First things first, WHAT IS A COVER COPY?!
A Cover Copy is the same thing as a Back Cover Copy or a Book Blurb. They all mean the same thing. It's the description on the back of the book (or more often found on your Amazon book page) that tells the reader what the book is about and entices them to buy it. For many authors this is the bane of their existence. How are they supposed to take 120k words and condense them into 250 in a way that doesn't spoil the plot twist, but keeps readers engaged and effectively sells the premise of their book.
Well, that's what I'm here for. Cover Copies are actually a specialty of mine. I professionally write cover copies for authors and coach them on how to write them through the editing services on my website, and if you're interested in having me look at yours, just reach out to me and I'd be happy to help. But the goal of this article is to help you get a foundation to be able to write and edit your own.
WHY IS THE COVER COPY IMPORTANT?
That's easy enough. It's one of the biggest selling features of your novel and a marketing tool that will turn book browsers into loyal readers. Think about it. Your cover is the first thing that potential readers will see, and if that's done right then the first place that reader will go is to the description. It's there where you'll either make the sale or they'll pass on the opportunity to read your book. It's the key to making sure you're getting the right readers, and they aren't overlooking your masterpiece because of common mistakes in amateur cover copies.
WHERE DO I START?
So we start with the one-line hook at the beginning of the cover copy. This can be in the form of a poignant question connecting the theme or main conflict of the book to the tone you set in your writing. Or it can be the witty tagline that you spent days and hours and months agonizing over. It can even be a salacious or intriguing statement that makes the reader desperate to know more. Here are some examples of this from popular books:
I’m a Gemini. Impulsive. Curious. Headstrong. A twin. Heir to a throne I know nothing about. And it turns out, I’m Fae.
-Zodiac Academy by Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti
This is a great example of a statement hook, a strong statement that keeps the readers invested in what else will be revealed about the main conflict, the main character, or the premise of the book leading up to the catalyst moment.
Can there be any greater challenge to London's Ambitious Mamas than an unmarried duke?—Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, April 1813
-The Duke & I, Bridgerton Series Book #1 by Julia Quinn
This is a great example of a question hook, usually a rhetorical question positing a hypothetical scenario to the audience to pique their interest. This should relate to the main conflict, main character, and theme of the book. It should also be written in the same tone and style as the one cultivated in your novel. That goes for the entirety of the cover copy regardless of how you choose to begin it.
First drink. First prank. First friend. First love. Last words.
-Looking for Alaska by John Green
This is not a perfect example of a tagline hook, but I think it gets the message across just the same. You can use the tagline for your novel as the hook line for your cover copy but these are by far the hardest to pull off. The tagline of your novel has to be exactly what's needed to hook your audience to act as the first line of your cover copy. And typically taglines are there to support the title on your cover, so this can be hit or miss.
***I've included this graphic in case anyone needed to know which elements of the story structure I will reference in the rest of this article. This is from Save The Cat, which I find is one of the most widespread methods so I'm hoping this will help make certain parts of the article more clear. Please let me know if you have any questions.***
Once you've figured out a great first line, a hook, the key to grabbing the readers attention and keeping them invested... the real fun begins. This is where you lead into the body of your cover copy and depending on what type of novel you've written it'll determine exactly how this next part is structured.
For example, if you've written a novel in 1st perspective with dual POV's (i.e.- a female and male protagonist with alternating chapters) your structure may look like this:
Description of 1st characters main conflict, flaws, etc and the problems they're trying to overcome.
Description of 2nd characters main conflict, flaws, etc and the problems they're trying to overcome.
BONUS POINTS IF THOSE THINGS IN STEPS #1 & #2 PUT THOSE CHARACTERS AT ODDS. MENTION THIS HERE.
Witty last statement playing on the first line hook, and the stakes set up through to the catalyst. Can also be another rhetorical question here depending on tone.
Or it could look like a short two-paragraph summary of the story for the first 20% of the novel ending at the catalyst moment to build suspense with a great ending line if it's a standalone single perspective book.
So there's a lot of different ways this part can be structured and of course, like everything in writing and life... it's all subjective. People love to give advice like the steps above and claim it's the best way, the standard, the formula if you will for writing successful cover copies but the truth of the matter that there is no EXACTLY perfect way to do anything. There's just doing the very best you can for the book you created, because it and you are unique and your cover copy should be also.
So please make sure you're taking all of this advice with a grain of salt and remembering that there is never just ONE WAY to do anything. And if something doesn't sound right or isn't working well for YOUR book, then speak up. You know it best. Because you created it.
HOW DO YOU END IT?
Alright, before I get lost in my own sentimental ramblings let's talk about how to end your cover copy. I alluded to some of this in the steps listed in the section above this one. The last line is almost as important as the first line. It's what summarizes, propels, and hooks the potential reader in at the last moment that makes them curious enough to click the button or bring the book to the counter and make the sale.
If your readers have made it to the last line of your cover copy then chances are good that you'll be converting interest into sales but the final push to making that sale is in the very last line. Does it have enough mystery, suspense, tension, pose an interesting enough question to leave the readers wanting to know more? If the answer is no, then you should probably try re-writing it.
Some of my favorite last lines in cover copy's do one of two things; pose an open-ended question or tie it all back in to the first line hook at the beginning. There's a lot of great ways you can end your cover copy but these are my favorite because it seems polished, professional, and like a lot of thought went into the cover copy to make sure its consistent from beginning to end. Again, there's a million ways to do anything and they're all right when it comes to writing but those are the ones that I tend to use the most or that make the most sen
se to me.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
So, all the elements of a good cover copy are there, now you have to put it all together. A great first line hook, a solidly structured and unique body, and an ending line that will send readers running to the 'Add to Cart' button. Did I mention this all needed to happen in 250 words or less? So yeah, it's definitely not easy, but it's not impossible either. It's just another writing exercise. Another skill to master, another tool in our author-ly tool kit. But I have faith that you can do it. After all, if you can write a full-length novel, a cover copy is going to be a piece of cake. Just remember, this isn't about explaining your complex world-building, original mythological lore, or unraveling the complexities of the morally grey character's backstory... they can read all about that when they buy your book. Over and over and over again.
This is about accurately and succinctly describing the main stakes, conflicts, themes, etc. in your novel up until the catalyst moment and going NO FURTHER THAN THAT. If you can do that... you'll be just fine. And if you still have questions or can't seem to get it right... reach out to me and get on my calendar. I'd be more than happy to help! :)