Anatomy of Back-Cover Copy
by Peter Bowerman
Think about how you buy a book. You pick it up; you look at the cover; and if you like the visuals, title, and subtitle, it’s because something resonates in you. Something about what you see calls to a desire or longing inside you. That desire could be anything. It might be to have a transcendent reading experience—to be touched, moved, entertained, transported—or to get information about something meaningful to you, or to ease a nagging concern.
An amateur chef looking to perfect soufflé technique is drawn to a book on the subject. Someone interested in the potential of real estate investing is attracted to a book about that. A first-time expectant parent, nervous about what’s to come, spots a book with a cover and title that speak to that concern. It’s the beginning of a “Hmmmmmm . . . ”
Regardless of the book, if the cover and title intrigue us, a kernel of hope starts to stir. The reader is daring to imagine that this book will address that desire, uncertainty, or concern.
The next step is “Sell me”; confirm my growing sense of hope. Consciously or unconsciously, the reader is thinking: “Tell me I’m right. Tell me you can do what I’m hoping you can do.” And, in essence, “Tell me what I want to hear.” The reader’s next move is to flip the book over and look for confirmation in the back-cover copy.
And you thought it was just a back cover! You had no idea that so much was at stake.
There’s an art to writing good back-cover copy. Assuming that anyone who’s gotten to the back cover of a particular book has qualified themselves as being in the market for that book, we need to maximize this golden captive-audience opportunity by keeping the pressure on with our persuasive prose.
Because my expertise is in nonfiction, the guidelines and example here focus on that. But for fiction, too, publishers need to devote some quality time to the process of transforming a relatively small space into a powerful selling tool. If your cover, title, and subtitle are clear, catchy, and compelling enough, your potential buyer will turn to the back cover for more information. And given Amazon’s “Look Inside!” feature, a powerful back cover is equally valuable for both online and physical marketing.
The Big-Name Blurb and Other Active Ingredients
Why not shoot high and go after that author or expert whose opinion would mean something to your audience (and translate to many more book sales)? What’s the worst that could happen? They say no. Or never reply. Big deal. But what if they say yes? What could it mean? So ask away. These folks are a lot more accessible than you might imagine. And consider providing a draft of a blurb for busy people to adopt or adapt.
I have a friend who’s written a number of books on psychology and relationships, and for his latest one, he landed a blurb from “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger. How’d he pull that off? At a book signing for the controversial talkmistress, he simply asked. All he had was a few chapters at that point, but he left them with her assistant, and a few months later, he got his blurb. And a pretty good one at that.
Just as important—especially in the case of a how-to book—are blurbs from people representing organizations or associations that can offer an endorsement or seal of approval for your book. In these cases, while the specific name of the person isn’t as crucial as the affiliation, you’ll still want to reach the president, executive director, founder, or other important individual. Never underestimate the desire of people (even the high-profile folk) to see their names in print.
The back cover of my book The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living can serve as an example of using blurbs and otherwise creating strong back-cover copy. Obviously, not every book could or should follow this particular formula, but all the elements here are important.
As you’ll see, they include:
Category. Check the books in your genre in the bookstore and examine the free BISAC codes list at BISG.com to see what’s most appropriate.
Headline and subhead. The set for my book invokes the fond hope of my target audience: to get published. It then offers an alternative with a payoff: a full-time living. Make a claim, ask questions, or pique your prospect’s interest in some other way.
Sales copy. Again, benefits.
Premise copy. Once I have someone’s attention, I establish the relevant realities. Here, I lay out how difficult it is to get published (which they know), and how bad the deal is even if they do. Then, to offer hope and introduce the next section, I suggest self-publishing as a feasible alternative.
Features copy. Here’s where I list all sorts of desirable outcomes and promise the know-how to make them happen.
The USP (Unique Selling Proposition). In these two sections, I show how my book is better than comparable titles, and I finish with a mention of my trademark style, conveying: (a) you’ll enjoy reading this book; and (b) cred: this guy is an established author.
Bio. Awards, accolades, titles, degrees, certifications, relevant accomplishments—those things that establish credibility, credentials, and your qualifications to write this book.
URL. If someone’s not quite sold, they might visit and buy the book at my site (where profits are higher, I get to capture their info and perhaps get a new e-zine/blog subscriber).
Testimonials. I put a blurb from Dan Poynter on the front cover of this book, for obvious reasons. Everyone interested in self-publishing will know Dan. Plus, an exceptionally strong one here, at the bottom of the back cover.
Peter Bowerman is a professional copywriter, a self-publishing coach, and the self-published author of the award-winning Well-Fed Writer titles (52,000 copies in print and a full-time living for more than seven years). He chronicled his self-publishing success in The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living, and he offers titling/back-cover-copy writing services at titletailor.com. For more information, visit wellfedsp.com.
(We’ve added the dotted lines to demarcate sections of the cover for annotation purposes.)
Check for the best BISAC codes to use and use at least two levels of them, as here.
Want to get published? Do it yourself—and make a living from it!
Here’s the proven blueprint that built a full-time income from one book.
Use a strong attention-getting benefits-oriented headline and combination — i.e., focus on what’s important to readers.
Novice or Seasoned…New to publishing? TWFSP takes you step-by-step through every stage of your publishing success story. Been around the block a few times? You’ll walk away with a whole host of new tools and insights! Far from theoretical, TWFSP is One Big Case Study: the author’s own “real-world” success chronicle!
Here, I let buyers find themselves in one of two groups and highlight the benefits members of each group will get by reading the book.
Landing a publisher has never been harder.
Even when you do, count on anemic royalty rates, 18 to 24 months to publication, and giving up the rights to your book. And you’ll still be expected to do most of the marketing yourself! There’s a better way. Thanks to the Internet, self-publishing has become easier, more viable, and more potentially lucrative than ever before.
Point out real-world problems and point toward a solution.
Follow the author’s firsthand experience as you learn how to:
• Develop a “marketing mindset”—minus the anxiety!
• Create a book that turns heads and grabs eyeballs
• Find tons of reviewers anxious to publicize your book
• Get into the bookstore chains and stay there!
• Build a cash-generating web site that works 24/7
• Minimize your dependence on fickle mainstream media
• Parlay one book into multiple income streams
• Separate the “Print-on-Demand” hype from reality
• Dramatically simplify your marketing tasks (see p. 265)
Bullet specifics about the book’s contents (features of the product itself), and phrase them in terms of benefits
Most important, you’ll learn a radical new approach to book promotion, one that keeps you in control. The result: less anxiety, higher profits, and more fun!
Unlike most books on the subject, TWFSP focuses on “process” and profits—and all in the same engaging, personal, irreverent style that’s made the Well-Fed Writer titles enduring standards in the field of lucrative commercial freelancing!
Establish how this book is different from competing titles in important and positive ways.
Peter Bowerman is the self-published author of The Well-Fed Writer and the Well-Fed Writer: Back For Seconds www.wellfedwriter.com), multiple-award winning selections of Book-of-the-Month Club, Quality Paperback Book Club and Writer’s Digest Book Club. With over 50,000 copies in print, his books earned him a full-time living for over five years. He has nearly 30 years combined experience in sales, marketing, copywriting, and publishing.
Here’s where you brag, but with specifics. You want people to think, “Impressive.”
Prominently and boldly note your Web site.
“If you’re thinking of self-publishing, this book is a gem. Well organized, well written, all the facts and lots of smart advice.”
M.J. Rose (Former Self-Publisher), Author,
The Venus Fix
See above—go after that author or expert whose opinion will influence your audience.