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Back Cover Copy Guidelines for Publishers – Part Two: Fiction

March 29, 2011


The Mabinogion - there are many versions of this classic collection so which do you choose? Back cover copy is the key for fiction publishers

Apologies to subscribers for the delay in posting Part 2 of our guide to copywriting for back cover copy – events conspired against me last week in posting this so I dusted it down and here you are!

Works of fiction are a much harder sell than non-fiction. Why? Because there is no fundamental need to read books of this kind beyond escapism and relaxation. Fiction, from a marketer’s point of view, is a difficult sell because the copywriter needs to grasp the conceit of the novel and then make it credible to the casual reader. Enough to make the reader pick up the book and, hopefully purchase. That’s a hard task.

Yet back cover copy for fiction books can be structured to give the writer the best chance of convincing the reader. Not forgetting of course that back cover copy is a key part of brand strategy – it’s a unique opportunity for a fiction publisher to tell the story of their brand, as well as selling the book, its characters and the author. So, here’s the approach.

Fiction books demand that readers are engaged, intrigued enough to purchase. As with non-fiction, it’s important to understand the persona of a target audience: who are you writing for, what are their likely “hot buttons”, if you were them, what would you be looking for? With this in mind, the structure is formulaic but crucial:

The first two paragraphs need to introduce the reader to the characters: who are they; why are they involved; where are they? These crucial two paragraphs have to work very hard – if the situation is engaging, you can then move to the third paragraph.

The third paragraph is the Big Hook. Having described the situation facing the main characters, you now deliver the central theme of the book: what’s in the way? A sadistic headmaster? A scheming governess? A spurned former lover? The deviant terms of a deceased person’s will? If this paragraph fails to intrigue, the likelihood of the reader buying the book will be reduced. Challenges sell books.

Having got this far, it’s time for the close paragraph. Here you ask a question about the protagonists and the problem they face. Will Charlie and Ellie rescue Danny from the predatory sadism of Master Von Grolsch? How can Mary and Beryl convince their widowed mother that the governess Mrs Croup is conspiring with her lawyer to take over ownership of the house? These questions are designed as cliff hangers – you’ll only find out the answers if you read the book.

So, you’ve now got the reader wanting to buy the book. Now is the more subtle art of selling the author and your brand. It’s crucial to do both at this stage because if this is the first time your prospective reader has discovered either the author or your company, you need to engage them enough to want more.

Why is it important to do both? If the author is new, there might be nothing to say about them which is convincing beyond describing them as “a major new talent”. So, having a line about your company and the type of work it publishes, helps the reader be convinced that this book forms part of a greater brand experience. Not forgetting it works the other way – once you have a good, long-term author, it pays to promote your brand alongside them to engage readers in your quality of custodianship.

Finally, as with any sales copy, if you have testimonials – use them! Good reviews and plaudits – provided they are credible (i.e. considered praise not OTT) – give you the final push to get the reader to purchase. But always have the courage to reject testimonials if they damn with faint praise – readers will see through this a mile off.

I hope this helps you in your quest to sell more books in difficult times. Do contact me for more information if you wish.

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