Always be Closing

So you’ve got a cover image that you’re happy with.

Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross...remember your ABCs

Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross…remember your ABCs

  1. The title and the image Yin and Yang around the territory of the global theme of the work.
  1. You’ve also got a solid short quote from a respected source and/or a respected figure in the book’s genre featured prominently on the front. Something like “The best book on extreme spelunking bar none!” –Lon Fuller

So you’re done right?


Don’t forget the back cover copy.

This is a fundamental mistake self-publishers make again and again.

They go all the way to the finish line and then they half ass the back cover.

Hey, I’ve done it myself. The back cover is the last battleground with book packaging Resistance. It’s the place when we just want the damn thing to be over with.

We’re exhausted. We went through 30 different cover ideas and almost destroyed our relationship with our designer.

We’ve burned every bridge possible calling in every favor we can to get advance quotes. Now we just want to get this sucker out in the marketplace so we can move on with our lives.

Totally understandable.

Now go have a cup of coffee and then close this sucker.  Burn through this last grind and don’t quit until you’re sure the copy is as good as it can be.

So what are you going to write?

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Have a tagline at the top of the back cover.
  3. Do two paragraphs of body copy that explain the three stages of the book (beginning hook, middle build, ending payoff) in a dynamic way.
  4. End with an author bio (and perhaps photo too if you can make it look good).
  5. Realize that it will never be perfect…

So Steve has a new book at the printer now that we’ll be bringing out very soon. (Don’t worry all of our peeps who are part of First Look Access, which you can sign up for here, will get preferential treatment before it goes wide…)

What did we decide to use as our tagline at the top?


We’re cool honing in on that single simple eight-word pitch because the book is perfect for anyone who’s read, heard of, or is mildly interested in The War of Art.

Steve’s new book isn’t for everyone…so we didn’t try and pitch everyone.

Obviously, you don’t need to read The War of Art to go mad for the new book. I won’t spoil it here, but let’s just say it has a very provocative title.

So the trick for the back cover copy is to CLOSE THE SALE!

So one way to CLOSE THE SALE is to speak to people you absolutely know will be ready to buy.

Don’t try and convince people who aren’t inclined to turn over the book and read the back cover!

Because guess what? They haven’t even made the choice to read the back cover copy. And if you write your copy for those who don’t really care…you might turn off your core audience.

There is nothing more off putting than generic back cover copy written to no one in particular. A book is an invitation to deepen a person’s relationship to the author…even if they’ve never read anything by him/her before.

So write copy that speaks to the reader you know will love the book.

If you’ve written a thriller about online gaming…use language that online gamers use so that those people will see the book as authentic. Not some lame attempt by a 50-year-old editor trying to get a piece of that hot new market. The copy needs to sound like something the reader has heard tangentially in his chosen area of interest or something he understands deeply.

So for those two body paragraphs after the opening hook of the tag line…use the strength of the book’s theme as represented by its inciting incident to compel the reader to just BUY THE THING ALREADY.

“What if an insatiable killer shark starting eating Hamptons summer swells and the only person capable of stopping the shark is terrified of getting into the water?”

“What kind of man has the inner fortitude to defend a society’s scapegoats from the prejudice and tyranny of a nation’s starving underclass?”

“Is there ever a time to forgive an unforgivable act of malice?”

Use the story to sell the story.

Lay down the landscape of emotional terrain for the reader with a juicy question for them to ponder so that they “get it.” They’ll understand the genre the book is living in just from that question. They’ll understand the stakes involved in the story (the central value inherent in each external and internal genre must be conveyed in the back cover copy) and they’ll understand what generally the ending payoff of the entire thing will be just from that question.

What you need to do with the back cover copy is build up the reader’s expectations and make them promises that you will pay those expectations off in ways that they will never see coming.

Use the back cover copy to Close the sale. ALWAYS BE CLOSING.

