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How to Create an Engaging Back Book Cover

FEATURED IMAGE New York Book Editors 12 23 2019 How to Create an Eng

I’ll admit it: I’m a tiny bit superficial. I judge books by their cover. I won’t pick up ugly, dull, amateur-looking books. And I’m your average reader. I’m your focus group.

So, when I tell you that covers matter, believe me.

Right next to word-of-mouth, covers will make or break the sale of your book. Readers will take one look at your cover and then decide if they want to pick up your book. Next, they’ll flip your book over, take a longer look at the back cover, and then decide if they want to buy it.

For most book sales, everything hinges on the cover, so you have to get it right.

We’ve talked about creating a standout book cover before. Check it out, if you haven’t already. Head’s up: That post focused entirely on the front cover. But, in this post, we’ll concern ourselves with the party in the back. (Yes, I’m comparing book covers to mullets.) Let’s do it.

START WITH THE HOOK

Writing a book cover requires a totally different skill set than writing a manuscript. Sure, you’re working with words, but book covers are more akin to sales pages than creative writing.

To pen the perfect back cover, you'll need to use a journalism technique known as the inverted pyramid and tweak it a bit. In this method, you'll start with the most important stuff first. Hook them immediately with your best bits. Then use the middle to continue building anticipation. Finally (and this is where it deviates from journalism), end with your book blurb with a cliffhanger or a series of questions that make the reader think.

Your goal is to get inside the reader’s brain and make them wonder about your characters and how you’ll unfold their stories.

Don't Summarize Your Book

Your back cover is not a place to summarize your entire book. Just like a movie trailer shouldn’t give away all of the goods, your book blurb’s main purpose is to charm and compel. It gives the reader a strong reason to read your book.

In your book blurb, play to the reader’s expectations.

For fiction readers, the expectation is to escape from this world and be entertained. Set the scene, introduce the protagonist*, explain what’s at stake, and highlight main plot points (i.e. someone is kidnapped, someone’s grandfather dies and leaves them a house, etc.).

*Be careful with what you say about the protagonist. The reader will enter the story with this preconceived notion of the protagonist. Avoid oversharing by limiting your description of the protagonist (this includes the protagonist’s motives, goals, and conflicts).

For non-fiction readers, the expectation is to solve a problem. Share what your readers will learn by reading your book. Highlight their current problem and promise them a winning solution in the pages of your book.

The idea of your book blurb is to provide a quick elevator pitch for your book. If you were to tell a friend, a co-worker, or a bus driver about your book, what would you say without spoiling it? That’s what goes on the back of the book.

Limit Your Word Count

What if I told you that you only had 10 seconds to convince a stranger into reading your book? Well, you do. Most readers will only give you a few seconds to make your case. It’s wise to limit your word count to 200 words or less.

And don’t try to trick the system by decreasing the font size. No one will be impressed.

Remember that you’re not summarizing the entirety of your story on your back cover. Instead, you’re telling them just enough to entice them into buying and reading. Too many words can overwhelm the dear reader, especially when you only have seconds.

Break Up the Text

Back book cover tips

Do you know what else is overwhelming? Being hit in the face with a big block of text.

Instead of assaulting the reader with too many words, remember to only say what’s absolutely necessary to entice. Also, don’t be afraid to use short, one-sentence paragraphs or even bullet points (for non-fiction books) to make your text easy to digest.

Your reader is standing in the middle of a book store. They don’t have the patience to read through an entire essay on the back cover.

Be sure to include white space in strategic places on your back cover. Although including more white space will decrease the number of words you can cram onto your back cover, there’s a benefit to it. White space allows the reader to pause naturally and think about what they’ve just read.

The longer that they keep your book in their hands, the better.

Your cover will market your book. While the front attracts, it’s the back that arrests.

INSERT REVIEWS

Have glowing reviews about your book? You can use them on your back cover… with a word of caution. Not all reviews are created equal. A review from a random person won’t carry much weight and it certainly won’t compel someone to buy your book.

However, if you can get an endorsement from a well-known newspaper, magazine, blog, book blogger, or author with name recognization, that’s golden. This support can influence the reader to buy your book.

Before publishing your book, offer advanced review copies to influencers in your genre. If they provide you with a review that you can use on your back cover, that’s great. If not, don’t sweat it. Reviews aren’t absolutely necessary. They’re just nice to have. However, you can sell books without the recommendations of others.

Be choosy about which reviews to use. Don’t use multiple reviews that say the same thing. Also, keep it to three reviews or less. You want room for your book blurb, after all.

ADD YOUR BIO

Share a short bio on your book cover. I know you don’t want to talk about yourself— who, among us, does?— but your reader wants to know a little something about who you are. So, introduce yourself (in the third person) and discuss why you’re qualified to write about the subject. You don’t need to have a doctorate in the subject area to be qualified. Even if it’s just a passion of yours, relay that in your bio.

Take this space to share other books you may have written. Also, link to your website so that your interested reader can find your online. (It’s always a good practice to register a domain address in your name, i.e. www.LisaSee.com.)

Also, include a sentence about your personal life: Where you live, if you’re married, if you have kids, dogs, a DVD collection, etc. Readers like to know that you’re a human who does more than just write (even if that’s not completely accurate).

Then— and this is the hard part— include a picture of yourself. This is important because it helps the reader form a tiny bond with you. Opt for a professional headshot.

BE SURE TO PROOFREAD

Back book cover tips

This one goes out to all of you self-empowered self-publishers. Remember to proofread your back blurb. A typo on a back cover can have disastrous results. No one likes a typo or a grammatical snafu, and for a growing percentage of the population, this is an unpardonable sin. They will not buy your book. They may even throw it down in disgust.

Protect yourself from typos and hurt feelings by simply re-reading your book blurb a few days after you’ve written it. Don’t try to edit immediately after writing because you’ll likely be blind to your own mistakes. It’s easier to see grammatical errors after you’ve let the text rest a bit. Then, you can return with fresh eyes and a no-holds-barred attitude.

GET A SECOND OPINION

It’s also a good idea to get a second opinion. You know your story. You know what’s coming. Your prospective reader doesn’t know what you’ve got cooking and they’re not sure they want to find out. This is why a second opinion matters.

Grab someone who hasn’t read your book and isn’t familiar with your story. Ask them to read your blurb. Find out what they think about the blurb. Does it entice them to read the story?

While you can certainly ask friends and family for a second opinion, I would suggest that you appeal to a more impartial audience. Your friends and family care about you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. The Internet does not care, and that’s the perfect place to ask (if you truly want an honest opinion). This is why you should consider joining a writing group. Your fellow writers can offer a more impartial critique of your book cover and provide you with helpful suggestions. If you haven’t already, definitely sign up for a writing group.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Your cover will market your book. While the front attracts, it’s the back that arrests. You have 200 words or less to engage your readers. Choose every word carefully.

Before you go, check out these related resources:

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