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A 4-Part Checklist for Writing Strong Back Cover Copy

When you walk into a bookstore and browse the shelves, how do you decide what to buy? If you’re like me (and you probably are), you pick up a book of interest and look at the front cover. And then, if the title and cover speak to you, you turn that book over….

Right?

You check out the back cover almost immediately. It’s the first place that you encounter long-form explanatory copy of the book. It’s the first time you read messaging about what’s inside those pages.

That back cover copy (BCC, as we say) is often the make-it or break-it factor on the consumer’s journey toward purchase. If you read it and think “Psssh not for me,” or “What? I don’t get it,” then you set the book back down and move on. But if the copy captures you, you open the book, peruse its insides, and perhaps purchase.

That back cover copy is often the make-it or break-it on the consumer journey toward a book purchase. Click To Tweet

The copy on the back of your book is critical. It’s more than a summary of your message, more than a paragraph of all your marketing quips strung together. It must be a calculated and strong piece of writing–highly-strategic in structure, length, word choice, and design.

When writing and reviewing back cover copy, it’s essential to build four key elements into the content. Consider this your checklist:

1- WIIFM

“What’s in it for me?” That’s what the reader is asking, albeit subconsciously, any time they read marketing copy. Keep this question in the forefront of your mind as an author and be sure your back cover copy proclaims clear and high value to the reader. At its core, it’s never just about your book; it’s always about your audience. Benefit statements (3-4 statements that answer the audience’s unique felt needs through the book’s promises) and are a great way to ensure that you hit the WIIFM question head-on. For more on benefit statements, download this free eBook and check out #11.

2- Strong headline

Every piece of copy needs a headline. Innately, consumers want to know where to look first; a headline does this, offering direction to the order and rhythm of reading the content. Place the headline at the top of the back cover. It should not be the title, nor the subtitle–and it should not be something generic like, “A must-read for all moms!” Go with a compelling question or provoking statement that hits a felt need, that demonstrates the heart of the book. Many times in titling meetings at Thomas Nelson, we’d brainstorm what we thought was a great title, only to realize that it would actually be a better headline for the BCC.

3- Authority building

To win readers, an author has to build two things with his/her audience: empathy and authority. You build empathy through the benefit statements and “felt needs” language we discussed above. It says, “Hey reader. We’re alike. I get you.” You build authority on the back cover in different ways: through the author bio and/or through a really strong endorsement. Let the bio speak to why you’re the most qualified person to write this book–but succinctly and gracefully. And if you choose to do a back cover endorsement, but sure it’s from an audience-relevant, well-known person who proclaims your expertise on the topic.

4- Progression of story

Humans are drawn to story. It’s how we understand the world and make sense of our existence–or, in this case, it’s how we make sense of a book. Consider the consumer’s need for story as you write the BCC. The story begins with their encounter with the front cover, and if they turn the book over, let the back cover continue that story. It’s simply an extension of the title and cover graphic. As they experience the exterior of the book from front cover to back cover, what are they taking in? What information do you intentionally withhold to create intrigue? What do they need to know next to continue the positive brand product experience?

You might wonder why back cover copy is important in a book world that’s dominated by e-retailers. The experience of buying a book online is different than picking it up and turning it over in a bookstore, right? So does BCC really matter?

The answer is yes–for a couple reasons.

First, studies show that the majority of dedicated book buyers–a small but loyal subset of our population–still go to brick-and-mortar bookstores. Even if people make that final purchase online, many will still peruse book shelves to see what products are out there before they go buy from Amazon.

Secondly, in a publishing house, that back cover copy often serves as a template for all other promotional copy. It’s common for a version of the BCC to be fed into Amazon and other retailers’ product descriptions; it’s what’s pulled into press releases and media hits; it’s what the online world sees–even if they see if on a screen, rather than the true back cover.

And a final word. As with all promotional copy that you ever write for your book, target audience consideration must take the cake. Know your people and write for them first.

 

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  • Wendy Blight

    This is timely for me because I am working on a manuscript as I type. It’s especially helpful because I’m in the editing phase of the manuscript. I will look for and/or create those value/benefit statements as I move through each chapter. And I absolutely love your advice about the progression of the story. Wow! Never thought about that before, but it makes so much sense. As always, your wisdom is invaluable and spot on, Chad. Maybe I’ll see you at Lysa’s webcast.

    Blessings,

    Wendy

  • Wendy Blight

    This is timely for me because I am working on a manuscript as I type. It’s especially helpful because I’m in the editing phase of the manuscript. I will look for and/or create those value/benefit statements as I move through each chapter. And I absolutely love your advice about the progression of the story. Wow! Never thought about that before, but it makes so much sense. As always, your wisdom is invaluable and spot on, Chad. Maybe I’ll see you at Lysa’s webcast.

    Blessings,

    Wendy