Promotional Copy for Autobiographies
By Amy Groening
The back cover text for a book, also known as the promotional copy (“proco” for short), is an important marketing tool for your book. It is your first chance to make a lasting impression on a reader, so , it’s important to put some effort into crafting a proco that will really help your story shine.
Writing the back cover text for an autobiography can be a daunting task: how do you condense your life story into a 1-2 paragraph blurb that will convince your audience your experiences are worth reading about? Different stories have different needs, so take a few minutes to assess your own story: why did you write it? What is your target audience? What sort of an affect are you hoping your story will have on readers?
Here are a few things that every good proco should have (this goes for both fiction and non-fiction books, but we will focus specifically on autobiographies today).
A hint of the plotline:
People often refer to the proco as the “synopsis” of the story, but that isn’t a very accurate term; a synopsis gives a detailed description of the plot line, while a proco is more of a teaser: it touches on a few intriguing details, but doesn’t give the entire plot away.
Non-fiction books have plotlines, too, and readers want to know about yours. If your story revolves around one or two big events, mention them—but don’t give it all away. Often, an autobiography is a description of how the author got from point A to point B. Now, in fiction, we stress not to give the ending away on the back cover. In non-fiction, it is more likely that a reader will already know the ending of the story—it’s how we get to the ending that makes it interesting. Whether it’s the story of how you went from living on the streets to being a millionaire, how you survived a dangerous situation, or how you got through a traumatic event, the intrigue will likely come in the middle of your story—so don’t give this part away!
The language on the back cover should emulate the interior:
If yours is a story of bitterness and struggle that ends in hope, potential readers should get a sense of this when they read the back cover; if the first 7 chapters of your book deal with pain and loss, and in the last 3 you find joy and redemption, mention that joy and redemption—but don’t let the reader think your story is all sunshine and roses. Underline the fact that you struggled, too, and that this book chronicles that struggle.
What the reader will get out of it:
Are you hoping to inspire readers? Warn them not to make the same choices you did? Help them to build a life they can be proud of? Educate them? Entertain them with your own amazing adventure? Let them know this. Different autobiographies have different effects on people, and readers are more likely to pick up books that speak to their own needs. Someone affected by addiction may be drawn to a story of addiction; someone struggling with mental health issues may be drawn to the story of someone who has overcome a similar experience; someone who feels lost may look for a book that makes them feel strong; an adrenaline junkie may just be looking to be entertained by someone else’s wilderness survival story.
If you’re working on your proco and you feel a bit stuck, try browsing the aisles of your local bookstore or library and reading the backs of others’ autobiographies. If the proco makes you want to keep reading, hold onto it, and try to figure out what makes it so intriguing.
Here is an example of the proco from The Ben Ripple by Lisa Elliott:
On August 12, 2008, Lisa Elliott received the phone call that changed her life forever. It was from her husband, David, on his way to the hospital emergency with their 18-year-old son Ben who was subsequently diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. After a one year and one week valiant battle, Ben was promoted to his heavenly home. Throughout his life, but even throughout his death, Ben’s Christ-like attitude became an inspiration for thousands around the world who followed updates Lisa posted on a Facebook blog entitled, “Prayer for Benjamin Elliott”. It was appropriately re-titled, “The Ben Ripple” upon his death.
This is not just an ordinary “journal”, but a victorious and candid “journey” of one faith-filled mother who sought to use her story for the glory of God through her pain, loss and grief. It provides validation for those dealing with a family crisis, hope and inspiration for those who are grieving losses, and practical help for those desiring to come alongside those needing comfort.
This proco describes a painful experience for the Elliotts. It does give away the “ending” of the story—Ben tragically passes away; Lisa grieves, reaches out to family and friends, and finds hope in her own faith. It shows the reader what they will get out of it—inspiration for those who are grieving losses, practical advice, and the proof of God’s glory. And yet, it doesn’t give everything away. How Lisa gets from point A to B is just as important as the fact that point B has already occurred, and this is what The Ben Ripple is all about—readers will need to open the book to find out how Lisa dealt with her grief, and how God showed her His love along the way.
Here is another example:
Her name is Grace. On her 18th birthday, she joined the convent, ready to grow close to Jesus and pray her family into heaven.
Eleven years later Grace, now known simply as Sister Michael, found herself quietly leaving the convent and all that was familiar to her in the middle of the night, having become disillusioned with the religious structure and not having found the relationship she yearned for.
Having to connect again to a society that was completely foreign to her, Grace began a journey that included performing, teaching, falling in love, becoming a hippy and then a shipwreck followed by heartbreak. Along the way she found the relationship with Jesus she had always longed for and learned to allow God to become her strength, her companion, her shield.
This is Grace’s story from the beginning, a story about shattered dreams and a God of mercy and love.
In the proco for Grace Dunford’s Shattered Dreams of a Runaway Nun, we get a good sense of the beginning of the story, and the first conflict—her disillusionment with religious structure, her struggles to feel close to Jesus. We also get a good sense of the ending of the story—she runs away, her dreams are dashed, and she turns to God for help. What readers are hungry for are the details: what brought her to become a hippy? Who did she fall in love with? What’s this about a shipwreck? Dunford’s story promises adventure, as well as an inspiring story of God’s faithfulness and love—it says she learns to allow God to become her strength, but how does this come about?
When you’re writing your proco, remember to keep it short. Aim for under 150 words. Limiting yourself like this will help to ensure you don’t give too much away. If you’ve written the best proco you think you can, and it’s 300 words long, force yourself to cut something. Ask a friend to listen to you read the back cover, and get them to raise their hand as soon as their mind starts to wander. If they’ve gotten bored in the middle of the proco, you need to cut something from the first half of it. Ask them for suggestions, or, pick a random sentence and remove it. Does the proco still sound good? If so, let that sentence go. Soon you’ll be writing proco like a pro!
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 cats committing random acts of feline crime.