Monday, June 18, 2012

Writing Killer Backcover Copy

by Stephanie Morrill

The back cover copy is one of the most important things you’ll write.


It’s a tool for selling your book – to agents and editors, sure, but also to readers. When people are at Barnes & Noble, they flip the book over to read what your book is about. Or when you’re being interviewed on blogs or in magazines, they’ll often print the backcover copy. Or when you’re on TV, they use your back cover copy to explain your book to the audience.

What are the qualities of a good book blurb? It should include:

Character – Who is this story about? Who is the main character?

Setting – Where and when does it take place?

Conflict – What are they trying to achieve? Why are they on this journey?

Action – How do they go about doing this?

Uniqueness – Why is this book different? Why should I invest the time in reading it?

Mystery – Often phrased in a question at the end, this is the part of the back cover copy that triggers and “itch” in the reader’s brain, that makes them “scratch” by starting to read.

And you need to do it as concisely as possible. But how do you boil your huge, beautiful masterpiece into just 150 to 200 words? These authors did it:

So Not Happening by Jenny B. Jones

Isabella Kirkwood(CHARACTER) had it all: popularity at a prestigious private school in Manhattan, the latest fashions, and a life of privilege and luxury. Then her father, a plastic surgeon to the stars, decided to trade her mother in for a newer model. (CONFLICT)
When her mother starts over with her new husband, Bella is forced to pack up (ACTION also CONFLICT) and leave all she knows to live with her new family in Oklahoma. (SETTING) Before her mother can even say “I do,” Bella’s life becomes a major “don’t.”
Can Bella survive her crazy new family? Will the school survive Bella? How can a girl go on when her charmed life is gone and God gives her the total smackdown? (MYSTERY)

The ”uniqueness” of a story isn’t so easy to label, but for this book I would say there are lots of books about wealthy, snooty Manahattan-ite teens. This one just got dropped into smalltown Oklahoma, though.

The Peculiars by Maureen McQuerry

On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar (CHARACTER) decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree (SETTING) is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar.
On the train she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena’s father is, he convinces her to spy (ACTION also CONFLICT) on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears. (MYSTERY)

Uniqueness: A child searching for a lost parent has certainly been done in stories before, but the wilderness of Scree with those Peculiars running around sounds rather interesting.

What if your book is about multiple people, though? Like in a romance where you often hear from the point of view of both the male and female?

Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland by Roseanna M. White

In 1784 (SETTING) peace has been declared, but war still rages in the heart of Lark Benton. (CHARACTER) Never did Lark think she’d want to escape Emerson Fielding, the man she’s loved all her life, but then he betrays her with her cousin. (CONFLICT) She flees (ACTION) to Annapolis, Maryland, the country’s capital, and throws herself into a new circle of friends who force her to examine all she believes. (MYSTERY)
(NEW PARAGRAPH FOR THE OTHER PRIMARY CHARACTER) Emerson follows, (ACTION) determined to reclaim his bride. Surprised when she refuses to return with him, (CONFLICT) he realizes that in this new country he has come to call his own, duty is no longer enough. He must learn to open his heart and soul to something greater… before he loses all he should have been fighting to hold. (MYSTERY)

Uniqueness: There are tons of romances out there, this romance however takes place after the couple is already engaged.

If you're registered for the NextGen Writer's Conference - a free, on-line conference for those 19 and under - we're running a backcover copy contest. You can win cool prizes, but more importantly you'll get feedback from professional writers about your story description. Make sure you check it out!

Which element do you think is hardest to include? I struggle most with action and uniqueness. What about you?


  1. Thanks for the post! Writing the perfect summary in only a few words has always been hard for me.
    I struggle with uniqueness, too. So many storylines have been recycled over and over and it's often difficult to make yours fresh.

  2. I always figured my publisher would write my back cover copy so had never really worried too much about them. And some publishers have the editors write the copy, for sure--with author approval. But you can imagine my surprise when Summerside kept the original description I sent them with the first three chapters, with the exception of two phrase changes. So take care with these! LOL Never know when the one you send your editor might make it onto your back cover. =)

    Great job of boiling it down, Stephanie.

