I'm not expecting you to read this. It's just an example of a back cover. : )
What is it about a book that grabs your attention, other than the story itself? I was talking to a mystery reader (who just happens to be my daughter), and she said when she’s browsing for books she’ll pick up one with a great cover or a catchy title and proceed to the back cover to see what the book’s about. If the back cover description doesn’t grab her then she puts the book back. That sounds like a pretty simple process of elimination – and it is.
Of course, don’t we all do that? Probably not, but that back cover is so important. As a reader, I want to see what the story is about. If the author gives too much detail it can sometimes give the story away. Not enough detail bores me. There’s got to be a happy medium.
The problem is, how do you take a full-length novel and reduce it to a paragraph or two (or three)? You pick out tidbits from the story that will pique the reader’s interest.
An example comes from the back cover of Old Murders Never Die – A Sandi Webster Mystery.
“Sandi Webster, private investigator, and her partner, Pete, become stranded in an old ghost town inhabited by a mysterious cowboy and haunted by some Old West Murders. What better way to spend a well-earned vacation than running down old clues and searching vintage houses that haven’t been entered in over a hundred and twenty years? Bubba, Sandi’s half wolf/half Golden retriever, keeps the action moving in his own quirky way, along with a big black horse and the mysterious cowboy.”
I’m no expert, but I managed to include the main characters, the location of the story, a dog and the fact that there were murders committed in this old town. Oh, and it seems to be clear that the town was abandoned and no one has visited it for many years. Stranded in a ghost town with a mysterious cowboy? A little more to whet the reader’s appetite.
Just like your story, the first sentence will hopefully grab the reader. How about: “What could purple cows and elderly spies possibly have to do with each other?” There’s more to the back cover description than that one sentence, but didn’t it kind of grab you? (I hope.) I mean, purple cows and spies? (From How Now Purple Cow – A Bogey Man Mystery)
Patricia Gligor grabbed my attention with the first two sentences on the back of Mixed Messages – A Malone Mystery. “It is estimated there are at least twenty to thirty active serial killers in the United States at any given time. There’s one on the loose on the west side of Cincinnati…” Many readers are fascinated with serial killers. This would definitely grab their attention.
Two more back cover examples: “A hot air balloon, lost children in the woods, and a collie litter with a supposed curse on it draw Jennet Ferguson into a deadly confrontation.” (Another Part of the Forest by Dorothy Bodoin)
“While illegally digging for Anasazi pots in an ancient cliff dwelling, Hubie Schuze unexpectedly grasps a human hand. He was hoping for an artifact, not a handshake…” (The Pot Thief Who Studied Billy the Kid by J. Michael Orenduff) Humor works, too.
These are all part of back cover blurbs that would make me take a good look at the book. Pick out the most enticing parts of the story, but be careful not to give the story away. You want the readers to be curious. You want them to long for more, to search for answers to the comments on the back of the book, to think, “Yes! I must read this, and I must do it now.” Okay, that’s what we all hope for, and we try to stir up all kinds of feelings in just a paragraph or two.
I looked at the back of a lot of books sitting in my bookcases, and some writers have brought this to an art form. I have to admit, though, that some of the books got my attention just from amazing art on the covers. We’ll talk about that another time.
What are some of your favorite one-liners on the back of books?
Until next time, browse to your heart’s content until you find a book that grabs your hand and won’t let go.
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Try the back cover of Entrance to Nowhere - A Sandi Webster Mystery.