We don’t know who first said that you should never judge a book by its cover, but its safe to say that they were not in the bookselling business. A great cover is key to a successful novel, and getting the cover copy right is a vital part of this.
Cover copy, commonly known as the blurb, is the text on the back of your book. It is your “elevator pitch” to the reader, your twenty-second window grab their attention and convince them that they need to read your book. So how do you hook them?
Ideally you might want to start with a logline, a single sentence that sums up the entire novel. This might be an actual synopsis like:
She said she wouldn’t date him if he was the last man on earth…and now he is!
Another great option is to use a line from the book itself, assuming that you have one really succinct line that sums up the whole novel.
This logline is just a way to grab attention so that they will go on to read the rest of your cover copy. The ideal blurb is around 200 words broken up into three or four paragraphs, giving your reader a strong flavor of the book but leaving them curious to find out what’s inside. What to include is entirely up to you but remember you’ll need to convey the following:
Even if you think your genre is obvious from the cover design, don’t be afraid to explicitly state it in your cover copy. Also, try to write your copy in the same genre as your novel: for a thriller, use taut language focusing on action; for romance, use evocative language and focus on relationships.
The particular tone you use in the novel can play a big part in keeping your readers hooked, and the cover copy should give them a taste of that tone. This is especially important in a well-defined genre like crime, romance or sci-fi, where readers have a vague idea of the story you’re going to tell, but want to know how you’re going to tell it.
The one thing that sells books in any genre is this: a terrific protagonist. Your hero or heroine is going to be your reader’s new best friend if they read this book, so you have to make it clear why they would want to meet this person. Who are they and what makes them unique?
Fitting your plot into the cover copy can be a real challenge. The best advice is to not try to summarize it as such, but to pick out a few key plot elements and include those. What challenges will your protagonist face? What dangers must be survived, what questions must be answered? In essence, what elements of the plot drive your hero on through the novel? Focus on those, and it should help drive potential readers to the cash register.
Any pre-publication praise you’ve received can go at the end of your cover copy and this can help sell novels. But the quality of the praise is important. Unless the praise is coming from a household name, try to state exactly what qualifies them to offer an expert opinion. For example, if the praise is from another author, be sure to put Author of… after their name. Reviews are even better and if you can include the name of the publication it lends a real legitimacy to your book.
Writing your cover copy might seem like a small job after you’ve completed an entire novel, but getting it right can take a long time. Be sure to show it to others for feedback and tweak every single word until it’s just perfect. Good luck!
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