Book Back Cover: The Essential Elements One Must Know.
Everyone knows that the cover of the book is all important, and that lot of effort goes into creating the cover. But did you know that the back cover of the book is equally important, if not more? That is because no reader buys a book for the cover alone. They will flip the book to read what’s on the back cover and only then decide if it is worth spending on the book.
And also, if the cover is amazing and the back cover doesn’t match the front cover, the reader is likely to keep the book back on the shelf. You wouldn’t want that, would you?
It doesn’t matter if you are publishing your book through traditional publishing, DIY, or self-publishing; the back cover of the book is essential in any case.
In this article, we will be focusing on the back cover of physical books since eBooks or audiobooks do not have back covers.
The Function of the Back Cover
You know that the back cover is essential, but what is its core function?Well, the back cover is a marketing tool. The first level of marketing is the front cover. The second level is the back cover. The front cover should make your reader pick up the book from the shelf, and the back cover should entice them enough to buy it.
In the back cover, the tagline catches your attention; the blurb tells you why you need to read the book; the author’s bio tells you who has written the book, which in turn tells you why the book will grab your attention. The rest are functional details like the price, barcode, ISBN, and publisher’s logo. More about that in a bit.
The Back Cover in the Publishing Workflow
In the publishing process, designing the book cover, both front, and back, is the last step. That is because everything about the book cover depends on the final edited version of the book. Everything includes the trim size, paper color, and the number of pages all impacts the cover’s dimensions. If you start working on the cover, either front or back, before the editing is complete, you might have to work on it again. So it’s better to wait until the editing process is completed.
Parts of a Back Cover of the Book
Before you can get the perfect book cover designed, you need to know the parts of the back cover of the book. Browsing through bookshelves and/or online google search images will give you some idea about the back covers of books in the same genre of your book.
Before we go any further into the topic, you need to understand that the front cover and the back cover exist together. When designing the book cover, usually both are looked at the same time. Sometimes images and illustrations continue from the front cover to the back or vice versa. We are looking at only the back cover of the book in this article, but that doesn’t mean that it is an isolated entity.
These are the parts of the back cover of the book:
- The tagline
- The blurb
- Author’s bio
- ISBN, barcode, and price of the book
- Publisher’s logo
- Cover credits
Now let’s look at each part in detail.
Some people say that you have three seconds to catch the elusive attention of the reader. There are three things that can potentially catch their attention: the book cover, the title of the book, and the tagline. You need a memorable tagline so that even if they can’t buy the book, they can come back to it later and perhaps even tell their friends.
The tagline captures the spirit of the book and creates a vibe along with the cover and the blurb.
To write a compelling tagline, take a look at the taglines of other books in the same genre as yours to get an idea.A clever tagline that misleads the reader will work against the book rather than for it. Next, try out the tagline with readers or editors and look out for their reaction.
If you have found an excellent tagline for your book, remember that they can be used for merchandise as well in the future. Think of mugs and t-shirts with your snappy tagline!
Your short and snappy tagline should:
- Tease the reader: Taglines are like slogans. They need to hint at the story and be mysterious enough to make the reader want to learn more. The tagline is not a summary of the story.
- Distil the essence of the book: The tagline captures in a line or two, the essence of the book describing precisely what the book is all about.
Here are some examples of taglines that make an impact.
- ‘Winning will make you famous.
Losing means certain death.’–The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- ‘May the odds be ever in your favor.’ – The Hunger Gamesby Suzanne Collins
- ‘Sometimes being a god is no fun at all…’ – Pyramidsby Terry Pratchett
- ‘Winter is coming’ – A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
Now we come to the heart of the back cover—the blurb. It’s perhaps the most important part of the back cover. The blurb explains the story or premise of the book, which piques the interest of the reader.
Years later, people may remember covers of their favourite books, but hardly anyone remembers the blurb. Yet it is probably one of the essential factors in a reader making a buying decision.
Your blurb should:
- Be short; say about 150 to 200 words. No longer than that.
- Have a summary of the book without revealing the ending or giving away any surprises.You don’t want the reader to read the whole story right on the back cover itself!
- Be free of clichés like ‘this book will change your life’ or ‘a must-read.’
- Be in line with blurbs of other books in the same genre. This does not mean that it will be the same or identical but rather follow the same format.
- Be free of grammar and spelling errors.
The blurb for nonfiction books is slightly different from the fiction ones.
For nonfiction books, the problem is presented to which the book is the supposed solution and gives the reader something to take away from it. For example, this is the blurb for ‘This Is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook’:
This is our last chance to do anything about the global climate and ecological
Now or never, we need to beradical. We need to rise. And we need to rebel.
This book contains everything you need to know about how to do it.
By the time you finish it, you will have become an Extinction Rebellion activist.
Act now before it’s too late.
The problem here is the ecological emergency, and the handbook claims to present a structured plan to be able to avert this emergency.
