In my trawls around the Amazonsphere I’ve noticed a number of books where the cover copy looks like an afterthought. Which is strange. There are thousands of internet pages devoted to honing query letters and writing the killer synopsis, but back cover copy – not so much. Probably because it was always seen as a job the publisher would do – though I always wrote my Baen copy, and I know I wasn’t the only one. Now, with the great surge in self-pubbing and publishing cut backs, back cover copy is becoming something all authors have to consider.
Which isn’t always that easy. Some authors hate writing queries, synopses and cover blurbs. Some can write copy for other people’s books but cringe at the thought of writing copy for their own work – it feels wrong, it feels like bragging. This is one of the advantages of belonging to a co-op – we can find someone else to write our copy or workshop it.
But… is there a right way to write copy? There’s certainly a wrong way. The dry single sentence. The over-the-top stream of consciousness that sounds like it was written by a teen whose first language wasn’t even a distant cousin of the language the copy was written in.
But good copy…
Perhaps we should look at the unexpected bestsellers – the unknown authors whose books come out of nowhere – did the back cover description contribute to their success? Or was it publisher hype and celebrity endorsement?
I don’t know if anyone’s ever conducted an experiment as to what constitutes good copy but it would be an interesting exercise.
My gut feeling is that it’s similar to the query letter writers use to pitch their book to agents. You need to sell the agent the idea of your book – and why they should read it – in around three paragraphs.
And, for cover copy, you need to visualise your target reader and tailor your pitch accordingly. What’s going to hook your target reader? Characters, plot, science? Conventional wisdom says a Romance novel needs a different pitch to a hard SF one. Start with a one line description or tag line for your book then expand from there.
Here’s an example from Medium Dead:
Medium Dead is the first book in a fun urban fantasy series chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.
Brenda Steele is smart, funny and out of her depth. A Vigilante Demon called Brian wants her to find murdered spirits and help him track down their killers. But Brian doesn’t just catch criminals, he likes to play with them first, and make the punishment fit the crime. As he tells Brenda, “if all you did was turn up, capture the bad guy then leave – century after century – you’d die of boredom.”
He’s also reckless – his last partner died during one of his takedowns.
Along the way, Brenda discovers that Brian isn’t as old, or as powerful, as he led her to believe. He might even be human. Whereas the murderer they’re hunting, and the child he’s holding prisoner, might not.
I like to present the reader with all the salient info in the first sentence. Is it a novel? An anthology? What’s the genre and who are the main characters? It’s something I, as a reader, like to know up front. Then I cement that with a comparison to books the reader is likely to know. And, finally, I give a flavour of what’s going to happen. I don’t go into too much detail as the idea is to pique the reader’s interest, not summarise the plot.
Does it work? I think so. Could I have written it differently? Yes, there is no ‘one way’ to write copy. I also think that, like most things in life, there are going to be plenty of examples of cover copy that breaks every rule and yet works.
So, let’s conduct an experiment. Post examples of cover copy that made you buy a book recently – and tell me why.
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth.
Coming Soon! An Unsafe Pair of Hands