(Adapted from The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living, by Peter Bowerman. Fanove, 2006. www.wellfedsp.com).
Note: The following guidelines for the layout of your back cover are for non-fiction, where my expertise lies. Needless to say, fiction, where you simply need to entrance someone with a good story line, would be different.
Think about how you buy a book. You pick it up, look at the cover, and if you like the visuals, title, and subtitle, it’s because something resonates in you; something about what you see calls to some desire or longing inside you. That desire could be anything. In the case of a novel (or even non-fiction), it might be to have a transcendent reading experience – to be touched, moved, entertained, transported, etc.
If it’s non-fiction, it could be a desire for information about something that is (or sounds) meaningful to you. Or perhaps you want to ease a nagging concern. If the cover and title speaks to that something, to that need, desire, concern or interest, it’s the beginning of a “Hmmmmmm…” A kernel of hope starts to stir. You’re daring to imagine that this book will address that desire, uncertainty, or concern.
Now, the reader is looking for confirmation of this growing sense of hope. “Tell me I’m right. Tell me you can do what I’m hoping you can do.” Their next move is to flip the book over, and think – most likely unconsciously – “Okay, sell me.” At this point, you don’t want to give them a reason to put it down. Gee, and you thought it was just a back cover! I bet you had no idea that so much was at stake.
Let’s take a look at the back cover of my first book: The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less. If you don’t have it, go to www.Amazon.com, look it up, click the “Look Inside!” feature, and take a peek at the backside (and this Amazon feature reminds us that a powerfully written back cover is equally valuable for both physical and online marketing).
1) Upper Left Corner: Category. Check the books in your genre in the bookstore and notice what’s most appropriate to put in that spot.
2) Top-Center Headline: a strong attention-getting headline/sub-head that makes a claim, asks a question, or piques your prospect’s interest in some other way. My headline/sub-head:
Corporate America Wants Freelancers – Full or Part-Time!
Do You Dream of Being a Well-Paid Freelance Writer and Want to Do It Fast?
3) Sales Copy: Immediately below the headline/sub-head is the benefits-oriented section of the copy that talks to them and gets their attention. In this case, it’s where I let buyers find themselves in my list of target audiences. This is the benefits-oriented (about them, and what’s important to them) section of the copy that talks to them and gets their attention.
Once I have their attention, I move on to the next chunks – the features section (about the book and its contents) – fleshing out the story by establishing “the opportunity” that exists in the marketplace and outlining how my book can show them exactly what they need to do to capitalize on that opportunity. The idea is to take them through the logical mental steps necessary to lead to a book purchase.
Anyone who’s gotten to the back cover copy has, arguably, qualified themselves as being “in the market” for a book like this. Ergo, we need to maximize this golden “captive audience” opportunity.
4) Author Bio: Include a brief bio that establishes your credentials for being able to write such a book (also features). You want people to think, “Impressive…”
5) Testimonials: You want to include at least one, perhaps more, blurbs from “key influencers” in your industry – people who will mean something to your target audience. Bob Bly, the freelance writing guru, was my headliner on the front page.
6) Web Address: A “Duh,” perhaps, but include your URL prominently. Mine’s below my bio. If someone chooses not to buy it right there in the store or on Amazon, I’ve given them the key to more information (and I’ve heard from web buyers telling me just that). My web site can then take them the rest of the way (and perhaps get them to subscribe to my ezine as well).
All three of my books have a similar look, given that they’re all part of the Well-Fed brand. This clear, clean, bold cover design is not only visually compelling, but the way it’s broken up into sections by color facilitates effective sharing of information in a simple, uncluttered way. This is what a good graphic designer can bring to the table.
Landing the Big-Name Blurb
How to land that marquee blurb? Ask and ye shall receive. Why not shoot high and go after that author or “expert” whose opinion would really mean something to your audience (and translate to much greater book sales)? What’s the worst thing that could happen? No. Or never reply. Big deal. But, what if they say yes? What could it mean? So, ask away. These folks are a lot more accessible than you might imagine.
I have a friend who’s written a number of books in the psychology and relationship genres, and for his latest one, he landed a blurb from “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger. How’d he pull that off? At a book signing for the controversial talkmistress, he simply asked. All he had was a few chapters at that point, but he left them with her assistant and a few months later, got his blurb. And a pretty good one at that.
Controversial is Good
Funny sidebar. I found out about his mini-PR coup when he called to ask my opinion on whether he should actually use it. Seems many of his friends (not in the book business) told him that using it would be the kiss of death, given the public’s mixed feelings about her. Please. Publicity is publicity and even if you don’t like her, it’s still quite impressive that she officially took note of the book with her comment. More importantly, many people do like her, or she wouldn’t be as popular as she is.
Just as important – especially in the case of a how-to book – are organizations or associations that can offer an endorsement or “seal of approval” for your book. In these cases, while the specific name of the person isn’t as crucial as the affiliation, you’ll still want to reach the president, executive director, founder, etc. Never underestimate the desire of these folks to see their name in print.
Here’s a nifty searchable online database for locating contact info on over 14,000 celebrities: www.celebrity-addresses.com. No, you probably won’t get their personal email address, though you will find out how to reach their managers, publicists and agents. You’ll pay $14 a month, but if you can land some big names quickly and cancel before the month’s out, it’s definitely worth it.
NOTE: Allow a month or so to hear back from your “blurbers” after sending galleys out.
There’s an art to writing good back cover copy. Devote some quality time to the process of transforming a relatively small space into a powerful selling tool. If your cover, title and subtitle are clear, catchy, and compelling enough, your potential buyer’s next stop for more information is the back cover. Make it good!
Got a book in you? Can’t land a publisher? Why not do it yourself, and make a living from it? Sound good? Then, check out the free report on self-publishing at www.wellfedsp.com, the home of the 2006 release The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. Author Peter Bowerman is known for the award-winning (and self-published) Well-Fed Writer titles (on the lucrative field of commercial freelancing), which have provided him with a full-time living for over five years. (www.wellfedwriter.com).