In addition to my writing, I spend my days as managing editor for Penguin Random House’s Author Solutions, where I see a lot of manuscripts. Part of what I examine is the author’s back-cover text. It’s harder to write than you’d think, so I put together some guidelines, with the help of my colleague, Megan Schindele. Below are some ideas to help you write back-cover text for your book, including some things to avoid.
The Marketing Headline (keynote) or “elevator pitch” should consist of one or two sentences (twenty-five word-count limit) that succinctly tell readers what the book is about and why they should buy it.
Imagine you have only ten seconds to tell someone about your book and convince him to buy it. What would you say? Be sure to avoid clichés. Also, it’s often good to compare your book to a well-known author, title, or film to give a reader a point of reference. For example, “A veteran crime reporter delivers a hardboiled whodunit with Die Hard-type action, set in modern Chicago.”
A novel of suspense, wry humor, and the paranormal, as two relative strangers take a cross-country road trip to save others in peril.
Key Words will help people find your title through retail outlets.
When you go to the library and search the card catalog by subject, or when you enter keywords on the Internet, you are using key search words. Key search words for a romance title might be: love, betrayal, romance, love affair, paramour, Paris, and the type of romance (i.e., gothic, regency, contemporary, historical). There is no minimum number of words required, but the more words or phrases you provide that have a direct relation to the subject matter, the more opportunity people will have to find your book.
Paperback Back Cover Copy
The Back Cover Copy is a brief overview of the book that entices the reader to browse and purchase the book. The ideal length is 150 to 200 words.
Think of this copy as a movie trailer or commercial—provide highlights, tease your audience, but don’t give away the ending! This should not be a detailed, straightforward description of the book, but rather brief, pointed selling copy that is your promise to the reader: Here’s what my book is about; this is how it’s unique, and this is why you should buy it.
In all marketing copy (back cover copy, author bio, and keynote), the following guidelines apply:
● Do not refer to the book as “the book.” Use the book title, set in italics, in most cases.
● Avoid underlining words and using all caps.
● Do not refer to your audience as “the reader” or “readers.” Write the copy in a manner that incites the reader to take action. For example, instead of “Readers will learn how to improve relationships with their pets,” write, “Learn how to improve your relationships with your pets.” Or use a more direct statement, such as the following: “Learn how to improve your relationship with your dog, cat, or even parakeet.” This approach lends a specific range and a casual tone to your book that can draw in the reader.
● Break up the back cover copy into paragraphs. One long paragraph is very difficult to read. Bulleted lists help to tell the reader what’s included in the book at a glance. If you include a bulleted list, make sure that you have a lead-in sentence followed by a colon, and that each item in the list has parallel construction.
o Create …
o Learn …
o Motivate …
o Create …
o Learning …
o Motivation …
● Avoid clichés such as “a must-read” or “This book will change your life.” The back cover copy is not a book review. It is a preview of the exciting world within. Don’t tell readers how they’ll feel. Nobody wants to be ordered to laugh and cry. Let them feel what they feel.
● Keep the verb tense consistent throughout.
● If you need additional examples or ideas, look up books that compare and compete with your title and read the book descriptions on Barnes&Noble.com (bn.com). Better yet, go to your local bookstore and browse the section in which your book would ideally be shelved. Read the professionally created back cover copy of the bestselling titles in that genre; this will give you an idea of what readers will expect to see on your back cover.
● If you have advance praise (quotes, endorsements, excerpts from advance reviews) you can include short excerpts with a credit line of the person who gave you the endorsement. Rather than just a name, provide the person’s title or credentials as well; for example, for a book on speed walking you could list a quote from Cathy Smith, President, Northern California Speed Walking Association. It’s best to use endorsements from people or periodicals that relate to your book in some way. Don’t include praise quotes from friends and family unless they’re experts in the field, and avoid anonymous or first-name-only quotes.
● The last paragraph of the copy should compel the reader to take action; it’s the take-away promise of the book.
Tristan Shays is on a mission he doesn’t understand. For two years, he’s been plagued by terrifying images of strangers in peril and given orders to warn the victims before it’s too late. If he ignores the directive, he’s stricken with unbearable pain until he finds and helps the people from his visions.
On a September night in Key West, Tristan warns exotic dancer Rebecca Traeger that she must quit her job and return to college in Ohio or risk grave consequences. The last thing Tristan expects is for her to hitch a ride with him. During their journey, he discovers that she may hold the key to his understanding of the mysterious assignments he has been receiving. As the assignments continue, Rebecca finds herself in increasingly dangerous situations, by just being with Tristan.
On the trip to Rebecca’s home, Tristan receives dire warnings for several more people, all of whom have a connection to Rebecca. He is torn between his role as her driver and her protector, and he finds himself becoming more and more enmeshed in her life as his fascination with her grows.
But if she’s the one for him, why is he being warned not to fall in love with her? Should he follow his true feelings or heed the warnings?
The Author Biography should be no more than fifty words and should consist of three key elements:
1. A few statements that communicate why you are qualified to write the book. Are you an expert in this field? What unique insights or experience do you have that give your book credibility? For example, “Jane Smith is the founder and president of C-Cat, the leading online magazine for ceramic-cat collectors in the United States.”
2. A statement that moves from the qualifications above to something more personal. For example, “Her collection of ceramic cats now numbers more than 5,000.” This personal information should relate to the book in some way.
3. Where you live and something about your personal life. You don’t need to be specific; your listing can be as general as the state you live in, although the city is also preferred (consumers often lean toward buying books by local authors). For example, “Smith lives with her husband, her three children, and her three real cats in Lincoln, Nebraska.”
Joel Pierson is the author of numerous award-winning plays for audio and stage. He spends his days as editorial manager at the world’s largest print-on-demand publishing company. Additionally, he is artistic director of Mind’s Ear Audio Productions, and also writes for the newspaper in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana.
Joe Author, currently a basket-weaving technician, has a bachelor’s degree in basket weaving from Any University. He has previously published two other books, Baskets and You and Weave Your Way to Success. He and his wife, Mary, have four children and live in Lincoln, Nebraska.
To conform to book-industry standard, we suggest the following:
• Back cover copy from paperback edition.
• Continuation of front cover copy, if necessary.
• Author photo (include credit if necessary); or author photo may instead be placed on the back cover.
• Author bio from back cover of paperback edition.
• Author photo, if not used on back flap (please specify the preferred size).
• Endorsements (praise for a previous title or advance praise for current title with bylines).
• Fiction: A short passage from the beginning of the book that sets the tone or pulls the reader into the story.
• Nonfiction: A brief excerpt from the manuscript that shows the reader some key components or benefits of the book. Or, if the chapter titles of your book are particularly interesting or explanatory, put the table of contents on the back cover (with chapter and page numbers omitted). If you choose this last option, be sure to introduce the list with a phrase or sentence, such as the following: “Including the most complete, up-to-date information on advertising techniques: … ” then list the chapter titles or an adapted version of them.