book dust jacket


“Don’t judge a book by its title”—but that’s what we do when we’re looking at books and considering whether to buy them. A title can make or break your book. Here are three utterly mindblowing tips for titling a nonfiction book.

 

 

1. Think holistically. Your title, subtitle, and jacket work together to sell your book. I coauthored a book that got all three right: Raising a Sensory Smart Child is clearly is aimed at parents (hence “child” in the title and subtitle, and “raising a … child”). The title presents an intriguing concept (what are “sensory smarts”?). And the jacket features a happy, active child that has emotional appeal to parents who are stressed out and worried and want their child to be joyous and full of life. Sensory kids often can’t sit still so the picture puts a positive spin on that phenomenon.

 

Does your self-help book deliver on its title and promise? Does it solve a problem? Does it offer "takeaway" for readers that they can apply to their own lives?

Jacket, title, and subtitle work together to make a great book package.

2. Speak to the heart and mind. A great title will make you laugh, intrigue you, touch your heart—in short, it will speak to your mind and your heart. Here are some of my favorites:

 

That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week. If you laugh and say, “Yep, that’s my kid,” you know you have to check it out, right?

 

Eat More, Weigh Less. My boss at HarperCollins, editor-in-chief Susan Moldow, acquired this New York Times bestseller by Dr. Dean Ornish. We used to joke about variations such as “Work Less, Earn More.” Talk about a simple, compelling promise!

 

Mindblowing Sex in the Real World. The author, Sari Locker, PhD, wanted a twist on “The Real World,” which was an MTV hit at when the book was in production (I was the acquisitions editor). I thought a contrast would be good and came up with the word “mindblowing.” One of the suits at the publisher pushed hard against it but we pushed back. The book and title were hits, and years later, the title was mentioned in the New York Times. That is a title with staying power! (Pun intended.)

 

3. Switch It Up. Bev West, my coauthor and cousin, came up with “cinema therapy” and “mood movies” or “movies to match your mood.” Our book proposal’s cover sheet shows what we settled on. Someone in-house at Dell, our book publisher, suggested making “cinema therapy” one word, Cinematherapy, and using it as the title, relegating the “mood movies” concept to the subtitle. We also wrestled with “girl” vs. “gal” and other alternatives (“girlfriend’s guide” was taken). Contrast the proposal title/subtitle to the final jacket.

 

 MoodMoviesOrigTitle

Cinematherapy, movie therapy for women: a vision turned into a successful book series and television show

Cinematherapy, movie therapy for women: a vision turned into a successful book series and television show. Original title and subtitle were flipped around.

 

 

So as you’re titling, start picturing your book’s jacket. Look at other books—not just online but in a bookstore. Look at their jackets. Which ones do you respond to, and why? What are the title and jacket trends in your genre? Do you want to match them or buck them?

 

Do you have a one- to three-word “hook” that works for your brand and your book? Cinematherapy spawned Bibliotherapy, Advanced Cinematherapy, Cinematherapy for Lovers, Cinematherapy for the Soul, Cinematherapy Goes to the Oscars, Gay Cinematherapy, TVTherapy, and Culinarytherapy. How can you use your “hook” within your title as in your brand to emotionally engage and intrigue readers?

 

 

Whether you self-publish or work with a publisher, it’s important to know how to create copy for your book cover that is compelling and will inspire and entice your reader to take action. There isn’t a lot of room on the back of a book, especially when you add publishing information such as an ISBN, an author bio, or testimonials from other authors, so the copy has to be tightly written without excess verbiage. I highly recommend you read or reread The Elements of Style, a short and brilliant book by Strunk and White, which shows on how to prevent yourself from using three words when one will do. If your book will be a hardcover original, you’ll have more space for text than if it’s a paperback original: You’ll actually have two panels that the reader accesses when opening the cover as well as the back of the jacket (sometimes called the back panel). However, most books today are paperback originals, and hardcovers often use the back of the book for an author photo and/or testimonials for the book or the author, so you might be stuck with just the two vertical panels for text.

 

Here are some tips for writing copy for book jackets or covers that will sell your book to readers:

 

Research. Before you start to write, read ten book descriptions on the back of books that would appeal to your intended audience. Get a feel for the amount of detail and how the writer avoids spoilers in winding up the description and weaves in the themes. Look at the kinds of promises made in the copy. Can your book make similar promises?

 

Sell it, baby. This is advertising copy, not editorial copy. Don’t go into too many details about plot or concepts. Use strong, compelling verbs and nouns. Some of the books I have on my desk use language such as “embark,” “initiate,” “embrace,” “address,” and “achieve.”

 

Highlight your key ideas with a bullet point list. If yours is a work of nonfiction, think about using bullet points in your description. Start each bullet with strong words, whether verbs or nouns, pay attention to parallelism. If you have a list of nouns, be consistent and don’t mix a verb into your list: “practical solutions,” “advice on,” and “7 strategies” should not be mixed with a bullet point that starts with a verb, such as “Learn ways to…” If your bullet points are incomplete sentences, rewrite the others to make them all incomplete for consistency. Notice the parallelism in this article: I start every tip with a strong verb phrase in boldface, and use full sentences.

 

Watch the hype. Don’t gush about your book or yourself to a degree that might turn off readers. The rule is “know your audience.” Maybe your followers will be excited by terms such as “earth-shattering” or “truly unique” but maybe you are better off with “groundbreaking” and “original” and “fresh approach.” Remember, too, that you can’t qualify “unique,” which means one of a kind. Nothing’s “very one of a kind” or “more one of a kind,” so don’t use “very unique” or “more unique.”

 

Work your expertise into the description. Don’t just give your name and any degrees you have. You might write something like “Joe Smith, a lifelong spelunker and founder of CaveExplorers.com, the #1 spelunker’s site on the internet…”

 

Grab ’em up front! Consider asking a question in the first line or setting up a very short example that will grab your reader’s attention instantly—or, make a starting statement. You want the reader to have an energetic response rather than a lukewarm one.

 

Follow a “Wow! Okay… Wow!” structure. Structure your description by grabbing the reader, then explaining what’s in the book and who you are, and ending with oomph. Of course, you want your description to be engaging and energetic, too, as I’ve explained, but the energy of the reader naturally dips when you’re listing the facts about what’s in the book. Think about how a musical performance will start with an energetic song, include quieter ones in the middle, and end on an energetic note.

 

Check your spelling and usage. Don’t rely on the eye, I like to say. Actually use spellchecker software, and if you really want to be picky, consult Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Edition (the standard dictionary in book publishing) to make sure you’ve styled every word correctly (groundbreaking not ground-breaking, for example). Be consistent throughout your text (for example, don’t mix “soundboard” and “sound board,” both of which are acceptable—choose one and stick with it). Don’t use terms people might not know unless you define them (for example, people often confuse “i.e.” and “e.g.” so it’s better to use “for example”). Have someone else who is good with grammar, spelling, and mechanics proofread your copy and look over it yourself several times to catch usage errors (such as “effect” for “affect,” which spellchecker software will overlook). Be as nitpicky as you can.

 

I hope these tips will help you make your book jacket copy sing!