Keep in mind that the back cover copy is essential to successfully promoting your book. It’s likely the second thing, after the cover, a potential reader will look at when they are deciding whether or not to purchase/read your book. For that reason, it’s important to cater to readers’ expectations and give them a reason to invest in your work.
Christine Frazier’s “Deconstructing the Back Cover Copy to Write Your Own Blurb [INFOGRAPHIC + SPREADSHEET]” from The Better Novel Project was invaluable to my back cover copy. Her analysis really streamlined the drafting process by isolating seven benchmarks for back cover copy in my genre, young adult speculative fiction.
While this post and my sample are specific to back cover copy for YA speculative fiction, there’s no reason that you can’t examine a couple of samples in your genre and modify the characteristics accordingly.
If you were writing a mystery, for example, the fourth point would likely change to your inciting incident – a death, a secret, etc. – and the sixth point would change alongside it – does the Heroine/Hero catch the killer or uncover the secret? Regardless of genre, there’s always a hook (first point), a contrast between the Heroine/Hero’s old and new world (second and fifth points), and a glimpse of other characters in your novel (third point).
Six Characteristics of Back Cover Copy
I’ve reduced these to six because I think Frazier’s sixth and seventh points go together:
- The hook. The first sentence captures the readers’ interest with something intriguing – an unusual object, intriguing event, happenstance, or character.
- Dreary backstory. Readers learn about the Heroine/Hero’s normal world — the drearier it is, the better because the Heroine/Hero’s new world and adventures will be that much more exciting.
- A glimpse of characters (and the Heroine/Hero’s age). The back cover copy mentions characters from the Heroine/Hero’s home life but doesn’t cover characters from the Heroine/Hero’s new world; it also implicitly or explicitly states the Heroine/Hero’s age.
- An invitation that brings about change. The moment in the story where everything changes — as indicated by words like ‘but’ and ‘when.’
- The Heroine/Hero living it up in the new world. This part shows that the Heroine/Hero has accepted the invitation and his or her life changes forever.
- Will the Heroine/Hero survive the twist? Adventure stories are about survival, so that’s what the twist should be about. The big question in many stories is “Will the Hero survive?” This central theme is reinforced with the word ‘but.’
When drafting your back cover copy, try to address all six of these points. I rephrased these points as questions (What’s the hook? What are the dreariest parts of the Heroine/Hero’s backstory? Etc.) then made a Q&A outline to get the ball rolling. You may want to try that if you find yourself staring at a blank page for a while.
Once you’ve got a rough outline, start putting the components together. For my back cover copy, I divided my paragraphs when I hit the major turning point in my book. In that sense, the first paragraph pertains to the old world (and hints at the future), and the second paragraph covers the new world. The very last sentence covers the twist and major theme: Will Tommy face the Fury and survive his adventure?
Back Cover Copy for Oz and the Fury
Tommy Oswald doesn’t go to school, and he’s never had a friend. He lives in the dingy attic of a rundown house, on a farm that doesn’t grow much of anything. He’s never visited another town, much less met a griffin, fed an amphisbane, or caught a fireball. His grandmother would never allow such things.
But when an unusual stranger knocks on his door with an invitation to a school he’s never heard of, on a planet he didn’t know existed, everything changes. There he finds legendary creatures, friendships he’d only ever read about, and someone who he thought died long ago. If twelve-year-old Tommy survives his adventures, he’ll find the tremendous destiny that’s been waiting for him… but first Tommy will have to face the Fury.
As short as this is, it took awhile to compose. My first draft was twice as long; I went through that draft and whittled out anything inessential (characters from the new world, extraneous detail, etc.). Once I had something that met all six benchmarks, I shared it with my wife. She read and critiqued three more drafts (until the pacing, phrasing, and contrast was just right). I think I owe her a fancy home-cooked dinner…
If you have someone in your ‘circle of trust’, I’d run it by them and get their feedback. The more eyes you have on it, the better. I showed mine to my wife, mother, uncle, mother-in-law, and a couple of friends. If you haven’t got anyone, feel free to post it here. I’ll give you my honest opinion (like it or not).
Dissection of Back Cover Copy
With your finished back cover copy in hand, it’s not a bad idea to outline the content according to the common back cover copy characteristics for your genre.
My back cover copy grid looks like this:
|Benchmark||Back Cover Copy|
|1. The Hook||Tommy Oswald doesn’t go to school, and he’s never had a friend.|
|2. Dreary backstory||He lives in the dingy attic of a rundown house, on a farm that doesn’t grow much of anything. He’s never visited another town,|
|3. A glimpse of characters (and Heroine/Hero’s age)||His grandmother would never allow such things. …twelve-year-old Tommy…|
|4. An invitation that brings about change||But when an unusual stranger knocks on his door with an invitation to a school he’s never heard of, on a planet he didn’t know existed, everything changes.|
|5. The Heroine/Hero living it up in the new world.||…met a griffin, fed an amphisbane, or caught a fireball. … There he finds legendary creatures, friendships he’d only ever read about, and someone who he thought died long ago.|
|6. Will the Heroine/Hero survive the twist?||If twelve-year-old Tommy survives his adventures, he’ll find the tremendous destiny that’s been waiting for him… but first Tommy will have to face the Fury.|