Front Cover Copy for Book Covers
This section is designed to help you use copy effectively on your book covers. I can’t offer you tips for creating a clever title or a descriptive subtitle; that’s up to you. And depending on your genre, clever and descriptive might not be the way to go. What I can do is provide you with information for using copy on your book covers and tips for creating promotional or informational copy that will make your designs more professional.
For more on point size, typeface, or text positioning, see links to other articles (found at the end of this one).
When self-publishers first discovered the opportunities available to them on Amazon, they found that including tons of key phrases and search words in the title (and subtitle) improved search results and increased book sales. The upside was more influence over their success. The downside was embarrassingly long titles for self-published books, and generally hideous book covers.
Eventually, Amazon caught on and stopped relying on title words for search results, making extra long titles pointless and absurd. As Amazon operates today, independent publishers can safely embrace the sanity of a reasonable title, just like everyone else in the industry.
Unless the author is incredibly famous and world-known, the title remains the most important copy on front covers and should be the most visible text element. However, only two or three key words of the title (those most likely to pique your target buyer’s interest) should be large enough to read on a thumbnail.
By making key words bigger and less significant words smaller, the most important words become prominent and easy to identify. Book covers that use this stratgey are also easier to remember.
For example, the book to the left is titled The Power of Habit, but at a glance, or on a thumbnail, we see Habit. We don’t need to read the other words to make an accurate guess at what the book’s about. And, because reading one word is faster than reading four, we know the topic as soon as we look at the cover.
An effective subtitle most often serves as a very short description of the book’s material or main goal. The words should be sized much smaller than the main title. They should be visible on the book cover’s thumbnail, but not necessarily readable—meaning you should be able to see that lines of text are printed on the cover, but, unless you have exceptional vision, you shouldn’t quite be able to make them out. This will allow your key title words to maintain their prominence, while giving the reader a reason to look closer.
The cover image above offers a great example. The subtitle is sandwiched near the top of the page, between the word Habit and the graphics. You can clearly see that it’s present, but on a thumbnail it’s too small for most people to read. Book covers with overly prominent subtitles usually appear too busy and come across unprofessional.
Unless the author is as well known as Dean Koontz or Michael Jordan, the text of the author’s name should be similar in size to that of the subtitle. (I often use the exact same point size for them on book covers) It should be visible on the thumbnail, but not necessarily readable.
Other Text for Book Covers
Professionally produced book covers tend to have more information on the front than their self-published counterparts. In some cases a lot more.
Walk through a bookstore and you’ll notice it right away—it’s the copy in 10-12 point, and on some books there’s tons of it. One reason is that major publishers know the value of additional copy. Another is that these books often have more to say, or at least more to brag about:
- New York Times bestseller
- Author of (previously published title)
- Award winning author…
- “One of the most exciting books of the year…”
- Winner of the Man Booker Prize
- “A thrill ride that will keep you guessing to the end.”
Recognition breeds buyer confidence, which is why major publishers are willing to slather a beautiful cover design with positive endorsements, previous successes, and author qualifications. Designers hate this stuff, but executives love it because it boosts sales for the book covers that have it..
If your book was nominated or honored with an award (even if the contest was obscure or unknown), publicize the victory regardless of its size or significance. Your book covers will look stronger and your readers will be impressed. People like to be part of success, and consumers feel good about purchasing products that others have deemed valuable or worthy.
Endorsements and blurbs are similarly persuasive—even when the reader is not familiar with the name behind the praise. Famous endorsements are fantastic, but positive reviews from unknown people are powerful and are often just as convincing. Don’t believe it? Consider the impact of Amazon product reviews. The contributors rarely use their own names, yet their opinions can make or break a book. The strongest selling book covers invariably contain praise.
Along the same lines, if you’ve published a previous title, especially one that relates in some way to your current book, make it known. (It’s not a bad idea to keep similar appearances on both book covers for branding.) Even if the first one didn’t generate strong sales, authors who produce more than one title are perceived as more successful. Given a choice, shoppers are more likely to buy from multi-book authors than from those who are less established, which is why successful first-time authors are almost always offered contracts for another book. The successive books often sell more than the first. (If you haven’t started your second book, now you have one more reason.)
The kind of text we’re talking about here isn’t (and shouldn’t be) legible on a thumbnail. It’s worth including on book covers because the presence of additional copy looks professional and improves buyer confidence. Thanks to conditioning, we have come to expect it on professional book covers, and it often provides information we believe we need. Knowing the material is available on the cover, even if we can’t read it on the thumbnail, reassures us of a book’s credibility.
Great Book Covers with Nothing to Say?
On the other hand, say you don’t have exciting news to boast or a strong endorsement to advertise, and your previous title in no way relates to your current book. How do you include this kind of copy if you’re new to self-publishing or don’t fell you have anything to say? You do what the pros do. You get creative.
