Book back cover mistakes that ruin sales and how to fix them
What do you do when you’re deciding whether or not to read a book?
You read the title. Then you turn the book over to read the book back cover.
That’s probably about it.
This means that, as an author, you only have around two chances to convince someone to read your book.
A lot is written about the need for an irresistibly designed front cover. But it’ll cost you if you neglect to spend time learning how to write a blurb for your book’s back cover.
Also, non-fiction topics, self-help guides, or business books appeal to a completely different audience than fiction novels. You wouldn’t ask your doctor for legal advice, so don’t waste time on tips that treat fiction and non-fiction as being the same.
Avoid these non-fiction back book cover mistakes and you’ll see your book fly off the shelves.
Why is the back cover blurb of a book important?
You’ve spent months drafting, researching, and editing your book. You’re quite proud of all the life-changing tips you’ve compiled – it was totally worth the blood, sweat, tears, and hundreds of hours you spent!
But if no one reads your book, all that time and effort goes to waste.
If a reader is looking at your book online, the back cover blurb is the book’s description. Think of it as your sales pitch. The book back cover is your chance to show the reader why they need your book.
I’ve seen many back book covers as a judge for the Business Book Awards. It’s easier than you think to tell the difference between a great back cover and a terrible one, especially when you’re comparing a large number of books on a similar topic in quick-fire succession.
The same goes for your readers. They’re comparing your book to the thousands of other choices out there.
Book back cover mistakes that will cost you
Are you trying to work out how to write a blurb that’ll shoot sales through the roof? Avoid these common mistakes.
Trying to give away too much information
Have you ever watched a movie trailer that gives you the entire plot of the film? If it reveals too much, you feel like you don’t need to watch the whole thing.
The same goes for your book back cover.
Your cover should be like a well-designed movie trailer – it makes potential readers want to read your book without ploughing through the details.
It’s tempting to want to list everything the reader will learn if they read your book. After all, you know you’re providing so much good information to help your reader!
Instead, showcase the feelings your reader will be left with after finishing your book.
Doing this can be done in just a few sentences. The following example is from Start with Why by Simon Sinek:
This single sentence shows what the reader could get from this book: feeling inspired. The possibility of being able to take action, lead an organisation, or start a movement would make anyone excited to open this book and learn more.
Listing features instead of benefits
Your reader simply wants to know: what’s in it for them? What will they be able to do after reading your book? How will your book improve them?
Answer these questions by identifying the main benefit of the book as opposed to listing multiple features.
If someone wants to learn a new language, the main benefit you’d want to target is helping this reader achieve fluency quickly. No language learner wants to spend years learning a new language.
Don’t waste precious back cover blurb space explaining how the reader will learn a new language quickly – that’s what the book is for!
This book blurb example is an excerpt from the back of Atomic Habits by James Clear:
In a simple sentence, he writes the main benefit of his book: learn how to build better habits for life.
He doesn’t describe how the book is organized with charts and tables to easily understand concepts. That would be a feature.
Not making it clear who your book is for
If you target the wrong reader, you risk creating a disappointed customer. They did NOT receive the information they thought they would.
For instance, you wouldn’t sell an advanced level technical book on when to buy or sell shares to an inexperienced investor.
Your reader should have no doubt as to whether the book’s for them and what they will get out of it. The target reader should be stated or implied on the back book cover.
You’ve already written your book with a target reader in mind. Your back cover blurb should make this clear as well.
If you’re unsure whether you’re clearly defining your target reader, ask! Find someone who IS in your target audience and have them review your cover. If you don’t have someone to ask, try imagining you’re writing the back cover for someone else’s book to help you be more objective.
As you are the expert in your field, you could also try putting yourself in your reader’s shoes. Maybe your target reader is who you were a few years ago. What kind of questions were you asking back then?
Talking about yourself in your author bio
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who only talked about themselves? You zone out and try to feign interest in what they’re saying. They become immediately unlikeable.
