Crafting Your Back Cover — The Selling Continues….

…or at least it should continue.  The work you’ve put into designing an effective, attention-grabbing cover now continues with the spine and back.  I’ve made a point of mentioning in the first installment of this discussion, that I believe the spine can be as important as the front cover in generating interest.  It might be where your sales presentation begins.

If your book is going to be marketed to book sellers, and they will display it in the stacks, then the spine may be your only chance to persuade a reader to pull your book out and give it a look.  It’s a possibility that you should plan for, whether bookseller sales are a definite part of your strategy right now or not.

Of course, if your book will be hard-bound in cabretta leather with gold-leaf titling, then this discussion won’t be appropriate, but for anyone marketing a paper-bound book, this is for you.  

Tradition seems to work…

Tradition dictates that on a book spine, the authors name appears at the top, and is smaller in size than the book title.  Unless you have a very compelling reason why you want to alter this, having to do with your book’s content, resist the temptation to get too creative here.  The traditional way is what readers expect to see, and it might confuse them, and lose their interest, if it is not set up that way.  Be sure to leave space for your publisher’s imprint, if needed. 

I like the way a wrap around cover/spine/back leads the reader to naturally turn the book over and over in their hands.  If your background graphic image can be set up that way, it subtly implies a "continuing" story — on the cover.  Hard vertical edges, such as in abruput color changes, from font, to spine, to back cover, stop the eye and might distract the reader’s attention from abosrbing your carefully crafted pitch.

Even if only a small section of the front image will wrap around, I believe it is an effective tool to carry the reader’s interest to the back cover, where you do the main selling.

The point of the excercise…

The reason for a back cover design, is to persuade the reader to open up your book.  It will carry some very important information.  Foremost, is your hard-hitting, highly condensed lead-in copy.  A paragraph. Two at the most. Only narrative that leads to action. Events.

Use a "lead in" as the heading. It should be considered your agent pitch on steroids — lean and mean.  You shouldn’t summarize here, you should give the reader a savory taste. Whet their appetite for the salient meal inside: tasty, well-defined and believable characters, an intriguing plot, and questions. 

I’ve found that it makes good sense to end your back-cover pitch with a question or two.  The idea is that the answers will be found inside — in the reading.  Never ask a prospective buyer a question they can answer "no" to.  Leave them with "leading" questions — the kind that pose a situation, impart emotions or create empathy.  In the case of a non-fiction work, it’s always a good idea to reinforce the benefits by leaving them with specifics — here, concentrate upon the strengths of your work, as opposed to any other source where the answers might be found by the prospect.

Assembling the pieces…

Insert this element using the grid we discussed before — the rule of fives or fifths.  Be sure to include live space for barcoding/publisher’s imprint in the grid design.  A cover wrap around here can carry over to bleed, or end 1/3 of the way over.  You can end it with a hard color edge — creating a dark field for your copy — or a gentle fade, if a white or light-valued copy area is what you have in mind. 

If the background ilustrative or photographic cover image wraps, look for apparent lines within the image that will provide a good visual tie-in the the pitch heading.  Use the same visual eye-movement ideas we discussed in the first two installments. Lead the reader’s eye to your pitch. Put your pitch copy in the proper position for maximum retention and readability using at least 12 point type here in a font that carries into the book’s content.  You’ve got one more element to place.


Another element that will be found on the back cover is the author photo.  It isn’t an absolute, unless who you are is central to the work inside.  On the other hand, a good portrait can work well in helping the prospective reader find "comon ground" with the author.  This personalizes the message, and gives the writing inside a real voice. 

Don’t just use any old shot of yourself you happen to have handy.  You’ll want to consider contrast and lighting, so the best of the image will be communicated even in a smaller size. It should be cropped tight for maximum "interaction" with the viewer, and your eyes shuld seem to make eye contact. 

Your expression, in the image should connected with the feeling of the "voice" inside, and the subject matter.  For example, I wouldn’t use an author photo with a big, toothy grin on the back of a work dealing with the Irish Famine.  I wouldn’t want to use an image that looked like you were burying your mother either.  I tend to like a generous, open, yet pensive expression in author photos.  Unless you’re pitching (you’re still pitching here…) something hilarious — when a big grin might actually work well. 

Try out a few different images, on dummies of the back cover, printed on your trusty photo printer, until you select one that covers all the bases for you and those whose opinions you trust.  Find out why they like the shot, not just that they "like" it.  You’ll get more insight as to what an author photo can do.  Also don’t be afraid to use a gray-scale image for your photo — it seems to carry a bit more "gravitas" for most viewers, but color might really be important, say if you’re a colorful person (red hair, green eyes, for example) or need to make a more personal connection with the reader.

Double-check the size of the publisher’s live area — for your publisher’s barcode, imprint, etc.  They will usually tell you what size they want you to leave, or it will be in their cover template.


One final step, that I recommend, is to find an old paperback, the approximate size of your book and glue (rubber cement works really well here) an actual size full-color dummy of your cover to it, making up a full dummy of your book. 

Then, dummy or full color proof from your publisher in hand, pay a visit to your local book seller. Even if bookstore sales are not going to be a major part of your marketing, the knowledge gained from hands-on experience running a bookstore can be invaluable to acheiving the best cover you can for your book. 

Make an appointment firsthand, explaining that you want to get some impressions from the seller and staff, and that you want to test your cover on tables and in stacks to see if the cover design works the way you want it to. 

Then go in, and do it. Take notes.  Be sure that every impression you receive is the one you’re after. If one differs, be sure to take it seriously. Consider a re-design if the departure is distracting enough to be a problem.  You’re looking for raves here — and while they may be low key (no gleeful clapping, etc.) they are what you need to hear. If you don’t — ask why not, and try to get your respondents to be specific.  Take their comments seriously — and consider them all before signing off on that final proof.  It’s always easier to fix something before putting it out there in front of the market. 

Finally — keep listening. Keep asking. If there is a distraction of problem with your cover, you can still revise it — if you’re POD publishing, that is — and acheive better sales as a result of your effort.  Don’t lose interest.  Your book may have new lives ahead you haven’t considered.  Maybe an entirely new market niche will open up that will require a specialized edition — who knows?  Keep your options open, and be ready to implement them on a moment’s notice. 

Good luck — remember that the writing is supposed to be the fun part. The rest is hard work.

Note: If you’d like specific feedback, in a curmudgeonly fashion of course, on your book’s cover design, then by all means, submit jpg image(s) for my consideration in your comments.  I’ll get back to you within a week, if I can.