One of the most important tasks you’ll tackle when you’re self-publishing is coming up with a good description that will make someone want to buy your book. Here’s how to write good jacket copy.
Writing good copy starts with preparation. It’s important to know where your jacket and marketing copy will live and craft your pitch with that in mind.
And since you’re self-publishing, what’s on your physical book matters a lot less than how it’s going to appear on Amazon and other marketplaces. Think less about your description as “jacket copy” and more as “marketing copy.”
In this post I’ll cover:
- How to write good jacket copy
- How to test your jacket copy
- Examples of good jacket copy
How to write good jacket copy
Here’s how to go about crafting good jacket copy:
- Understand your key selling points
- Craft your hook
- Flesh out your description
- Show your authority
1. Understand your key selling points
In order to write good jacket copy, you need to know why someone would want to read your book.
For novels and narrative nonfiction, this means having a feel for what makes your plot compelling and unique in the market.
For prescriptive nonfiction and how-tos, this means speaking to the key challenge your book is trying to solve as well as your authority to solve that particular problem.
Above all, it’s crucial know what makes your book stand out and hone in on that selling point.
If your life depended on selling just one copy of your book, what would you say?
2. Craft your hook
On Amazon, you really don’t have much room to grab someone. The “above the fold” jacket copy is vanishingly small:
You have about seven lines to work with. So you really need to make it count.
Don’t rely on someone clicking that tiny “Read more” link. You want to sell your book in those seven lines.
For nonfiction, be crystal clear about what you’re trying to solve and why you’re the person to solve it.
For fiction, lead with your one sentence pitch:
When OPENING CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER(s), they have OVERCOME CONFLICT to COMPLETE QUEST.
Make sure you’re not just sticking to nuts and bolts but also capturing the flavor of your novel.
3. Flesh out your description
Once you’ve nailed the opener, now it’s time to provide more detail. The length here is more flexible.
For your physical book, talk to your cover designer about what length would mesh with the cover design and optimize with that in mind.
For your sales copy, you have much more space below the fold (but don’t go on endlessly).
If your book is nonfiction, you can either go into more detail about what you’ll cover in the book or use the space for blurbs that show your authority (which is what I opted to do for How to Write a Novel).
If you’ve written a novel, draw upon your two paragraph pitch to flesh out more of the plot and world.
Also, jacket copy is a different beast than query letters! Avoid spoilers, you can be a bit more of a hype machine rather than just sticking to the plot basics, and it’s fine to drift into themes a bit more. You also need to mix in your credentials in a more seamless way.
4. Show your authority
Even if this is your debut novel and you don’t have a publishing credit to your name, give some thought to showing your authority.
Solicit blurbs, try to get reviews from local media, show past reviews, list other books you’ve written.
Don’t put credentials just to put them if they have nothing to do with your book, but the more you can do to show why you’re the best person in the world to have written your book, the more copies you’ll sell.
How to test your jacket copy
While it can be maddening to try to cram your selling points into a short seven line summary, the good news is that when it comes to your sales copy, it’s not set in stone. You have the opportunity to tweak it to see what works best.
One of the best ways of testing is via a social media ad spend. You can test different versions of your hook using Facebook ads and see which one has the best clickthrough.
Even if you don’t have the budget for that, you can tweak the jacket copy and see if a certain configuration results in a sales bump.
Try a few different approaches and see what works.
Examples of good jacket copy
Here are some examples of good jacket copy. I’m sticking mainly to traditionally published books because on the whole I think it’s publishers who still know how to nail the alchemy of good jacket copy.
For the purposes of this section, I’m just sticking to the descriptions of the books and not the accompanying blurbs/credentials so you can see what works in how they describe the books.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (novel)
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned—from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren—an enigmatic artist and single mother—who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town—and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood—and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (novel)
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.
Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (young adult novel)
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.
In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.
But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.
But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.
And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield (picture book)
One day, a bear cub finds something strange and wonderful in the forest. When he touches the keys, they make a horrible noise. Yet he is drawn back again and again. Eventually, he learns to play beautiful sounds, delighting his woodland friends.
Then the bear is invited to share his sounds with new friends in the city. He longs to explore the world beyond his home, and to play bigger and better than before. But he knows that if he leaves, the other bears will be very sad…
This gorgeously illustrated tale of following one’s dreams reminds us of the value of friendship, wherever we go.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (science/history)
From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution—a #1 international bestseller—that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.”
One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us?
Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.
Dr. Harari also compels us to look ahead, because over the last few decades humans have begun to bend laws of natural selection that have governed life for the past four billion years. We are acquiring the ability to design not only the world around us, but also ourselves. Where is this leading us, and what do we want to become?
Educated by Tara Westover (memoir)
An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University.
Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (how-to)
The #1 New York Times bestselling guide to decluttering your home and the inspiration for the hit Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.
Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?
Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).
With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.
What makes good jacket copy?
Do you have any tips or tricks for jacket copy? Any favorite examples? Take to the comments!
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Art: Der Bibliothek-Saal zu Tübingen by Unknown
Marilynn Byerly says
I get dozens of newsletters offering free and cheap ebooks. Some of the blurbs/cover copy are so terrible I collect and dissect them for writing blog entries. Here’s a link if you want to torture yourself.
