Leave the reader wanting more: How to craft back cover copy that sells

This is a post by Novel Publicity President, Emlyn Chand

How long did it take you to write your masterpiece? A few months? A few years? Your entire life? Whatever the timeframe, you can’t deny it’s a lot of hard work. When it’s time to finally unleash your novel on the world, you want to ensure that the product packaging does your hard work justice. Some writers shudder at the thought of their book being labeled a product. More than likely, these are the writers who don’t sell.

Being an author is at least one part business to every part art—and probably a lot more than that, but I don’t want to scare you off. Writers who simply write the best story they can and then move onto the next great idea are doing themselves (and their products) an injustice.

Think of the novel as a baby. That spark of an idea, the twinkle in your brain that set the whole thing in motion—conception. Then you work long, grueling hours to feed that baby inside you and make sure it grows properly—gestation. Publishing your novel is akin to giving birth. That beautiful thing you made is now out there in the world, behold! You wouldn’t leave a newborn baby to fend for itself, would you? No. A parent will raise that child for eighteen years or more to give it the tools it needs to survive.*

Dear author, you are a parent to your book. You have to raise it up right.

We’ve already discussed how editing is a non-option. We’ve talked about the importance of an attractive and professional cover, too. Today, I want to discuss another key aspect of positioning your book in a way that will appeal to readers:  the back cover synopsis (or product description, or blurb, or sales copy).

I know, you’re thinking, “Is my book a baby, or is it a product?” For now, let’s consider it a product. We can talk about the nurturing aspect of being an author later.

Back to the product analogy.

Let me ask you this:  How do you choose the products you want to buy? If you’re a fan of Coach purses, the big appeal is probably the company reputation and name brand recognition. This is not going to be an effective sell tool for new or relatively unknown authors.

Do you love McDonald’s because of the cheap prices? Some authors position their books as budget buys by utilizing the 99 cent price point. The Dollar Menu is pretty awesome when you want to nab a hamburger on the fly, but you can’t make MickyD’s your everyday diet—just as the reader won’t buy all books she reads solely based on price. There needs to be some nutritional substance, too.

Okay, time to get to the meat of this article. How can you write effective back cover copy for your novel? Here are my recommendations:

Keep it short and sweet (but not too short or too sweet). In my opinion, 100 to 200 words is best. Too much shorter, and you’re relying on your hook. Too much longer, and you’re going to bore the reader. I know, I know. It’s hard to condense your 80,000-word novel into just a couple hundred words. I get it. This is why query letter and synopsis writing are notoriously difficult for authors. Trust me though. Readers will get bored if you hit them with a 400 word synopsis (and you’ll have a hard time fitting it on your back cover anyway). I’ve given up on many a book that I wanted to buy when the synopsis went on for too long. My logic—if an author rambles here, what else will I be subjected to, were I to read the entire novel? No, thank you.

Don’t try to explain everything. This really helps cut down that word count. Back cover copy is like a good piece of lingerie; you want to leave something to the imagination. The best way to craft a compelling product description is to base the majority of it on the early chapters of your novel, the set-up. Then, end off with a hint of what is to come. Give readers enough to form a taste in their mouths then hope the taste is pleasant enough to leave them with a thirst for the rest of the novel.

Embody the genre(s). Many authors come to me with cute looks on their eager faces and the explanation that they have written an amazing “contemporary romantic urban fantasy thriller mystery” or some other chain of random genres coupled together. It’s never a good idea to put your hand into so many pots. Maybe your thriller lover hates romance and will abandon your book altogether when romance is really not such a prominent theme as the genre grouping would suggest. Be self-aware; know where your book fits. You’re not being cool or cutting edge by classifying your book as a blend of genres; you’re alienating your readers.

The reason why I’m bringing it up in this article is because I tell genre-blending authors this, “Choose ONE genre for your book, and convey the others in your back cover copy.” I think that’s darn good advice, if I do say so myself. Take my novel, Farsighted. I’ve positioned it primarily as a YA novel, but reading the synopsis will also give you the feel that there are paranormal, romantic, and mystery elements. I’m not calling it a “YA paranormal romantic mystery,” because that’s sloppy.

