This is the fourth article in the series: How to Not Get Overwhelmed with Indie Publishing. While I feel this is the most simple approach, you do not necessarily need to follow the steps exactly as we’ve laid them out. It is perfectly acceptable to handle each step in a different variation, whatever you find the least overwhelming. Here are the main topics that we’re covering in the series:
- Acquiring Beta Readers
- Editing/Editor Considerations
- Book Cover Design
- The Back Cover Synopsis & Author Bio
- Copyright (US)
- Paper & Ebook Publishing Platforms (mainly US)
- ISBN (and bar code (US))
- Ebook Formatting
- Paperback and Hardbound Formatting
- Uploading Your Book to One or Various Platforms
- Marketing Strategies
Today’s subject goes along with what we discussed last week, cover design, and is an essential part of your book publishing! Even if you are only designing for online ebooks, you’ll still need to have an author bio and book synopsis (a.k.a. back cover copy or blurb, although this has two meanings which we’ll discuss the other meaning later in this article).
The most ideal length of a back cover copy should be about 150 – 200 words. This may seem low, but it is an appropriate length to fit well on the back of a book as well as long enough to provide a great marketing teaser to the story itself.
The synopsis on the back of your book should be an overview of the story that gives enough info to raise curiosity without giving away the whole thing. It should also not be so obscure that it causes more head-scratching than the desire to read on.
While it’s true that 150 words don’t seem like much, it’s actually just enough to tell what you need without losing the potential reader’s interest. There are some basic elements that should be included:
- Main characters names and who they are
- A basic idea of the setting (place, era, world, etc)
- A hint/question related to the plot to draw the reader in
Remember: this is the big picture for the whole book, not a place to outline the plot, so keep focused on the idea of the overall story, not necessarily the specific details.
I’ve chosen two examples of popular books and used the colors above to highlight the basic information in each. You can see that they are a little different, but they have the same elements.
Detective Lindsay Boxer chases an elusive suspect…her husband.
As she settles into motherhood and a happy marriage, Lindsay Boxer thinks she has found domestic bliss. But when a beautiful, alluring blonde woman with links to the CIA disappears from the scene of a brutal murder at a downtown luxury hotel, Lindsay’s life begins to unravel. Before she can track down the woman for questioning, a plane crash plunges San Francisco into chaos and Lindsay’s husband Joe vanishes.
The deeper she digs, the more Lindsay suspects that Joe shares a secret past with the mystery blonde. Thrown into a tailspin and questioning everything she thought she knew, Lindsay turns to the Women’s Murder Club for help as she tries to uncover the truth. Filled with pulse-pounding international intrigue, 15TH AFFAIR proves that all is fair in love, war, and espionage.
For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.
But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.
Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.
Things to Notice:
- The words in bold. I have added this emphasis to highlight the use of power words: words that convey emotion, are evocative and relate to the genre.
- The text is not all in one large chunk. It is best to split the back cover synopsis into 2-4 paragraphs. In general, the first one or two parts will introduce the characters and the setting. The next section will give the main idea, problem, mystery, etc. of the story.
- Blurbs do not require you to use complete sentences, especially when you are conveying feelings of urgency or suspense.
- End with a lack of resolution, a question, an opening to the “what if” of the story like you see in the second example. This lets you know where the story might go but doesn’t tell you the actual events or what the finale will be.
- Better Novel Project: Deconstructing Back Cover Copy by Christine Frazier
- Joanna Penn: How to Write Back Blurb for Your Book
- Jane Friedman: Writing Your Book’s Back Cover Copy by Jessi Rita Hoffman
- The Book Designer: 7 Secrets to Writing Persuasive Back Cover Sales Copy by Casey Demchak
What I tend to do when I write a synopsis is I write something longer then pare it down by replacing weak words with those evocative ones we talked about just a bit ago. I look for anything that appears redundant or that doesn’t convey emotion to the audience. My blurbs tend to run between 150 and 200 words.
The Twelve Realms exist in peace, where for the beautiful and kind-hearted Princess Caityn life is perfect. Even her betrothal is to the man she loves, High Prince Theiandar. She is surrounded by loving family and is protected from all harm. That is, until a masterful thief invades Caityn’s unspoiled world.
Dark and looming in the shadows lurks this thief of forgotten lore, full of archaic secrets and a magic hidden in the distance of time. His purpose and power is long forgotten, but his desire is alive and strong, ready to steal the one thing which sustains his life: true beauty. Princess Caityn’s beauty embodies all he has ever coveted, and before it can be tainted he plans to steal every last ounce.
