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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