The 3 Ps of Writing Back Cover Copy

by Michelle Griep, @MichelleGriep

Stand in Barnes & Noble and watch what prospective buyers do. Note: It’s probably best not to wear a trench coat and definitely lose the sunglasses. What were you thinking, you big creeper? Now that we’ve got that straightened out, what do you see?

First, a potential buyer pulls off a book with a jazzy front cover. Yeah, pictures are indeed worth a thousand words. Two seconds later, if the cover grabs him, it’s time for the big flip. He turns the book over in his hands, scans the back copy, and:

A.) Zingo! His eyes widen. He’s hooked. He reaches for his wallet and races to the nearest cashier.


B.) Yawn. Book goes back on shelf. End of story and any royalties for the author.

What made the difference? The back cover copy. Trust me, writing that copy is not as easy as it looks, folks. But never fear, I have a handy-dandy list-o-rama to help.


  1. Pack a punch with power words.

If you’ve only got a limited amount of words to use, then use those that are powerful. Emotional. Shocking. Controversial or evocative. Those are the kinds of words that make a reader curious and leave them drooling for more. Examples: daunting, courage, beguile

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  1. Paint a picture.

Use your sweet writing skills to create a vivid image in the reader’s mind. Give them a taste of what’s in store for them if they purchase the book. Leave them with a teaser, a big question as to what will happen.

  1. Pithy is perfect.

Nowadays everyone’s got ADD, especially on the internet. Chances are your book will be sold on Amazon, so that means you’ve got to be short and sweet, baby. Make your description as easy to understand and as pared down as possible.

It also helps if you read examples of back cover copy from books that are out there on today’s shelves. That’s not stealing. That’s smart detective work.

12 Days at Bleakly Manor

Imprisoned unjustly, BENJAMIN LANE wants nothing more than freedom and a second chance to claim the woman he loves—but how can CLARA CHAPMAN possibly believe in the man who stole her family’s fortune and abandoned her at the altar? Brought together under mysterious circumstances for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Clara and Ben discover that what they’ve been striving for isn’t what ultimately matters . . . and what matters most is love.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She is the author of historical romances: The Innkeeper’s Daughter, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, The Captive Heart, Brentwood’s Ward, A Heart Deceived, Undercurrent andGallimore, but also leaped the historical fence into the realm of contemporary with the zany romantic mystery Out of the Frying Pan. If you’d like to keep up with her escapades, find her at or stalk her on FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.the next level.

How to Keep Your Reader Turning Pages

by Rondi Bauer Olson, @rondiolson

I know authors aren’t supposed to read reviews for their own books, but, confession time, I do. Especially the negative reviews, as they are always the most enlightening. In general, if a number of people say you didn’t get something right, you probably didn’t. Fortunately the opposite is also true. If most reviewers agree you did something well, you probably did. One of the best compliments a reviewer can give my book, especially if they didn’t like it, is that they couldn’t stop reading and stayed up all night to finish. Because while I am still a new writer and happily admit I have much to learn, one thing I think I am good at is keeping the reader invested.

It wasn’t always that way. I used to try to keep readers turning pages by inserting bizarre twists, stunning reveals, or cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. Sure, that worked some of the time, but other times my exiting ending was more cheating than organic.  I’d have to pull back as soon as I started the next chapter because my incredible surprise didn’t fit the plot or the character.

Fortunately I learned keeping a reader turning pages doesn’t have to be that difficult. The simple formula is:

  1. Introduce your main character’s want
  2. Show your main character’s attempt to achieve said want
  3. Thwart your main character’s attempt

At the beginning of each chapter, the writer needs to introduce a goal or desire for the main character. The goal doesn’t have to be big or fancy, but a satisfied character is a boring character. Your main character must want something.

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Once a want or goal is established, the main character should devise a plan to achieve that goal. The bulk of each chapter should be spent showing the main character attempting to follow through on their plan to achieve their goal.

Each chapter should end when the main character encounters a particularly difficult obstacle and they must rethink their strategy. To keep the reader from becoming totally frustrated, you can have your main character meet a few small goals, but new needs must be created and the ultimate goal cannot be met until the end of the book.

