Friday, November 2, 2012

Back Cover Booty

By Peg Brantley

One of the most important marketing tools writers have is their back cover copy. That tiny piece of real estate is one more place where potential buyers will decide whether to move on to the next step (your first paragraph) or pass.

I suck at back cover copy. Which is why I'm writing this post—to try and learn something.

Here are a few of the do's and don'ts I uncovered in my search:

  • Identify the protagonist and core conflict;
  • Specify the setting;
  • Reference the genre;
  • Hook the reader with a hint of danger or risk;
  • No more than 125 words;
  • Avoid cliched genre jargon.

Can I just say how much this hasn't helped? 

I think my first two books are FAIL as they relate to their back cover copy. The second one is better, but still.

I've known this is a weakness of mine for a long time. Several months ago I printed out this back cover copy because I liked it:

Nola Cespedes, an ambitious young report at the "Time-Picayune," finally catches a break: an assignment to write her first full-length feature. While investigating her story, she also becomes fixated on the search for a missing tourist in the French Quarter. As Nola's work leads her into a violent criminal underworld, she's forced to face disturbing truths from her own past.

Vividly rendered in razor-sharp prose, this haunting thriller is a riveting journey of trust betrayed—and the courageous struggle to rebuild. Fast-paced, atmospheric, and with a knockout twist, Joy Castro's "Hell or High Water" features an unforgettable heroine as fascinating and multi-layered as New Orleans itself.

Other than the cliched genre jargon, I think this one meets the list. But the second paragraph, a kind of review, is what finally sells it for me. 

What about you? As a writer, how do you put this terribly important piece together?

As a reader, what kinds of things grab your attention and make you want to read more?

I'm looking for all the help I can get.


  1. I think your example is well done too. And I like the review tone in the second paragraph. I've never used that approach, though, because as a mystery/thriller author, I like to leave a question at the end.

    Have you hired a marketer to write copy for you? It might be a learning experience

  2. Snort! That was funny. Have you ever thought of writing the WORST blurb or synopsis you can? Could get those juices flowing and help you relax a bit. I think I'll go turn this into a challenge, because so many authors really do have an issue with this.

  3. LJ, I might consider hiring someone, but dang… I'd love to get a handle on this myself. Maybe I could develop a class…

    Dani, you're a hoot. Writing the worst blurb is no stretch for me, but you're right—it could help.

  4. Sorry for joining in late here. Damned life got in the way again.

    I think for the back cover, the rule of keeping it simple works best. Simple but appealing, that is. Anything that draws the eye closer is lightening in a bottle. How to find that evasive combination is the tricky part. I'm not sure I know it myself. Just know it when I see it, which makes me no different from any other reader.

  5. I am struggling with that question right now as I move into the last quarter of writing my novel. I like the list of questions; it at least helps me think about what should be there.

    But, ah, to make it engaging and enticing ... that is tasking me!

  6. This is one of my difficulties as well. I think part of the problem is that as the novel's author, we're so immersed in the story that we can't sum it up succinctly. On my book coming out in November, I got help from one of my beta readers. She put together a few paragraphs that sparked my imagination. I was able to build off her ideas and create the blurb.

    Also, when I try to compose back cover copy, I get the voice of the movie voice over guy in my head. If I can write a movie trailor like blurb it goes a long way to hooking the reader.

  7. Drew, you ar absolutely my go-to guy for anything visual. And I agree—simple is best.

    Claire, at least you're thinking about it now. Way better than just prior to your cover being designed.

    Wow, Kelly… I can hear him now. Super idea!

    CFC rocks!

  8. Sounds like you've got lots of great ideas and some very good advice here, Peg. Go for it! You can do it!

  9. Jodie, thank goodness I don't have to yet. The first two are done. In their graves, so to speak. Next up? I'll listen for that voiceover guy…

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  11. Thanks very much to Peg for choosing the back cover copy of my first novel as an example. The folks at St. Martin's did a great job, and I'm so glad it was useful.


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