Do I need beta readers and sensitivity readers for my book?

What are beta readers?

Did you know that rom-com classics like Pretty in Pink (1986), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) and Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010) originally had very different endings? After audiences reacted negatively to the endings in test screenings, the scripts were reworked to have the endings we know today. 

Just as test audiences preview films prior to release and relay critical viewer feedback, beta readers do the same for books. These unsung heroes read manuscripts prior to publication, providing their honest opinions. And they often do it entirely for free.

Acting as a general audience, beta readers typically focus on:

  • the likeability/believability of characters
  • the tone and pacing of key scenes
  • the believability of the plot (keeping an eye out for plot holes)
  • their emotional responses and gut reactions to specific scenes and the book as a whole

How can I connect with beta readers?

Finding beta readers–especially those willing to read for free–can be challenging. It’s best not to rely on your friends or your writing colleagues, but to seek out readers who will be unbiased in their feedback. You can try networking with readers by using the #betareaders hashtag on Twitter or posting on the r/betareaders subreddit, offering your manuscript to interested readers.

If you aren’t on social media or want to expedite the process, you can pay for beta reading services. Just be sure to research various options so you can make the best decision for your book and your wallet.

How do I work with beta readers?

Once you’ve found beta readers interested in your work, it’s important to provide them with everything they need to succeed. Help them help you!

You should:

  • Offer your manuscript in various formats (.mobi, .epub, print)
  • Provide realistic deadlines for their feedback
  • Ask specific questions that you want them to focus on (without trying to control their responses)
  • Be open to criticism
  • Compare notes from all readers before making changes to your manuscript

How do sensitivity readers (SRs) differ from beta readers (BRs)?

Sensitivity readers take a more specific approach to reading than beta readers. SRs often focus on how markers of identity and lived experience such as race, culture, religion, gender, sexuality and disability play a role in a book and influence its characters. Most authors think SRs eliminate stereotypes in books. While that’s part of what they do, they ultimately help authors create realistic characters that readers can relate to, believe in, and stick with. SRs are almost always paid, given the level of niche expertise and focused feedback that they provide.

Some beta readers may touch on aspects of identity and other sensitive topics in their feedback. Still, depending on the book, it can be worthwhile to seek out a professional opinion from a sensitivity reader as well.

Just like with beta readers, it’s important for authors to be open to criticism when working with sensitivity readers. Take all feedback to heart and use it as a learning experience. Remember that it’s not possible to be an expert in everything, and the best authors enlist lots of help throughout the writing process!


What is SEO? And why should I care about it?

What? Another digital thing we have to keep in mind?! We know, and apologies in advance.

But in our constantly-evolving digital world, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become a critical component for online success. Understanding the fundamentals of SEO — yes, even for authors — is essential for improving your online visibility and driving organic traffic to your website.

Okay, so what’s a search engine?

We promise you’ve used these before. They’re your sites like Google, Bing, Yahoo — you get the gist — and with them, you can search for, well, whatever you want really. Search engines exist so you can find answers to questions you have, directions for places you’re going, products you’re interested in buying, etc. 

So, how does search engine optimization work?

Search engines run various algorithms (some weird computer formula) to help you find the data you’re looking for; in essence, they’re combing the entire World Wide Web to narrow down the results to get you exactly what you need. By utilizing SEO, your aim is to get your website on the first page of results for search terms that mean the most to your target audience. Which means it’s important to understand your target audience: If you’re a YA romance author but a majority of your web traffic is from politically-active men in their 60s, you might not be hitting the right spot.

But why is SEO important?

With good SEO practice, your website will rank higher (or highest) on a search engine’s results page. The higher your website is situated on a page, the more likely someone is to click on your site. Think about it: If you’ve ever searched something, you’re unlikely to go past the first page of results — sometimes you might not even get to the bottom of that first page. Ultimately, the higher you rank, the more people are going to visit your website.

