Saturday, February 28, 2015


Like it or not, no one reads the book before he or she makes a buying decision. Consumers do not read it in the store. Sales reps only carry book covers and jackets to show store buyers while wholesalers and distributors say “just send us the cover copy.” All buying decisions are made on the illustration/design and the sales copy on the outside of the book.

Yes, packaging is everything. Each year, U.S. industry spends more than $50 billion on package design. Now, that is not $50 billion for the packages and certainly not for the contents. That money is for the design of the packages. Packages prompt buyers to reach for the product whether it is pantyhose, corn flakes or hair spray. Stores have tens-of-thousands of books being displayed spine-out. With all this congestion, it is hard to get attention.

Initially, all a potential buyer sees is the book’s spine. If the browser takes it down, he or she will gaze at the cover about four seconds and then flip the book over to read the back cover. On average, he or she will spend just seven seconds here so the trick is to keep them reading longer. Your copy has to be punchy and benefit-laden; it has to speak to the potential buyer.

Your book cover designer will lay out the package and incorporate the illustration, put it all on disk and send it to your printer but you must draft the sales copy. This book cover worksheet will take you step-by-step through the sales-copy draft process. Use your computer so you will be able to move the copy around once entered. Here are explanations for each area of the outline.

A. Front cover. Select a working title and subtitle. Keep the title short and make the subtitle descriptive. List the most important person in your field (association or industry) for the foreword (and please note the spelling of Foreword.) You will try to get them to pen the foreword later.

B. Spine. Stack the title on the spine so it will read more easily on the shelf. Use a bold, san-serif, vertically-legged typeface such as Arial Black, bolded.

C. Back cover. 1. Category. Visit a bookstore and check the shelf where your book will be displayed. Note the categories on the books and the shelves. Listing the category on the back cover of your book will insure your book will be easy to find—because the bookshop personnel will place it on the right shelf.

2. Now you need an arresting headline addressed to potential buyers. You want them to relate to the book and find themselves in it. Do not repeat the title here; do not bore the potential buyer. You have already “said it” on the front. Use an alternate approach. For example, The Self-Publishing Manual’s back-cover headline is Why Not Publish Yourself?

3. Sales copy. Concisely (two to four sentences) state what the book is about. What will the reader gain by reading this book?

4. Bulleted promises or benefits. Promise to make readers better at what they do. Pledge health, wealth, entertainment or a better life. Focus on who your audience is and what they want. Think: about who are you talking to and what are they going to get from the book.

You will discover: • (benefit) • (benefit) • (benefit) • (benefit)

5. Testimonials and endorsements. Dream up three different endorsements from people you would like to quote. If This book changed my diplomatic strategy.—Colin Powell, would look good, try it. Use names or titles recognizable in your field—sources that might impress potential buyers. This is just a draft; dress it up. You will secure some of these quotations later.

6. Show the author is the ultimate authority on the subject. Just two or three sentences will do.

7. End with a sales closer in bold type. Ask the book-browser to buy the book. Use something like This book has enabled thousands to . . . and it will show you the way too.

8. Price. Bookstores like a price on the book. The price is a turn-off to potential buyers so place it at the end of the sales copy. Never locate the price at the top of the back cover. If this is a hardcover book, place the price at the top of the front flap.

9. Bar code with International Standard Book Number (ISBN). The bar code on a book identifies the ISBN, which in turn identifies the publisher, title, author and edition (hardcover, etc.). Make room for, but do not worry about, the bar code and ISBN just now.

Hot tip. Log on to Search for your category and look for books as close to your project as possible. Print out their pages and use a highlighter to mark the buzzwords and best descriptive phrases. Now, spread the printouts out on your desk and start filling in the cover worksheet. The Amazon descriptions will stimulate your copy-writing imagination. Your title, subtitle, back-cover headline and benefits may be swapped. Once you have them written down, you may wish to move some of them around. Perhaps one of your benefits would be a better subtitle. Most back cover copy is weak and uninspiring. The title is repeated and then is followed by several quotations and a bar code and that’s it! Haphazard copy is the sign of lazy (and maybe inexperienced) copywriter. This lack of effective competition on the shelf gives us the upper hand.

Book cover illustrations and design have improved tremendously over the past 20 years. Author/publishers used to spend all their efforts on the text and the cover became an afterthought. Some publishers remember it was Robert Howard who brought bright, insightful, relevant, remarkable covers to the industry. There are many great cover designers today and it was Robert Howard who started it all.

A good cover artist will read through your book and create a cover that will reflect the message of the text. The cover and text should match.

