Formula for back cover copy

OH, PLEASE. I would LOVE to have one solid formula that always works to effortlessly generate excellent back cover copy.

I’m not holding my breath, needless to say.

This is a post from Writers Helping Writers, and I must say, providing a great formula to use for writing back cover copy would certainly be an enormous help. Let’s take a look at what this post by Sue Coletta suggests.

Writing a book description isn’t fun. It’s grueling, mind-numbing work that I detest with every inch of my being. Mastering the art of back cover copywriting is an important skill. Therefore, I’m always on the lookout for tips.

Right there with you, Sue.

A while back, I sat through yet another webinar on the topic, and a formula emerged, a formula that finally resonated with me. So, I figured I’d share my discovery with you in the hopes that it’ll work for you, as well.

I like the way this is presented as something that resonates with this one author and that she hopes will work for others, not as a Revelation About The One True Method For Writing Back Cover Copy.

Here are the suggestions:

–Aim for 150 to 200 words or thereabouts.

–Build a hook sentence using the central conflict the protagonist faces.

This is that one sentence that is set above the main descriptive paragraphs.

–Build a short synopsis like this:

  1. Introduce the protagonist by showing what defines their role in the story.
  2. What is that character up against?
  3. What’s standing in their way?
  4. Transition paragraph …“The Big But.”
  5. End with a cliffhanger.

–Answer two questions to build a selling paragraph:

It sounds good, but how do I know it’s for me?
Sounds good, but will I like it?

Several examples are provided at the linked post, particularly for hook sentences. Here’s my favorite of the hook sentences provided:

They were all there the day your sister went missing. Who is lying? Who is next? — The Reunion by Samantha Hayes

That’s very good if you want to read this kind of novel. It’s also handy in showing exactly what kind of story this is going to be. Too tense for me at the moment, probably, but I do think that’s a good hook.

A couple of full back cover descriptions are provided, but I want to look at what I think is the single best back cover description I’ve seen in ages and compare it to the above. I will add, by “best” here, I specifically mean “super enticing to me personally.” This particular back cover sold me immediately. You will certainly recognize it:

An impulsive word can start a war.
A timely word can stop one.
A simple act of friendship can change the course of history.

Cliopher Mdang is the personal secretary of the Last Emperor of Astandalas, the Lord of Rising Stars, the Lord Magus of Zunidh, the Sun-on-Earth, the god.
He has spent more time with the Emperor of Astandalas than any other person.
He has never once touched his lord.
He has never called him by name.
He has never initiated a conversation.

One day Cliopher invites the Sun-on-Earth home to the proverbially remote Vangavaye-ve for a holiday.

The mere invitation could have seen Cliopher executed for blasphemy.
The acceptance upends the world.

This example fits into the formula surprisingly well.

Three hook sentences, or rather three sentences that all operate together as one hook. Then one sentence to introduce the protagonist and explain his place in the world. The next four short sentences establish the problem. The sentence about inviting the Sun-on-Earth home for a vacation is “the big but” — a phrase I don’t remember ever hearing before, but I kind of like it. The last two sentences provide the cliffhanger. There’s no need for a selling paragraph, but in a way those last two sentences do in fact constitute a selling paragraph. They sold me. Those two sentences hit some important buttons of mine dead center. So did the “simple act of friendship” sentence. The other sentences are important for setting the scene, but those three are what sold me. Nothing could have stopped me from clicking Buy given that anybody at all had recommended this book to me (and it was definitely someone here who pointed me to it).

Although it sort of fits the formula, this is also an interesting contrast to the typical back cover copy, because all the sentences are SO SHORT and broken into their own paragraphs. This works very well. Every sentence gains in importance and impact by standing on its own. This is 114 words, it turns out.

I don’t think I’ll ever write back cover copy this good, but when I eventually bring out Invictus, this is one example of description that I’ll be looking at very carefully. Not that Invictus is similar at all. Nevertheless.

Fortunately, for Tasmakat, the most important words on the description will be “sixth book in the Tuyo world” and “direct sequel to Tarashana.” It’s a whole lot easier to write description when the book is a series novel. I could probably leave the description blank except for those two sentences and it would sell almost exactly as well. Not that I’ll try that. But I bet it would.

Regardless, good post, click through and look at the examples, and if you have an example of stunningly good back cover description, by all means point me to it!

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