we’re not trying to con someone into buying a timeshare. We’re trying to give them an opportunity to have a few hours of really nice entertainment, or in the case of nonfiction, to solve a problem. So if you’re worried about being salesy, you’re missing the point. You’ve written something that has value, and the people that read it, and you know that. People write reviews, and they tell you, I loved your book. So if you’re writing copy that converts, you’re passing on this valuable time to someone else. You’re doing them a favor. So yes, authors, and I think it ties into imposter syndrome. That can be part of it. Oh, I want to be modest. Cover art, when I see a cover that has the author name incredibly small at the bottom, my first thought is, wow, they really don’t want to be associated with this book. It must suck. So, you know, it behooves you to try to get your book in the hands of people that are going to benefit from it or enjoy it.
Mark Lefebvre 43:35
Cool. Thank you. And then back to questions, putting questions in your blurb. As Elyssa says, “I’ve heard that you shouldn’t ask a question of your audience that you don’t already know the answer to. Is that necessary?” And that strike sounds like something a trial or lawyer might suggest.
Brian Meeks 43:52
That does sound like a trial. Elyssa, are you a trial lawyer? Is there pending litigation that I should know about? I would say it’s the exact opposite. I just had a description I wrote yesterday, where I put in a question. And then the author said, “I love this whole description, except” and then she wrote a paragraph about why that question wasn’t a yes. And I simply wrote back, the answer doesn’t have to be yes. It’s a question. It’s about building intrigue. If the reader wants to find out, is she the murderer? Well, they gotta read the book. And so the answer doesn’t have to be yes. Now, I hate to use romance as the default example all the time, but there are lots of romance authors and it sells well. If you have a question like, will they get their HEA? Well, that’s a law. Yes, the answer to this is Yes. Because if you don’t give them a happily ever after, people come to your home with bats.
Mark Lefebvre 45:06
But it’s how do they get to the Happily Ever After?
Brian Meeks 45:10
Exactly. Yeah. So you can have questions where it kind of is obvious. If you’re writing suspense or thriller, the questions may not be at all obvious, and understand that once the person is convinced to buy your book, and they have clicked the button, and it’s downloaded to the Kindle, and they open it up, by the time they get done reading the first paragraph of the actual book, if we were to reach out to them and say, hey, can you answer these questions about the original description? They probably can’t. So don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be exactly factually accurate. I try to always be factually accurate, but worrying about the minutiae, nobody has ever gotten to the end of the book. It’s like, oh, five stars. But the description said her eyes were blue, and they were sort of a light blue. Four stars. That just doesn’t happen. So again, we want to be accurate, but it’s not paramount.
Mark Lefebvre 46:12
Well, Brian, we are out of time. So I want to thank you for your time and ask you to let our listeners know, our live viewers and also the listeners to this podcast know where they can find out more about you. Maybe they can check out some of the things you offer.
Brian Meeks 46:27
Absolutely. I have we have a link, I think we’re going to put someplace right there, which, can people click on that when it’s on video?
Mark Lefebvre 46:34
They’re not going to be able to click on that, unfortunately. But we can probably add it to the description in the comments.
Brian Meeks 46:39
In the comments. That sounds great. So yes, I’ve just released a course on copywriting where I go into greater depth about what we’ve discussed here today. It’s $200. But there is a code that is just Mark and that will save you 60%.
Mark Lefebvre 46:55
Not even Draft2Digital. You don’t even have to do more than four letters. It’s just one code, Mark.
Brian Meeks 46:59
Mark, and that will save you 60%. Yes, it’s $200. And that gets it down to around $79 or something like that. The other thing is, I do offer copywriting and I have a sign here. And this I used to great effect at 20 Books. “Will blurb for hugs, and $150.” It has been huge. I’ve had over 300 people on Facebook like and love it and comment and stuff. II can be hired to write descriptions for $150 right now, because of the conference. I’m about I have about 12 descriptions ahead of anyone, but just reach out to me on Facebook with Messenger. And that’s how you can find me and say, hey, I’m interested in your description service.
Mark Lefebvre 47:46
Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Brian, and thank you everyone for the great questions live. Don’t miss out, we try to do these as much as possible, every Thursday ideally. We do Ask us Anythings, we talk to amazing people like Brian. Bookmark D2Dlive.com. You can follow us, subscribe to us on YouTube. Basically, it’s facebook.com/draft2digital, youtube.com/draft2digital. As my good friend Kevin Tumlinson says, just add Draft2Digital at the end of almost any URL and you may find us there. Brian, thanks again for a wonderful time and thank you the wonderful live audience for your great questions and participation. Have a great afternoon.