And it’s a circle: Good rankings mean good traffic, which means new customers (or in authors’ cases, new readers), exposing you to a larger and larger audience. The ultimate goal is to increase organic (nonpaid) traffic to a website by optimizing the site’s content, structure, and other elements, aligning them with the algorithms used by search engines. Speaking of organic traffic…

Paid vs. organic SEO

Have you ever searched for something and noticed the top result says “Sponsored” above it? That’s an example of a paid ad. The more general a search, the more paid results you’re likely to see. Searching for “blue dress” will net you a LOT of sponsored results. But searching for “blue dress Michelle Obama wore in 2011” will get your more specific results for images and articles. (A note: the results you see are going to be different from what someone else might see because search engine algorithms are taking into account your personal habits and practices!)

Now paid results are great, but a majority of clicks are going to come from organic SEO. Why? Have you ever almost clicked on an ad, realized it’s an ad, and then kept scrolling? That’s why. Many customers are averse to paid results because they feel they aren’t truly getting an accurate result for their search. 

SEO is a cost-effective strategy for driving traffic. While it can require an initial investment, the long-term benefits can outweigh the costs, especially for sustainable organic growth. Google alone processes billions of searches daily, and organic results are a large portion of that. Plus, with organic results, every click that sends traffic to your website is free. And who doesn’t like free?

How can I make my website more SEO-friendly?

There are a few easy steps you can take on your end, the first being to actually have a website.

General website tips

  • Make sure your site is user friendly: Factors like page load speed, mobile responsiveness, and easy navigation contribute to a better user experience, which can positively affect search rankings.
  • Create good content: Search engines prioritize high-quality, relevant content. Creating valuable, informative, and engaging content not only attracts visitors to your site, but that also signals to search engines that your site is a credible source of information.

Keep an eye on links

  • Utilize internal linking: When something on one page of your site links to another page.
  • Backlinking: Whether it’s through guest posts, interviews, or various other content, whenever something about you appears on someone else’s web page, see if you can have a link added that takes people back to your website.
  • Fix broken links: Keep an eye out for broken links; sometimes an interview you did might not be available online anymore, or a website might have changed the URL, breaking the link you have. 

Analyze your site’s copy/text

  • If you have a blog, take a look at the titles you’re using: Are your titles engaging and appealing? Can you make a title into a list? Or a question? Would you want to click on that title if you saw it?
  • Within your general website copy, also make sure you’re utilizing keywords that would appeal to your target audience. If it’s a keyword that would make sense for Amazon, it will likely make sense to have someone on your website as well.

Audit your site

Hire someone who can take an objective, third-person look at your website and see what improvements can be made. 

When will I see results?

Like most things, results usually don’t happen overnight. Keep an eye on your website traffic for a period of months — not days — to see how traffic has been affected by the steps you’ve taken to make your site more SEO friendly. 

By understanding and implementing the key components of SEO, you can enhance your online visibility, attract your targeted audience, and build a sustainable online presence. And as search engine algorithms continue to evolve, staying informed about SEO best practices and adapting to changes will remain crucial for achieving and maintaining those high rankings on search engine results pages.

You’re truly never done optimizing your website; make sure you are regularly updating and checking on what improvements you can make. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed doing it on your own, look into hiring a service that can help!


5 Pre-Order Campaign Tips Authors Should Utilize

Looking to create a successful pre-order campaign for your next book? The Books Forward team has you covered. Here are our tips for encouraging pre-orders: 

Update your sales pages on all platforms

Ensure that your upcoming release (and any previous books!) have up-to-date, engaging copy on Amazon and all other sales channels. After all, if you’re going to be directing buyers to these sites, you should make sure that everything is in good shape! Here are our tips for making your sales pages pop.

Offer a pre-order discount 

An easy way to encourage pre-orders is to drop the price for a limited time leading up to the release. Everyone loves a sale! Plus, you can discount your backlist books during this time as well for an extra boost. If you’re writing a series, consider a deep discount for the first book(s) in the series as a way to entice new readers.

