The first thing a customer sees about your book is the cover. I’ve talked about that much already. But what’s the second?
For most people, when they see a book they think they might like, the next thing they do is flip it over. What do they expect to see?
Consistent imagery, for one. The color palette on the back should contain similar shades to the ones on the front. In some cases, the main image may continue onto the reverse. With covers of this kind, it’s usually a landscape of some sort, but it could simply be a solid color background, or the hazy sky fading as it approaches the bottom of the printed area. A simple paper texture can even work well for this.
Keep in mind, if you do choose to have a picture in the background, it must be unobtrusive. It isn’t the most important thing. Carry over and consistency with the front cover is fine, but what’s by far the most significant is the text.
The font choice here is critical. If someone has picked up your book, they’re already interested. Type that is hard to read, or doesn’t match what the reader expects from the front, can be visually jarring. The customer could put the book down as quickly as they picked it up. Simple is best. Selecting often used fonts like Times New Roman or Arial will put a reader at ease, as they are styles they see every day. It’s a comfort factor. Unique is good, but save it for your story. The every day fonts aren’t mandatory, however. If you’ve done as suggested in my post “On Fonts“, try carrying over the typeface used for the author’s name. It will link the content on both sides.
So you’ve got your style nailed down, now what?
Tell your reader what the book is about. That’s why they’re there, right? If your cover image is striking, they will want to know the details of the story. Practice writing a synopsis. No more than two, maybe three, paragraphs should tell a reader everything they want to know. Tease them with tidbits of plot and character. Tell them what the very core of the story is. There are workshops and tutorials all over the web that teach best practices for blurb writing. There are even people available to do this job for you for a nominal fee. If you write your own, run it by friends, preferably other writers, to check for clarity of your words, grammatical errors, and typos. Make it exciting. It must scream “I’M INTERESTING! LOOK AT ALL THIS COOL PLOT STUFF! AND THIS MAIN CHARACTER? YOU WILL LOVE HIM/HER!”. Convince the reader why this is so. I’ll do a bit of light editing and suggesting of changes if I think a client is open to it, or really, really needs my help, but the onus of this falls on the author. Write it as though your book is the best thing someone will ever read.
There’s debate over the use of reviews or blurbs on a book cover. The consensus seems to be, if someone with a well-known name (an author in the book’s genre or celebrity with appeal to your audience), or a reviewer that’s fairly popular (think New York Times, not your BFF’s blog), provides you with a quote, add it in. However, you must keep it brief. Back cover real estate is limited, so keep any excerpts short. If the reviewer mentions something specific about a character or your unique world-building, that’s back cover gold. But if you choose to use a reviewer’s quote, make sure you leave room for the blurb. That’s what readers are really interested in.
The placing of these review quotes are not so critical. I’ve seen them at the top of the cover and nearer the bottom, so it’s really a matter of personal preference.
Should you restate the title on the back as well? This is another stylistic preference. Some artists chose to put the title at the top, others only use a tag line, a hook, so to speak, to segue into the plot synopsis. Since space is limited, think about it carefully.
Another element that must appear is the bar code box. Most print-on-demand templates will already have this area marked out for you, so there won’t be a choice about where this goes. Independent publishers and large presses will have a logo to place on the back and/or on the spine too, but a self-publisher can usually ignore this. Unless you affiliate yourself with a company, it’s not an addition you need. In fact, you should forget I even mentioned it.
Don’t forget to look at the alignment of your type. Most books use justification to make both the left and right sides of the text line up, with the exception of the end of the paragraph. Don’t make the last line force justified so the words are oddly spaced to fit the width of the paragraph. It’s a nice visual when your paragraphs are neat and tidy. It says “look! I’m professional. Don’t you want to see more of my lovely layout inside?”.
So that’s the recipe for a winning back cover. I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything, but if I’ve neglected an important point, make sure to mention it in the comments.