Secret Storytelling Weapon: The Book’s Back Cover

What’s the first thing most readers look at when they pick up a book? If they’re anything like me, their attention is first snagged by the cover art, the title, and the author name, and from there they flip the book over and a take a gander at the back cover or the inside jacket flap. This is where those crucial split-second decisions are made (to buy or not to buy?), and it’s also where the reader will make his first encounter with your story, your plot, and your characters.

This is not a post about writing a killer blurb, but rather about realizing and utilizing the power of that summary within the story itself. How many books have you delved into without knowing anything about the premise? Most of us at least scan the back cover before cracking open Chapter One. After all, why waste our time when we can use the crucial info on the back to narrow down our reading choices? That’s just savvy readership.

But what does this mean for writers (other than the fact that poor cover material leads to poor sales)?

Chapter One Is Not Your First Opportunity to Impart Information to Readers

All too often, we face the impossibility of cramming “crucial” information into the first chapter. We approach the plate, bat in hand, behaving as if the reader doesn’t even know the rules of the game. But if our savvy reader has read the back cover, he probably already knows quite a few things, including:

The back cover is a crucial part of the reading experience. It not only creates certain preconceptions and expectations, which the author must fulfill, it also creates them with more certainty than the foreshadowing found in the pages themselves. Because the info on the back cover is stated as fact, and because the narrative voice of a summary is understood to be reliable, readers always expect the promises on the back cover to be executed precisely.

This knowledge is often (if not always) overlooked by authors. And, in so doing, we not only neglect the opportunity to use the back cover to our advantage, we even abuse it.

Ways Writers Abuse Their Book’s Back Cover

Dozens of novels start off Chapter One by bombarding readers with information they’ve already learned from the back cover. Inevitably in these situations, I squirm and mentally urge the author to get on with it. The carefully constructed suspense doesn’t fool me when I already know the basic premise.

To go off on a little tangent: The otherwise marvelous 2003 movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (affiliate link) contains a scene that always makes me roll my eyes. In the movie’s opening sequence, as the call to arms is being beaten, the camera shows us the (faceless) ship’s captain scrambling into his sword belt and coat and getting ready to go on deck. Then, suddenly, the camera dramatically pans up and reveals—surprise!—Russell Crowe.

Russell Crowe Funny Picture

Only I wasn’t surprised because, naturally, I had seen the DVD cover and knew who starred in the movie.

Back cover info often creates a similar situation. As authors, we carefully construct our opening hooks (the hook that will reveal the premise to the reader), but we overlook that the reader is usually already privy to this premise. Hence, we risk our authorial flourishes being overlooked or even scorned.

Ways You Can Use the Book’s Back Cover

Acknowledging the back cover means you get to enjoy a teeny bit of wiggle room in crafting both your opening chapter and the general suspense throughout the novel. Of course, a good back-cover summary gives away as little of the crucial plot information as possible. We always want our readers to know as little as possible about our climaxes. But it also means we can take advantage of what they do know.

In a sense, the back cover is the mini-hook before the hook. If the summary on the back doesn’t grab him, the reader probably won’t flip on ahead to Chapter One. This creates two very important opportunities for the author:

1. We don’t have to worry about explaining everything in the opening scene.

2. We must be careful we find the right balance between explaining the necessities and boring the reader with what he already knows.

A word of caution: Although authors, in crafting their openings, generally overlook the back cover, keep in mind not all readers read the back cover. And those that do don’t always read every word. The story between the covers must be complete in its own right. We can’t lean upon the back cover as a crutch for our narrative deficiencies. But that’s no excuse for not being aware of it and its effect upon our readers.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What information will your book’s back cover blurb provide readers before they even open the book? Tell me in the comments!

Secret Storytelling Weapon Your Book's Back Cover

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Belle Lynn says

    I’m definitely one of those readers that has to read the back cover before starting a book. It really helps me to be able to follow the story and to know what’s going on, even before opening the book. I can get frustrated though because some of the time the back cover is misleading and the book itself has barely anything to do with what hooked me on the back cover! (hence I usually put that book down and look for another one with a good back cover).

  2. What aggravates me is when the back cover is misleading. I’ve picked up books believing them to be comedies and they weren’t. Good post.

