Cover copy – that blurb on the back cover of your book – is something that I have been paying attention to lately. I get a BookBub email every day that shows me books after books after books, and I find myself quickly glancing at the cover, but making buying decisions based upon the blurb that is next to the cover image. If the blurb is written poorly and sounds uninteresting, I might not even finish a sentence before I scroll down to the next book. I suspect if I am making buying decisions about your book based on these few sentences, so are a zillion other people. This means that your cover copy is extremely important. It is also something that many writers, especially independent authors, are overlooking. If you don’t do it well, you will not sell.
I asked Jeff Seymour, professional cover copy author, to create a brief cover copy lesson, to help us understand what GOOD cover copy looks like. This may sound simple, but it isn’t. It’s hard work. But just like synopsis writing, it is extremely important that you learn to do it well. Start paying attention to cover copy and you will begin to see the difference between the good, the bad, and the really bad.
Below is Jeff’s cover copy lesson. Don’t be fooled. This stuff is harder than it looks.
Cover copy can be tricky, and there are about as many ways to construct it as there are writers who attempt it. It is, in the end, a creative endeavor, and I can’t tell you exactly how to do it. But I can offer you one way to do it, in a few broad strokes, and you can do with that basic framework what you will when it comes time to attempt your own.
Step 1: Start with a synopsis
The most important thing you do when writing cover copy is isolate your hooks—the most interesting and unusual things about your novel. Synopses are already halfway there. An author who has written a good synopsis (if you’re writing your own cover copy, this author is you) has already boiled down their book into a condensed soup of its most interesting plot points and character arcs. So start there.
Step 2: Read fast and look for what jumps out at you
The reader you’re targeting with your cover copy is a browser and a skimmer. They’re going to be cruising through the copy pretty quickly trying to find whatever they’re looking for (a great plot, fascinating characters, a unique setting, particular genre elements, etc.). You need to replicate that process in order to reach them. So start by giving your synopsis a quick read and jotting down the things that jump out at you as interesting. These are your hooks. Once you’ve got a good list of them (mostly from the beginning, because you don’t want to reveal your ending), you’ve put together the raw material you’ll craft your copy from.
Step 3: Pick a structure
Cover copy, like novels themselves, tends to follow a few predetermined structures. They change from genre to genre, but I call the most versatile one I use the Setup/Twist/Cliffhanger. It’s great for plot-heavy books, and that covers most commercial fiction. In that structure, the first paragraph introduces the character and their life at the beginning of the novel. The second describes the big twist (you may have heard it referred to as an inciting incident) that changes their life forever early in the book. The third describes the struggle they’re going to have and ends on a cliffhanger that makes the reader want to turn the page.
Step 4: Write, revise, share, revise
Your cover copy is almost definitely going to go through several drafts, especially if you’re new at writing it. At a publisher, it would get reviewed and critiqued by the marketing team. If you’re writing your own cover copy, you need your own marketing team. Put together a group of readers/fans/writers/smart-people-you-trust-on-the-subject-of-books and share your copy with them. Listen to their concerns, do a little market research to see what other copy looks like in your genre, revise, and repeat, and eventually you’ll have a piece of copy that ought to sell some books.
Jeff Seymour is a Freelance Editor for Carina Press — www.carinapress.com
and author of the magical realist short story collection THREE DANCES, the literary fantasy novel SOULWOVEN, and various and other sundries –www.jeff-seymour.com