One of the most important promotional elements of any book is the cover copy. Cover copy is designed to entice a reader to pick up the book, and great cover copy is often a crucial factor in achieving sales. But great copy can be very difficult to write—it’s hard to entice a reader in only a few short paragraphs. Unfortunately, I see a lot of self-published books with copy that isn’t intriguing enough to convince a reader to buy the book. After thinking about the way I write cover copy myself and the issues I’ve seen in self-published copy I’ve edited, I’ve noticed some common problems. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid when writing your cover copy:
- Being too vague
This is a problem I see a lot in query letters as well. Writers don’t want to give away the twists in the story, but end up describing it in a way that’s unclear, confusing, or broad. It’s important to be specific enough so that potential readers will understand the story and be hooked by its unique elements. Avoid vague statements that only mean something to those who have read the book. I’d recommend getting someone who hasn’t read your book to read your copy and let you know if it makes sense. Similarly, avoid statements that could apply to any novel in your genre. For example, phrases like, “It wasn’t what she expected” or “Everything goes wrong” or “Things get complicated” are too vague to be enticing (and probably describe every book ever written).
- Including clichés
Similarly, don’t rely on statements that are clichés. These are the kinds of phrases that often feel dramatic but don’t really mean anything. They could describe dozens of different books, and they don’t convey what’s unique about yours. Different genres have different clichés to watch for, but examples include “gets in over his head” or “got more than they bargained for” or “has a deadly secret.” I’ve also been seeing references to “games” a lot lately—“his deadly game” or “tired of playing her games” or “a game of life and death.” These kinds of phrases can make your book sound too much like every other book in your genre.
- Focusing on the setup
I see a lot of cover copy that focuses on setting up the story instead of describing the conflict. They focus on the setting/worldbuilding or backstory, explaining how the world works or how the characters got where they are at the start of the story. The problem here is that you’re not telling readers what the story actually is. It’s the conflict that is going to hook a potential reader, not the backstory. Of course, with many novels it’s necessary to set the scene for the copy to make sense, but try to use only what you absolutely need to set the story up.
- Describing too much of the book
Your cover copy should not be a synopsis. Don’t try to cram the entire story into a few paragraphs. Often, cover copy will be just the first act of the book, focusing on the inciting incident. Your copy should entice readers to read more, which means leaving them with intriguing questions about what happens. Instead of summarizing the entire story, try to focus on the essential elements. Include the protagonist and their goal, the conflict, and the stakes. Focus on the hook that makes your book unique. Don’t be too vague, but do try to tease the reader with intriguing elements.
So, now that you know what to avoid, what should you include? Here are the elements that I think are absolutely essential to great cover copy:
- A sense of story
- An enticing hook
- An intriguing premise or concept
- A protagonist with a definite goal
- A sense of the author’s style and voice
Writing good cover copy can sometimes feel harder than writing the novel, but it is absolutely essential for selling your book. By avoiding these pitfalls and focusing on the right elements, you can create enticing cover copy that will engage potential readers.
How do you write cover copy? How important is cover copy when you buy a book? Are there any pitfalls I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!