The content and business information on a book’s back cover will determine whether a store will sell the book and whether someone will buy it. Knowing the basics required for a back cover are essential for getting your book the attention it deserves.
After the front cover, which grabbed the customer’s eye and got him or her to pick up your book, the back cover is the most important part—if your back cover doesn’t grab the reader’s attention, the book will go back on the shelf rather than into the shopping cart.
The number of books printed with blank back covers constantly amazes me. If you don’t tell me what your book is about, I have no reason to buy it. Most people are in a hurry—they aren’t going to take the time in the store to open the book and read several pages to find out what you have to say. If you don’t grab them with the back cover, you aren’t going to make a sale.
What do you need on the back cover? There are some practical business items required, besides fantastic content.
The Practical Items:
To get a store to carry your book, you need an ISBN number, a barcode, the book’s price, and its category.
An ISBN number is the International Standard Book Number that allows bookstores to list your book in their databases and to order your book. It differentiates your book from all other books out there, including ones with similar titles. Although 10-digit numbers were common in the past, today an ISBN has 13 digits, and it is located above the barcode.
The barcode is that little white box with black stripes and a lot of numbers. It is what allows the store to scan your book so the price doesn’t have to be rung up manually. Without an ISBN and a barcode, a store is unlikely to want your book because it creates problems for entering the book into the store’s database.
The price should also be on your book. Customers do not like to ask how much something is, and price is always a deciding factor for whether a sale is made.
Finally, you need to list the book’s category on the back. At the very least, it should state “Fiction” or “Nonfiction” but most of the time it would also have a subcategory such as “Historical Fiction,” “Mystery,” “Romance,” “Humor,” “Travel” etc. This listing is very important because it tells bookstores where to put the book in the store. If a store doesn’t know where your book belongs, it may choose not to carry the book, or the store may put your book in the wrong section, in which case the store might as well not carry it because no one will find it.
Bottom line, if you don’t have these four items on your back cover, you probably aren’t going to get any stores to sell your books, no matter how wonderful your book’s content.
A few different parts of the back cover’s content can make it effective.
The worst thing to do, in my opinion, is simply to have a string of endorsements on the back cover praising your book. Only to read, “Terrific. Fantastic! A must-read!” will frustrate customers because those descriptions don’t tell them what the book is about, and while some people will buy books based on these blurbs, I suspect other readers prefer to decide for themselves and don’t read the endorsements, so walk the fine line here. I suggest you include no more than three endorsements on the back cover. If you collect more, put them on the inside front pages or in your marketing pieces. Make sure also to get endorsements from people who are well-known experts in the area in which you are writing. If you’ve written a cookbook, an endorsement from Julia Child will help. An endorsement from Dr. Phil probably won’t. Also, make sure you plan well ahead so you have several months to let people read your manuscript and give you endorsements.
You may choose to quote a passage from the book. It needs to be a key passage, one that catches the reader’s attention right away. For example: “Gerald was struggling to keep his head above water. Clara did not know what to do. He was clearly drowning, and she could not swim. There was no boat nearby. No life preserver to throw. Had they spent all these years separated and longing for one another only to have it end like this?” The passage should only be a few lines, a very short paragraph at most. You can italicize it or set off the font somehow from the rest of the writing on the back, or simply put a tagline under it clarifying it’s a quote from your book. Usually, this passage should go above the descriptive paragraphs about the book.
The most important part of the content is one or two paragraphs that describe what the book is about. This content must grab the reader’s attention. If the book is fiction, the copy should give a basic idea of the plot and what is at stake for the character. For example, “Flossie Snow had it all—money, good looks, and glamour—everything that is except the man she loved. When Rick told her he could only love a woman who liked to do yoga, Flossie did her best, but she was just not flexible. How could Flossie make Rick see there was more to life than just yoga?” Okay, admittedly cheesy, but you get the idea. Character has a problem—how is the problem going to be solved? It helps if the reader can relate to the character, so women frustrated in love are going to want to read about Flossie, hoping they’ll learn from her how to get a man themselves.
If the book is non-fiction, it’s the reader you want to assume has the problem. You, the author, must convince the reader you can solve that problem. For example, if you wrote a self-help book, your back cover copy might read something like, “Do you want more time, money, and happiness in your life? Joe Dollar spent years studying economics and Ancient Eastern wisdom to learn how spirituality can make you rich. Let Joe show you how to live the life you’ve always wanted.” Again, cheesy, but you get the point. Other types of non-fiction should follow the same example. Whatever your topic, your book is going to provide a solution to the reader’s problem, however broadly you want to define “problem.” If your book is about wildflowers of North America, your back cover might read, “Do you get confused between a daffodil and a dandelion? Do you ever see flowers in the wild and wonder what they are called? This book, with its easy index, photographs, and flower descriptions will help you to identify more than 500,000 varieties of wildflowers in North America so you never need to wonder again.”
Be sure to write several versions of your back cover copy to try different approaches. Look at similar books to yours and decide which back cover copy works and which doesn’t. Look at the books you own and try to recall what made you buy them—including whether the back cover helped you make the decision. Then use why you bought certain books as research for why people will buy your book.
Finally, depending on your book’s subject and the amount of space left, it’s optional whether you decide to include your photograph and a brief author biography on the back cover. If you don’t have room, include these items in the book’s final pages or the inside back cover. If you are writing a non-fiction book, your biography may help prove you are an expert in the field so it may convince the reader you have information to help them, in which case, put it on the back cover. If you are writing fiction, you may choose to leave your photo and biography off the back cover so you can provide more room to describe your book.
A back cover that meets the standards required of book stores and also meets the needs or desires of readers is what will be effective enough to move your book off store shelves. It is the place to do your very best writing so people will say, “I have to read this book!”
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.