Movies are right below books on my list of favorite things. So, it’s no surprise that as I was thinking about why back cover text is so critical to a book’s success, my mind came up with this cinema simile.
A book’s front cover is like a movie poster. It catches your eye, gives an impression of the story, piques your interest. You’ll get the title, and you should be able to guess the genre. But much is left to the imagination.
A book’s back cover, on the other hand, is like a movie trailer. You’re introduced to the story, the actors, what the critics are saying. This is when the big sell takes place, where audiences are convinced to buy a ticket … or a book.
That’s why it’s absolutely essential for a book to have a great back cover. But where do you start? How long should it be? Should you include an author bio and headshot? What about praise quotes?
Good questions all. To help you get a great start, I’ve answered the five questions I get asked the most about back cover writing.
Q: Do I need to have an overview of my book on the back cover?
A: YES! A summary is an absolute must. Very few people will buy a book without at least some idea of what it’s about.
The goal is to snag potential readers’ interest by giving them a snapshot of what’s in the book. For fiction, that means setting the scene, introducing your protagonists, and unveiling the conflict … without giving away too much. (Again, think movie trailer.) For nonfiction, you need to tell the reader what the book will do for them, or what they will learn. One way to do that is to feature three to five bullet points covering your book’s main topics.
Remember to keep your description tight—a good rule of thumb is one to two paragraphs for a summary, or 100-150 words. Avoid clichés, like calling your book a “must read.” Leave those review-type comments to the reviewers.
Q: Should I feature review quotes?
A: Praise quotes and endorsements lend credibility to your book … but only if they come from someone recognizable in your genre or field.
No, you don’t need to hunt down J.K. Rowling and ask her to read your new YA fantasy. But you should always ask for praise quotes from someone who is qualified and who carries some clout. An endorsement from a writing teacher or a friend is easy to get but runs the risk of looking unprofessional.
So, how do you get in touch with these recognizable names? You network. Start by Googling local novelists or other writers in your field. Talk to other authors you know and see who they got endorsements from. Once you have a list of potential endorsers, start calling and sending emails or Facebook messages. Writers like to support other writers, so you may be surprised by how many you hear back from!
Q: Should I include an author bio?
A: Author bios look great on back covers, especially if they’re accompanied by a professional headshot. People like putting a face to a name, and if you’ve written other books, it’s a great place to mention them. If you’re a nonfiction writer, your bio is also where you establish your credibility. Don’t be shy about listing degrees earned or awards won.
Be careful not to turn it into a resume, though. Most authors keep their bios to 50 words or less.
Q: Should I feature a quote from the book?
A: An impactful quote from the book is an intriguing addition to a back cover. Be sure you pick something that’s short and powerful—something that ties into a central theme or message of the book.
Q: Do I need to put ALL of this on my back cover?
A: Nope! A summary is essential, but beyond that you need to consider how much space you have to work with. Too much content will overwhelm your reader, so most publishers recommend limiting your total back cover word count to 200.
As far as picking what to include in addition to your summary, think about your audience and what is important to them. For nonfiction books, readers will want to know your expertise and background, so an author bio is a good idea. But for fiction, a mysterious quote from the book or an endorsement from a favorite author might be more persuasive. If you’re still not sure what to include, draw inspiration from other books in your genre. Stop by a bookstore or library and spend some time reading back covers.
Maybe it’s because I love movies—and movie trailers—so much. But as a writer and an editor, back covers are one of my favorite things to work on. They’re challenging, but they’re also an opportunity to get creative and showcase why your book is special!