Create Questions in the Reader’s Mind
By Leeann Betts
Various marketing studies have shown that authors have about ten seconds to catch a reader’s attention. From the time the reader picks up the book from the shelf in the book store, checks the back cover copy, flips to the first page, and reads that, ten seconds have elapsed.
Not a lot of time. Ten heartbeats. Four eye-blinks. Two swallows.
It passes quickly.
As authors we know the first line has to grab the reader so they read the whole paragraph, and that has to keep their attention until they get to the end of the first page, which will hopefully propel them beyond the ten seconds and into the decision to purchase your book. And whether they are buying a print version or an electronic copy, the decision-making is the same.
So you work and polish and fine tune the manuscript.
But what about the back cover copy? Isn’t that just a couple of hundred words you throw together at the end?
No, it’s not. These couple of hundred words can make the difference between whether the buyer sets your book back or checks the inside to see the “important” stuff you wrote and edited and fine-tuned.
Here are some things to keep in mind about back cover copy:
- Start thinking about it when the nugget of an idea for your book pops into your head. Keep thinking about it while you do whatever plotting, outlining, or synopsis-writing you do. Even if you don’t do any of those things, picture the blurb on the back of your book. What font? How many words?
- You want to highlight your main character(s), by telling the reader where the character(s) is at the beginning of the story, what the conflict is, who the antagonist is, and some idea of your main character(s) motivations. For example, if there is any romance in your story, tell the reader how the heroine can’t abide people who lie but who stole from the employer who molested her to feed her little sister. And how your hero, who is a braggart who is also in law enforcement, can’t abide thieves. And how when they’re thrown together to find the little sister who is kidnapped by a pimp who wants to sell her as a sex slave, your hero tries to keep her thievery a secret and he tries to keep his propensity to exaggerate a secret.
- Now that you’ve set up the reader to care about these characters, to empathize with them–who hasn’t lied or stolen at least once?–you want to give them a teaser about what happens next. For example, “Can Lisa find her sister before her sister is abused the way she was? And can Tom put aside his belief that thieves never tell the truth and trust Lisa? Or will they both lose the only things that are important to them?”
- You don’t want to give away the ending but you do want to tell enough so the reader knows there are big enough stakes to care about.
So there you are — the most important two hundred words of your book. And it’s not even between the covers.
As an example, here is the back cover copy to my recent release, No Accounting for Murder:
Carly Turnquist, forensic accountant, has a nose for mysteries. When a less-than-desirable business has their building permit approved under the table, Carly gets suspicious. But when money is embezzled and her daughter is suspected, her hackles are raised.
Will Carly solve both mysteries–or will she end up as dead as the mayor?
I introduced my main character, her current situation, the crisis, and asked the questions.
If you’d like a chance to win a $10 Starbucks gift card (all correct answers will be entered into a random drawing), leave a comment and your email address on my blog with your answer to this question:
Name one character in No Accounting for Murder who dies in the book.