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The front cover of your book may grab someone’s attention, but your back cover copy gets their money. That copy can make or break all your book promotion efforts.
Does the cover really sell the book?
It does, and it doesn’t. Most of the time, a book cover convinces a potential reader to turn the book over and read the back cover copy. If that reader is online, the book description on the Amazon sales page makes the sale.
The online book description is often the same text that appears on the back of the physical book. But sometimes, the online copy is a little more robust since there aren’t word-limit constraints.
How do you write compelling back cover copy that makes customers want to purchase your book?
Readers make decisions about whether to buy a book based on several factors.
Sometimes the back cover copy convinces the reader to buy. Other times, an online review pushes the customer to purchase. But either way, if the back cover copy doesn’t catch the reader’s attention, if it’s boring and vague, you’ll lose the sale no matter how awesome your front cover looks.
Spend the money and the time to make your back cover copy concise and compelling. It will be the key component for convincing someone to buy your book.
What is back cover copy?
Think of it like a movie trailer. There are elements of summary, but the main goal of the trailer is to make you want to download the movie or buy tickets immediately.
Some authors think their back cover copy is just a summary of the story, but in reality, it’s a sales pitch. It is the most important ad for your book.
It’s also the starting point for all the other advertising and pitching you will do.
If you plan to run Amazon or Goodreads ads, the text for those ads will come from your back cover copy. If your publisher or an ad agency wants to run a magazine ad for your book, the copy on the back of your book is the first place they’ll look for text to use in the ad.
Your back cover copy affects everything.
How do I write better back cover copy?
Shorter is Better
It may sound counterintuitive to a novelist, but when you’re writing back cover copy, shorter is better. Aim for 140-170 words.
If you can sell your book in five words, great, but it usually takes a few more words than that. If it’s longer than 200 words, it’s too long.
Most authors want to cram the whole story onto the back cover, so they write 300 words. It just doesn’t work. Your back cover will look unprofessional. Online, you technically have the room, but people will stop reading after 170 words.
The first few words are the most important because each sentence has to sell the next one to make the reader progressively curious.
Set the Mood
The voice you use in your back cover copy needs to match the voice of your book. As a movie trailer sets the mood for the movie, your back cover copy sets the mood for your book.
Nonfiction back cover copy requires the same treatment. If you’re brash and brazen in your writing, you want the back cover to sound the same.
You’re making a promise with that text on the outside, and then you must deliver on that promise inside the book.
Don’t Put Every Worm on the Hook
Connecting with readers is like fishing. You want to offer tempting bait, but you don’t want them so full that they won’t return for more.
Give away enough of the story to keep them interested, but not too much.
It’s also like dating your potential reader. Presenting the front cover of your book is like your first date. If you make a good impression, you’ll get a second date when they read the back of your book. Your third date is when they read the first sentence of your book.
If they get to page three or reach the end of the Kindle Instant Preview and still want to know what happens next, they’re ready to propose and buy your book.
Don’t reveal everything on the second date. Leave the reader wanting more so they’ll start reading.
Don’t Bury the Lead
Determine the most helpful, interesting, or provocative element of your book and begin your back cover copy there.
What is your hook? What is the “What if” question your novel poses?
In the back cover copy of James L. Rubart’s first novel Rooms, he led with this hook:
“What would you find if you walked into the room of your soul? One man is about to find out.”
That question piques the reader’s interest and makes them want to read more.
For his second novel, The Chair, he led with this hook:
“If you were given an ancient-looking chair and told Jesus Christ made it, would you believe it?
Try to find a headline that hooks people and makes them want to read the next line. It’s hard to find that perfect line by yourself. You’re too familiar with your own story. Consider asking your beta readers to look over your hook and tell you whether it’s boring or not.
Readers will never read your story unless that back cover copy sings. Ask beta readers, strangers, or fellow authors, to evaluate your hook.
- Does it intrigue you?
- Do you get it?
- What impressions did you get?
- Do you want to read more?
Get those opinions cold because that’s how most readers will approach your story.
Introduce a Bit of Context
The next sentence should introduce the who, where, and when, but you should quickly get to the conflict (the what).
The what is the driving force of your story. The why and how are interesting details that should only be hinted at. You’re not trying to tell the story. You simply want to intrigue readers with the what.
Is your hero seeking freedom? Is she seeking power? Does he want acclaim? Will she sacrifice something?
What thirst will you satiate for your readers with your story?
Name the Main Characters.
Tell the potential reader who the hero is. State or imply their age. Then invite your reader into the story. What’s the adventure you’re inviting your readers into?
Finally, you’ll give the twist. Good back cover copy makes the reader say, “Uh oh! Now I’ve got to read the first paragraph of the story.”
Don’t Use Clichéd Copy
Avoid using clichés.
- A life-changing book!
- Must read!
- You won’t be able to put it down.
- Summoned out of our world…
- A race against the clock…
- A hard-boiled detective…
Those phrases have been so overused that they are now cliché. You’ll still see them on bestselling books, but they indicate lazy writing.
