How To Write Strong Copy for the Back Cover of a Book
Usually found on the back cover of the book, cover copy is often the first experience customers have with your writing (after the title, of course). Its purpose is simple: to convince potential readers to buy the book. To do that, it must be persuasive, engaging, and to the point.
In short, a clever title and beautifully designed cover will get the attention of readers, but well-written cover copy will reel them in. By following a few simple rules, you can create cover copy that makes it impossible for readers to turn away.
- Keep it under 300 total words for the summary and author bio. Anything longer won’t fit the dimensions of the cover.
- Write in the present tense to evoke a sense of immediacy (even when the genre is historical). For example, “The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly” (The BFG, by Roald Dahl).
- Set the mood. The cover copy for a horror novel should be dark and atmospheric, whereas the copy for a humorous romance should convey a lighter, more whimsical feeling.
- Borrow from your manuscript. You don’t have to start from scratch!
- Break longer text into paragraphs to help the reader internalize the ideas being presented. For nonfiction, try using bullet points to help emphasize important takeaways.
- Use biographical information to help establish credibility.
- For nonfiction, list any higher education degrees and other relevant credentials, such as previous notable publications.
- For fiction, list any previous relevant publications. If this your debut novel, don’t be afraid to say so. If you’ve been published to the hilt, however, mention only the publications that are similar to the one you’re currently publishing.
- Give away just enough of the main plot to entice readers to want to know more—which they can do only by purchasing the book!
Strong cover copy differs from weak in some surprisingly simple ways.
- It uses the title of the book, along with the author’s first and last name.
Weak: This book will teach simple knitting techniques.
Strong: Knitting Made Easy by Barbara Knightley teaches simple knitting techniques.
- It speaks directly to the audience.
Weak: Readers will learn how to knit a simple scarf within a few hours.
Strong: Learn how to knit a simple scarf within a few hours.
- It names only the main character(s).
Weak: Mary Phillips, a cat lover, falls in love with Jack Houston, a cat hater, while their friends Phillip and Agnes try everything possible to keep the union from happening, including employing Mary’s cousin, Thomas!
Strong: Mary Phillips, a cat lover, falls in love with Jack Houston, a cat hater, while their friends try everything possible to keep the union from happening.
- It leaves the reader wanting more. (Only strong examples here!)
Strong: Gerald is finally able to dance to his own tune when he gets some encouraging words from an unlikely friend. (Giraffes Can’t Dance, by Giles Andreae)
Strong: And when these lifelong adversaries finally kiss, they just might discover that the one person they can’t abide is the one person they can’t live without . . . (Because of Miss Bridgerton, by Julia Quinn)
To become skillful at writing cover copy, start by studying the copy of successful books in the genre you are writing for. For example, if your book is in the YA genre, examine the copy for Looking for Alaska, by John Green:
Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then . . .
After. Nothing is ever the same.
The importance of cover copy cannot be overstated: It can make or break the sale of a book. With patience, persistence, and a willingness to revise, you can create well-crafted cover copy, but if you would rather spend your time (and energy!) on other things, Dog Ear Publishing is happy to help, offering cover copywriting services.
1 Cambridge Online Dictionary: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/