How to Write Compelling Jacket Copy for Your Book

Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan Book

The back cover is where you convince readers to buy. One trick that many writers use is to craft a compelling description before writing the manuscript because it can help to know what to focus on when developing the manuscript. You have a very limited amount of space on the back of your book so every word counts. The ultimate goal is to entice your target audience and convince them to purchase your book. With this in mind, here are some guidelines:

Research Other Books – Start by reading the jacket copy on other books, especially from books in the same genre as yours. Find out how other authors position their books and what benefits they highlight. This will help you get a better understanding of what jacket copy should look like. It can also help you identify ways that your book is different from your competitors, which you’ll want to emphasize when writing your copy. You can also do much of this research on Amazon since most book listings feature the back-cover copy or an expanded version of the back-cover copy.

Start Writing – Write a compelling, and brief, opening paragraph. Draw readers in by identifying them directly, and then help them relate to the solutions offered by your book. Starting with a question can also help readers relate.

Here are some real-world examples:

“Advances in behavioral sciences are giving us an ever better understanding of how our brains work, why we make the choices we do, and what it takes for us to be at our best. But it has not always been easy to see how to apply these insights in the real world—until now.”

How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life by Caroline Webb

“Anarchy is coming. Decentralization is accelerating, and technology is facilitating the trend. Nobody trusts traditional institutions or authority figures anymore. Bitcoin, open source, Uber, social media and the Arab Spring are all examples of anarchy in action. Tomorrow’s leaders need to understand these trends if they wish to thrive in a decentralized economy.”

Anarchy, Inc.: Profiting in a Decentralized World with Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain by Patrick Schwerdtfeger

“Do you feel frustrated because you can’t seem to finish every item on your daily to-do lists? Do you feel discouraged because you’re not effectively managing your workload and responsibilities at your office and home? If so, it’s not your fault.”

To-Do List Formula: A Stress-Free Guide to Creating To-Do Lists that Work! by Damon Zahariades

For narrative nonfiction, the jacket copy needs to captivate readers:

“Is it possible for humans to discover the key to happiness through a bigger-than-life, bad-boy dog? Just ask the Grogans.”

Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan

“Candy Montgomery and Betty Gore had a lot in common: They sang together in the Methodist church choir, their daughters were best friends, and their husbands had good jobs working for technology companies in the north Dallas suburbs known as Silicon Prairie. But beneath the placid surface of their seemingly perfect lives, both women simmered with unspoken frustrations and unanswered desires.”

Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs by John Bloom and Jim Atkinson

“Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime? These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and whose conclusions turn conventional wisdom on its head.”

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Focus on Benefits – For prescriptive nonfiction, you should highlight benefits that the reader will enjoy, ideally in a bulleted list following the introductory paragraph. To uncover the benefits in your book, identify what problems your book solves for readers. If you wrote a time management book, your benefits might look like this:

Time Management Mastery will teach you how to:

  • Reclaim two hours from each and every day (without getting up earlier!).
  • Empty that inbox once and for all—and keep it under control forever.
  • Improve your productivity by 500% with one simple change.
  • Reduce your stress by starting a simple daily habit.

Note how each item above promises to improve the reader’s life in some way. This is a basic sales technique when convincing someone to buy just about any product, service or book.

For narrative nonfiction, you may not overtly list the reader benefits, but you still need to think about what’s in it for the reader. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How will the reader be entertained?
  • What will the reader learn as a result of my story?
  • What kind of journey will the reader be taken on?

The jacket copy for Jeannette Walls’ Glass Castle, a memoir that spent over seven years on the New York Times Best Sellers list, hooks the reader by answering the questions above. See for yourself:

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing—a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

Walls’ description is enticing and relatable—anyone who has ever been part of a dysfunctional family will likely relate. It also promises to be hopeful, so that the reader will be inspired. This is the magic formula needed to make truly great jacket copy.

End with a Call to Action – After your list of benefits or your compelling description, wrap up your copy with a strong call to action. That means that you are going to ask the reader for the sale (the gentle art of persuasion). Here are some examples:

  • If you’re ready to take back control of your life, you need this book!
  • Never before has anyone revealed so many inside secrets to the industry. Can you afford not to buy this book?
  • This book will show you exactly what it takes to lose 10 pounds in 30 days—so don’t waste another moment!
  • Don’t miss this opportunity to learn the proven system to make more money while working fewer hours. This book will change your life!

For historical books, memoir, and narrative nonfiction, your call to action will be subtle. In the example above from Jeannette Walls, the final sentence draws in the reader, with the goal of making her want to buy the book:

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing—a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

If this is your first time writing sales copy, you may want to hire a copywriter or an experienced editor to review your work and offer suggestions for improvement. The sales copy for your book can have a huge impact on a potential reader’s decision to buy your book or move on to something else. Make sure your copy reflects the best your book has to offer.

This article is an excerpt from The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan: The Professional Guide to Profitable Self-Publishing by Stephanie Chandler and Karl W. Palachuk. Get your copy: http://nonfictionbookpublishing.com.

How to Write Compelling Jacket Copy for Your Book

1 Comment on "How to Write Compelling Jacket Copy for Your Book"

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  1. Holly Martin says:

    This was timely and helpful, thanks!

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