Wednesday, April 25, 2018

How to Write a Back Cover Copy for Your Book

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She has a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

Whether I'm going to put together a pitch for a publisher or self-publish, I will need to write some back cover copy for my book. If I'm going to create a pitch, the back cover copy is part of that, and if I'm going to self-publish, I'm going to need the back cover copy when I put the book up for pre-ordermaybe even sooner, like when I'd do a cover reveal.

Stephanie wrote a great post on writing back cover copy a few years back. Click here to read it.

I have a nifty method of coming up with back cover copy for a novel. I have no idea who to credit for inventing this three-part formula. I've seen it many times over the years both online and taught at conferences. So while I did not come up with this brilliance, I have no idea who to officially credit. Thank you, o wise one, whoever you are.

Here is how it works:

You need to create at least three paragraphs. One for the hook. One for a book summary (and this part could be two or three paragraphs, if necessary). And one for the sales pitch. Let's take a closer look at each.

Part One: Create a hook sentence, statement, or header that grabs the reader's attention. Think: newspaper or magazine headline.

This hook statement should show the main conflict in your storyor at least the first conflict that pulls your character into the plot. It should also be something the reader can identify with. I recommend writing out as many of them as you can, then edit them and/or combine them until you find one you love. You might even narrow it down to your top three, then poll your critique group or reader group. Here is a long list of potential hooks I wrote for Onyx Eyes.

For centuries, fairies have enslaved humans and imprisoned criminal fairy changelings in human homes. No one outside this system has ever discovered it—until now.
Would you risk your life to save another?
Would you break the law to save a life?
Sixteen-year-old Kaitlyn has a secret. Her brother is a fairy changeling.
What would it take to make you leave earth and enter another world?
What if you discovered your brother was a fairy changeling?
●There's a fairy in the house.
One missing teenage boy. One missing fairy princess. One epic problem.
Kaitlyn thinks her brother has gone crazy. Until she learns that he is not her brother at all, but a fairy changeling.
Kaitlyn’s brother isn’t crazy. He’s missing. Taken by fairies and replaced with a changeling replica.
Kaitlyn just learned that her brother has been replaced by a fairy changeling, so where is her real brother?
Kaitlyn wants to find her brother, who was taken captive by fairies, but the fairy warrior she has found to take her into the fae world has a mission of his own.
Could you abandon your life, your friends, your family, to find your missing brother?
Kaitlyn has a problem. Her brother has been replaced with a fairy changeling.

I narrowed these down to four:

Would you break the law to save a life?
Kaitlyn’s brother isn’t crazy. He’s missing. Taken by fairies and replaced with a changeling replica.
Sixteen-year-old Kaitlyn has a secret. Her brother is a fairy changeling.
One missing teenage boy. One missing fairy princess. One epic problem.

I felt like since Drake is the main character for the first part of them book, the tagline should be his, rather than Kaitlyn's. For now, I'm going with this one (though I might change my mind later on):

Would you break the law to save a life?

Part Two: Write a short summary of the story. Try to include the following information in your summary. You don't have to keep these things in this order, nor must you use all of these. It's important to at least introduce us to your character, show what they want, what they're up against, how it's going to get worse, and mention the stakes. Also, if you need two-three paragraphs for this part, that's okay.

●What is your main character's name? Jason, Piper, Brielle, Levi, Miri . . .

●What is your main character's role in the story? - Give the reader an identifier like a profession or role: knight, journalist, teacher, high school volleyball player, princess, engineer, dragon, etc. And if the book is about a kid, you might also give their age.

Here is an example from my book Captives: "When eighteen-year-old Levi returned from . . . "

●Where is your main character? - It's often good to mention a location, whether that's a city and/or state or the name of your fantasy world. Readers want to know where the story is going to take place. For example:

From Shannon Hale's Princess Academy: "High on the slopes of Mount Eskel." 

From Stephanie Morrill's Lost Girl of Astor Street: ". . . in the dark underbelly of 1924 Chicago."  

From Shannon Dittemore's Angel Eyes: ". . . shabby little Stratus, Oregon."

Rick Riordan's Lost Hero: ". . . the Wilderness School, a boarding school for 'bad kids.'"

●What is your main character choosing or being forced to achieve? - Share the story goal or your character's goal. Tell the reader why your character is on this journey. Here are some examples:

From Shannon Hale's Princess Academy: "Then word comes from the lowlands: the king's priests have divined that the prince's bride-to-be—the next princess—will come from Mount Eskel. The prince himself will travel to the village to choose his bride, but first all eligible girls must attend a makeshift academy to prepare for royal lowlander life."

