by Tamela Hancock Murray
When you consider purchasing a book, either in a store or online, what do you notice first? The front cover grabs your attention. Right? After that, you might flip inside to read the first few sentences of the book, and then venture to the back cover (online the back cover is displayed as the “Description”). Or you may go to the back cover before opening the book. Regardless, the back cover copy is a critical element to selling your book once it’s available for purchase. But first, you can use it to your advantage in your proposal to sell your work to an agent or editor.
An aside: when an author is well-known, the name sells the book. Then you may see endorsements or praise (called blurbs) on both the front and back covers. Endorsements may abound on debut authors’ books, too. But I’m not writing here about endorsements. What I mean in this post is the summary of the book that will turn browsers into buyers.
For nonfiction, effective back cover copy is a quick overview of the book’s topic and goal, along with the takeaway value for the reader. Here is a made-up example:
Have you read Proverbs 31 a hundred times but still can’t relate? Or worse, you might wish she would just disappear like Jimmy Hoffa? Yet you still want to be the perfect — or at least near-perfect — wife? Married for forty years, writer and speaker Mrs. Pleasant Atalltimes shares ten keys to being perfect enough in the eyes of your audience of one – your own husband. In 10 Keys to Becoming the Perfect Woman the author shares tips on how to keep him knowing that, after God, he is the center of your universe. From the big picture, such as being prayerful and of good cheer, along with considering his needs before those of anyone else, to the everyday, such as wearing your best perfume only for him, you will learn tips that will make your marriage a happier and more God-honoring place to live.
While this example is intentionally over the top, in a few sentences, the reader can identify the author, target audience, goal, tone, and takeaway value of this book. In the next moment the potential reader will be able to decide whether or not to purchase.
Now for a fiction example:
Surrounded by cookie cutter mansions and manicured lawns, Virginia Dare is determined to live up to her name. There is no challenge she won’t risk. And that includes avoiding the dull suburban life she believes to be her destiny.
Scarred by a challenging childhood full of upheaval, Lance Bradford wants nothing more than to settle into a predictable, safe routine, and stay there. Part of that stability includes attending a large church in the suburbs, where he is a popular bachelor. But no woman catches his eye until Virginia Dare and he both sign up to help with a church mission trip fundraiser.
As they grow closer through their church work, Virginia challenges Lance to leave his comfort zone through a series of wild adventures, while he fights her restlessness. But when tragedy strikes, both of them must really learn how to live, and to rely on God for real peace as they grow together in love.
The above shows that this novel is a contemporary romance and the couple’s overarching conflicts, plus hints at the dark moment and event that will test the couple’s romantic commitment to each other and their commitment to God. Again, the reader is offered information to decide whether to buy or look at another novel instead.
So the back cover copy is a short pitch. Note that our agency’s guidelines asks for something like this. It can be critical in helping a marketing department know how to sell your book more effectively.
Don’t be surprised if you see your copy show up on the finished cover of your book. Editors will often use the material in your proposal as a basis for what they create in their own marketing copy. Don’t despair if writing such copy is not your strength. Your agent can often help you tweak the material and your editor may also help before they present the project to their committees. Thus it is worth your investment of time and effort to make this the best you can. Who knows? It just might be a key to your success!
What do you think is the most challenging part of writing back cover copy?
Does the back cover copy affect your decision to buy fiction? How about nonfiction?
Do you think back cover copy is as important as endorsements?