I’ve written previously about how a book’s cover must be good. It’s got to engage and set a hook. Essentially, the cover has to make them want to pick the book up; the back cover matter has to keep it in their hand. It’s really a one-two punch that makes them want to buy your book. It’s their first peek at what you have and it’s your responsibility as an author to keep them there.
Think of your book like a house. If the outside is a dump, they won’t want to look inside—that’s the cover. A blurb is their peek through the door or window; if there’s a dead hooker lying on the floor, they probably don’t want to go in—the same goes for if it looks trashed and sloppy. Buying the book is the reader’s agreement to come inside and live in this house for a while. Nobody wants to stay in a meth-house with dead prostitutes, no matter how cheap that AirBnB might be… not again.
A lot of Indie writers make the mistake of flying by the seat of their pants on the back cover (myself included). It’s easy to look at it flippantly and think dang, I just wrote 100,000 +/- words… another 200 is a cakewalk. It is not. These might be the most difficult to write well and might be your most important. You have one short page worth of text to convince someone to take this book home—it’s got to be the best page. If you’re like most Indie writers, this will probably also be the text you have at the top of your book description on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, Smashwords, etc. It is going to be your primary ad copy so do it right.
While I write both nonfiction and fiction, I’m concentrating on fiction here on cover content advice.
What should be on my back cover?
Space is limited, so remember that this is expensive real estate and everything has to work perfectly. What goes on your back cover may be as important as what you are sure to leave off! If you have an endorsement, it had better be a good one—someone recognized as a bona fide expert or name in the genre… anything less can become a waste of space. Make sure your short bio is written tightly and include a photo, but make it a quality headshot that is cropped neatly. A shortlist of things on your rear would include 1. Blurb/text 2. Small photo 3. Short Bio 4. One-line Hook (sometimes called a logline), single-sentence elevator pitch, or gripping headline 5. Optional endorsement.
Back cover elements of the primary text:
The above elements are a pretty good rule of thumb—but how do you write the actual text? Your content should be similar to the story overview pieces you might have included in a query letter to prospective literary agents or publishers. A good formula for this is to 1. introduce your characters (and any brief elements that are necessary to the environment—don’t build a world here or focus on the setting, but if it’s in the 1800’s or an alien planet, you might mention it). 2. Describe the central conflict they face and 3. highlight the stakes. Ask the question what will happen if your protagonists fail.
There are many approaches to take and many writers swear by certain elements/formulas. Here are a few elements you may want to be sure to highlight.
-keep the book “at a glance friendly.” If it looks overwhelming to a casual reader, they probably won’t wade into the text with much sincerity.
-try to provoke emotions or entice readers with questions or promises
-use a rhythm and voice that sets a tone. Think of the book as a movie and the back cover like a movie trailer—you have just a few short sentences to suck them in. Build a cadence and hook them.
-probably the most important is to focus on what your book is about, not what happens in its pages. You aren’t summarizing the plot, you are crafting a hook to the story at large
One formula you might try is proposed by author and editor Victoria Mixon (victoriamixon.com) and goes like this:
When [identity] [protagonist name] [does something], [something happens]. Now, with [time limit/restrictions], [protagonist] must [do something brave] to [accomplish great achievement]/ or [sacrifice high stakes].
Here’s what my book, Wolf of the Tesseract, looks like with this formula:
While investigating a series of strange murders in her neighborhood, college student Claire Jones is kidnapped by a handsome werewolf who claims he’s rescuing her from the clutches of an evil sorcerer. But she can’t run forever and if Claire and her companion can’t reclaim an arcane artifact to end the warlock’s reign of terror, he will unleash the dark god Sh’logath’s cataclysmic power upon the universe, shattering dimensional barriers, and devouring all reality.
Other things to keep in mind:
–The font should be readable and sized appropriately. Pick a color that stands out and is easy to read. I’ve erred here before and quickly made corrections. Sometimes it doesn’t look as nice on paper as it does on a screen; always purchase a galley copy to double check how it looks in print if you are self-publishing.
–Keep the blurb on the shorter side—it should be succinct. Think about the success of Twitter: the shorter something is, the more likely it is to be read.
–Typos, and grammar or style errors are a sure giveaway to a reader that the book was pushed out too early. I’ve found some in my own books and always go back and fix them ASAP… sometimes things get missed by editors, but it creates a huge obstacle to selling people your book. Thanks to POD, you can fix most of these as they arise, but it’s a better plan to avoid them in the first place.
–Pick a consistent voice for your text and think about your audience before you put pen to paper. If the writing comes off as pretentious or juvenile you will probably alienate readers (even if you are targeting pretentious or juvenile readers.) Some voices work, some don’t. Give it thought before you read so you can color it appropriately.
One of the better articles I’ve read about this from fellow bloggers can be read here: