I believe it is safe to say almost every book is purchased before it is read. Or, at the very least, the decision to read it is made before it is read.
Wow, we are mining the depths of Dan’s publishing wisdom today.
There’s a reason aspiring and even experienced authors are encouraged to create a one-page pitch sheet for their books. If you can’t explain your work in relatively few words, you need to go back to the keyboard to figure out how to edit your description.
Principles for Condensing
Every single book generates interest for an agent, a publisher, and finally a reader with relatively few words of explanation. Certainly, you need to have more detail available than only a few words for agents and publishers, so they can dig deeper to make their respective decisions. But for readers, you are asking someone to invest money and time into your book; and you don’t have all the words in the world to convince them.
Condensing everything from an 80,000-word book into 80-100 words of descriptive copy requires you to use a good number of generalities, simply out of necessity. The text on the back cover of a book is often 80-100 words. Online descriptions are usually just as short but give some opportunity for longer entries, but not much.
Brevity in your descriptions should be practiced and perfected. And a good study of keywords is important for every writer.
Example of Condensing
Milo Frank wrote a popular business book about 30 years ago on the importance of getting to the point. He was born in New York City and served in the US Marines during WWII. After the war, he worked as a talent agent for the William Morris Agency. He went on to be head of Talent and Casting for CBS Television and later for Cinerama. He became a producer of independent movies, later writing How To Make Your Point in Thirty Seconds, then working as a business consultant to major corporations. (Copies of the book are still available; click link) Mr. Frank died in 2004.
As a talent agent and a television-casting head, he likely needed to interrupt many aspiring actors or actresses in the midst of elaborate self-explanations with, “You’ve got 30 seconds; tell me who you are and why you should get this part.”
Hence, he was well versed in how to get a lot of information into a small amount of speech or text and was eager to teach others how to do it.
Benefits of Condensing
While you might want to explain all aspects of your work, agents and publishers look for a small number of keywords and phrases to help them understand at the outset.
When you create a one-sheet for presenting your book, you are entering into a process infused throughout the publishing process.
And, by the way, your pitch to an agent or publisher should never, ever be, “Just read my manuscript!” There’s a time for that, but you first need to create interest by using a few words.
You can’t tell a book by its cover; but you sell a book by its cover, both front and back, with relatively few words. That’s all the reader will ever know before deciding to read it.