For fiction books, the novel promises a darned good tale with all the elements of good fiction—a memorable central character, suspense, drama, intrigue, mystery, and wonder. Let’s look at a famous example of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ by J.K. Rowling.
Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy – until he is rescued by an owl, taken to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns to play Quidditch and does battle in a deadly duel.
HARRY POTTER IS A WIZARD!
The Author’s Bio
The author’s bio is quite significant on the back cover. It is not the ‘about the author’ section. It is a compact few lines introducing the author. About three sentences maximum. If you have written fiction, you can let your personality shine through these lines depending on the genre of the book. Just say who you are and list your accomplishments. If you have written a nonfiction book, use the three lines to establish your credentials.
The first and last rule of the author bio is KISS—keep it short and simple.
Here is an example from fiction, ‘Dangerous Froth’ by Kay S is a young adult book. The author’s bio on the back cover says:
Kay S. loves to read and binge on chips. She enjoys Enid Blyton and Jeff Kinney and Tulika books as much as kids do, if not more. Sometimes she also scribbles about this and that.
Here is an example, the ‘Routledge Film Guidebooks: Fantasy’is an academic book and clearly nonfiction. It has been written by two authors, Jacqueline Furby and Claire Hines. These are their bios in the back cover:
Jacqueline Furby is a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for Film at Southampton Solent University, UK.
Sometimes the author’s bio is skipped when the author is too famous to need any introduction.
Also called endorsements or cover blurbs, testimonials are also selling points that can attract some readers. Some people have bought books only because an author whom they value highly has endorsed it. So endorsements from famous writers, people, and magazines are highly prized. They are like celebrity endorsements in advertisements.
Testimonials are social proof that someone else has read the book and found it interesting. They can be very persuasive in converting an uninterested reader to a buyer. Some studies have observed that books with testimonials are liable to be bought more than books without them.
There are usually two to three testimonials on the back cover. Choose ones that complement the back cover design and the space available.
You can get testimonials through these three ways:
- Other writers: You can approach important people, perhaps even politely email them with advance review copies. Alternatively, if you have writer friends, do contact them for a short one-liner that will help your book. Your readers will recognize a famous name on the back cover. Make sure that you include the credentials of the fellow author along with the testimonial.
- Publication reviews: If a magazine with good standing like say, the London Review of Books or the New York Times, has said something complimentary in its pages, a short, impactful extract could be used as a testimonial on the back cover. When prospective readers read these reviews, they will be persuaded to buy your book.
- Customer reviews: Reach out to some first readers for reviews and get some powerful testimonials from them.
Here is an example from Jhumpa Lahiri’s nonfiction ‘In Other Words,’ the following testimonials are on the back cover.
‘Gorgeous…[A]book that is everywhere about displacement and the discoveries it can lead to’ – Joseph Luzzi, New York Times
ISBN, Barcode, and Price of the Book
The design of the back cover should leave space for the International Standard Book Number (or ISBN code) and the barcode that goes with it. Since 2007, all books have had 13 digit ISBN codes, which is different from the 10-digit ISBN code used earlier. Around this space, the price of the book in the currency of the country of publication is also placed.
You need to apply for the ISBN from the national agency of the country in which your book is being published. For example, if your book is being published in the USA, you’ll need to apply from www.bowker.com. If your book is being published in Italy, then you’ll need to apply to the national ISBN agency of Italy.
The ISBN, barcode, and price of the book are usually placed on the bottom of the back cover either in the middle of the extreme left or right of the space.
If you can afford it in terms of design and space available, you can try to incorporate the barcode, which is a very functional element, into the back cover design. This would involve some very creative designing on the part of the cover designer and which also has to be in tune with the theme, genre, and front cover of the book. If that’s not possible, a straight-up clean and neat back cover design also works just as well too.
Placing the publisher’s logo in a prominent place on the back cover is essential. Books are identified by their publishers as well. This placement will have to be aesthetically balanced according to the design of the back cover.
Sometimes, the credits for the cover and/or design is placed on the back cover of a paperback. This is optional. For the hardback, the cover credits go into the front or back inside dust jacket. Again, this is placed aesthetically according to the design of the back cover or inside a dust jacket.
Now the spine is not technically a part of the back cover. However, it is included in the design if the book is over 130 pages long. This is, of course, for paperbacks and hardbacks. Indeed, there is no question of a spine if your book is an ebook.
The book spine shows the book title, the author’s full name in the same font as on the cover, and the publisher’s logo. Design-wise, it should be easy to read and spaced aesthetically well in a way that it can be viewed from the side. It needs to be as catchy as the book cover.
Over to You
It is possible that you might want to blaze a pioneering trail and not have all or some of the elements listed above on the back cover. However, it’s good to keep in mind that these are the traditional elements expected by the reader after reading and observing many books.
If you do want to chuck the trend and go your own way, the design of the back cover should be so striking to compensate for these elements. In either case, you are now prepared to get working on the back cover of your book. Good luck with creating that outstanding back cover!