Rusty Biesele says
I hit a particularly rich vein of ideas on how to approach a blurb by reading the black list for movie scripts. Some black lists will show you how many producers read and liked the blurb. Reading a bunch of these movie script blurbs helps put you in a good mindset that is difficult for an author, enthusiastic about their work, to achieve. You have to play the producer role, someone who has read countless scripts and has become very cynical. There isn’t a plot twist, a story approach, a kind of character you haven’t seen because you resolved everything down to very simplistic, generic terms. Given that mindset, which has probably seen more than you can imagine (and if you don’t believe that, you are not ready), how do you make that one or two sentence blurb that entirely sells you idea. Once you can write those one or two sentences, then you will know what’s important to sell you book and you can try a book blurb. Writing the first script style blurb is incredibly hard. Here are a few script blurb examples from the 2014 “Black List”, the script blurbs popular with producers:
“A lonely twelve year old boy in love with his babysitter discovers some hard truths about life, love, and murder.”
“A sniper and his spotter must kill and avoid being killed, separated from an enemy sniper by only a 16x6ft prayer wall.”
“A CIA drone coordinator battles his own psychological health while trying to decipher whether his wife has been replaced.”
One of the longest ones:
“In the late 1970s to mid 1980s, Barry Seal, a TWA pilot recruited by the CIA to provide reconnaissance on the burgeoning communist threat in Central America finds himself in charge of one of the biggest covert CIA operations in the history of the United States, one that spawned the birth of the Medellin cartel and eventually almost brought down the Reagan White House with the Iran Contra scandal.”
“A CIA drone coordinator battles his own psychological health while trying to decipher whether his wife has been replaced.”
I tried using this mindset and reduced my blurb down from around 180 words to around 97 words. It still has too much of an author’s enthusiasm: ‘looky looky isn’t this cool. ‘ It needs to be a driving, narrow force rather than an exposition. But you get the idea… Try it yourself. It will give you more sadistic pleasure than an edit and in the end, you will understand your own work better than before.
“Earth has secretly given birth to highly-evolved, human-looking children. Governments seek to vivisect these children, finding their source of ancient magic. An alien race, 70 light-years from Earth, attempts to rescue them. Fourteen-year-old Syon, the master of time-magic, is treated sadistically by parents who fraudulently adopted him. He helps seven-year-old Stefan fill the children’s minds with visions of a better timeline. Is Stefan an incarnation of Shiva or is this a delusion for coping with the grief of his father’s death? Does twelve-year-old Tyco possess ancient Mayan magic or is he Shiva’s destroyer?”
Neil Larkins says
I decided to give my “Key and Crest” copy (below) your producer one-sentence version.
“An abused, handicapped teenage girl gets swept up in an adventure that shapes her destiny and changes her life.”
Kind of lacks something but it’s not bad. I’ll keep working on it.
Thanks for the tips, Rusty and thanks to you, Nathan for getting this started.
Sasha Kildare says
Awesome. Thank you Rusty. Less is more. My back cover copy has been chiseled for months. Forgot all about flap copy. Need that what I call one-sentence USP for the front flap.
JOHN T. SHEA says
Thanks, Nathan! But, Marie Kondo and Jordan Peterson, no thanks! I REFUSE to tidy up! In fact, every time I hear such advice I throw another book on the floor.
Neil Larkins says
Here is the back cover copy of The Key and the Crest, The Unlikely Adventures of Frances Westerly, a book I self-published (sort of) back in 2004 (now out of print). The genre is Young Adult.
“The year is 1961. Frances Westerly is a lonely teenage girl struggling to make her way through life in the little town of Stringville, Kansas. Taunted by schoolmates and abused by family, Frances longs to find happiness and freedom from her life constricted by a physical handicap, but convinced it will never happen. Then her world is turned upside down by the arrival of a mysterious teacher, Mr. G.W. Merlinbaum, who challenges Frances to follow her dreams and take hold of her destiny. When she accepts that challenge, she – along with her best and only friend, Madonna – is taken on an adventure ride of such an ‘unlikely’ nature that even she finds it hard to believe. But happen it does, and through her courage and fortitude Frances is changed in a way she could have never imagined…or expected.”
I’m thinking of rewriting this work and republish as an ebook, but will probably keep this cover copy mostly as is.
I already have one ebook published, Mouse Hole. The genre is Preteen/Young Adult. This is the short version copy I use in my face book promotion.
“Nine year-old Richard is scared of the spooky old mansion on Sycamore Street. But that doesn’t stop him from following his impetuosity to ‘clear his good name’ when he imagines he’s accused of a burglary there. He enters the estate and accidentally discovers what he thinks is a clue to solve the police-termed mystery. Now Richard’s problem: Get anyone to listen and believe him.”
I first intended to provide the long version of this copy but decided to let it go at this. Anyone want to comment on these two efforts?
Neil Larkins says
Oh, sheesh. I didn’t mean to label “Key and Crest” as Young Adult. It’s actually Action/Adventure, as given in the title. I shouldn’t be commenting when I’m about half asleep. Sorry.
Samuel Ainsworth says
Thank you for this great article!
It is very timely advice as I have just written the book description for the back of my upcoming book. I have changed a few thing based off your advice. I was wondering if you had any suggestions or advice.
It reads as follows:
Have you ever thought about disappearing into the wild?
Follow the tracks of author and adventurer Sam Ainsworth on a one year journey deep into the harsh reality of survival. Spending his life savings on a remote piece of land in Canada the author confronts hungry bears, giant moose and extreme isolation that tests the spirit of a man trying to build a cabin before the deadly grip of winter closes upon the land. This is a story of man, mountain and meaning in the savage natural beauty of the Cape Breton Highlands.
Thanks and keep up the great work!