Offer swag items and other exclusives

If you’ve never entered into a swag-based pre-order campaign, it’s simple:

  1. Author offers exclusive swag to fans who pre-order.
  2. Reader DMs their receipt of purchase along with their email and/or physical address. 
  3. Author sends out swag items until they run out.

Here are some examples from a recent campaign:

If you’re hesitant to run a swag-based campaign because of how costly it can be, you’re not alone. While swag (especially custom products) can be pricey, there are some ways to cut costs without sacrificing quality. For example, many authors offer digital swag like downloadable prints or excerpts from the book.

That said, eye-catching physical swag still tends to have the best effect, especially for sci-fi/fantasy, young adult, and romance authors. These genres allow you to be especially colorful and creative with your swag!

Update your social media pages

Make sure to update all your headers with the upcoming release date. Try using pinned tweets and IG images to ensure the latest pre-order news stays at the top of your feed!

Lean on your networks: your email list, author friends, and street team

All authors have networks of supporters–hopefully you’ve figured out who your “people” are! 

If you have an email list, you’ll want to schedule an e-blast encouraging your subscribers to pre-order. We’d recommend offering them a swag item or discount not offered elsewhere to thank them for being loyal supporters!

Consider any authors you may be connected with who are releasing new books at roughly the same time as you. Offer to support each other by exchanging social media or newsletter promo posts!

You may also consider engaging a street team to help with your pre-order campaign. Ideally, this team of dedicated fans will promote your book on their social media pages in exchange for special rewards and exclusive opportunities.

Bonus: keep your social media active and fun

Throughout your pre-order campaign, you’ll want to stay active on social media, posting engaging content to keep your followers interested in the upcoming release, such as a cover reveal or a behind-the-scenes video about the making of the book. It’s important to share content that isn’t directly sales focused every now and then, so your followers don’t feel bogged down with posts to “buy, buy, buy!”

We hope these tips will lead to more pre-orders for your titles, but as our team likes to say, publicity is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember, these things take time!

Wondering what other authors think of pre-order campaigns? Check out Books Forward President Marrisa DeCuir’s article for The Writer, with input from bestselling authors like Joan He.

What a book foreword can serve to do in a novel

Writing the Prologue for Dancing Into the Light: an Arab-American Girlhood in the Middle East

By Kathryn K. Abdul-Baki

A prologue can be several different things. It can hint at what is to come in the story, give background, or set a mood. More than anything, it should entice the reader to delve further into the book.

For Dancing Into the Light, I wanted the prologue to bring both the present and the past into focus so readers could see that a large part of the book would be a recollection of a magical past. 

It starts in the present—I am dancing in a Latin club with my husband and friends. A particular song by Harry Belafonte instantly brings back poignant childhood memories of dancing with my father. I imagine my father and mother dancing romantically together in Tehran, Iran, where we then lived. I mention that my father is Arab and my mother is American, from Tennessee, and that both of them are now deceased.

I describe the feelings that ignite in me when I dance to Latin and Caribbean music and I hint that there is a story to follow that will trace my current dance passion—I mention that I presently teach dancing and study ballroom Latin dancing—back to my childhood.

It sets the two themes of the book—dancing and loss—and describes the power that music and dance hold for me, pulling me back to my youth with my parents during a time when we were all together. It also hints that things changed and we are no longer together.

So, in the four pages of the prologue, I try to encapsulate what the book is about, tease the reader with the promise that the story will be both heart-breaking and joyful, and set the mood to invoke the reader’s interest in the story to follow.

In the epilogue, I come back to the scene in the prologue and explain how my last days were with my father before he passed. I wanted the epilogue to be a sort of continuation of the prologue, a coming full circle, to wrap up my memoir’s theme—that dancing during my youth pulled me out of depression and loneliness, and into the light of living joyfully again. 

Tips for Building Your Author Website and Blog

As an author, your website is your home base! It’s an important platform for developing your brand and inviting contact from readers, book industry leaders, and media professionals.

