Good cover copy, the description of your book that appears on the back and on the pages of online stores, is critical. It’s your best opportunity—and sometimes the only one—to snag your reader’s attention and convince them to take a chance on your book.
So how can you get it right?
As with so much in book marketing, you need to start with research. Look at the cover copy of other books in your genre. Analyse the language they use and the tone they set. Consider which appeal to you, which don’t, and what made the difference. Ask friends with similar tastes to offer their opinions. It’s all part of understanding your audience.
You’re trying to show readers why they should be interested in your book. You want to evoke the sort of experience the book will give rather than directly stating what the tone is or how readers should feel. You want to end on an exciting hook that will leave them wanting more.
What you don’t want is to give too much away. If your cover copy gives spoilers for important plot turns then readers will feel disappointed at missing out on the surprise.
Be honest. Giving a false impression of your book might draw in readers who wouldn’t touch it otherwise, but it will mean that they are disappointed. That will lead to bad reviews that kill your sales. Meanwhile, that false impression will put off the readers you really want.
The First Sentence
A lot of the time you spend on your cover copy should go into the first sentence. This is the part that most people will read and that will decide if they carry on through the rest of your pitch. It should set the tone, indicating something about the setting, the genre, and the central character. It should intrigue the casual reader with these details.
It’s a tall order, especially when you don’t want to go on too long. That’s why you should spend the most time on that first sentence.
People read stories for the sake of the characters. Making your protagonist sound appealing is the best way to get people interested.
Your cover copy should therefore give some indication of who the protagonist is – what’s distinctive about them, what’s attractive, what do they want from life?
Desire is particularly important. What people want tells us a lot about them and in the context of a story indicates what they will be doing. Is your protagonist looking for true love, an end to war, or the biggest diamond heist in history? Whatever it is, it should drive your story and it should appear in the cover copy.
What turns a desire into a story is the struggle the character faces to fulfil their aims. That struggle should appear in your cover copy. Tell readers what the protagonist is trying to do and what stands in their way.
If there’s an antagonist then you could intrigue readers with a hint at their charm, power, menace, or whatever makes them tick. If the struggle is against the environment then foreshadow the storm, crash, eruption, or other disaster coming their way.
Show what’s at stake through this struggle, what the protagonist has to lose or gain. This way the readers will see that something exciting is coming and have a reason to care about it.
Finish your description of the story with a hook. This could be a question about what will happen or a hint of mystery. If possible, tie it into the protagonist’s character arc and the way they will have to change to succeed.
This should raise more questions in the reader’s mind and leave them wanting more.
If you have positive quotes from reviews of your book, or of a previous book, then consider including a few after the description. This shows that other people enjoyed your work, providing social proof that it’s worth reading.
Apart from the quotes, all of this description should come to perhaps five sentences. It’s a lot to cram in, and you may find yourself cutting out huge swathes of description. But the more succinct you are, and the more compellingly you describe your book, the more readers you will get.