Copywriting is about convincing consumers to take action. In this case, your audience is readers, librarians, and booksellers that you want to persuade to read more. Right? So how do you do that? By getting them to read your log-line, which makes them want to read the back cover, which makes them want to read your first pages. Which makes them want to devour the entire book!
As with all other aspects of writing, there are tools and skills you can develop to make your back cover its best.
What NOT to do
Don’t talk about yourself. Let the story take the spotlight--readers are more interested in it than you.
Don’t depend solely on reviews. Cover reviews can be a good thing, but readers want more than that. A long list of reviews tells them little about the actual story inside.
Don’t make claims about your book’s future. Most readers know the back cover is written by the author, so statements like “The next Harry Potter!” comes off as self-aggrandizing. Similarly, in today’s social media climate, statements like “If you love Twilight, you’ll love this,” feel like clickbait.
Don’t ramble. The more words, the less likely a browsing shopper will take the time to read it.
Don’t target a general audience. This may seem counterintuitive, since targeting a specific audience may cause some people to put the book down. But a generalized blurb won’t be specific enough to grab the attention of the people who would love it most.
Don’t misrepresent your story. Twisting your plot concept for the blurb isn’t wise. You might get a few impulse buys, but readers will have set an expectation--and there’s no surer way to disappoint readers than to break your promises to them.
Don’t give your whole story away. Back cover copy is not a synopsis. If an author states that their character will defeat the Dark Lord at the end...what is there to look forward to?
What TO do
Keep it short. The recommended length of a cover blurb is 150 words or less--write a blurb that gets your most important concepts across in the fewest words possible.
Match the tone of your story. A satirical story should be recognizable from the cover blurb. The blurb sets the readers' expectations—so be very careful that your blurb leads to a correct interpretation of the type of story inside. The only exception to this that you should generally use present tense and third person, regardless of what the book is in.
Capitalize on genre appeals. Without sacrificing the brevity of a good blurb, include the staples of your genre that readers want. They don’t want you to spoil the story, but they read the genre because of the tropes they like, so subtly promise that this book will fulfill their genre expectations. Slipping in genre keywords is great for this.
At the same time that you emphasize the familiar tropes they love, show readers what makes your story different. Balance these two sides. Even for people who love to read just one genre, they want different books to play with that genre in a new way--so include the things from your novel that make it stand out. You want your blurb to be memorable--something that makes people keep wondering about it.
Target a specific audience. As mentioned in what NOT to do, trying to appeal to everyone risks losing the interest of those who are looking for a unique story exactly like yours. Determine what kind of people would love what you write, and write your cover copy with them in mind.
The goal is to pique curiosity--get readers asking how this story could unfold, and give them tidbits that make it compelling. Not only does this story involve an epic hero and seemingly unbeatable odds--perhaps it also includes dreamscape adventures, or a double agent in an impregnable fortress, or a forbidden romance. Subtle mentions of these things both reinforce genre expectations and show how your story will be engaging and fresh.
Reflect on how each of these points relates to your story. What is your story’s tone? Genre? What makes it comparable to other books like it? What makes it stand out? Who is this story written for? What will readers love about it?
Now you know what to avoid in a blurb and what you need to understand about your story before writing your cover copy. In Part Two, we’ll get into the specifics of HOW to go about writing your blurb, with these ideas in mind.
Meet the Author
Jennifer Neal is a lifelong fantasy quaffer and aspiring editor/agent. She has loved stories since her mom read Harry Potter to her as a kid, but it took her until after she graduated from college to fully embrace it and discover the incredible writing community she hadn't realized was right in front of her. She currently serves as a marketing intern for Immortal Works, helping with copywriting, editing, and helping with their social media pages.