Authors spend months and even years writing their manuscript, but often give little thought to what may be the three most important paragraphs for selling the book: the back cover copy. Think about it. Before a potential book buyer reads a word of the book, he or she will likely pick up the book, look at the cover and flip it over to read the copy on the back cover. So what can you do to make sure your back cover helps convert browsers to customers? I asked Joel Pierson, head of the editorial department at
Author Solutions to share his insights based on seeing thousands of books. Some good. Some bad. Here are the guidelines he provided for creating the best text possible.
the three most important paragraphs for selling the book: the back cover copy
- The ideal length for back cover text 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!
- Do not refer to your book as “the book.” Use the book title, set in italics. 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 “Learn how to improve your relationship with your dog, cat, or even parakeet.”
- Break up the copy into paragraphs. One long paragraph is very difficult to read. Bulleted lists help to tell the reader what’s included 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.
- Avoid clichés such as “a must-read” or “This book will change your life.” The back cover copy is not a book review. Keep the verb tense consistent throughout. If you need examples or ideas, look up books that compare with your title and read the book descriptions online or in your local bookstore.
- If you have advance praise (quotes, endorsements), you can include short excerpts with a credit line giving the name and title of the person who gave you the endorsement. It’s best to use endorsements from people or periodicals that relate to your book in some way.
- The last paragraph of the copy should compel the reader to take action; it’s the “take-away promise” of the book.
- 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.)