Back Cover Text for Fiction Writers
By Amy Groening

A while ago, we tackled Promotional Copy for Autobiographies. But what if you’re a fiction writer?

First, a quick recap on what we mean by promotional copy: in a nutshell the promotional copy, or “proco”, is the text that you’ll be using to promote your book to your audience. It’ll be going on your back cover, so it’s often referred to as the back cover text for a book as well, or even the synopsis (although this isn’t an entirely accurate description). However, its uses don’t stop there: modified versions of your proco can be used on posters, flyers, catalogues, online advertisements, book trailers…you name it!

Because of this, the proco is a very important marketing tool. The aspects of a good proco are essentially the same for any book, regardless of whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, or somewhere in between, and can be broken down like this:

  • a hint of the plotline
  • a taste of the writing you’ll find inside
  • an idea of what the reader will get out of it

For a breakdown of these elements, check out our blog post on autobiographies (link above).

While the elements are the same, styles and techniques of execution can vary widely. Here are a few examples:

21 Drops by Lorne Hrabia:

Brighton Furlong is a fast-rising star in the world of architectural design, but he has a problem that keeps him up at night—every night. He has a re-occurring dream with no explainable meaning, along with many other dreams and visions. As the visions intensify and the demands of his job begin burning Brighton out, he is drawn to take on a design and supervision project away from the big city lights.

In the small town of Mardillon, Brighton meets Lexi, a woman who seems to be able to interpret his nightly dream. Together the two of them delve into the depths of the dream world and discover an amazing pattern and direction that could lead them and the world to eternity.

From small town coffee shop encounters to a coordinated worldwide terrorist attack, Brighton Furlong and his small band of followers embark on the journey of a lifetime in their quest to find the answer to 21 Drops and more.

The sentence immediately introduces the main character and his problem: plot-focused information. Lorne keeps it brief enough that it doesn’t become distracting, or give away too much of the plotline.

The next paragraph introduces the love interest, and a hint of where the book is going to take us: from big city lights to a small town and a woman who may hold the answers to Brighton’s problems.

The last paragraph throws in an unexpected, catastrophic event: world-wide terrorist attacks. This can be a risky maneuver, since it’s easy to give away too much information and detract from the excitement of reading the book. By not explaining how the attacks comes to pass, Lorne encourages his readers to pick up the book and keep reading. He wraps it up with a promise to his readers: a journey of a lifetime, and the answer to the intrigue he’s already described—plus something extra. This hint at “something more” reassures readers that he hasn’t given away the plotline; the mention of the attacks is a carrot to keep reading, and something even better will be found inside the book’s pages.

A Slave’s Quest, by S.L. Kliever:

This is a great example of a very short impactful proco:

Joe Rufus is a slave girl disguised as a boy for her own safety. After her father is unjustly accused of attempted murder, and sentenced to hang, life goes from bad to worse. With a hunger for revenge, Joe sets out on a quest to find the princess and rightful heir to the throne and to help rid the country of Exmoor of The Gazers. But before she can start on this quest, she must first escape slavery. Will the outlaws help her? Where has the princess been hiding all these years? And where is the missing church minister, Father Abner?

While misleadingly short, there is an unexpected amount of information here, which comes out mainly in the way Kliever has crafted the sentences. Take the first sentence: “Joe Rufus is a slave girl disguised as a boy for her own safety.” here, we’re introduced to the main character, the setting, the flavour of the novel, and the plot setup. If Joe is a slave girl, it seems likely this isn’t a modern-day setting. She’s in danger, but we don’t know why. In the next sentence, Kliever skips ahead to hit us with more plot, more intrigue, and more problems—yet manages to avoid over-explaining anything.

We gather a lot of information about the book, without being given any information that would “ruin” the plotline. This type of proco leaves the reader with more questions than answers, and a great sense of the overall feel for the book: danger, an anti-female climate, slavery, murder, princesses, a great quest, a search for a missing church minister…Kliever ends the proco with a few questions, to encourage the reader to open the book and find the answers.

The Restoration of Emma Carmichael, by Holly C. Wyse:

Here’s another great example of a short proco that packs a punch:

Emma Carmichael was one week away from saying “I do” to a new future. Eight weeks later, she finds herself out of a relationship, out of a job, and out of ice cream to drown her sorrows in.

When a sassy cousin tricks her into attending art class, Emma believes she is trapped in a room full of creativity with nothing to contribute. However, life starts to imitate art and soon Emma is picking at old wounds from long ago. But the past isn’t a cut and dried deal. Will she give in to her old coping mechanisms or place her trust in Jesus, the rock upon which she can build her future?

We jump right in at upcoming nuptials and abandonment at the altar. While Emma is placed in quite a depressing predicament, Holly keeps it on the lighter side with the clever reference to “ice cream to drown her sorrows in”, which hints at the witty dialogue you’ll find inside the book. She throws in a sassy cousin and an unexpected situation, without taking too much pause to explain either. Who’s this cousin? She tricked her into attending an art class? Why would she need to trick her? What’s the point of pushing her into an art class anyway? While these are all questions a reader may have, it’s not important to answer them here. That’s what the rest of the book is for! Holly pulls it all together with a promise at more pain and problems, yet ends it on a light note with a possibility of restoration.

As always, remember that less is more: keep your proco short (aim for 150 words or less). Don’t worry about over-explaining. Make sure to give your reader enough information that they’re not confused, but not so much information that they feel like they don’t need to read the book to find out what happens next.

And, of course, if you’re stuck let us know! The proco may be a very short piece of writing, but it is your reader’s first introduction to your writing…it’s worth spending a bit more time on it to get it right.

About this Contributor:

Amy Groening is a project manager at Word Alive Press. She is a passionate storyteller with experience in blogging, newspaper reportage, and creative writing. She holds an Honours degree in English Literature and is happy to be working in an industry where she can see other writers’ dreams come to life. She enjoys many creative pursuits, including sewing, sculpture and painting, and spends an embarrassingly large amount of time at home taking photos of her cat committing random acts of feline crime.

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