7 Secrets to Writing Persuasive Back Cover Sales Copy

by | May 17, 2013

By Casey Demchak (@caseydemchak)

I met Casey at the recent Author U event in Denver, Colorado. It’s not every day you run into someone whose specialty is back cover copy for your book. This is one of the most important pieces of copy you’ll write, since it has a lot of work to do representing your book and showing people what’s unique, interesting, or especially valuable about what you have to offer. I asked Casey to point out the big things authors ought to be thinking about when it comes to the back cover, and here’s his response.


Every author knows the importance of a well-designed book cover can never be overstated. However, moments after being engaged by your cover, readers are going to flip your book over to read the back cover.

If your cover is good enough to grab readers, your back cover copy needs to convince them to buy. For authors who self publish this can be a challenge because writing promotional copy many not be their area of expertise. Plus, for many authors it’s never easy to “brag” about themselves and their own work.

Here are seven essential tips that provide you with a success formula for creating back cover copy that motivates your crowd to take action.

1. Start with a headline that makes or implies a promise

Headlines have two simple goals: capture the attention of readers and drive them into your body copy. You don’t need zippy, clever, sexy headlines to do this. In fact, simple headlines are usually the most enticing. Start your headline with an action word and then state or imply a promise of what readers can expect to gain from your book. Here are a few examples.


Learn Newly Uncovered Secrets about JFK’s Murder

Discover How to Think and Grow Wealthy

Find Out What Drives Serial Killers to Act


Thought-provoking questions are also a great way to grab readers.

Are you dying to know who wanted Marilyn Monroe dead?

2. Make your copy “at-a-glance” friendly

If your headline draws readers in, don’t lose them by using large blocks of text to fill out your back cover. Instead, make it “at-a-glance” friendly by employing a liberal use of headlines, subheads, short paragraphs and bullet points. This common sales writing technique creates a lot of open space around your copy, which visually makes it look fast and easy to read.

3. Choose exactly the right voice

Create a definite, confident voice for your back cover. Depending on your topic, your writing should emanate authority, compassion, wisdom, insight, humor, suspense, intrigue, mystery, etc. Choose a voice for your back cover that matches your book and fuel it with emotion.

4. Create a powerful rhythm

Think of the movie trailers you’ve seen for the films you love. They move at a steady rhythm and pace because their creators know they only have one minute to convince you to go watch a two hour movie.

The same can be said for a back book cover. You’ve got one page to motivate people to read your entire book. After you’ve written your back cover copy, it should have a beat and pulse to it that you can snap your fingers to as you read it.

5. Focus on what your book is about – not on what happens

It’s certainly acceptable to write about what happens in your book. However, focus your back cover much more on how readers will benefit from your book. What curiosity will you satisfy? What challenge will you help readers overcome? What itch are you going to scratch?

What thirst will you quench for your audience? What inner desire or need are you going to meet? Describe the human satisfaction and value readers will gain from reading your book. Take your writing to this level and your ability to motivate readers to buy increases dramatically.

6. Stir up human emotions

The only marketing messages that really move us are ones that grip us on an emotional level. Always describe the benefits readers will derive from your book in emotional human-value terms.

Think of it this way: you don’t read about anti-aging skin creams so you can get rid of wrinkles. You read about anti-aging skin creams to get rid of wrinkles so you’ll feel more youthful and vibrant. You don’t read a murder mystery to find out who did it. You read a murder mystery to stimulate your imagination and create a sense of intrigue and excitement within yourself.

No matter what your book is about, your crowd will read it to fuel specific emotions within them. Identify what those emotions are and use your back cover copy to stir them up.