It’s the same with your author bio. Even a section literally about YOU still isn’t really for you – it’s to benefit your reader.
Your reader only cares about one thing: What makes you credible?
This is your opportunity to prove to them why you’re knowledgeable enough to talk about this topic. It’s also a chance to show you’re a person that can relate to your readers.
Your author bio should establish credibility and present yourself as a relateable person. No more, no less.
Having the wrong types of endorsements
Endorsements (or testimonials) are concise quotes from other people praising your work. They’re often displayed on book back covers but can sometimes be on the front as well.
Endorsements are great if you can get them: they further your credibility and prove your status among other influential people.
However, not all testimonials are created equal.
A review from Sally off the street doesn’t hold the same weight as a review from Warren Buffett.
Don’t waste your precious book back cover space on testimonials for the sake of them – you want to make sure they impress your potential readers. Although they’re nice to have, they’re not essential.
If you want a testimonial, make sure it ticks these boxes:
- Your reader is likely to know the person giving the testimonial. You don’t have to find a mainstream celebrity. It can be someone well known in your industry, such as a thought leader or another author. The important thing is that this person’s name on your book is considered credible, which will in turn increase your credibility
- Unashamedly positive. Not having any testimonials on the back cover won’t ruin your book sales. But if there’s a neutral review, it goes without saying it should go nowhere near your book.
- Short and to the point. Readers won’t give your front and back cover more than a few seconds. They’ll just scanning them to see if the book is worth reading. So don’t have long quotes or else people won’t read them – and won’t care even if it’s from someone well known.
Look at the below blurb example, again from Atomic Habits by James Clear:
The testimonial is from Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck. Readers interested in the self-improvement and productivity field will be familiar with this author and book, both of which are considered to be thought leaders in this niche.
Your book back cover’s layout is difficult to read
Look at the back cover blurb examples below. Which is easier to read?
I’m guessing you’d rather read the one on the right.
Putting up a wall of text is a quick way to deter readers because it’s hard to decipher. A potential reader will NOT spend much time deciding if your book is worth the effort – in other words, you only have a few sentences to work with.
There are three layout components that will encourage readers to keep reading:
- Using white space. You don’t want your entire book back cover to be filled with words. Allow the reader room to breathe between sentences
- Using different font styles. The above paragraph on the right could be improved by using different sized fonts and bolded or underlined words to highlight important points
- Cohesion between the front and back book cover. The back design should look similar to the front cover. It doesn’t need to be totally matching but it should at least look like the same book
To summarise the three main points into one: Make sure your book back cover is clear and easy to read.
Now, maybe you’re thinking about making your back cover different from other non-fiction books so you stand out. Yours will have pictures, you’ll use a unique font, and incorporate a cool background design.
Don’t do this. It’s not a good idea.
Adding pictures makes it too similar to a fiction novel. Using an unusual font or a background image behind the words makes your blurb difficult to read. This can cause a potential reader to reject your book.
Don’t make your back book cover difficult to read just for the sake of creativity.
How to write a blurb that keeps people reading (with back cover blurb examples)
You don’t have much room to work with to impress your reader. When they pick up your book, you want to hit them between the eyes with a clear hierarchy of information.
Each sentence should guide your reader to keep reading the next one. Follow this book back cover template and you’ll have a back cover blurb they won’t be able to resist.
Relate to your target reader
In a sentence or two, quickly establish yourself as someone who knows your audience. This means a reader will automatically be able to tell if the book is for them or not.
In the same sentence, you can incorporate the main benefit of the book. A simple template to follow would be: If you’re a [target reader] this is the book you need to help you [the ONE main benefit of reading the book].
For example, see the excerpt from The Busy Person’s Guide to Great Presenting by Lee Warren:
If you’re a [busy professional] this is the book you need to help you [give compelling presentations].
Short, sweet, to the point. In just one sentence you know exactly who this book is for and what your target reader will get out of it.