Typos on your back cover will kill your sales. Hire editors and recruit readers to make sure this copy is perfect.
Consider hiring a proofreader to look over the typeset version of your back cover copy as well. If there’s a typo in the blurb, you will lose the sale.
Use White Space
Use headlines, short paragraphs, and bullet points (nonfiction) so that it’s easy to read.
Don’t jam it all together in one long paragraph. Within your short paragraphs, shorter sentences are usually better.
Too much back cover text that fills the whole space with little white (or negative) space is a sure sign of a self-published book.
Make the Reader Want More
The last sentence of your back cover copy should make the reader want to read more. As they say in showbiz, always leave the audience wanting more.
Avoid Passive Voice
Write tight sentences in active voice. In the Harry Potter example, not a single word is wasted. Every word is working to make the sentence efficient and interesting.
To practice writing back cover copy, try writing 170 words for the last novel you read. Then compare it to what’s on the back cover or in the Amazon description. If it’s a traditionally published book, the back cover copy is written by a professional and will guide your practice.
It’s a great way to practice and score your copywriting skills. See if you can find the essence of the story or the point of conflict that drives people to want to learn more.
Example #1: Rooms
What would you find if you walked into the rooms of your soul? One man is about to find out.
It was just a letter. Cryptic, yes absolutely. But Seattle software tycoon Micah Taylor (WHO/CHARACTERIZED)
can’t get it out of his mind—the claim that a home was built for him by a great uncle he never knew, (INVITATION)
on the Oregon coast. In Cannon Beach. (WHERE)
The one place he loves. The one place he never wants to see again. (BACKSTORY)
Micah goes to Cannon Beach, intending to sell the house and keep his past buried, but the nine thousand square-foot home instantly feels like it’s part of him. (WHAT)
Then he meets Sarah Sabin at the local ice cream shop … maybe Cannon Beach can be the perfect weekend getaway. (AGE)
But strange things start happening in the house. (WHAT)
Things Micah can’t explain. Things he can barely believe. All the locals will say is the house is “spiritual.” (WHAT)
Unsettling since Micah’s faith slipped away like the tide years ago. (BACKSTORY)
And then he discovers the shocking truth: the home isn’t just spiritual, it’s a physical manifestation of his soul. (TWIST)
That is the twist. He’s walking into the rooms of his own soul. At that point, we hope the reader is intrigued enough to want to go deeper and buy the book.
Example #2 Harry Potter
Till now, there’s been no magic for Harry Potter. (BACKSTORY/HOOK)
He lives with the miserable Dursleys and their abominable son, Dudley. (AGE)
Harry’s room is a tiny closet beneath the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years. (BACKSTORY/AGE)
But then a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place called Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (WHAT)
And there he finds not only friends, flying sports on broomsticks, and magic in everything from classes to meals, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him (WHAT)
if Harry can survive the encounter.” (TWIST)
There’s your twist. What do you mean, survive? I thought he would go to this great place and make friends and step into his destiny, and then suddenly there’s this twist. Something or someone is after him, and we are hooked.
Notice it doesn’t introduce Hermione or any of the other characters. It’s focused on Harry Potter,
Remember, this is only the second date. You’re getting enough to make you curious.
This extremely well-written back copy probably contributed to the millions and millions of sales.
Practice With Novels in Your Genre
Read the back cover copy of other novels in the genre you’re writing.
At the end of each sentence, describe in parentheses what the sentence accomplishes as we’ve done above.
Look for the following:
- How they communicate the who, when, where, and what
- How they’re selling the story
- The high-concept, what-if question
- The heart of the story
- The payoff or twist
Back Cover Copy in Three Acts
You can also think of your back cover copy in three acts.
- The High Concept (What if?)
- The Heart of the Story
- The Payoff (The Twist)
Should I hire a professional?
Writing excellent back cover copy is a skill that takes years to master. Since you’re a writer, you can certainly master it, but it will take time.
If you’re not trained and feel too close to your story, it’s usually better to hire outside help.
Should I use the “end with a question” technique?
Generally speaking, ending with a question doesn’t work.
“Will Billy and Sally get together, or will her dad push them apart?” If it’s a romance, you already know they will get together, so the question does nothing to incite curiosity.
Questions can work, but they’re often an indication of lazy writing. It’s the easiest thing to do, but it’s not always the right thing to do. It can feel very cheesy and cliché, and that’s not what you want for your book.
If you spend time, effort, and money on writing compelling back cover copy, you will be rewarded in book sales, positive reviews, and admiration. If you master the skill of writing back cover copy, other authors might want to start paying you to write theirs.
I’ve been waiting for this episode. Jim writes amazing sales copy and I’ve always wanted to pick his brain about it. Would love if you guys did an episode improving listeners’ back cover copy LIVE. How about it? I’ll be the first guinea pig. 😉
Fine, it’s all a plot to get free copywriting from Jim. I admit it.