Written by Denise Loock
If you still shop in a bricks-and-mortar store, maybe you’re first attracted to a book cover by its title or author. But what’s the next thing you do? Flip the book over and read the back cover copy (BCC). Those few paragraphs usually determine whether you take the book to cashier or put it back on the shelf.
If you shop for books on Amazon, as millions do, you may type in the author or title you want, purchase the book, and check out in minutes. But if you’re trying a new author or looking for a specific topic, the BCC often determines whether you’ll select that book or choose another.
As more and more of my clients choose self-publishing or hybrid publishing, I’ve added BCC to my list of services. Here are some common mistakes authors make, followed by some tips on creating effective copy.
Too much information. Readers invest less than a minute on BCC, so don’t try to cover the whole plot (fiction) or all the key points (nonfiction). The more words your clients use, the smaller the font size must be, and the more crowded the cover will appear.
Focus on the main character’s central goal, motivation, conflict (fiction) or the key takeaways (nonfiction). Keep BCC short and engaging—150 words or less. Use short paragraphs, maybe even a one-sentence paragraph, to grab the reader’s attention. Don’t waste words by using meaningless sentence starters. Instead use specific nouns followed by vivid verbs and precise adjectives. Think movie trailer, thirty-second commercial, one-page magazine ad, or billboard.
Too much focus on the book’s content (nonfiction) or plot (fiction). In nonfiction, authors tend to summarize content in the BCC. In fiction, they may give too much of the plot away without helping the potential reader identify with and care about the protagonist.
In nonfiction, authors should emphasize how the content will benefit readers. Lead with a felt need, then demonstrate how the book will address that issue and provide specific, practical solutions. Readers should know what the author is promising and how the promise(s) will be fulfilled.
In fiction, the goal is to hook readers with the protagonist’s complex yet relatable problem. If readers can’t identify with the main character, they won’t invest time and money to find out what happens to him or her. The author doesn’t want to give away the ending either. Sure, if the book’s a romance, readers know the main characters end up together, but don’t focus on that in the BCC.
Too much emphasis on the author. Especially in memoir or biography, the BCC can tell too much of the author’s story without demonstrating how the book benefits readers (see mistake 2).
Use the fiction techniques given above to engage readers—make them care about the author and relate to his or her story but clearly indicate how the book provides information, insights, and instruction that will enable readers to navigate similar life issues.
Like every other part of writing, BCC is a skill that requires practice, precision, and pizzazz. Encourage clients to read the BCC of books in their genre. What hooks them? What keeps them reading? Offer more than your clients expect by helping them write effective BCC.
Denise Loock is the owner of Lightning Editing Services. She teaches Editing Devotionals 101 and Sentence Diagramming 101 for The PEN Institute and is the director of PENCON, the only annual conference for Christian proofreaders and editors.