If your manuscript has been accepted by a traditional publisher, you don't need to worry about this. They have expert teams, usually in the marketing department, who whip up lovely back covers for you, and all you need to do is reply to their emails and answer any questions they may have for you. Maybe sit for a professional headshot too, if they decide that's necessary.
But if you are self-publishing or hybrid-publishing, you're in charge of your back-cover content. Get this right and your book will sell better than it otherwise would. Get this wrong and you'll badly hurt your sales—or worse, you'll attract the wrong readers to your book and get negative reviews as a result.
Naturally, the perfect back-cover ingredients for your book will depend on what sort of book it is: fiction or nonfiction? What's your topic or genre? Who is your ideal reader, your perfect fan? It will also depend on who you are: a first-time author, an author with an established fan base of any kind and size, or are you a bona fide celebrity in your niche of the world? And perhaps most importantly, what is your marketing strategy for this book?
You want to choose back-cover ingredients that will appeal to your perfect fan, to those who will appreciate and even love your book despite any flaws it might have.
If you are a first-time author or a mid-list author (like most of us!), you want to establish your credentials; if you're a celebrity, you want to capitalize on your fame.
Most of all, you want the back cover of your book (and the front cover too, of course) to work seamlessly with your marketing strategy whatever that may be.
Since each book is different but the basic goals for the back cover remain the same, think of it like ordering a sandwich at the deli counter: you choose your bread, you choose your meat (or whatever the main filling will be: I love a nice big portobello mushroom!), then add the extras and condiments to suit your taste. Be sure to give careful attention to the preparation and presentation of the ingredients you choose: no typographical errors or other distracting mistakes, and make it visually appealing to your ideal fan. A good book-cover designer can handle that last one for you.
Here is a helpful list of Back-Cover Ingredients to whet your appetite:
Choose one or both basic necessary ingredients:
- Book Blurb: a brief and pithy description of your book that emphasizes how it will satisfy your ideal reader. This could run as few as 20 words or as long as 200 words, and design considerations will affect length just as much as the other three basic considerations (what is your book, who is your reader, how are you marketing it). You can also use this blurb for your "short description" online metadata for your book.
- Author Blurb: a brief and pithy description of you, the author, that makes you sound like the perfect person to write this book, and the kind of person whom your reader would like or admire. Beware over-sharing, though.
Choose your extras, sides, and condiments to suit your taste:
- Endorsement from a Professional Review(s): written by a paid book reviewer, particularly one whom your ideal reader might recognize and respect. Kirkus Reviews and Publisher's Weekly (through their subsidiary BookLife) are the ketchup and mustard of the reviewing world, but there are plenty of smaller professional book review organizations that cost less and might be even more appropriate for your book. Pull a brief quote from the best one and use that as an endorsement on your back cover.
- Endorsement from an Unpaid Review(s): written by a fan, friend, colleague, or beta reader, especially one whom your ideal reader will recognize and respect—or at least one who sounds like an authority on your topic/in your genre. Pull a brief quote from your favorite one and use that as an endorsement on your back cover.
- Popularity or Happy-Customer Stats: Numbers can be just as compelling as names and praise. These statistics come from your platform-building efforts before you release your book. These will usually appear in your author blurb or the book blurb, but if there's a particular statistic that would be a sales trigger for your ideal reader, make that a separate visual element to call attention to it. Don't do this with more than one statistic unless your author platform is amazing and the stats are powerful sales triggers for your book.
- Award Logos/Medallions: Of course, to earn these you need to enter Writing Contests. Some authors have good results with these (not always winning an award but having good enough results that at least it seems worth the hassle), but some believe the whole idea is a scam or at best a waste of time. The key for a good experience is diligent research. Look for contests that fit your work, not just your pocketbook: paying a $40 entry fee for one contest you are very likely to win is better than spending hours adapting your manuscript to enter ten free contests that you are not likely to win, or even earn an honorable mention. Of course, a free contest in your genre, meant to draw out authors like you, and that is geared toward your themes and writing style is the perfect opportunity... but hunting down those opportunities will require real work. If your book wins anything, be sure to put that trademarked medallion on the back cover of your book. Or heck, on the front cover, if it's prestigious enough!
- An Intriguing Pull-Quote: If there's a particularly good hook or tag line in your book, consider making it a distinct visual element on the back cover, if it would be a sales trigger for your ideal reader. do not choose one that is a self-endorsement! And don't ever do this just because there's blank space left on your back cover. But if your editor and beta readers keep mentioning that awesome turn of phrase in chapter 8 (or whatever), put that phrase to work for you, at least in other marketing material.. and possibly as a pull-quote on your back cover, one that gives your ideal reader a whiff of the excellence within.
- Author Photo: Some books should not have this on the back cover, some books absolutely require it if the author's face isn't already on the front cover. But for most books, it's optional. An attractive face is definitely a sales trigger—just make sure it's yours. No matter how attractive you are, do not use a selfie on your back cover. Look for professional photographers in your area who do "headshots" and be willing to pay for high quality. They will make you look good. They will also give you very high-quality digital image files that you can adapt for all sorts of branding purposes. Usually one sitting will result in half a dozen different angles and expressions that you can use. A great head shot is a gift that keeps on giving. But do get a new one every ten years or so, or you may shock your fans when they meet you in person, and that's awkward for everyone involved.
- QR Code: These were a fad a couple of years ago, and the fizz has fizzled out. But they are still worth considering, especially now that most camera software has QR code recognition built into it, so folks don't need to install a separate QR-reader app and open it just to read your code. Potential readers can just shift to camera mode, aim their phone at your code, and a dialog box pops up on their screen asking them if they want to obey the code. See this post for ideas: it doesn't just take them to a web page anymore. (Although that might be exactly what you want!) A QR code is just a way to add a digital hyperlink to a physical object—still a powerful draw for some readers, and a great way to add another sales trigger to your back cover. But only if it would be a sales trigger for your ideal reader. If it isn't, it would just clutter up your back cover for no good reason. Or worse, be a turn-off.
The bottom line here, as usual, is to know your ideal reader. Don't try to squeeze all these ingredients onto the back cover of every book you write. Begin with the two basic ingredients and only add the sides, spices, condiments or garnishes that will complement that flavor. Let your book-cover designer "plate it beautifully," but your job is to cook up a back-cover appetizer plate that will delight your ideal reader, one they will savor, one that makes them crave the main course that lies within your pages!