When It Comes to Books — First Impressions Count — Big Time

catherSo you’ve written the next Great American Novel and you’re ready to publish. Now you’re down to the silly details that try your patience. You have to choose your categories and then come up with a short description, almost every writer’s bane. How do you distill 600 pages down to six sentences? How do you convey all the passion and wisdom and inspiration of your story into one or two paragraphs?

Careful. It’s tempting to throw down a few sentences and call it good.

Don’t do it.

In a recent discussion with other authors, we talked about errors in books both traditionally-published and self-published. It’s an age-old problem that we all face. We re-read, edit, re-read, edit, send out to beta-readers, re-read and edit again and still we miss something here or there. I am guessing it would be more difficult to find a book with absolutely zero errors than it would to find them with one or two if not more. I am actually wondering if there are any books out there without a single error. Maybe, but it’s doubtful. None of us like it, but it does seem to go with the territory. Doesn’t mean we don’t work hard to correct errors, but I don’t think any of us are going to commit hari-kari over it, either.

However, there are two areas where errors are positively absolutely never forgivable. I’m talking about the cover and that description you just tossed up on Amazon.

Spelling errors on covers are just the most inexcusable thing ever, so I don’t even think it requires a discussion. On the lighter side, here’s a web page with famous covers with one letter missing. Makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it?

But now back to that description. Our own K.S. Brooks talked about how to write a good one, so I won’t rehash that here. But once you’ve got yours done, don’t just slap it up there. Look at it through a magnifying glass. Check each word. Seriously. Every word. Because this, along with your cover, is the first impression the prospective reader gets of your writing talent and style. If a reader sees an error in your description, what does that say to them? That you’re … lazy? Uneducated? Incompetent? Certainly not conscientious and thorough. Many readers will not — will not — buy a book that has a mistake in the description. If you’ve thrown that description up there with only a cursory glance and there’s a misspelling or a punctuation error there, you’ve just lost the opportunity for a sale not just once, but over and over and over. Is it really worth that five minutes of time you saved yourself? What good is writing that Great American Novel if readers can’t or won’t even get past the description?

One last area to think about is the first chapter. This first bit is what the reader can access via the Look Inside feature, so it likewise needs to be top notch. The entire book, of course, should be as error-free as you can possibly make it, but especially these first impressions.

As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Make it a good one.

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is the award-winning author of twelve novels and one non-fiction title. She lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

14 thoughts on “When It Comes to Books — First Impressions Count — Big Time”

  1. Absolutely, Melissa. I know I’ve made errors on spots where they are not forgivable and been mortified when I found them. For me, at least, It’s a good idea to leave even those small pieces for a few days and go back later. Better to surprise yourself than a prospective reader.

    1. Been there, done that, Yvonne. I, too, will let a piece sit and cool for a day or three, just to make sure my brain’s not convincing me I’m seeing what I want to see. Good advice about anything, but especially a short piece that we think is a no-brainer.

    1. Exactly, Lynne. After all, if the description is supposed to give us a glimpse into the talent and story of the author, that can go both ways. Authors beware; that way may lie genius–or dragons.

      1. One potential problem, and I think it applies to many of us, myself included, is that writing blurbs, etc. requires different skills than writing a whole book. We can be very adept at one and suck at the other.

        1. I’m like Lynne, an error in the blurb (I saw a typo on the third word of one yesterday) will send me running for all the reasons Melissa mentioned. However, I completely sympathize with Yvonne. I know what my natural tendencies would be if I were to write a book and then attempt the blurb. None of tendencies would make for a good blurb.

  2. Edit, edit, edit and then run everything past your editor. However, like you said, Melissa, it’s the condensing of 80 to a 100,000 word document into 100 odd words that is the trick.

    Excellent post, Melissa.

  3. Excellent post, Melissa, thank you. I’ve seen two major ways authors get into the weeds with blurbs: labor over them for so many drafts they stop seeing the words, or, having run out of energy from prepping the manuscript, they toss a few sentences up on Amazon without a good scrubbing. And TD makes a great point about asking your editor to look over your blurb, too.

    1. Thanks, Laurie. Yes, having extra eyes on it definitely helps. You’re right–we can all go a little blind after looking at something 47 times.The main problem I see in so many blurbs is trying to cram too much information in. So many are chock full of details that we don’t really need to get the gist of the story. Simple is better.

  4. No. No. It is not really condensing a novel into a few words. Remember – traditional publishing would ask copywriters who had never even read the book to write a blurb based upon the synopsis sent in by the author. (Oh, THAT”s what it was for!)

    The skill set is journalistic, not narrative-based. One must wear a totally different hat. Or give a synopsis to a journalist, and see what happens.

    Some of the best blurbs – which sell books – sometimes are misleading, vaguely related, or simply not accurate. Yet they work. Read the backs of your oldest paperbacks, that’s the secret. Observe and imitate.

    And no – you are not the best person to write the blurb, just because you are intimate with the contents. Sometimes, the reverse is true. You need to be able to think like a journalist. I used to teach a journalism course at ECU, so I sort of qualify … but I know my books too well!!

    1. Rosanne,
      I would be annoyed if the blurb didn’t match up with the story. I agree that once you have written a blurb it is a good idea to give it to another experienced writer to pick apart. Kat is really good at blurbs, and Jackie Weger has given me suggestions.
      I like your idea of checking out the blurb on the back of a paperback. I have The Doomsday Conspiracy by Sidney Sheldon in my hand. The blurb matches the plot, and is written crisply. That is certainly a style to strive for. 🙂

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