How to Write Great Back Cover Copy
You have one paragraph to sell your book. It’s by far the most crucial paragraph, and it’s not even part of your story.
Imagine a potential reader, walking through the bookstore, browsing for something good to read. They pick up your book because you got the cover right, but after reading the description on the back cover, they place it back on the shelf and continue browsing. Potential reader lost.
One paragraph to sell them all.
No other paragraph is as important as your back cover copy, yet so few writers put any thought into it. Some even pay copywriters, who’ve never read the book, to write persuasive text to try and net sales. If you want to get someone to look at it — someone good at selling things — that’s fine, encouraged even, but you need to write the core of it yourself. Here’s how.
Tease the reader
Like any good sales pitch, your back cover copy should leave a potential reader wanting more. That’s the whole point of it.
Think of your book’s description as the trailer of a movie. You want to tell your potential reader what the story is about (without giving too much away) while enticing them with a little wow factor.
What makes your book special, unique? How does it represent its genre in a way the reader isn’t going to get from another book? If you’re writing non-fiction, what problem are you solving?
You have roughly 150–200 words to tease the reader into buying your book.
Don’t hold back
The biggest problem with most book descriptions is that the writer didn’t give it any thought; the next most significant issue is that when they do give it some thought, they hold back.
Never hold back. Give away your best scene, the one that sends the hero spiraling into the special world of your story.
How do you tell the story without giving away the story? When someone tells you the story of a movie, what parts, once revealed, piss you off the most? The plot twists. No one wants to know what happens because they want to be surprised.
If someone told you that Thor is about Marvel’s version of the Norse god of thunder, shunned by his father and sent to live on Earth as a mortal until he proves himself worthy of ruling Asgard, did they really give anything away? No, because they didn’t reveal any of the plot twists.
If you’re writing non-fiction
Non-fiction authors don’t have sexy scenes to sell to potential readers. Instead, they have something that fiction writers won’t have: they’re solving a problem for the reader.
Think of your book descriptions as your platform for detailing the problem you are going to solve. Then provide a section about how you solve the problem, not by solving it on the back cover — then there would be no reason to read the book — but by giving a list of things, they will learn. Like so:
In this book, you will learn:
• Problem solution #1
• Problem solution #2
• Problem solution #3
About the author
Most book descriptions include a picture and a short blurb about the author. Digital spaces can omit some of this because, presumably, there is a profile page about the author that the reader can check out if they’re curious. You still want to include a little bit about yourself, though, to lend some credibility to the sale.
Readers want to read novels by experienced authors who know how to write. So tell them how this book is by an “upcoming star” in your genre, or “from the bestselling author of…”
Don’t forget the purpose of the back cover, though: you’re selling your book, not yourself. Your author blurb is part of your 150–200-word limit. Don’t overdo it.
Do you want to include testimonials
The short answer is: yes. The slightly longer answer is: if you have them. Testimonials are helpful to some potential readers in the same way that reviews are — sometimes, people want their interests validated.
Testimonials won’t make or break your book, however, and many potential readers skim past them. So don’t waste too much space on them, and don’t make the mistake of putting them before you description, where they get in the way of your bread and butter. If you include them, put them at the end of your description.
A sample fiction template
This is by no means the only way to write a back cover copy, but it is a common one, used by many bestselling authors.
Try to come up with a one-sentence description of the theme of your book. This isn’t a testimonial. Try to come up with a phrase that pulls the reader into the world of the story. Maybe something that a mentor in the story would say about the world or its heroes.
Here are some examples:
“You have to believe. Otherwise, it will never happen.” Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
“Strength of mind.” Brotherband Chronicles, by John Flanagan
“A worthy pupil…a dangerous quest.” Magician: Apprentice, by Raymond E. Feist
“Ain’t a kind of just ‘verse, and nobody’s owed a living. Firefly: Big Damn Hero, by James Lovegrove
This story quote draws the reader into the big idea of the story, so it goes first, right at the top of your book description.
Description of the story
The meat of your back cover copy. You’ve piqued your potential reader’s curiosity with the story quote, now it’s time to go deeper. They’re in the funnel, let them spin around it for a bit.
Your description needs three things:
- Name your hero and give a one-sentence description of why they’re awesome or why they matter to the story.
- Tell the reader about your inciting incident — why the hero is thrust into the special world of your story.
- An idea or two about the setting.
Here’s an example from Neil Gaiman’s Stardust:
“Tristan Thorn promises to bring back a fallen start for his beloved, the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester — and crosses the wall that divides his English country town from another, more dangerous world of lords and witches, all of them in search of the star. Rich with adventure and magic, Stardust is one of master storyteller Neil Gaiman’s most beloved tales.”
Neil Gaiman seamlessly weaved his author blurb into the description. You can do the same thing or add a new paragraph and put the blurb there. It’s up to you.
If you have them, here’s where you should include the testimonials. One to three is probably fine. If you have the option, choose testimonials that have some element of your genre or theme woven into them.
Testimonials matter more if they’re written by well-known people or taken as quotes from journal or magazine articles written about your work. Often, you won’t have this, which is why testimonials are optional. A blurb from your mom might hurt your chances more than it helps.
Many writing instructors say to focus most of your effort on the first sentence of your story because it’s what draws the reader into the rest or turns them away. They’re right, but no one gets to the first line if the back cover copy doesn’t grab them first.