A strong tagline was the one thing all of the New York Times bestsellers examined in my analysis of bestselling book descriptions had in common. Taglines were also the feature shared by the majority of the bestselling satirical novels I examined. And yet, just one third of the less successful novels in the same category included a tagline in their descriptions.

Of all of the ingredients of a book description, the tagline has to be one of the most accessible. Your book doesn’t need to have won a major prize or sold a million copies or had a celebrity endorsement or a write-up in a well-respected journal to have a snazzy tagline. So it’s worth spending a few minutes learning how to craft a tagline that will set your book apart from the less successful books in your genre – and may even catapult it into more exclusive company.

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The Secret Recipe of Bestselling Book Descriptions

Years ago, I loved eating at a restaurant called Secret Recipe, famous for its home-style food from a variety of locations across the globe. When work and financial constraints meant I couldn’t travel, Secret Recipe was a way to experience a little exotic flavour in my day-to-day life.

The variety of dishes was certainly one of its best features, as far as I was concerned. You could eat at Secret Recipe with almost anyone, and they’d be able to find something on the menu to suit their tastes. Yet, in spite of the variety, each dish was of consistent quality.

Bestsellers are a little like that. Each book has its own distinct flavour, but the professionalism with which it is presented, and the quality of its ingredients – cover, spine, blurb, formatting – do not differ wildly from book to book.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that, in my analysis of the blurbs of bestsellers, I uncovered something akin to a ‘secret recipe’ which all of the NYT bestsellers had in common, and which was largely replicated across the satire bestsellers I analysed.

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The Romance Invasion

Back when I was doing my ‘due diligence’ for my debut novel, Number Eight Crispy Chicken, researching the cover designs and blurbs of other satirical novels, I noticed something strange. Many of the top novels in this category on Amazon weren’t really what I would have considered ‘satire’.

In fact, they screamed ‘romance’.

At the time (in late 2019), I thought to myself, ‘I’ll bet these savvy authors have targeted ‘satire’ as an ‘easy’ category to break into’. But the invasion of satire by romance novels wasn’t significant enough at the time for me to mention it on my blog.

Fast forward a little over eighteen months, and the invasion I noticed back then has become almost a complete colonisation: Of the top 100 ‘satire’ books on Amazon in late July, 2021, as I was preparing Propaganda Wars for publication, just fifteen (15%) were satirical novels.

The rest? Romance.

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Book Merch: A rant about literacy, capitalism… and foul-tasting beans

I’ve never been a big fan of book-related merchandise, either as a reader or as a writer.

Most of the ‘merch’ I have owned, I did not buy, but received as prizes or gifts from fellow indie authors – stickers, bookmarks, even a mug and coaster. In other words, items which are cute, useful, or both.

As an author, however, I have never been tempted to produce any myself, which, to be fair, is probably a genre thing as much as it is a sign of fiscal responsibility on my part. It would be rather odd, not to mention grossly offensive, for a novel criticising the government’s immigration policy to come with some sort of branded flotation device, or for a book critiquing capitalism and advertising to have a section at the back hawking, well, any sort of consumer goods.

To my recollection, I have only ever purchased two book-related products, and, as luck (or more likely, statistical odds) would have it, both were Harry Potter related.

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Another Round of Blurbs!

In the previous post, we revisited some of the blurbs I analysed in late 2019, to see how these books have fared 18 months on. Those which were successful tended to share nine key features in common, while those which were less successful adhered to few – if any – of the guidelines I identified. And as our revisit revealed, the extent to which blurbs seemed to follow those guidelines appears correlated with their success.

Of course, a sample size of 12 “successful” and five “unsuccessful” novels is too small to draw any hard and fast conclusions. It is also possible that a book with a poorly written blurb may be poor in other ways as well (although, care was taken to select only those books with professional-looking covers to ensure this wasn’t the weak link). Additionally, trends change over time, and what worked well almost two years ago may not work as well today. So, I thought it might be fun to do another round – pick another group of “successful” blurbs, and another group of “unsuccessful” ones, and see how they compare.

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Blurbs Revisited

In late 2019, shortly before the release of my 2020 debut novel Number Eight Crispy Chicken, I wrote a pair of posts on the art of blurb writing. One focused on successful blurbs, in order to discover what they have in common. Then, I examined the blurbs of less successful books – in an attempt to see to what extent a book’s blurb may be the driver of its success.

No experiment is truly reliable unless it is replicated. And with my second novel Propaganda Wars in the works, I thought it was time to revisit those books I examined a year and a half ago – and to discover whether the bestselling books of 2021 adhere to the same guidelines I identified.

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Continuing the Story…

Cover design is important. Although we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, the truth is, we do. Just last night, a friend sent me a link to a collection of hilariously bad book covers (my favourite is probably Kim. Or Little Women. It’s hard to decide…)

I’ve already done a series on book cover designs here on the blog – but that message – and the fact that I have a new book coming out on August 30, 2021 – prompted me to continue the story with an update on the importance of cover design.

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Author Q&A with Ally Aldridge

Like many not-so-young adults, I enjoy reading the occasional ‘Young Adult’ (YA) novel. Culture Trip‘s Parish Turner describes the category as one which not only reflects the world around us, but which offers a sense of hopeful escapism – something many of us crave this year!

Despite its reputation as a ‘less serious’ category of fiction, YA frequently deals with difficult issues, ranging from general coming-of-age stories, to social problem novels. And it is precisely because YA often blends relatable settings with engaging fantasy that it is so powerful. Meeting so many of its readers at a critical juncture in their lives, YA has the potential to introduce young people to formative ideas about identity, self-value, relationships, and justice, or to reinforce old stereotypes about feminine beauty and meekness, and masculine wealth and power being the only important values.

That’s why I was fascinated to speak to YA author Ally Aldridge. It’s not every day we get to speak directly to an author and find out what went on behind the book! But today, I’m thrilled to be part of the book tour for Ally’s brand-new Ocean Heart. I hope you’ll enjoy this deep-dive as much as I did!

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