Back Cover Text
While you’ve spent considerable amounts of time writing, rewriting and editing passages in your manuscript, the first words a reader will likely read are on your book’s cover. The About the Book and About the Author are usually the last step in a long writing process, making it easy for writers to overlook their importance. But the writing on your back cover can make the difference between a reader deciding to make an investment into your story and placing your title back on the shelf. Since this text is the best opportunity for you to convince shoppers to purchase your book, it deserves careful thought and attention.
If you’ve gained a reader’s attention with your front cover, they will most likely turn to the back cover to gain more details to make a decision about purchasing the book. Most people spend twice as much time reviewing the back-cover text as they do looking at the front cover. The front cover should be designed to attract a reader’s attention and interest, and the back must sell them on your story.
Compelling and Concise Copy
Though it may be natural to write creatively to entertain your readers, the back-cover text is "copy" or marketing writing that must compel customers to perform a specific action, in this case purchasing your book. To be effective, your back-cover text must be concise, compelling and emotionally powerful. Readers should be able to identify your message within ten seconds, the average amount of time a browsing customer will spend reading your back-cover text before moving on.
The general rule of thumb in publishing is to limit your back cover text to 100 words or fewer; anything more will dilute your message. One common mistake is getting bogged down in plot summary and character descriptions on the back cover instead of having a focused message. Consider your target audience and determine the themes or elements of your book that would specifically appeal to them to create an emotional connection to your book. If you need to generate more specific ideas, spend some time at your local bookstore browsing the titles in your genre.
Writing About the Book
In the About the Book for his award-winning novel One Way to Pakistan, Harold Bergsma describes the elements of his suspenseful fiction:
Extortion, murder, rape and abductions, all of which took place in Pakistan during a time when anti-American sentiment ran high, and when fundamentalist inspired religious zeal overrode many rational human concerns. Amidst the chaos, a few expatriates who attempted to bring technical aid ended up having their families torn; becoming involved in cultural clashes and international brutality that changed their lives forever.
The text is an intriguing glimpse into the story; it reveals the themes of religious fundamentalism and chaos, and hints at the ways these themes affect the characters. But Bergsma is careful to leave out specific characters and plot descriptions, leaving his readers wanting more and tempted to crack open the book.
In addition to the About the Book, Bergsma features two testimonials endorsing his book. Although getting a high-profile testimonial from an expert or well-known writer can be difficult for first-time authors, any kind of testimonial or endorsement can be a powerful selling tool. Readers expect that the other copy on the back text has been written specifically by the author or a publicist, so they naturally tend to believe the unbiased opinions offered in a testimonial. Don’t be hesitant to ask colleagues or local professors and writers to review your galley and offer a testimonial. But don’t let testimonials hold up your book launch. You can always send out copies of your book to reviewers and add their testimonials for the next printing.
Testimonials are also effective for nonfiction books, which usually feature a short paragraph about the book’s topic and may use bullet points or a list to cover specific subjects in the book. Nonfiction readers tend to be more interested in your specific approach to a topic and the historical background that surrounds it. Appeal to their reason by offering elements in your book that are new and can’t be found elsewhere.
Writing About the Author
Nonfiction titles also tend to feature a more detailed author biography, or About the Author. Because you are writing about factual events, your background, education and professional accomplishments carry more weight and can legitimize your authority to write on the subject. The author’s bio is a great place to list accomplishments, honors, credentials and other impressive or unique details of your life's journey. Fiction titles usually feature a more abbreviated About the Author, usually only a line or two. Allow your writing to speak for itself. One well-written, clever sentence is usually all you need, as Sean Farley illustrates on the back of Brooklyn Looper: “Sean Farley is just a regular guy who decided to write a book.” If its important to you to include a more detailed biography, consider placing it on the last few pages of your book, rather than overwhelming your back cover.
You owe it yourself, your writing and your readers to put your best foot forward on your back cover. If you have spent years spinning a thrilling story inside your book, it only makes sense to spend time and carefully consider the words you’ll be placing on the outside of the book as the reader’s first introduction to your writing.