Prince Theiandar’s love for Caityn is constant, but it will take much more than his tenacious will to save her. When faced with insurmountable odds and a heart devoid of the smallest hope, Caityn’s faith is extinguished, for with the full moon’s zenith comes the sealing of her fate.
This isn’t the blurb that is on the book, but I’ve learned a lot since then. I like to think this is an improvement. My real goal is to get my blurbs to between 150 – 170 words. We should continue to work on perfecting blurbs because a great cover and blurb are essential to our success, where the tantalizing synopsis on the awesome cover are the first things people will look at when they consider reading and purchasing our books.
Gaining Feedback on Your Blurb
A great way to procure pre-publishing research on the effectiveness of your story blurb is to post it on your blog with a nice poll. This allows potential readers, friends, and strangers to vote yes or no on the blurb or even various aspects of it. Leave it open to comments, and you will be amazed at the constructive feedback you’ll receive from helpful and creative readers. (WordPress makes it easy to add polls with their link to Poll Daddy. It’s available through admin.)
ENDORSEMENT BLURB: We mentioned earlier that when talking about a “book blurb” there are two meanings, the one we’ve been using throughout this article (back cover synopsis/copy) and the other: a short, often one sentence endorsement for the book from someone whose name would be favorably recognized by the potential readers of your genre.
The goal is to gain one or several such blurbs for your cover copy during pre-publication from readers who would receive advanced copies. But blurbs from well-known voices in the writing world can be difficult to obtain. Generally, it’s something like this bit of praise from Stephen King for Justin Cronin’s The Passage: “Read this book and the ordinary world disappears.”
Don’t forget: Difficult does not mean impossible.
If you’re still curious about this sort of blurb, here is an informative article from NPR that might tickle your fancy: The Curious Case of the Blurb (and Why It Exists) by Colin Dwyer
I think we’ve covered more than enough great info on writing back cover copy/synopsis/blurbs, so let’s move on to that amazing author bio. Can I just say I hate writing these? As if it’s not hard enough to write an eye-catching blurb, now we gotta talk ourselves up without coming across pompous.
But don’t worry, you can do it!
Here’s the skinny on your author bio:
- Keep it short. I recommend, for your book cover, it shouldn’t be longer than about 100 – 150 words. The one I use for this series is 83 words.
- Write it in third person, but keep the voice of it personable as well as similar to your genre mood (or have someone else who knows you well write it about you! Maybe just give them the main details to include and let them at it).
- Be brief with your history and, if possible, make it pertinent to whatever you are writing.
- Include any big literary awards, prizes, etc. you might have received, but don’t beat us over the head with it. We’re just establishing credibility, not tooting our own horns here.
- Anything relevant career, education, or experience-wise.
I appreciate this article on BookBaby, which the above rules–with a healthy dose of my own experience–basically come from: How to Write a Great Author Bio that Will Connect With Readers by Chris Robley. There’s a ton more info about various kinds and uses of bios jam-packed into it, too.
And as a final source for examples, here is an article from BookBub: Writing Your Author Bio? Here are 10 Great Examples by Diana Urban
Some of you are like me and have no amazing credentials to add to your bio. Don’t let that get you down. Your bio doesn’t have to sound like a roster of awe-inducing bona fides, which in all honesty can sound like that pompous guy we want to avoid being. What you should focus on when writing your bio is to be authentically you, and giving readers a reason to think you are an author that they can connect with when they open the pages of your beautiful book.
One thing I notice that’s hard for a lot of authors is posting a picture of themselves. Trust me, I get it. I am not photogenic at all, and it takes about 1,000 pictures altogether to find one I can be happy with to put on display for the world to see. But I’m telling you now that people want to see your face. There is something in us as human beings that longs to see other human beings. Readers will connect with you, get a better sense of you, and likely build more trust in you when they can put a face to the name. Come out of your shell, my writer friend, and show us your face!
Between your book cover synopsis and your author bio, you will have an amazing back book cover. If you’ve got questions, please ask! I’ll do my very best to answer anything you need help with when it comes to indie publishing your work, making it the very best it can be.
Rachael Ritchey is the author of the Chronicles of the Twelve Realms, a clean YA fantasy fiction series set a medieval era of another world. Her enthusiasm for archaic settings of the past stems from her appreciation for true history, which influences us even today. When she’s not delving in to the fantastical world of the Twelve Realms, Rachael is with her family in the real world on the eastern side of Washington State where there’s plenty of inspiration to dream.