State your reader’s problems
Create trust by meeting your reader where they’re at. You understand their pain points and frustrations and you’re here to help them.
An example template to use: You need this book because [state the reader’s problems and the reasons why they can’t succeed without it].
The example below is from Willpower Doesn’t Work by Benjamin Hardy:
You need this book because [if you’re relying on willpower, you’re doomed to fail].
People relate to not being able to lose weight and assume it’s due to not being able to resist the office doughnuts. This line shows the reader that the author understands their frustration.
Why your book solves their problems
What’s the point of a book?
Readers want one thing only when they’re picking up your book: Information. The deliverable of the book is based on whether the reader is satisfied with the information you provided.
Your readers want to know what’s in it for them – what will they know or be able to do after reading it?
Your back book cover should explain clearly that your book answers their questions – and they will be a better person because of it.
A template you could use for this: After reading, you’ll be able to [specific benefits in no more than 3-4 sentences or bullet points].
The following book back cover is from the incredibly popular How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie:
After reading, you’ll be able to [make a good first impression, criticise others politely, become a good conversationalist, make people glad to do what you want].
This blurb clearly explains to the reader why this book is beneficial. It’s listing the benefits of what you’ll read, making them WANT to open up this book to learn all these concepts. It’s important to note that this example lists tangible benefits. The reader will gain concrete and measurable outcomes, not just abstract self-improvement strategies.
Call to action
Your CTA will always be to get your reader to read your book! Sometimes you just have to be straightforward: Read this book and [this is the result you’ll get].
Again from the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie:
Very straightforward and to the point. Read this book and [you’ll get the job you want, improve your current job, benefit in any situation]. Clear, direct, and positive.
End with an author bio about yourself. As discussed previously, this is not a time to talk about your life story. Keep it simple to establish credibility and show that you’re likeable.
Your bio should answer the question ‘why should I trust this author to tell me this stuff?’
The author bio below is from Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss:
Why should you trust him? His bio clearly shows a large list of previous books and successes in the self-improvement niche.
And if you don’t have a laundry list of achievements like Ferris? You can still establish credibility by briefly explaining your past experience. Make it clear how you know about the subject your book is on.
Back cover blurb examples to guide you
Below are some blurb book examples to give you ideas on how to create yours!
The More of Less by Joshua Becker
This back book cover blurb does an excellent job of following my blurb template.
Relate to the target reader. In the first sentence, the target reader is clarified: people who have too much stuff
State the reader’s problems. The first paragraph explains this: an accumulation of stuff is robbing and distracting you from life
Why your book solves their problems. The bullet points explain all the benefits of the book. After reading, you will have more joy and contentment
Call to action. The yellow words make the CTA clear. Live a better life with less – this book will show you how
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
The back of this book doesn’t follow the template exactly but provides great insight into what the reader will get out of this book.
The tagline “The #1 personal finance book of all time” instantly explains who should read this book and why. Anyone interested in personal finance shouldn’t waste their time with other mediocre books.
The next few bullets highlight the benefits of reading this book, all of which support the tagline that this is the best personal finance book you’ll ever read.
Note that this book only has one testimonial, but it’s from USA Today, a well-respected newspaper.
A book back cover template could look like this:
- Relate to the target reader. If you’re a [target reader] this is the book you need to help you [the ONE main benefit of reading the book]
- State the reader’s problems. You need this book because [the reasons why they can’t succeed without it]
- Why your book solves their problems. After reading, you’ll be able to [specific benefits in no more than 3-4 sentences or bullet points]
- Call to action. Read this book and [this is the result you’ll get]
- Author bio (with a photo). Answer the question ‘why should I trust this author to tell me this stuff?’
The book back cover is what will prompt someone to read your book. Make sure it’s as perfect as the material inside.
Follow the template and avoid back cover mistakes and you’ll convert casual scanners into loyal customers in no time. After all, you’ve put all that time and effort into writing your book.
Don’t let it go to waste collecting dust on the shelves.