Friday, August 2, 2013

Writing Great Back Cover Copy by Julie Coulter Bellon

Lately, I've been helping authors write or revamp their back cover copy, and I even taught a class on it at an indie publishing conference.  It always amazes me how little time authors seem to spend on the second most important thing in selling and marketing their book - the back cover copy.  Besides the cover, the first interaction your reader will have with your book is the back cover copy, and it can make or break your book sales.

So, let's look at some tips for writing great back cover copy.

First of all, NEVER summarize your book.  The back copy is not where you do a synopsis at all.  The back cover is where you entice and intrigue your readers to pick up your book.

Now that the NEVER DO is out of the way, what do you do?

The Legwork

1.  Figure out the stakes.  Will someone die?  Will the world end?  Will she get the guy?  What are the stakes of the book?  This will play a big role in your back copy.

2.  Work up a thirty-second elevator pitch of your book.  If you can describe your book in thirty seconds, you've got a head start on your back copy.

Now you have somewhere to start. What's next?

1. Take your stakes and figure out a tagline, one sentence that encapsulates your stakes.  My new novel's tagline is "Are you ever really innocent until proven guilty?"  I just helped another author with her tagline and it ended up being, "On their world, being an elemental means you will be hunted for your skin."  So, you see a tagline is something that hints at the stakes in your book.  Make it catchy and memorable.  Don't bog it down.  Too many times I've seen, "This is a book about love and betrayal."  BORING.  Use your creativity.

2.  Use your thirty-second elevator pitch to pull out the important events in your book.  Most times, great back copy just covers the inciting incident in your book.  My new novel, Ashes Ashes, has back copy that is mainly centered around my hero's bad day at work, and since he's in hostage negotiation, that means someone usually dies.  He comes home, sees smoke coming out of his neighbor's house, and so he goes to help.  But the beautiful and mysterious house guest doesn't want his help  - because she's in trouble herself. Usually if you can use your inciting incident, you can hook your audience, hint at the big plot, and write some great back copy.

3.  Use compelling language with a splash of hyperbole.  It's okay to grab your readers with "unimaginable consequences," "a decision that will change mankind forever," or "can he trust anyone around him, including the woman at the center of it all."  Leave your reader feeling like this is a story they definitely have to read.

4. Great back cover copy is generally not over 200 words long.  You have to be concise and really sell the book without being verbose.  Cut out the fatty details - they only bog down your back cover copy.  Get to the meat of it and entice and intrigue your readers.  This is your chance to sell yourself, and you don't want to blow it.

5.  Research how other authors have done it.  If you are still at a loss, go look at the back cover copy of famous authors in your genre.  That can spark ideas and creativity for your own work and help you see the pattern of how to intrigue and entice your readers.

6.  Don't forget to proofread.  There's nothing that will make me pass on a book faster than seeing grammar and spelling errors in the back copy.  If the author can't spell it right there, chances are the book isn't that great either.  The back copy is the reader's first interaction with you.  Make it great!


Anna del C. Dye said...

Where are you from? I am in Utah and would love to have you talk to my League of Utah Chapter about this. :)

Anonymous said...

Anna, I'm in Utah as well and I'd love to speak to your group! You can email me at and we can work out the logistics. :)

Julie (because for some reason I can't log in today!)