This section is literally what the reader will see on the back cover, before purchasing the book. This copy is a useful sales tool whether the reader is perusing your book in person or on the internet, so I recommend honing this section. Since the text should be no more than what can appear on the back of a book cover, tight writing is essential. Here is a basic outline I just wrote for a romance novel:
The heroine is first and foremost in a romance novel, so the reader wants to know who she is and what her problems are. For instance:
Mariella Benson doesn’t understand why a loving God would allow her young husband to die, leaving her with four young children. God has plenty of company in Heaven. She needs her husband now! Desperate and despairing, she returns to her small hometown where her parents can assist with the kids. She hates the thought of working on staff at the church of her childhood; but with no other option in town, she agrees. She knows she must hide her doubts and sorrow under the masquerade of a perfect Christian.
Meet the Hero:
Now that the reader is intrigued by Mariella’s dilemma, she wants to meet the man Mariella will ultimately marry:
Pastor Geoff Greenfield is angry that the woman he thought would be the perfect helpmeet for him abandoned him for a wild love in the arms of another. How could he have been so wrong about her? His misjudgment about someone so close to himself has left Geoff doubtful that he can be an effective workman for Christ. Even his closest friend in the ministry has confirmed Geoff’s feelings that he could be more useful working in his father’s lumber business. Geoff is just about to write his letter of resignation when Mariella reports for her first day of work.
Now that the reader has met the hero and heroine, she wants to know more about the story’s plot:
Mariella can’t believe her high school sweetheart is now her pastor. They parted on bad terms, and the last thing she wants is for him to know that her dreams of making a mark in New York failed and why. Old, familiar feelings come her way when she sees him once more. Geoff’s heart breaks anew when he eyes his old flame, yet he is drawn to her beauty that never faded and he senses her underlying strength. He decides to stay on as a pastor, at least for now. Neither Mariella or Geoff know the price they will pay for their determination to succeed at the hands of those who secretly oppose them.
Though another approach may be preferred for other types of novels, the three-paragraph structure tends to work well by discussing the problems of the main protagonists and then furthering the plot in the third paragraph. The main idea is to interest your potential reader in your book.
You may say, “Is this providing too much detail so I might lose some readers?”
However, that’s okay. For instance, I’m not especially attracted to novels dealing with suicide. If I see elements I’m not wild about on the back cover and decide to pass for another book, the author has done her job. Sometimes it’s just as important to help a reader eliminate your book as it is to hook a reader. The reader may well love the story and topics you approach in your next novel, and you’ll gain a fan.
Next time: back-cover copy for nonfiction.
How much do you depend on back-cover copy to help you decide whether or not to read a novel?
What tips can you offer to hook a reader?
Steve Laube has a course on book proposals at The Christian Writers Institute that includes a one-hour lecture, a short ebook on the topic, and sample proposal templates. Click here for more information.