7. Leave them wanting more

This technique requires a little practice, but always conclude your back cover in a manner that leaves your readers begging for more. Wet their beak. Tease them up. Give them the sizzle, but not the steak. However you want to phrase it, conclude your back cover so readers have no choice but to flip through your table of contents as they’re reaching for their wallet.

copywriting for authorsCasey Demchak is an author, speaker and recognized expert at writing highly-effective sales copy for coaches, authors and corporate clients. You can sign up for his free, weekly sales writing updates at www.CaseyDemchak.com.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

30 Comments

  1. Liza Baker

    Thanks for this concise piece – super helpful! (And sorry – I have an insatiable inner editor – #3 should be “Choose” rather than “Chose”…. ;)

    Reply
    • Shelley Sturgeon

      Right you are, Liza. Good catch. Thanks for pointing it out. I’ve made the correction.

      Reply
  2. Lulu

    thank you for this article. I hope it will help me. thank you.

    Reply
  3. norman sorensen

    Is it necessary to copyright your back cover?

    Reply
  4. Patricia landy

    Very informative and interesting. Just what I’ve been looking for.

    Reply
  5. Helen Partovi

    Thank you so much! I’ve been scratching my head over the back cover of my first print edition. Now I’ll set to work.

    Helen Partovi

    Reply
  6. Malcolm R. Campbell

    All of these are great ideas, but since they are well-employed by major publishers and others, they really aren’t secrets. Nonetheless, these ideas are very good for self-publishing authors who don’t have the benefits of a publisher’s staff of professional designers and copywriters.

    If I could add one thing, this may make new writers pause about the use of a bio on the back cover that takes up most of the space and that includes unprofessional, gushing sentences such as “I always knew I wanted to be a writer.” Save those for the interviews and use something more professional on the back cover.

    Reply
  7. Anne

    Very helpful article. I would find it helpful to see some examples of effective back cover copy. Do you have any recommendations for where to find that?

    Reply
    • Anne

      One more follow-up question. It sounds like this is geared toward a particular type of book. Self help or non-fiction with mass appeal. Do you have any suggestions for writing cover copy for more academic titles?

      Reply
  8. Brian

    Excellent resource. Here’s a question for you about back cover copy for a non-fiction book. I’ve seen “about the author” information, testimonials, brief description of the book and benefit-oriented sales copy. I would think the latter would help sell more books but I’m new to this and am interested in your take on the relative pros and cons of each

    Reply
  9. Mona Tippins

    Even on Amazon, on the “Look Inside,” I click on the “Back Cover.”
    I can tell a lot about the book, whether it’s print or e-book by the words on the back cover.
    Thank you for this blog. It comes in time for me to fix the description on the back cover of my novel before submitting it.

    Reply
    • Casey Demchak

      Hi Mona. You are welcome for this blog. I’m glad it is helpful to you. Best of luck with your novel!

      Reply
  10. Stela

    I found this article incredibly helpful. As an author soon to publish my first novel, this advice came right on time. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Casey Demchak

      Stela – Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate it. I’m glad you found the tips helpful. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you.

      Reply
  11. Marla Markman

    Casey, thank you for the well-written post and great tips. I edit nonfiction books for self-published authors, and I have steered many toward professional copywriters. The back cover copy is so important, but authors frequently think they can write it themselves. I explain to them that it’s advertising/marketing copy, which requires a specialized skill. Many also think that it is not as important in this era where most books are purchased on Amazon and not in bookstores. Potential buyers no longer have a book in their hands to flip over and see the copy. Would you please comment on why you think back cover copy is still important?

    Reply
    • Casey Demchak

      Hi Marla – Thank you for your kind words and your question. I appreciate it. I think back cover copy is important for two reasons. Number one – there are still venues where people do pick up hard copies of books to look at before they buy them. I was at the Author U Extravaganza earlier this month in Denver and there were a lot of books on display–and of course many authors still attend events where they can display their books. Number two, the same strategies used to write strong back book covers can be used to write flyers and other marketing materials–including the areas within Amazon where authors can create and post their book descriptions.

      Reply
      • Marla Markman

        Thank you for your thoughtful response, Casey. These are good points. You can also read the back cover through Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature. I wonder how many people read the cover there versus skipping it and just reading the book’s description copy.

