Don't Neglect the Back End


by Kiersten Hallie Krum

I love festivals. Book festivals. Music festivals. Comic Cons. Renaissance festivals. I dig ’em hard. Few things are as fun has hanging with like-minded people and dishing about favorite things. It’s just candy.

Behold the wonder of the Interwebs where now we can enjoy such marvels from the comfy chair in our living room. We at Lady Smut are pleased to promote HarperCollins Publishers’ virtual Romance Festival on June 7-8. Glance to your right to see the festival’s nifty retro logo. There’s an amazing line up of authors scheduled for events including Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Sarah Morgan, and Darynda Jones. Join them on Saturday the 7th for Author’s Day, which will include tips from agents, editor Q&A, and my personal favorite, social media tips. Sunday’s Reader’s Day will include giveaways, cover reveals, and peaks behind the scenes with favorite authors.

Yesterday, our own Alexa Day wrote about the many appeals of a good book cover and how much value the right image has in promoting a book. The first thing I notice about a book is definitely its cover. We’re fortunate in Romancelandia to enjoy a mighty surplus of gorgeous covers. Sure, there are times when themes take over, like the headless, legless, sculpted bare chest of a man (and thank you so much for that, book designers) and there have been epic fails of covers that yet live in infamy (yes, I’m talking about you, Christina Dodd’s infamous three-armed lady cover.) Almost every romance writer I know has a story of a cover war had with their publisher at one time or another. But we’ve come a long way from the Fabio monopoly of the 80s and 90s, almost as far as romance novels themselves have traveled.

three armed lady

Count ’em: one…two…three

My affinity for romance covers comes from a more personal bent. My first job in book publishing was as a publisher’s assistant at Avon Books, which at the time was like the mothership calling me home. A large part of my duties was sitting in on the cover conferences and keeping track of what had been decided for which book. An editor would come in and pitch the book to the publisher and the heads of the design studio. Together they’d brainstorm ideas. I loved those meetings. They were a treasure trove of insight into the internal workings of a publisher and how to visually position a book for sale. They could get quite heated too—I still remember the great kudzu argument of 1998. I learned about step backs and gloss and foil and matte treatments. I also learned there’ s more than just marketing and positioning to the process, but always politics too both internal and external. This was back when Amazon was just making its presence felt and Barnes and Noble held enormous influence to the point that once we redid a gorgeous cover into a cut paper eyesore because B&N wouldn’t take the book otherwise.

I also started writing back cover copy as an assistant and continued writing it for years after. If a cover grabs a reader’s eye, the next move they make usually is to turn it over and read the description on the back. That’s the moment when the hook can sink deep or be dislodged completely. It’s true for ebooks too; I can’t be the only reader who scrolls down to read the description before buying.

warning full of books

Typically, back-end materials are pages in the back of the book that promote the publishers other books in the genre or of the author. But the real back-end is the actual back of the book and the copy that lives there. Breaking down a 400-plus page novel into 130 words or less is no mean feat even if it seems a no-brainer in a world of clever soundbites wrapped in 140 characters. Back cover copy is a delicate dance of teasing enticing aspects of a book’s plot and characters without giving away the goods altogether.

Be sure to check out the Romance Festival this weekend where you’ll have cover reveals galore along with many other romance goodies. Use the hashtag #Romance14 on social media to keep up with the conversation.

And follow Lady Smut. Our back end is quite spectacular.

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4 Comments

  • C. Margery Kempe
    June 2, 2014 at 8:15 am

    You should be offering consulting with your experience in writing back cover copy! That’s really a skill. I have got better at it but ugh! It can be so difficult to do with a book you’ve sweated over.

  • Madeline Iva
    June 2, 2014 at 9:32 am

    I’ve written back cover blurbs for indie friends. I love it when a back-of-the-book blurb just zings with a certain kind of tension. I love the feeling of anticipation when one really makes you feel like you just gotta grab it. And I’m such a sucker for a good cover.

    Go check out Joanna Bourne’s website where she pins down the problem of historical book covers very neatly. Here’s a link— http://jobourne.blogspot.com/2012/05/this-is-what-i-hate-about-romance.html

  • Liz Everly
    June 2, 2014 at 10:19 am

    This weekend I met the person who writes the copy for my mystery covers, which was very cool. I agree–it’s a talent not everybody has. Easier to do it with someone else’s book, than my own. Interesting post.

  • Kel
    June 2, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Cover blurbs are where books live or die. While a cover might get my attention, I always read the blurb, and if it doesn’t interest me, even the best cover doesn’t entice me to buy a book with a bad blurb.

    I’ve even not-bought recommended books I was planning to just-buy because the blurb was so uninteresting I just couldn’t… and I have been known to read my cereal box every morning.

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