Even in the age of online shopping, the back cover blurb is essential in helping a customer choose a book. When a reader decides between two books, the one with the best back cover copy often wins.
When referring to the back cover, the reader wants to know the following:
What does this book reveal?
Why should I care?
Of course, nonfiction covers a wide swath, including instructional, biographical, devotional, and other books that find their natural audience by virtue of a readership interested in that topic.
Please note that for nonfiction, this post addresses the position of a large number of Christian authors writing felt-need books. Think how to improve your life.
These readers will care about the book because they seek a solution to a problem. These authors compete with every other author, living or dead, who’s written on that topic. The author has to show the reader why their book is better than someone else’s.
The goal is to reassure the reader that the author is a friendly authority who will solve a problem.
Here is one type of structure for your nonfiction back cover blurb:
Paragraph One: Define the problem, perhaps by posing questions the reader would like to answer.
Paragraph Two: State a couple of points about the author to establish authority on the topic. Note that the publisher should place an expanded author biography (or two) elsewhere. The author should state how the book will help the reader answer questions and work through the proposed solutions.
The fiction reader isn’t interested in solving a problem as much as they are looking for entertainment. This reader seeks to live through characters tackling dilemmas that may reflect their lives. The reader wants to know the questions the book will answer through the story. Topics are critical. For example, a reader looking for a frothy romance won’t gravitate to a suspense novel dealing with addiction. The author should answer:
Period: Contemporary or historical? If historical, when?
Place: The Old West? Prairie? Manhattan?
Protagonists: There’s no comparison between reading about a private eye versus a preteen. Unless the book is about a preteen private eye. Tell us!
Goals: Is the protagonist solving a murder? Preparing for a balloon ride? Building a house?
Obstacles: What is keeping the protagonist from achieving their goal? Show both internal and external conflict.
Examples of internal conflict: love, money, race, class, the past.
Examples of external conflict: family, friends, ghosts, alligators, Sasquatch.
Here is an excellent way to structure the back cover copy for a romance novel. You can adapt this form to other types of stories:
Paragraph One: Identify the heroine and her internal and external conflicts.
Paragraph Two: Identify the hero and his internal and external conflicts.
Paragraph Three: Show the problems with bringing the two of them together and why this is interesting
Whatever you do, have fun writing your back cover blurb!
W Terry Whalin
Thank you for this article about the back cover blurb. Several decades ago, I wrote back covers for a Christian publisher and it was a great learning experience to capture the key points of a book for readers in a short space.
author of 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed
Tamela, thanks! A few years ago Bob Hostetler covered this well at a writer’s conference one-on-one interview. When he told me people seek non-fiction books to solve a problem they are experiencing, that information stuck in my brain. I was able to compose a well-written back-cover blurb for my WIP.
Reader’s got it in her hands,
turns it over, takes a look,
reads my careful-crafted plans
to set the “Buy me, buy me!” hook.
The first para sets the scene,
sets the issue, sense of place,
and it’s working; have you seen
the small smile on Reader’s face?
Second para’s definition,
what dear Reader can expect,
and it’s here I’m on a mission
to make sure she won’t reject
my Amish Martian Zombie tale,
and I’ll finally have a sale!
Andrew, you made me a laugh! Thanks, I needed that!
So glad you enjoyed it, Peggy!
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
Thanks so much for the very helpful information! I’m going to save this posting!
Clear and concise. Appreciate the review.
A couple weeks ago I was in a big-box store, not intending to buy a book. But I walked through the book section, spied the cover of a book, read the blurb on the back, and put the book in my cart. All which goes to second your opening paragraph on the importance of the back-cover blurb.
Sydney F. Grey
Thank you for this very clear and practical approach. Very helpful!