Rachel is dead on when she says creating a good cover is half the battle of hooking a new reader. The back cover copy is definitely the other half.
I use the phrases “promotional copy” and “back cover copy” pretty much interchangeably. I probably shouldn’t, if only because there are so many other areas of promotion I might write copy for other than product descriptions. But when we first started working on the book listings for Consortium Books, I started to think of the product description on Amazon as doing essentially the same job as the copy on the back cover of a dead tree book.
Think about it. The cover is the first thing that catches your eye on the shelf, but if it latches on hard enough to make you pick it up, you immediately flip it over. Same thing with the thumbnail covers on Amazon and the click-through, or at least it is for me. If I’m intrigued by the cover, then I want a little deeper information to make a purchasing decision. And that’s where the back cover (promotional) copy comes in.
And because the cover and promo copy are so intertwined, I’m going to refer heavily to Rachel’s post from Tuesday.
Color and Background
Just like the front cover, color and background are a huge part of the back cover copy. And I mean it just as literally as Rachel did…although I’m thinking of slightly different definitions of the words. The promo copy should give us some ideas about the themes and tones of the work (the color) as well as some basic information about the story’s setting (the background). Let’s take a look at Rachel’s example, George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.
Nature out of balance, winter for effectively ever, sinister forces, and a “harsh and unyielding” family named Stark. I also see words like brutal, epicurean, assassins, bastards, and grim. I can make a few likely stabs at the themes of this book, but the tone is right there on the label. This is going to be a story where hard people do hard things during hard times…plus magic. That’s pretty strong stuff.
I’m not going to talk about what type to use on your promo copy. I mean, I think that’s important, but I also think that’s usually a graphic designer issue. But the question of “what order do we put things in to create the best language?” can certainly be addressed in your promo copy.
For instance, the edition Rachel discusses is for after Game of Thrones had become a big success. Obviously, there were people just hearing the name who might need some ground rules set (hence the Color and Background), but it also needs to cater to people who have become George R.R. Martin fans. So, much like the front cover draws more attention to the author than the title, the promotional copy finishes up with a strong paragraph about Martin.
Here is the first volume in George R. R. Martin’s magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. As a whole, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, bringing together the best the genre has to offer. Magic, mystery, intrigue, romance, and adventure fill these pages and transport us to a world unlike any we have ever experienced. Already hailed as a classic, George R. R. Martin’s stunning series is destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.
Take a look at that, will you? Martin’s name is placed alongside magnificent, masterpiece, classic, stunning, and “one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.” It also manages to name drop the other books in the series. That is definitely the best language to butter up Martin fans.
As far as the promo copy, Composition speaks to what you put where and why. For instance, you’ve caught a potential reader’s eye with the cover, they flip the book, and -BAM- you hit them with that first paragraph with all the tone and themes. If the cover is the hook, then this is where you see if the bait tastes good to them.
And for the people who may have heard of this Martin fella, you’ve got the final paragraph that will hopefully sell the idea that he’s as good an author as everyone says. Or for the hardcore Martin fan, that same paragraph strokes the ego and makes them feel good about picking up another Martin book.
Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.
Honestly, I find this to be kind of a mess. I don’t understand what they mean by “no human metal,” “wildlings,” or “dragon prince.” An awful lot of it reads like interesting bits that are also spoilers so all the interesting has been drained out of them. The title of the book gets dropped and I like that, but the whole thing would be stronger if that last sentence were attached to the first paragraph and the rest of this one were skipped.
Still, like Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad. And the copywriter did a helluva job on two of the three paragraphs, even if you think the final one oversells things a bit. I’d overall call this good, but some judicious editing could have made it very good, possibly even great.
This post should have given you a taste of the importance of back cover copy along with some tips of how to make your own better. And it’s something you should practice at. Remember, it’s the other half of the battle.
Joshua Unruh is the Marketing Czar for the Consortium and author of the grim fantasy Saga of the Myth Reaver: Downfall. Every Thursday he shares an article about marketing, sales, and product promotion in the new book market.