    1. Your back cover paragraphs are awesome! It tells us enough to be really intrigued but not enough to giveaway too many details. I find that a lot of books giveaway the while story on the back cover and tell the whole story. Yours is just perfect! It tells a lot but not too much.

      Thank you for writing and sharing at Go Teen Writers!

  3. Ever since I was eight, writing the back cover has been my FAVORITE part (besides actually writing)! When I was really young, I would write a book in a notebook, then draw a front cover and glue it on the front. THen I would glue on a blank page on the back and write the back cover blurb, and read it out loud to every family member and friend. Back covers are just so much fun!

    1. Oh, Sarah, that's so sweet! Sounds like something I would have done as a kid. You've had lots of practice then :)

    2. Yes, sometimes when I have the 'idea spark' It's actually what I envision as the back cover copy. I find writing easier that way :O

  4. Thank you for the post, Mrs. Morrill! It is very helpful.

    I think this part would be difficult. It would be hard to tell enough about your story to make someone interested but not enough to tell the whole story and keep the person interested.

  5. I have a hard time with Setting.

    1. Becki, setting details can be tricky, particularly for historicals when you're trying to give the reader context.

  6. I've never even thought about my back cover lol. But it would probably be action, because I have a lot of trouble with that in the books. :p

  7. I love, Love, LOVE back covers!! I get so dissapointed with a book when all it has on it is reader reviews :P
    I have issues with the conflict and uniqueness part of it.

    1. Haha, I hate it when that happens!!! At least for hardcovers there still is the inside flap :) I haven't really thought much about back cover copies for my book, but just thinking about what I'd say, I would probably have trouble with the uniqueness, which I guess is most important to draw the reader in, and being careful not to hint too much and give away the ending while keeping the reader interested.

    2. Haha, yeah. I like hardcovers...dunno why. They look cooler;)
      Yeah, I've never thought about it much, but now I'm deffinately going to start:)

  8. Since I'm pretty much an amateur writer compared to most everyone else here, I've never actually finished a whole book, nor have I gotten close enough to contemplate the back cover. But, now that I think on it, that's pretty much what I have for all those 'musings' that go on in my head of book ideas and such. I could pretty much go through every 'blurb' or scene compiled in my notebook and come up with a back cover copy for each one. I think that's something I'd be good at. At least, better at than writing entire books lol.
    I don't struggle with any of the problems listed, but I would definitely have a hard time with word count lol.

    1. Haha I'm probably way more of an amateur than you are, don't worry! Most of my stories are in my head, and are kind of useless, and have way too many characters and no real plot. And I would have thought that you had written more stories; I saw one of your writing prompt entries, the one about the dames, and it was really, really good.
      Word count... yes that would be a problem. Mine would definitely be one of the ones where the book description is in tiny font and takes up both inside flaps haha.

    2. Lydia Grace HartJune 19, 2012 at 1:00 PM

      Thanks for the encouragement! And esp. with the 'dames' one, all good input means a lot, because that's kinda my 'baby' when it comes to writing - I'm hoping I'll someday get a book out of it :)
      Lol, mine would take the back cover AND both inside flaps, in font size 8.

  9. I've actually just spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out the whole back cover thing, got something down that I kinda like, so... I guess I'd better go back and see what I've actually included!

    Just signed up for the conference. WOO! And cannot wait to enter the contest.

  10. This was really helpful. This is actually my first time visiting this blog. My friend gave me a link to this post after hearing me say that I have no idea how to write a synopsis. I have written 6 books of a series, none of them are published yet though, and they ALL need back cover blurbs, not to mention the one I'm writing now for Camp NaNoWriMo, which just may be published before my series.
    Anyway, thanks a lot!

  11. Love that this came at the perfect time. I'm working on the back cover copy for my WIP right now!

  12. The Peculiars sound like Miss Peregrines Home for peculiar children.