Authors put a lot of creative energy into writing stories and instructions, so writing a few paragraphs of texts for a back cover might seem easy. But is it? Normally, the back cover copy is written by marketing specialists—sometimes a person who only does that one task. If you’re an author who is now publishing independently, you must hire someone with the right skills or do it yourself. Before you attempt to do it yourself, here are some marketing basics to consider.
The foremost purpose of the back cover texts is to influence the purchase decision.
To achieve this goal we want to focus on
(1) The texts: persuading people to buy the book;
(2) keyword strength: using the right keywords;
(3) shelving category: making it easy for readers to find the book;
(4) retail requirements: making the checkout process as easy as possible;
(5) and design: having an attractive easy-to-read design that is coordinated with the front cover.
The back cover of your book is too important and valuable to waste or treat lightly. Writing a great story has little value if no one reads or buys the book. So let’s take a closer look at these five aspects of the back cover.
The back cover texts
The back cover texts can be divided into three main parts: 1) Endorsements, 2) description or benefits, and 3) author bio.
Endorsements: The presence of endorsements lets potential buyers know that people like the book. Endorsements are actually more important than a book description because endorsements already contain some descriptive content or mention of the book’s benefits. This is why it is sufficient to put endorsements on the back cover of a hardback and the author bio and book description on the inside flaps of the jacket. This, of course, requires evaluating the strength of the endorsements against the strength of a book’s description or benefit list. See my post on How To Get Quality Book Endorsements
Book Description: Short book descriptions are easier to read. It can help if what you write in the book description connects with the message of the front cover title and/or subtitle, which is often what caused the person to become interested in the book.
For fiction, a book description should include content that speaks to the expected audience and category strengths, such as historical, social, or cultural interests. If the book, for example, offers a strong message about personal freedom, make sure this is not lost in the back cover description. The description should ideally say something that draws the reader into the story concept, but ends with a reason for the reader to want more. This is called a “cliffhanger.”
For “how-to,” self-help, and instructional books the focus needs to be on writing a good value proposition and pointing out how the book is unique. That is, why is the content in this book valuable and how is this particular book unique from other books on the topic? For some books, a description can include a list (3–5 short bullet points) that outline the book’s benefits to the reader. It is also good to utilize descriptive words, such as “practical,” “cost-saving,” “life-saving,” etc. Ideally, each point in a bullet list should be limited to one line.
Beyond describing the actual advice or instruction in the book, don’t forget that the book itself has values worth stressing in a competitive category, such as whether the book is full color, has instructional illustrations and maps, useful tips, charts, diagrams, resource guides, a foreword by someone important, etc.
Whatever you say in a book description, put the focus on the value the book has to the reader.
Author Bio: When you write your author biography keep in mind the same rule—the author bio text is there to influence the purchase decision. It not there to inform the reader about the author’s personal life. Making it short will make it more readable. Three to five sentences is usually all it takes. The focus should be on credentials and/or experiences that indicate that you have qualifications for writing the book. If the book is not about dogs, there is no need to mention your dog. Relevant awards, memberships or previous books are valuable to mentioned.
If you include an author photo be sure that it makes you look credible. If the photo can include a setting that fits the book’s theme, that can be helpful. If you are, for example, a mountain climber, an author photo with appropriate mountain gear in a mountain setting is convincing. If you are a financial adviser, be sure to look successful. Photos can be powerful tools of persuasion, which is why some authors place photos of themselves on the front cover. For public speakers, an author photo on the cover is a way of advertising the author and building the speaker’s brand.
When you write your back cover text, use high-value keyword phrases. Knowing the best keywords depends on your market research. Your book’s chances of success are increased if you develop a marketing strategy early. Ideally, this strategy should occur before developmental editing and design so that every aspect of the book, not just the back cover, support the strategy.
One aspect of developing a strategy involves keyword research. Having strong keywords on the book’s cover text will help the book turn up in more online searches. The more popular the keyword combinations, the more often the book will show up.
If, for example, you are a life coach for women and do workshops, the phrases “workshops for women” and “life coach for women” only get 260 searches each (monthly average), but “women’s empowerment” gets 135,000 searches. While this works in the women’s category, the male equivalent is different. For example, let’s say you are a life coach who helps men with health issues, careers, and relationships. The phrase “men’s life coach” turns up 50 searches (monthly average), “men’s empowerment” only turns up 90, and “life coach for men” turns up 140. However, “men’s health” gets 246,000. The point is that you don’t have to guess. Do the research and use real data to pick the word phrases that help your message reach your audience.
Include a shelving heading
You can help bookstores shelve your book where it should be found by including an appropriate BISAC category. The BISAC Subject Heading list “is an industry-approved list of subject descriptors.” These descriptors are often placed on the upper left of the back cover, such as “SELF-HELP / Personal Growth / Success.”
A book cover needs to meet basic retail requirements so that it can be easily tracked and purchased. This includes an ISBN, which allows book retailers to track book sales and inventory. The ISBN also allow people to look up information about available editions (print and ebook). The barcode allows the ISBN to be easily read with a scanner at checkout and for inventory and tracking purposes. It is recommended that the barcode also contains the price. To learn more about ISBNs, see my blog post about ISBNs (https://designforbooks.com/category/isbns/)
You may also want to include other currencies listed next to the barcode (such as the UK, CAN, EU, depending on the language and intended audience). And finally, the back cover should have the publisher identity and location (preferably the publisher web location) so more can be learned about the book and to help convey that the book has been produced professionally.
Avoid having a large block of text in small type on the back cover. If the text appears too small, you probably gave the designer too many words. Consider shortening it. Make the three separate sections (endorsements, description, and author bio) easy to recognize and easy to read. Consider emphasizing words that communicate value, such as “practical,” “easy,” and “comprehensive.” If it is a self-help book, consider arranging the stated benefits in a bullet list.
Be sure that the designer coordinates the back cover—colors, images, font choices—with the front cover. Also, be sure the design does not hinder the functionality of the barcode.