And if the book delivers on those promises, it will be discussed among the lovers of that particular genre. And it will gain word of mouth. It will live.

Lastly, if you have a renowned author with incredible bona fides, don’t waste them!

Put his/her bio (and if they’re interesting and warm looking too…their photo) on the back cover so that anyone still not sure to try it will be convinced by this last bit of salesmanship.

The subtext of the bio/photo is “Dude, this woman or man is awesome…you’re not going to find an expert better than her or him…so buy it!”

And keep the whole thing under 250 words.

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  1. Mary Doyle on May 27, 2016 at 6:03 am

    This is the second strong message I’ve gotten about back covers this week. I went to a lecture last Saturday by an author who didn’t provide the great advice you do, but who simply said, “ignore the back cover and you’re leaving readers in the dark, not to mention money on the table.” Thanks for another gem Shawn!

  2. Gary Neal Hansen on May 27, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Thank you for this excellent perspective and advice, Shawn.

    Maybe it is because I’m an academic, but I’m used to seeing two or three blurbs on the back cover. Is that useful in non-academic non-fiction?

  3. Susanna on May 27, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Spell check your post!

    • Michael Beverly on May 27, 2016 at 8:58 am

      Next stop:

      The First Five Pages.

      I wonder, Shawn, if the very beginning of a book needs to be marketing, too.

      I read an article (by Sol Stein I think) about a how people buy books: after picking it up and following the progression you have here: cover, blurb, back cover, inside flap maybe, people simply start reading the book.

      I know this is how I buy something unfamiliar to me, or even how I decide if I’m going to invest in someone I like if they write across genres.

      First five pages. Sometimes less.

      If you bore me in paragraph one, I’m already suspicious, if I’m still bored after five pages, there isn’t a chance in Flint I’m going to continue drinking.

      And I can read five pages in a book store or on Amazon in short order (look inside feature).

      In fact, now that I think about it, if I’m not buying something that has been recommended by someone or isn’t a series that I’m already reading, the first five pages test is the only method I really use and trust.

      Publishers sometimes use good copywriters with the downside being that once I open the book I’m disappointed.

      • Madeleine D'Este on May 27, 2016 at 7:02 pm

        I’m the same. I rarely read the blurb past the first sentence (often get surprised by “twists” which turn out to be plainly disclosed on the back).
        I go to the first pages, because nothing puts me off quicker than a writing style I don’t like.
        Does the advice still stand for ebooks?

        • Michael Beverly on May 28, 2016 at 1:44 pm

          I believe it does:

          Amazon has two things:

          Look Inside feature, which allows you start reading the book without buying it.

          Send Me a Sample feature, where you simply have the beginning of the book sent directly to your kindle.

          If you’re selling an ebook to your existing fans, you can just email them and they’ll auto-buy it.

          If you’re new (or not in the best seller lists) then people look at three things:
          Genre & description,
          And I believe, samples.

          Of course, some people just buy based upon the cover and genre, and you can tell by some negative reviews the buyers remorse. At these low prices, people will risk buying something, but people like myself, who buy too many books, have been burned too many times.

          I always check before I buy unless I have recommendation I trust completely, or it’s an existing author I like.

          The best hook and beginning of a book I’ve ever read is in True Grit.

          In the first three sentences the author tells the entire story.

          It’s not so often a 14 year old girl would go out into the winter to hunt down the killer of her father, but that’s what I did because the coward so and so shot my father for 300 bucks and a couple gold coins.

          or something like that. It’s an amazing hook.

          If you read that, you buy the book.

          You just can’t help yourself.

      • Jake Parent on June 3, 2016 at 7:43 am

        Totally with you on that one. I sometimes read the blurb, but usually not the whole thing. And I can tell within a paragraph or two of reading the actual book whether or not I will like the writing style.

  4. Tina M Goodman on May 27, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    What is the title of the new book? Is it Resist Resistance or Sell the Close?

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