People are very visual. When selecting their next book to read, they base the decision on the cover art and the description on the back cover. Unless they are already familiar with your work and make a habit of purchasing everything you write; you’ll need to peak their interest with a compelling description on the back cover.
Components of back cover copy
- Synopsis of your book
- Author Endorsements
- Your Biography
In every case, you will want to keep your words to a minimum and write them in an easy-to-read manner. In other words, short sentences, short words and short paragraphs. Keep it short. A large block of copy will be a turn off for the short attention span of a reader skimming the shelves at a bookstore (in person or online).
So how can you grab their attention?
Start by writing a compelling description of your book. If you take away subplots, secondary characters and story twists, what is left? You want to grab their attention without giving away too much.
Beth Bacon has developed a four-step formula to help you craft a perfect paragraph for your book’s back cover. Check it out:
Here is the formula:
(1) Situation. Every story has to start somewhere, with some people in some sort of circumstances. Describe them simply here.
(2) Problem. Every story (every interesting one, anyway) has some sort of hitch that either makes that situation untenable or makes change inevitable. This part of the description often starts with the word, “But…” or “However…” or “Until…”
(3) Hopeful possibility. Here’s the potential to overcome the crisis. This “cool thing” or “longshot opportunity” makes your audience want to read your story.
(4) Mood, tone or spirit of the story. Finally, readers want to know what kind of emotional state they’re going to get into while they’re reading this book. Is it a dark, dystopian tragedy or humorous chick lit cotton candy?
The formula in action:
So, let’s look at this formula in action. I recently helped a marketing team write the blurb for a new new YA book, Spirit Warriors: The Concealing by D. E. L. Connor. Here is this book description, using that formula:
- Sixteen-year-old Emme Belrose has it all: four best friends, her own horse, a hidden teepee hangout, and a blossoming romance with tall and handsome Charlie. These friends also have a secret. They can move their spirits into animal bodies: an Osprey, a Mustang, a Grizzly, a Mountain Lion and a Coyote. (2) But when Charlie, who has a gift for seeing the future, has a vision of Emme drowning in the icy Yellowstone River, (3) the Spirit Warriors must train their animal bodies to kill an enemy they know is coming… but know nothing about. (4) Suspenseful, romantic and awash in Native American magic, Spirit Warriors captures the enchantment of the American West and the power of friendship.
Let’s take a look a few well known examples. On the back cover of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park we’ll read:
An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now mankind’s most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all of the world can visit them…for a price. Until something goes wrong…
If you have read the book or seen the movie, you know just how wrong the story goes. Notice there is no mention of the scientists or visitors to the island. No mention of the family component or the death and destruction that ensues. Not even a hint as to how the story might evolve or how the problem may be resolved. In just 48 words you are already excited about reading this sci-fi, fantasy novel.
How might you take this formula and apply it to your book? Grab a few of your favorite books, especially those in your genre, and see how the author has encapsulated their story for the back cover. What can you learn from their different approaches? Now, give it a try!
I just pulled my hard copy of J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Imagine trying to create a short paragraph to describe this iconic tale?
She doesn’t. Her back copy simply includes one endorsement:
“A delightful award-winning debut from an author who dances in the footsteps of P.L. Travers and Roald Dahl.” – Publishing Weekly, starred review
Jurassic Park also has endorsements on the back of the paperback version:
“Frighteningly real…compelling…it’ll keep you riveted.” – The Detroit Press
“Full of Suspense.” – The New York Times Book Review.
These endorsements are from large papers with famous top book lists, but what about an endorsement from another author?
John Knowles’ A Separate Peace includes an endorsement from Warren Miller, “Mr. Knowles has something to say about youth and war that few contemporary novelists have attempted to say and none has said better.”
Eragon by teen author Christopher Paolini boast several endorsements on the back cover including this one from Anne McCaffrey, author of The Dragonriders, “Full praise to Eragon, and I want more! A winner…tip of the hat to young master Paolini.”
How do you go about having someone write an endorsement for your book?
Step one – select those you believe would be willing to read your book and write an endorsement.
Step Two – contact them and see if you can send them a copy of your book.
Step Three – follow up.
Step Four – say thank you!
One business author, Deborah Chaddock Brown, Back to Basics: 30 Tips to Market Your Small Business and Establish Your Expert Status in the Industry, wanted to have endorsements on the back cover of her first book. She selected six successful business owners who had an audience in the small business marketing world.
Once she created her short list of people to target, she sent each one a direct message via Twitter. Being that the vehicle was Twitter, she had to be quick and to the point:
“Would you be willing to read and review my biz marketing book? I refer to you in the book.”
Six out of six that she contacted responded with a “yes.” Of those, five provided reviews for her back cover; one of which was so powerful she included it on the front cover above the title! She admitted later that even her mother would not have given such glowing reviews!
All you can do is ask. Who would you ask?
Again, brevity is the watchword. Reading the bios of other authors is another great way to learn what works and what doesn’t. Include:
- Your name
- Any titles or accreditation/degree
- Book titles previously written books
- An interesting tidbit
A brief location descriptions.
Check out a few examples:
STEPHEN KING is the author of more than thirty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. Among his most recent are Hearts in Atlantis, The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon, Bag of Bones, and The Green Mile. On Writing is his first book of nonfiction since Danse Macabre, published in 1981. He served as a judge for Prize Stories: The Best of 1999, The O. Henry Awards. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
CHRISOPHER PAOLINI’S abiding love of fantasy and science fiction inspired him to begin writing his debut novel, Eragon, when he graduated from high school at fifteen. Now nineteen, he lives with his family in Paradise Valley, Montana, where he is at work on Eldest, the next volume in the Inheritance trilogy.
Your bio will change over time so make sure that with each new book you review your personal description and make any changes necessary.
Bottom Line: You only have a few moments to capture the attention of potential readers. You’ll want to give a strong focus and effort on determining what appears on your back cover. A good tip is to read the copy out loud. You may find a few areas that can be tightened up even more. Remember, all of this work isn’t just for your book cover. You’ll use the synopsis, endorsements and bio on your website, on your Amazon author page and on your social media sites.