For example, in my debut novel, ALL THINGS NOW LIVING, the main character, Amy, ends the first chapter trapped inside a post-apocalyptic dome. She spends the next few chapters devising ways to escape. Each chapter ends when her plan fails and she has to come up with a new strategy. In each of these chapters, her desire to escape the dome is expressed, followed by her creating a plan to escape and her following through on that plan. Each chapter ends with her plan being thwarted. Finally, after the first few chapters, she does achieve her goal, but then a new want is created, and she has to create new plans.

Cliffhangers, bizarre twists, and stunning reveals at the end of each chapter can keep your reader turning the pages, but unless those things arise naturally from your characters or your plot, your reader will feel cheated. Don’t force exciting chapter endings into your writing in an attempt to keep your reader reading. Instead, rely on the simple formula of want, attempt at achieving want, and attempt thwarted. If every one of your chapters has each of these elements, keeping the ultimate goal of your entire manuscript in mind, your story will flow like a river to the sea, your readers securely riding the current you’ve created.

All Things Now Living

Her whole life Amy has been taught the people of New Lithisle deserve to die, but when she falls for Daniel, she determines to save him.

Sixteen-year-old Amy doesn’t like anything to die, she won’t even eat the goats or chickens her mama has butchered every fall, but she can’t let herself pity the inhabitants of New Lithisle. In a few short months the dome they built to isolate themselves from the deadly pandemic is predicted to collapse, but her whole life Amy has been taught it’s God’s will they die. They traded their souls for immunity to the swine flu virus, brought God’s curse upon themselves by adding pig genes to their own.

Then, while on a scavenging trip with her father, Amy is accidentally trapped in New Lithisle. At first her only goal is to escape, but when she meets Daniel, a New Lithisle boy, she begins to question how less-than-human the people of New Lithisle are.

Amy’s feelings grow even more conflicted when she learns she didn’t end up in New Lithisle by mistake. Her father is secretly a sympathizer, and was trying to prevent the coming destruction.

Now time is running short and Amy has to decide if she will bring the computer program her father wrote to his contact or save herself. Installing the program could prevent the dome’s collapse, but if Amy doesn’t find her father’s contact in time, she’ll die, along with everyone else.

Rondi Bauer Olson is a reader and writer from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Her debut novel for young adults, All Things Now Living, was a finalist in the 2012 Genesis Contest. She and her husband, Kurt, live on a hobby farm with three of their four mostly-grown children, along with a menagerie of animals including, but not limited to, horses, cows, alpacas, goats, dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, and parrots. Rondi also works as a registered nurse and owns a gift shop located within view of the beautiful Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Learn more about Rondi at and the Seventh Daughter series

Help! My Plot is Twisting

by Ane Mulligan, @AneMulligan, +AneMulligan

I’m working on the plotline for a new novel. It’s the second in a series of Depression era books. While the time period is different, the story has my brand elements of an ensemble cast of strong Southern women helping each other through life.

I’ve been doing character interviews and the backstory for about two weeks now. But today, something happened that I didn’t see coming. The plot is twisting into a mystery.

That in itself is not a bad thing. Almost every family in the South has a mystery in their past or a relative who’s crazy. It’s an intrinsic part of Southern life. Like ghosts. Yes, we love our ghost stories, too.

But I digress. I have a plot point I needed to figure out. As I wrote down questions that needed answering—something Rachel Hauck taught in one of her posts here on Novel Rocket—I stopped and gaped at what I’d written. Staring at the screen, I was completely gobsmacked.

How so, you ask? Well, a character died in a fishing boat accident prior to the book opening.I didn’t think a lot about that when I first I began to work out the plot. But I can’t have that character simply die and not know how it happened. You see, I need that boat for another character. This is during the Great Depression, and there isn’t money to buy a new boat. After all, we’re not talking about a rowboat, but a mid-sized commercial fishing boat. I had to find out what happened to it.

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Remember those questions Rachel said to ask? I started asking. How badly was it damaged? Was it salvageable? Could a man die in the accident but the boat survive? Were there any tale-tell signs of skull duggery?

As I asked these questions, I remembered I once slid a small mystery thread into Home to Chapel Springs, but it wasn’t planned out, it simply happened, and it didn’t require a lot of strategy. I don’t think strategically enough to figure out all the red herrings and misleads of a real mystery. I can’t play chess, either. They both take strategy and I don’t have a lick.

Possessing strategic bones or not, I now find myself now with a mystery on my hands and three people who have a very good motive for murder. I knew a call to my critique partner Elizabeth Ludwig was in order. We’ve been writing pals for twelve years. I knew she’d give me good advice. And she did.