Years ago, we said “Write your ad before you write your book.” This was to help you focus on who you were writing to and what you were going to give them. Then we realized the most important ad you will ever write is your back cover copy. Now we say: “Write your cover copy before you write your book.”

Packages sell products and covers sell books. Give your books the opportunity in the marketplace they deserve. Package your text to quickly tell the idle browser what is inside.

Book Cover Artists Contact them and see their Web sites for pricing and examples of their work.

Robert Howard Graphic Design, Robert Howard, 631 Mansfield Drive, Fort Collins, CO 80525. Tel: (970) 225-0083; email:

Arrow Graphics, Inc., Alvart Badalian, PO Box 291, Cambridge, MA 02238. Tel: (617) 926-8585; Fax: (617) 926-0982; e-mail:

Dunn + Associates, Mary Jo Jirik, PO Box 870, Hayward, WI 54843. Tel: (715) 634-4857; Fax: (715),

Lightbourne, Gaelyn Larrick & Shannon Bodie, 2565 Siskiyou Blvd., #1-G, Ashland, OR 97520. Tel: (800) 697-9833; Fax: (541) 482-1730; ;

Quest Press, Pamela Terry, 1858 So. Crescent Heights Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. Tel: 323-935-6666; Fax: 323-934-2881; .

Knockout Design, Peri Poloni, 2584 Greenwood Lane, #11, Cameron Park, CA 95682. Tel: 530-676-2744; Fax: 530-676-2741; ;

R.J. Communications, Ron Pramschufer, 51 East 42nd Street, #1202, New York, NY 10017. Tel: 800-621-2556; Fax: 212-681- 8002; West Coast Office tel: 800-754-7089;;

BookMasters, Inc., Sherry Ringler, 2541 Ashland Road, Mansfield, OH 44905. Tel: (800) 537-6727; tel: (419) 589-5100; fax: (419) 589-4040;;

Book Covers Work Sheet (Back Cover) (Front Cover) Category: Headline: Sales copy/description. What is the book about?: Title: Promises & Benefits Subtitle:

You will discover: • • • • • Testimonials: Author’s name: 1. 2. 3. Why the author is qualified to write this book: Closing copy: Foreword by: Price: $ (ISBN and bar code) (Spine) T I T L E of B O O K Your last name

Dan Poynter does not want you to die with a book still inside you. You have the ingredients and he has your recipe. Dan has written more than 100 books since 1969 including Writing Nonfiction and The Self- Publishing Manual.

Friday, February 6, 2015

7 Agenda Items for Your Writing Group’s First Meeting

by Mark Nichol

Now, you’ve done it. You’ve launched a writing group, or you’re about to. What now? It’s time to organize. Here’s what to do at the first meeting:

1. Break the Ice

Give each member a few minutes to introduce themselves, or try the team-building game Two Truths and a Lie: Have members come prepared to present, with a straight face, three interesting things about them; everyone else votes on which two items are true and which is false (though it can be a variation on the truth or an aspiration).

2. Set a Schedule

How often will the group meet? Every week is probably pushing it, so vote on whether sessions will be held every two weeks or monthly. Agree on meeting duration. (Two hours is a good block of time.) Ask members to commit to attending regularly and arriving punctually.

3. Establish Goals

What do you and the other members want to get out of the group? Is everyone determined to get published, or is the experience just a way to solicit feedback in a supportive environment and work on writing skills? Make sure everyone has a common ambition. Consider creating a mission statement.

4. Determine Protocol

Briefly discuss meeting structure: Does everyone read every time, or do members alternate every two or three meetings? Do members email work in progress in advance so that others can prepare critiques, or do they give cold readings? Will your group alternate between both strategies?

Consider having members take turns preparing mini-tutorials based on their experiences or research, like describing the different archetypal characters or sharing a list of plot pitfalls. Or give each person a chance to share an advice tidbit from an accomplished author.

5. Take a Break

Allow five or ten minutes halfway through the session for a snack and small talk, but don’t let it drag out.

6. Read Samples

Give everyone a chance to read briefly from a work in progress. Have members start right off without a preface and then take a moment to talk about the story. Save critiques for subsequent sessions — this is just a chance for everyone to get a taste of others’ writing styles.

7. Plan Ahead

Agree on what to do next time: Have everyone email an excerpt to the group a week before the next session, prepare a short selection to read aloud, or plan to bring hard copies of a sample passage to hand out. (Materials for cold readings by writers or others should be no more than a couple of pages; excerpts sent in advance can be longer).

Decide what the focus will be each time: crafting an opening scene, establishing character, etc. Focus on technical aspects for a while before delving into content.