From R. J. Anderson's Faery Rebels: "Deep inside the great Oak lies a dying faery realm, bursting with secrets instead of magic. Long ago the faeries mysteriously lost their magic. Robbed of their powers, they have become selfish and dull-witted. Now their numbers are dwindling and their very survival is at stake. Only one young faery—Knife—is determined to find out where her people's magic has gone and try to get it back."

●What is standing in your main character's way? - This is the conflict in your story. Who or what is trying to stop your hero from achieving his or her goal?

From Stephanie Morrill's Lost Girl of Astor Street: "When Piper discovers those answers might stem from the corruption strangling the city—and quite possibly lead back to the doors of her affluent neighborhood—she must decide how deep she is willing to dig, how much she should reveal . . . "

From Shannon Hale's Princess Academy: "At the school, Miri finds herself confronting both bitter competition among the girls and her own conceited desires to be chosen."

●What will happen if your main character fails? - What are the stakes?

Continued from Stephanie Morrill's Lost Girl of Astor Street: ". . . and if she's willing to risk her life of privilege for the sake of truth."

From Andrew Klavan's Last Thing I Remember: "And more to the point . . . how is he going to get out of this room alive?"

●Use conjunctions to show a change in the action. - Words like: but, however, yet, when, otherwise, as a result, still, on the other hand, instead, finally, meanwhile, etc.

From R. J. Anderson's Faery Rebels: "But when Knife disobeys the Faery Queen and befriends a human named Paul, her quest becomes more dangerous than she realizes."

From Shannon Hale's Princess Academy: "Yet when danger comes to the academy, it is Miri . . . who must find a way to save her classmates."

From Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl: "Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different."

●End with another hook, one that leaves the reader wondering what will happen. - Give us a cliffhanger.

From R. J. Anderson's Faery Rebels: "Can Knife trust Paul to help, or has she brought the faeries even closer to the brink of destruction?"

From my book Captives: "Will Mason uncover the truth hidden behind the Safe Lands' facade before it is too late?

From Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember: "For as long as anyone can remember, the great lights of Ember have kept the endless darkness at bay. But now the lights are beginning to flicker . . ."

Part Three: Sell it! This is where you put on your marketing hat and pretend you work for the author. This is where you write things that might feel a bit pretentious. But you need your product to sound intriguing. You want the reader to want to read it. Right now. This final paragraph can include several of the following, but the first one is essential:

Tell them why they will want to read (and will like) this book. This can be done in many ways.

1. You could give the facts: "Onyx Eyes is the first book in a new YA fantasy series from award-winning author Jill Williamson." If readers like YA fantasy and/or books by me, then they'll be interested.

2. You could hint at the genre like in this example from Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: "Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave enough to try." This tells us we're going to read a teen romance, and if the reader likes teen romance, she's in.

3. You could use genre words like in this example from Rick Riordan's Lost Hero: "Best-selling author Rick Riordan has pumped up the action, humor, suspense, and mystery in an epic adventure that will leave readers panting for the next installment."

4. Use the "If you liked THIS BOOK, then you'll love THAT BOOK.

If you liked R. J. Anderson's Faery Rebels, then you'll love Onyx Eyes.

This can also be done using genre words: "If you like dangerous quests, a little romance, and fantasy worlds filled with dragons, then you’ll love Jill Williamson’s fantastic new adventure."

"Blending romance, family drama, and fascinating historical detail, The Apothecary's Daughter is a novel to savor and share."

5. Use a combination of facts and genres. For example:

"New York Times bestselling author Melanie Dickerson beautifully re-imagines The Goose Girl by the Brothers Grimm into a medieval tale of adventure, loss, and love."

"Set in a beautifully eclectic world of suspicion, super abilities, and monsters, Storm Siren is a story of power. And whoever controls that power will win."

Use figures of speech (hyperbole) to get the reader excited. Just don't lie and say your book is epic or funny if it's really not. And don't overdo the hyperbole. A little goes a long way. Here is a list of phrases to give you an idea:

-If you like non-stop action . . .
-BOOK TITLE is a heart-pounding thrill ride . . .
-A powerful retelling . . .
-Time is running out.
-You'll get lost in the action.
-. . . of epic proportions.
-As the nightmare increases . . .
-A first-rate adventure.
-Even as danger mounts . . .
-In this poignant romance . . .
-. . . the shocking truth is revealed
-This breathtaking . . .
-Join old and new friends from in this . . .
-The thrilling conclusion to . . .
-The long-awaited final book in the . . .