  3. The back cover is an art unto itself. And we all thought writing a 300-page novel was hard? Just wait until you have to boil it down to three paragraphs!

  4. Good post. I always read the back of a book to see if I want to read any further.

    Some books just include critical acclaim from the NY Times or some such. I don’t much care for that.

    While I am interested that ‘experts’ liked the book, their entries can be almost misquoted.

    And I’m much more interested, since I read predominantly fiction (SciFi, fantasy, Mysteries, and young adult fiction) in the basic plot.

    Do I want to experience this drama? Will this story help me escape my painful reality for a while?

    If it passes muster there, I move on to the excerpt before buying the book.

    Author’s name or title is the initial grab. Then cover art, then synopsis, then excerpt.

    If I have time, I might read a page or so into it to check the writing style too, and see if I’m hooked in the first couple pages.

    I got one book though that looked good, had a great hero, nice synopsis. So I bought it. Well written book, gripping story line. Then they killed the MC off. Grrrr…

  5. I’m not much of a fan of “endorsements” either. Except on the rare occasion where said endorsement is by an author I’m particularly crazy about, I don’t pay them much attention. Knowing that “blurb trading” is par for the course in the publishing world never has given me much confidence in the reliability of the comments.

  6. It eases the pressure of an awesome start a bit. Since, I am one of those readers who read back cover first. And I think you should add the fact that, use the back cover just as a mini hooker. Since in many of them, I have to forbid myself (once I start the novel) to read it again. Since many of them contain spoilers which readers become aware once they are into it.
    The back covers are a tricky business.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The whole point of back cover copy is for marketing. It’s there strictly to hook readers into buying and reading the book. Writers need to be aware of the possible spoiler affect and design their back cover copy (when it’s in their control) to tease readers without giving away big reveals.

      • Jessica White says

        Such a pet peeve when the wording isn’t carefully chosen. I always hate it when the back cover gives away some part of a critical moment in the story. I had to be super careful in mine because I didn’t want to give away how the two POV’s encounter one another and their stories intertwine, nor what happens from there out.

        The line I ended up with was: “But when a simple misstep sends Matthew’s certain future colliding with Abigail’s uncertain one, God teaches them both to stop running, be still, and trust that He is with them.”

        I think it sets up an expectation and leaves the reader with a teasing question of exactly what the misstep is and how their lives collide without revealing anything specific enough to ruin the moment when it occurs.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Good choice. My rule of thumb is “don’t explicitly reveal anything that happens after the first plot point.” After that, it should be questions: Will the protag be able to survive? Will she be able to patch her relationship back to together? Ah! The suspense! :p

  7. Thanks for this 🙂 I’ve seen a lot about front covers but the first time I’ve seen anything on the back cover.

    Cover, blurb and back cover are important for me in choosing to read a book or not. That makes sense and it makes sense that the reader starts reading with prior knowledge gleaned from the cover.

    I’ve just finished a book by an acclaimed author in which virtually the whole plot was given away, blow by blow, on the dust jacket of the book (luckily I had skipped reading it until after I read the book!). I am now in the middle of another book in which the major plot premise is on the back cover – and as the author carefully builds up to the surprise that the protag doesn’t know about but the readers do (because it was on the back cover), I can’t help thinking I might have enjoyed the book a lot more if I had been left guessing! But then, unless you are self-publishing, how much say does the author have on what goes on the back cover?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It depends on the publisher. Some want authors to write their own back cover copy. Others hire specialists to do the job.

  8. So what is found on the backcover of a book could also apply to a book description for an ebook?

  9. Cool. Thanks for the reply 🙂

  10. thomas h cullen says

    More proof, that you know your craft inside out.

    “A trio of Trokans, and the unique situation in the all three of them being drawn together over the same resource.

    As central this is…….in fact, it’s the relationship between a parent and their child that’s foremost to this story.”

    That’s The Representative’s item description – one that’s consistent with what it is itself:

    A demonstration, of highest level of politics, but even more importantly the purest of loves.

  11. If one can answer the questions you present, K.M., it can also be an indicator of how well you know your book/how well constructed it is.

    Becomes harder when you are writing the blurb for an anthology, however!


  1. […] go read your favourite books’ back covers and take your time to analyse them (or you can read K.M. Weiland’s blog post about […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.