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Captivating Customers with Well-Crafted Back Cover Copy: Part I: Nonfiction Titles

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(Note: This article is primarily about writing copy for nonfiction titles. Part II will look at the differences in creating back cover copy for fiction.)

The World of Words is a magical place, where kingdoms and characters are produced simply by tapping the computer keyboard. Likewise, the words on a book’s back cover magically take the reader on a quick tour of what’s inside. That is, if the combination of ingredients in this word potion does its trick and keeps a shopper spellbound.

Let’s say you’re a savvy publisher who understands how essential it is to hire talented designers to create the right looks for the covers of your books. At a bookstore, the front cover of one of your nonfiction titles has, in fact, just made an impact, intriguing a potential customer to linger with the book for at least eight seconds (the average time spent scrutinizing the front cover according to The Wall Street Journal). Once this shopper flips the book over, will your back cover copy work its magic to strengthen interest and trigger the “I must buy this book” impulse?

Here are some tips for making it do just that.

Use an alluring beginning. If you did your homework, the top of your back cover listed one to three subject categories so the bookstore employees were certain where to place your book and, as a result, it showed up in the shopper’s area of interest. Now the shopper is glancing at the back cover. Does the copy begin to cast its spell with a headline or quote at the top conveying the central reason to read this book? Have you compared the message to your competitors’ to make sure that it stands out?

Continue to cast your spell with your body copy. While scanning the cover, will the shopper be enticed by body copy that reinforces and expands on the benefit highlighted in the headline or the opening quote? Does your copy “sell the sizzle, not the steak”; in other words, does its power come from focusing on the major things a shopper would get out of reading the book rather than on the content per se. Does the copy’s resonant voice reach out and touch the book’s potential readers? Is the body copy written in a clear, concise way certain to make an impact? A common problem with back cover copy according to award-winning cover designer Tamara Dever of TLC Graphics is that “people write too much darn copy.” Don’t crowd your back cover with text; remember that you’re going to need room for two to three strong testimonials, plus the author bio. Breaking up the copy into bulleted points will make it easier to keep the shopper riveted after a quick ogle of the front cover in the bookstore aisle.

Feature bewitching testimonials. Quotes from opinion-makers who are well known or have an important affiliation relevant to your subject area are usually more convincing than those from your average Joe or Jill. However, don’t overlook the significance of clever wording even from the best sources. A tactic used by Ken Lee, Vice President of Michael Wiese Productions, can help round up lots of quotes so you’ll be sure to have some that will enhance the power of your back cover copy. Lee, who works at a company that publishes TV and film production books, involves authors in collecting quotes very early in the publication process, as the book is being written. Only about 50 pages of a book are given to each opinion-maker. A conscientious author may deliver 10 to 15 quotes with the final manuscript this way, Lee notes. I also recommend tweaking the quotes to increase their sway (of course, run the revisions past the sources).

Keep them dazzled with a brief author bio. Like the body copy, the author bio will be more likely to keep the shopper enthralled if it is kept short and to the point. This is the place to make a strong case for the author’s expertise on the book’s particular topic.

At the end, conjure a sale by asking for it. A recent trend in back cover copy is to wrap it all up with a strong line requesting a book purchase. For instance, Fred Gleeck’s title Speaking for Millions ends with “If you’re looking to make big money as a speaker, buy this book now!”

Divine the wisdom of using the author photo. Do you see value in adding the author photo to the back cover mix? Will it add power or detract from the back cover’s command? We’ve all seen pictures of authors on covers that lessened the authority of their books because the photos were amateurish, over the top, or just simply unappealing. On the other hand, a famous author’s photo or a captivating and appropriate action shot could impel more customers to buy. Even with a good photo, you may decide that having more room for sales copy on the back cover is a higher priority. An option is to place the photo on a back page of the book.

Let your Web site continue working the magic. Adding your Web site’s URL to the bottom of the back cover gives you an opportunity for further contact with shoppers, even after they’ve left the store as the new owners of your book. The shopper you began to snare with your back cover’s alluring opening doesn’t have to slip away from your sales influence.


All the ingredients of your back cover should mix well together to create an enticing and vivid image of your book. Done right, the back cover copy will make the title irresistible by tuning in to the needs and desires of your target audience.

Next time, what works magic for fiction?


Since 1991, writer/editor Robin Quinn has produced word potions for book promotion at her Los Angeles office. Last year, she spoke at PMA University on back cover copy. This year, she will be addressing Web copy and other aspects of webmastering. Copywriting is among the services offered at her Quinn’s Word for Word, including for back covers, Web sites, and media kits. For a free e-copy of her Back Cover Checklist, contact Robin online at quinnrobin@aol.com.

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