Here are a few other tips.
-Read back cover copies in your genre to see how they do it. This will inspire you with ideas.
-Don't tell the reader everything. Be careful not to spoil your story by writing too much on the back cover. You shouldn't give us more than the first 25% of the story.
-Use the right voice for your story and audience. If your book is funny, so should your back cover copy be. If your book is horror, scare us. If you're writing for teens, use language that will interest teens. If you're writing romance, tell us about the guy and the girl.
-Read your back cover copy out loud to check for sentence flow and word choice.
-If you're self-publishing, you might also want to add a fourth paragraph with a call to action, urging the reader to buy the book. For example: "Buy Onyx Eyes by Jill Williamson and join the adventure today."

So here is the rough draft of my back cover copy for Onyx Eyes. Once I have the book finished, I will likely need to change some things, but this will work for now. 

Would you break the law to save a life?

When Princess AyannaRynn goes missing, the Grounder king gives Captain Alston FoyleDrake until the next moon to find her. Convinced the Aerials have taken her, Drake uses onyx to cast a forbidden bonding spell with a dragon so he can grow wings. This is the only way he can impersonate an Aerial and find out where they took the princess.

Drake’s search leads him and his dragon to a place called Idaho in the human realm. There he finds a changeling slave, who had been impersonating a teenage boy. Drake takes the changeling’s place. The bonding spell is starting to cause him pain, and he is so preoccupied with his search that Kaitlyn, the human boy’s sister, overhears the dragon use Drake’s true name. She commands Drake to take her back to his realm and help her find her brother. 

Drake doesn’t have time for human games, but the girl controls him now. The sooner he finds the girl’s brother, the sooner he can find the princess. Unless Kaitlyn chooses to enslave him forever.

If you like adventure, romance, and fantasy worlds filled with magic and dragons, then you’ll love Onyx Eyes, the first book in a new YA fantasy series from award-winning author Jill Williamson.

Your turn! See if you can cobble together a three-paragraph back cover copy for your story and share it in the comments.


  1. Thank you so much, Mrs. Williamson. This is exactly what I needed. I'm hoping to self-publish my book this August and my backcover copy needs a bit of work. This post is a HUGE help. <3

    Ivie Writes
    Ivie Brooks, Author

    1. I'm so glad, Ivie! And how exciting. :-)

  2. Okay, let's try it. I'm not going to try to use the promotional hyperbole, because that always annoys me when I read back covers. Also, it's a little bit short. But I think it's good for now.


    The small city of Glenwood is the last place you would expect anything extraordinary to happen, but fifteen-year-old Lisa Greene has a secret that could rock the world. She can shapeshift into a pegasus -- though it looks more like something from a kid's cartoon than the mighty creature of Greek myth.

    With the help of her best friend Kayla and a surprisingly helpful shadow agency watching her back, she struggles to keep a lid on the increasingly plausible evidence mounting and increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories the internet dregs up.

    Would it be too much to ask for her life to be a little simpler?

    1. Wow, that's really good! It earned my interest without flooding me with information or confusing me.

  3. I've always struggled with writing blurbs and will have to try this method. Whoever designed it is indeed a 'wise one' :)

    Thanks so much for sharing!


  4. This is very helpful, thanks a lot! I am Princess X has a very good back cover blurb, for those of us who like to read them for fun. :) Ok, let's try it for my current story, Sparks Like Stars...

    We are made of stardust…

    Emberly longs for a friend. Sarvi is trying to get over the crushing disappointment of not being able to go on of what would have been the vacation of a lifetime. And Trith just needs to find a summer activity, since her usual acting camp was full by the time she registered. When each of them of them decides to enroll in Camp Stardust, a summer fine arts camp in Michigan, the three meet and become hesitant friends…

    But Camp Stardust is home to more than just the usual forest wildlife and homesick campers. Soon, the three discover a secret, wonderful magic deep within the forest… But it’s a magic that’s in danger. Someone is hurting the phoenixes that live in the woods; and Emberly, Sarvi, and Trith have to find out who it is and stop whatever they’re planning…

    A whole race may hang in the balance.


    1. Nice! It definitely caught my interest.