  1. You must have a compelling reason for a character to do what you want them to do. They can’t just do it. I agree. Motivation is everything.
  2. You need an Obi Wan Kenobi character. She suggested a new character I hadn’t thought of and she works perfectly. This new character can be the “conscience” or wise counsel who provides the motivation for another to do what I need her to do.
  3. Work out the clues you need to get then end you want. Once I decide for sure if it was an accident or murder, then I can figure out the clues. If an accident, I can still cast suspicion on people if they have the motive.
  4. The rest will sort itself out as you write. And she was right. I took our brainstorming ideas and wrote them down, as if telling myself the story. They work. The devices all tie together. The motivations tie together.

Now that Lisa talked me off the cliff, I’m excited again about this story. I’ve got the elements, and have some characters that will stretch me as a writer. What more could I ask for?

Critique partners are the greatest!

Life in Chapel Springs

Life in Chapel Springs has turned upside down and inside out.

Is it a midlife pregnancy or … cancer? Claire will keep her secret until she’s sure—but it isn’t easy. Between her twins’ double wedding, a nationwide art tour and her health, life is upside down. Shy Lacey Dawson was happily writing murder mysteries for the community theater, but a freak accident results in traumatic injuries. When the bandages come off, Lacey’s world is tuned inside out. Gold has been discovered in Chapel Springs and the ensuing fever is rising.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.


It Only Takes A Spark. . . Or Does It?

by Rachel Hauck, @RachelHauck 

Ideas come and go. I’ve learned over the years the initial spark is just that, a spark, not a roaring fire that will burn long enough to write an entire book.

Let me give an example. When I  first started writing what turned out to be Lost In NashVegas (now Nashville Dreams), I came up with a story of a country girl who owned a fishing shack in central Florida. There was something about her wanting to buy or maintain an old house she loved. I can’t remember all of the details, but that should give you a clue. No details.

My agent said, “Nope!”

After brainstorming with her for a few minutes, (I’m making this sound way easier than it was. ha!)  we came up with the idea of having the Heroine be a songwriter. Okay, I can do that. I know nothing about songwriting, but I can do this! I’m naive and eternally hopeful that way. Scratching the surface of songwriting research, I put together another synopsis and three chapters.

My agent said, “Nope.”

My heroine wasn’t sympathetic. I wove in several major plot points that were nothing but cliché but never really managed any of them. I had a stolen song, an unwed pregnancy, and something about a rollercoaster that Susie Warren assured me was unoriginal. But the story was a country song itself!

So, I opened with my character waiting to sing at the Bluebird Ca fé ( a setting I had all wrong) and feeling like she was on a roller coaster.

Disappointed, rather CRUSHED,  I wasn’t hitting my agent’s hot button after two tries, I forwarded it to Susie. She called. “The roller coaster is a cliche.”


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“And you need something like . . . the three things she’s thinking of or wants or something.”

“Oh, good idea.” (I dedicated the “three things” in the book to Suz.)

That and more songwriting research got me a proposal my agent loved. And so did Thomas Nelson.

I did more research. Visited Nashville and The Bluebird Café. Research always sparks more ideas and layers.

Don’t let your lack of knowledge intimidate you. Dig in. Research. Make those cold calls to ask a question. I find really good stuff on YouTube. Which didn’t exist when I started that first Nashville book.

Research also helps with your dialog, your plotting, your setting.

Writing about an industry of which I knew nothing —music—I had very surface dialog. Because I didn’t know what I was talking about. I kept researching and finally found a book about Tom Petty. It was written in interview style. I found the information I wanted and also a format to use in the next Nashville book. The interview style.

When writing about infertility in the Songbird Novels, I discovered an article by a woman who didn’t want to use surrogacy to achieve her dream of having a baby because she felt it was inviting another woman into her marriage. I’d never heard that before and it gave me a profound, deeper angle for my character.

In writing The Royal Wedding books, I read blogs, history books, watched videos, studied European royal families. Apparently, calls to Clarence House went unanswered. Ha! No personal prince interviews were forthcoming.

Once you get a spark, take it deeper and find those unique layers. Use those to create dynamic characters and layered plots.

Go write something brilliant!


Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.

New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a past ACFW mentor of the year. A worship leader and Buckeye football fan, Rachel lives in Florida with her husband and ornery cat, Hepzibah. Read more about Rachel at