Major publishers often employ additional copy on book covers for lesser-known titles or unknown authors, and you can too. For instance, if the writer isn’t previously published, or lacks notable credentials, marketing executives look for something else to say. Instead of “award-winning author”, such book covers will read something more like, “break-out novelist and mesmeric writer”. Instead of “practicing physician and certified nutritionist”, they will say, “health and nutrition expert”.
For creative writers, the task shouldn’t be too difficult. Steer clear, however, of misleading or false information. Nothing destroys credibility faster than dishonesty. If the statement is accurate and you have evidence to support it, you can (and should) use it on your book covers. Additional copy that engages the reader adds value to your book and increases book sales. Include it, even when you don’t have the most impressive thing to say.
Use a Quote
If you are unable to secure blurbs prior to publishing, find a quote from a credible source that addresses your topic. For example, a book about the rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria could include a quote from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) about the prevalence of the problem. As long as the quote is not made to appear as an endorsement of the book itself, it’s perfectly okay to use it.
For fiction, where a reputable quote about the genre is unlikely to make sense, write a slogan for your book that works like a quote. For example, a moving story that will haunt you in your sleep. It takes the place of a quote and provides information about the book.
Alternatively, book covers can include a brief book description. If the subtitle is long enough, format it to look like an explanation of the material.
Additional text elements should be in 10-12 point type, and multiple lines of copy should be spaced between 1.3 and 2 (double-spaced). This applies to all tertiary copy, including reviews, quotes, descriptions, and author credentials.
Back Cover Copy
Because the back cover is usually the last piece of promotional material that a buyer reads before making a decision, the copy should tip the scales in favor of a purchase. This can be done in one of two ways. The first is with endorsements. Reviews and blurbs are often the most persuasive selling points on a back cover, and it’s common to see them fill up the majority of the page. If you have the good fortune to garner some positive reviews before your book goes to print, be sure to include them on the back.
The second way to tip the buying scales is through an enticing book description. Usually written in paragraph form, a well-crafted book description informs and persuades the reader. For non-fiction, that means clearly defined facts that are easy to locate. For fiction, it means just enough information to peak curiosity, without giving too much away. This back cover excerpt from a recent bestseller provides a great example:
“In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler…”
This elegant description reads like an endorsement that offers a glimpse of the story, and compliments the writing style in the same breath.
Once the description and/or endorsements are in place, a brief biography of the author brings a sense of personalization or validity. This can be an especially important part of the back cover for non-fiction titles, where the writer’s qualifications and expertise count. The author bio for the bestselling book Wheat Belly, below, offers a case in point:
“William Davis, MD, is a preventive cardiologist whose unique approach to diet allows him to advocate reversal, not just prevention, of heart disease.”
The bio provides just enough information about the author’s background to validate the book, but not so much that we become bored by it.
Other components to include on the back cover include the ISBN, barcode, and price, as well as a website, Twitter account, or Facebook page. If you are establishing branding for the publisher, include the publisher name or logo.
Tips for Back Cover Copy
1. Endorsements don’t have to be from famous names to be worthwhile. Treat all back cover blurbs with respect by including the first and last name of the contributor, and a point of reference (a published work, employer, or professional membership). Readers won’t recognize the name, but when presented professionally, a review will carry will more credibility.
2. If you want a quote on your back cover, but don’t have one from a reviewer, consider using a line from the book itself. The best selection will give readers a glimpse of the story and leave them with a sense of anticipation.
3. The top two thirds of the back cover should be reserved for information pertaining to the book in hand, but the lower section can promote other items related to the book. If it makes sense, include your blog, social media links, or other books in the series toward the bottom of the page. Logos, intended for this purpose, are available online for sites like Facebook and Twitter.
4. A few things you should do on the back cover, and a few you should never do:
- Don’t write a Cliff’s Notes version or short synopsis of the story, especially not one that gives away the ending.
- Don’t tell the author’s life story or how s/he got the idea to write the book (unless it’s the inspiration for the book).
- Don’t thank your supporters, argue with your critics, or justify the writing.
- Do use the same colors and type style on the back and front cover.
- Do engage readers’ interest with information or a hook.
- Do include details that will encourage your target audience to buy.
- Do keep the author information brief and do include author credentials for nonfiction.
- Do include positive blurbs. They are more powerful than you know.
- Do use bullet points or numbering to illustrate content for how-to and other nonfiction.
- Do include copy that will entice readers and leave them wanting more.
That’s all for Front and Back Cover Copy for Great Book Covers. Thanks for reading!
Next Article: Copy Placement: Where do the words go?
Previous Article: Kerning and Leading: Spacing Letters and Lines
Other articles that may interest you:
By Stacie Vander Pol