Ooh, actual data! About back cover copy and what works.

Via The Passive Voice blog, this fascinating study by Book Bub: 8 Book Description A/B Tests You Need to See

Here’s what they mean by A/B tests: they offer a book with two different blurbs. The original is A. Then a tweaked version is B. Then they count click-throughs.

They also have the basic sense to explain the caveats: Book Bub’s readership may not map all that well with any other particular readership; Book Bub writes blurbs in a particular format, and so on. Still, these data are very suggestive.

1. Mentioning author accolades is a plus. Specific phrases like “Bram Stoker Award-Winning Author” help. This makes sense. It helps a lot, so well worth including.

2. Including the names of too many different characters hurts. This makes sense to me. Too many names just sound cluttered and confusing, imo. The example in this post is really interesting because the A version includes four names, whereas the B version says “Four friends.” B won by a mile.

3. Specifying subgenre helps. Saying “psychological thriller” is better than just saying “thriller.” However, they mention that it depends on what the Book Bub readership is into, which is not necessarily indicative of other readerships.

4. This one is interesting because it seems so random. M-dashes, exclamation points, and question marks don’t help. But ellipses do. How mysterious… Actually I’m pleased by this because I find myself reaching for ellipses all the time when writing one-sentence or two-sentence pitches. On the other hand, I’m not TOO smug about my liking for ellipses, because I see that it helps in horror and suspense, but not fantasy. Phooey.

5. Not relevant to me, but naming recipes included in a cookbook hurts, while calling out the number of recipes included helps. Hmmm. Not sure I get that.

6. Calling business books “accessible” hurts. I can see that. Everyone probably thinks they’re an expert and so they don’t bother with “accessible” books.

7. Mentioning the protagonist’s specific age helps in chick lit, but not erotic romance. Hmmm. Yeah, that makes no sense to me. But then I don’t think I read much chick lit, so maybe it makes more sense to any of you who do?

8. Mentioning specific aristocratic titles helps in historical romance. Yes, that I understand. The Marquis of This or the Count of That sounds more intriguing to me than just using the character’s name. Though so can non-aristocratic tags, like The Dread Pirate Roberts or the bold thief Robin Hood or whatever. Anyway, as I do read some historical romance, I guess I’m just another sheep following the herd on that one.

Very interesting if you like that kind of thing; click through if you want to read the whole post, including examples.

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4 thoughts on “Ooh, actual data! About back cover copy and what works.”

  1. I can understand #5: if the recipe title doesn’t sound like something I would cook, then I’m more likely to pass, whereas I like to know I’m getting a good number of potential dishes in return for investing in a cookbook (I get most of my recipes online). So that number might encourage click through, but then I’d want to read the table of contents before purchasing.

  2. That may be the difference, then. If I happen to have picked up something out of the ordinary at the (brand new! exciting!) international grocery store that just opened in town, then I’ll google around looking for recipes that use, say, bilimbi fruit. But I buy a ton of cookbooks because I just like cookbooks. Mostly regional or specialized. What I want is not just recipes but comments, thoughts, anecdotes, the flavor of the region, the science behind a technique … so as far as number of recipes, I don’t care very much at all.

  3. That’s why I like to look online for recipes. By comparing different ones, and people’s comments, trials, and errors, it’s easy to figure out what I want from a recipe and how best to achieve that result. Which is why I appreciate Cook’s Illustrated; they’re very good about telling you what mistakes to avoid and what techniques are critical. I also like Smitten Kitchen. Those are the only two I’ve come back to consistently.

    I should try more cookbooks. I’ve never really looked at regional ones, but the idea of studying a region’s technique and flavors appeals to me.

  4. I love Cook’s Illustrated — and I need to check in with Smitten Kitchen more often.

    Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid wrote several very good regional cookbooks that do a lot to set the recipes in a sense of place. I personally really liked Hot Sour Salty Sweet, which is subtitled, A Culinary Journey through Southeast Asia.

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