In my years of working with authors via Tywebbin Creations, I have read many back cover summaries that left me scratching my head. In some cases I have emailed the author back and asked, “What is your book really about?” So we didn’t have a “messy” back cover summary, I have worked with my client to rewrite the back cover text before completing the final book cover or coordinating a virtual event.
Why Pay Attention?
If your front book cover isn’t that great, you still have a chance with the back cover summary to convince a reader to give your book a try. I mean look at how many ways your book cover summary can be seen.
- On a book page or section on an author’s website.
- A reader may select your book from a shelf (or your vendor’s table) and flip over to the back to read.
- Inside a publisher’s catalog
- Book listing page on online stores like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook, etc
- A part of an author’s media kit or one sheet
- Sent to influencers and street teams for virtual book tours, blog tours or book blasts
- Added to promotional materials like a postcard, bookmark or a brochure
- In an email newsletter, e-blast or online ad.
It’s pretty important to nail the back book cover copy … it’s a critical selling point.
So, how do you know if your book summary works?
1 | Read out loud.
Reading out loud is a proven method to catch errors or awkward copy.
When you read your back cover summary, did you stumble on any part?
Do you have a sentence that goes on and on? Can you rewrite that long sentence and create two tight sentences instead?
Remember, it’s more important to be clear, than show your love of words. Overwriting has been a weakness of mine. Start simple. Rewrite your back cover summary until it’s clear and compelling.
2 | Watch the length.
If you write fiction, the back cover is not the place to tell the story. The goal is to let the reader know what’s the main story and leave them wanting more … to buy the book. Quite often there may be other text on the back like a brief bio or endorsements.
You don’t want to have so much text where you need to resort to a small font to fit everything. I usually keep a three paragraph rule when I write back cover copy.
If you write nonfiction, especially self-help or how-to, readers are looking for the benefits so try to pull out major themes or lessons in a bullet style.
3 | Seek an editor.
I like to send my back cover summaries to my editor. There is nothing more helpful than another pair of eyes, especially an editor’s eyes. So don’t forget to send your back cover summary along with your manuscript to your editor too.
Sometimes I send the summary prior to the completing the manuscript since I often develop my back cover copy in advance. That may seem strange, but I learned how to do this during my years with a traditional publisher. The publisher wants to know what your next book is about so they can start planning early and can include your book in the upcoming catalogs.
4 | Ask others to read.
Do yourself a favor and learn how to share your work with others. This is not the time for artificial pats on the back to save your feelings. Now keep in mind everyone is not fit to help you with this task. It may be best to find beta readers.
5 | Study other books.
Writing is a craft and you can always grow your skills. Research bestselling books and read the back cover copy.
Here are a few I pulled:
The Shack by Wm. Paul Young
Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever.
In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant The Shack wrestles with the timeless question, “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You’ll want everyone you know to read this book!
Copycat by Kimberla Lawson Roby
Befriending Traci Calloway Cole is the best thing Simone Phillips has ever done. Traci is the kind of woman Simone wants to be-in every way possible. She begins copying her role model. Not because she wants to be Traci. She just wants to be exactly like Traci.
Traci doesn’t worry, though. She knows Simone doesn’t mean any harm and that her mimicry is only sincere admiration. Until she discovers how far Simone’s obsession has gone.
It is then that Simone’s entire world begins unraveling, and dreadful secrets from her past are exposed with no warning. Secrets that she’ll do almost anything to protect.
Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner
Eight years ago, Sharlah May Nash’s older brother beat their drunken father to death with a baseball bat in order to save both of their lives. Now thirteen years old, Sharlah has finally moved on. About to be adopted by retired FBI profiler Pierce Quincy and his partner, Rainie Conner, Sharlah loves one thing best about her new family: They are all experts on monsters.
Then the call comes in. A double murder at a local gas station, followed by reports of an armed suspect shooting his way through the wilds of Oregon. As Quincy and Rainie race to assist, they are forced to confront mounting evidence: The shooter may very well be Sharlah’s older brother, Telly Ray Nash, and it appears his killing spree has only just begun.
As the clock winds down on a massive hunt for Telly, Quincy and Rainie must answer two critical questions: Why after eight years has this young man started killing again? And what does this mean for Sharlah? Once upon a time, Sharlah’s big brother saved her life. Now, she has two questions of her own: Is her brother a hero or a killer? And how much will it cost her new family before they learn the final, shattering truth? Because as Sharlah knows all too well, the biggest danger is the one standing right behind you.
Go set a Watchmen by Harper Lee
Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—”Scout”—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt.
The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Hopefully from these few examples, you will notice how clear and compelling each summary was written.
You want to do the same with your back cover summary.
What book cover summaries convinced you to buy that book? Feel free to include your back cover summary in the comments below.