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Your Book’s Back Cover Blurb Hook: Make That First Sentence Count!

This week, we’re discussing back cover blurbs and which one works best for your book. Which can be quite the process.

That’s why we ended Tuesday’s writing Definition post with:

Yet there are certainly back cover blurbs (or book jacket blurbs or back cover copy) that haven’t grabbed me enough to open up the actual novel or non-fiction work. For that matter, there have been far more that didn’t intrigue me than have.

There are multiple reasons for this. And we'll start discussing those back cover copy concerns in Thursday's Writing Challenge.

Friday’s Writing Rule is going to go further into this topic, of course. But for now, consider this if you want to “Create a killer first sentence for your book’s back cover”:

No pressure or anything, but that first sentence is a biggie. It needs to pop just as much as your cover. Which means you have to consider your ideal reader. Again.

Sick of hearing about this ever-present dictatorial individual yet? Tough luck. If you want to make the sale, you need to give ‘em exactly what they want...

The promise of a read that will fulfill their every expectation, whatever those expectations are.

To illustrate this, consider Carolyn Erickson’s historical fiction work, The Tsarina’s Daughter. That back cover blurb begins with:

It is 1989, and Daria Gradov is an elderly grandmother living in the rural West.

Now, by itself, that might not sound all that interesting. But remember: If you’re reading that first line, you’ve already seen the title, not to mention the front cover image, which features a striking but solemn young woman with Gibson-girl hair and a string of pearls.

So you’re automatically making connections that the “elderly grandmother” is former Russian royalty in disguise! It’s a scintillating enough thought that you’ll want to read the next line. And the next. And the next until you have no more lines to read in that back cover blurb, and you’re ready to flip open the first page.

That is if you’re The Tsarina’s Daughter’s ideal reader: someone who likes Russian-history-specific historical fiction. If that doesn’t describe you, then you might not know the tragic tale of what happened to Russia’s last tsar or the legends that came out of his demise. Which means you might not care to read anything about them.

But how about Hampton Sides’ historical non-fiction In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette? That one starts out with:

On July 8, 1879, Captain Gorge Washington De Long and his team of thirty-two men set sail from San Francisco on the USS Jeannette.

Any reader is going to immediately recognize how it ain’t gonna be smooth sailing for the captain and his men based on the front cover. After all, you don’t typically title your book “Grand and Terrible” unless it’s going to be filled with epic tragedies. And an ideal reader will instantly want to know more.

Incidentally, did you notice that both Tuesday and today’s historical fiction examples, and today’s historical non-fiction back cover blurb all began with the date?

Since not everyone writes – or reads – history driven plot lines, let’s turn to a completely different genre with Lysa TerKeurst’s Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl, a Christian non-fiction choice from my bookshelves.

Despite the slight chastisement of a title, the front cover image is very warm and welcoming, encouraging ideal readers to flip it over and read the back cover tagline:


That’s followed by the official first line of, “Lysa TerKeurst knows what it’s like to consider God just another thing on her to-do list.”

Since, sometimes, yeah, I definitely do turn God into a chore, I was hooked. But again, I’m her ideal reader here, as I am for the other books mentioned above. You might not be, just like not everyone is going to be yours. Which is perfectly okay.

You’ll just louse things up if you fixate on all the people who aren’t your automatic biggest fans. In fact, you might turn off would-be biggest fans if you try to broaden your appeal too much.

So here's your friendly editorial tip for the day... Focus your back cover blurb – first sentence and all – on your ideal readers. That way, they'll happily make their interest all about you in return.

So here’s your friendly editorial tip for the day: Focus your back cover blurb – first sentence and all – on your ideal readers… and they’ll happily make their interest all about you.



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