        Reply
  12. Linda Jay Geldens

    Casey, thanks for the interesting and informative article. I particularly liked point #4, about snapping your fingers to the beat in your back cover copy.
    I’ve been writing back cover copy since I was an advertising copywriter at Little, Brown in the ’60s. Just last week I worked with an author whose book has been out on Amazon for a month. He wrote his own back cover copy (for a fantasy that takes place a thousand years from now), but thought it lacked pizzazz. We worked together collaboratively, and at the end of the process, he said the cover “works as a very effective sales pitch.” I often talk up the importance of back cover copy to authors.

    Reply
    • Casey Demchak

      Hi Linda – Thank you for the kind words and your thoughts. I appreciate it. You’re right, it’s often very difficult for a strong writer to write the sales copy for their own book cover. Sounds like you’ve been writing book covers for a long time. It would be interesting to gain more insight from you.

      Reply
  13. Athena Chan

    Very helpful. Thanks for sharing :-)

    Reply
    • Casey Demchak

      Misty and Athena – Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate it.

      Reply
  14. Misty Dietz

    These are EXCELLENT! I definitely struggle with BCC, but these pointers have definitely given me tools that I will put to use, especially 5 & 6.

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  15. Candy Paull

    As a freelance writer, I have written book covers and catalog copy for publishers since 1990. This article offers essentials for effective cover and catalog copy. Non fiction covers focus on benefits (what this book can do for you) and features (what is in the book). Bullets and short paragraphs, with a compelling headline were most effective for non-fiction covers. Fiction covers should set the scene but not give away too much of the plot. I always looked for the key question the main character needs to answer. I tried to go no farther than the plot points of the first or second chapter of the book when possible, so that readers would have a reason to open the book and get caught up in the story without unnecessary spoilers. Too many authors give too much away with too many specifics or say too little by not being specific enough. The movie trailer analogy is great for fiction. A few key details can create an image in the reader’s mind, helping them visualize the lead character, setting, and dilemma. I would often use a strong, succinct quote from the text (either fiction or non-fiction) that would summarize an important concept or turning point in the book. And I would often end with a question in fiction (“Will the main character end up in hot water or…?”). I always, always, always tried to serve the author’s communication with his or her audience and to speak in the “voice” of author/audience rather than my own. Keep it conversational. Casey Demchak’s article is invaluable for writers who want to approach their book cover copy from a professional level.

    Reply
    • Casey Demchak

      Candy – Thank you for the kind words and for augmenting my post with such rich additional information. I think your thoughts specific to fiction books are outstanding.

      Reply
  16. Bruce Arthurs

    And, harkening back to book design in general, make the backcover copy readable. A friend wrote a good book, with a catchy title and a decent front cover. But he used the front cover’s headline font for the text copy on the back. Almost literally unreadable, alas.

    Have I mentioned how incredibly useful this website is? Thanks, Joel.

    Reply
    • Casey Demchak

      Bruce and Stephen – Thank you for reading my post. I appreciate it. You make a great point, Bruce. Good writing can go down the drain if it’s over designed. My “at-a-glance” friendly tip is big here. It’s so important to make your copy look like it’s fast and easy to read.

      Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Bruce, that’s a good point. Also good to remember to keep your back cover copy fairly short, since one of the other problems you often see is a very crowded cover with so much copy the size has to be reduced with the likely result that fewer people will read it. I think of this copy as an extension of your “pitch” for the book, so what you really want to do is entice readers into the text, not explain every part of the story.

      Reply
  17. Stephen del Mar

    Great points! Thanks. Need to remember this for any copy we write.

    Reply
  18. Paula

    What a great, concise, and informative article. I’ve read a lot about back cover copy recently, and while most of it was good, this is the first that really resonated with me and helped me understand why mine felt off. I especially like the point about rhythm – that makes a world of sense to me. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Casey Demchak

      Paula – thank you very much for your kind words. I really appreciate it. Yes, giving your copy a nice rhythm can really make it stand out from the crowd.

      Reply

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