So remember, a romantic storyline doesn’t make your novel a romance. Please categorize the genre correctly!

Read the back cover copy for my novel, Farsighted (if you want)

Alex Kosmitoras’s life has never been easy. The only other student who will talk to him is the school bully, his parents are dead broke and insanely overprotective, and to complicate matters even more, he’s blind. Just when he thinks he’ll never have a shot at a normal life, an enticing new girl comes to their small Midwest town all the way from India. Simmi is smart, nice, and actually wants to be friends with Alex. Plus she smells like an Almond Joy bar. Sophomore year might not be so bad after all.

Unfortunately, Alex is in store for another new arrival–an unexpected and often embarrassing ability to “see” the future. Try as he may, Alex is unable to ignore his visions, especially when they suggest Simmi is in mortal danger. With the help of the mysterious psychic next door and friends who come bearing gifts of their own, Alex embarks on his journey to change the future.

Avoid inundating the reader with too many proper nouns. This is another mistake I see a lot, especially with the fantasy and science fiction genres. Authors want to mention all the cool races of people they’ve created or the settings of the book or the cast of key characters. Some proper nouns will give your book a sense of place, but too many is akin to reading a string of gobbly-gook. I know it’s hard to leave out primary characters, but you kind of have to in order to keep your description at a reasonable length. I have several main characters in Farsighted but only identify two by name on the synopsis—and the character that most resonates with readers doesn’t even get a mention!

If you’re concerned that you may be using too many proper nouns in your description, ask a friend to go through and try to define each of the words. Can your friend tell you anything about the setting of your novel, “Otherlandia?” Does she know who Axel, Blade, Contufio, and Mauritz are? What about the difference between the two races Crandons and Elgons? Okay, I just made all that stuff up, but you get the point. Use strong verbs and adjectives to convey key info; don’t rely on proper nouns that no one understands anyway.

Don’t Showboat. Ick, just ick. When an author says, “Read novel X, it’s the best thing since Harry Potter” or “If you thought Twilight sucked and want to read a vampire novel that is actually good, read novel X,” it’s in poor taste. Let your story stand on its own. Simply dropping the name of a popular book or author is not going to get people to your Amazon page. Showboating will hurt you more than it will help, trust me. Let readers make these comparisons, don’t do it yourself.

*My name is Emlyn, and I am addicted to similes and metaphors. If you share my problem, be sure to check the blog tomorrow for our “Ask the Editor” piece on this topic.

 

Emlyn Chand, President of Novel PublicityAbout this post’s author:

Emlyn Chand is the president of Novel Publicity and a YA author. She loves to hear and tell stories and emerged from the womb with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). Her first novel Farsighted released in late 2011 and her next two are due out this year. Learn more about Emlyn at www.emlynchand.com or by connecting with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or GoodReads.


8 Comments

  1. Great advice Emlyn! xx

  2. Thank you, this looks very helpful. I’ve linked to it from my own site because I think this will interest some of my readers, too.

  3. Great article. Last year a fellow writer told me I needed to improve both the teasers and back cover copy for my novels. Because he’s a good friend and a good author too, I stepped back and really looked at them for the first time from the consumer point of view. He was right, they were not selling the “sizzle” of my books. I rewrote them many times before settling on the current copy. Not long after I updated them, I was asked to be a guest at a book club meeting. After the formal part of the discussion, I got to meet and greet people individually as a woman looked up my first novel on her Kindle and began reading the description aloud. As I watched the excited reaction of people listening, I realized there were goose bumps on my own arms too, and got a real shiver down my spine when she turned to me and said, “This sounds good, I’m buying it right now.”

  4. Good post. I would like to tweet this but I do NOT wnt rhw ‘shopaholic’ stuff. Is it possible to bypass it. If so, how?

  5. Another great post Emlyn. I’m dreading writing my back page blurb and this is a great help. :) X
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  6. Great post with lots of great advice and insight. I’ve shared this with other readers and writers. Thanks, again.

  7. Emlyn, thank you very much for this post. I’m halfway through my rewrite and beginning to think a lot about the back post as well as my synopsis. You helped to break it down and make it less daunting!