You’ll want your website to be:

  • Attractive, with a color scheme and tone representing your genre/brand
  • Easy to navigate
  • Adaptable for use on mobile devices
  • Safe and secure (you should obtain an SSL certificate)

Content-wise, you’ll want to make sure your site has:

  • Information about you and your books
  • Links for purchasing all of your titles (we recommend, Barnes & Noble, your publisher’s website, and Amazon)
  • A blog (this can help with SEO, sending more visitors to your site!)
  • Useful resources (press kit, educator guides)
  • A press page with links to media coverage for your books
  • A call to action (e.g. sign up for my newsletter, subscribe to our podcast, check out my recent interview)
  • A contact page so visitors can reach out to you!

Here are some examples of well-done author websites:

One of the main questions we get about author websites is should I have a blog?

We do recommend blogs to most authors. They are especially helpful for authors looking to boost their brand and searchability (SEO) in the long-term. If you are a multi-book author (or if you plan to write more), then a blog will be particularly useful for you!

One important thing to note: ideally, you’ll post on your blog at regular intervals. This can be once every two weeks, once per month, or whatever works best for you. Consistency is key!

Maintaining a blog can:

  • Act as a sample of your writing style, enticing prospective readers
  • Show an alternate, more personal side of you, helping you connect with readers and fellow writers on a deeper level
  • Help you promote upcoming book releases, events, and other “happenings”
  • Help you network with other authors through blog-swap promotions

A few ideas for what to explore in your blog:

  • Writing craft – tips, sample exercises, lessons learned.
  • Personal notes – memoir-style entries about your life, current thoughts and experiences that are shaping your writing career.
  • Book features – what you’re currently reading and enjoying.
  • Blog-swap – promotional information from an author in your network. Ask them if they’d be willing to promote you on their blog in return!
  • Publishing inside scoop – cover reveal, behind-the-scenes look at the editing process, networking tips.
  • Side projects – any non-book project you may have: a poem or short story you wrote on your morning bus ride, an art piece, essay, recipe, podcast.
  • Promotion – information about your upcoming releases, giveaway links, events.
  • Excerpts – exclusive “sneak peek” at your book, whether it’s available for pre-order or currently on sale.

To make the most out of your blog, you can link it to your social media pages, so each post is automatically shared through your other channels.

Keep in mind that starting a blog is a long-term investment. You won’t see thousands of visitors to your blog in the first few months. But if you consistently post engaging content, offer “exclusives” like giveaways and excerpts, and use your writing network to help expand your reach, you’ll see a dedicated audience slowly grow over time, helping your brand for years to come. 

For more must-have elements of your website, check out our previous article here:

Organizing events around your release date

Organizing events around your release date

If you’re the type of person who loves to socialize and meet with readers, you’re probably wondering what steps you should take to arrange a bookstore event surrounding your publication day. Here’s the rundown:

Selecting Bookstores

You’ll want to start reaching out to bookstores at least four months before your release date. The earlier you can contact bookstores, the better, especially if you’re looking at stores in major cities like New York or Los Angeles. For a small town bookstore, though, three months’ notice may suffice. 

Before contacting a bookstore, it’s important to find out whether or not they host events because not every bookstore does. Peruse their website and see if they have an event calendar. If they do, dig a little deeper and see if they offer the type of event you’re looking for (in-person, online, storytime, book signing, etc).

Approaching the Bookstore

Before approaching the store to request an author event, make sure you have everything in order. You’ll need a press release that contains your book data (such as ISBN and release date) and any pertinent ordering information such as discounts.

You’ll also need to let the bookseller know how many people you can draw to the event. Bookstores often have to pay employees overtime to work events, and having an approximate audience size helps them estimate book sales, which in turn gives them an idea of the kind of profit they’re looking at. Do NOT tell the store you can draw 100 guests to your event if that’s not realistic. You don’t want to ruin your relationship with the store, so always be as honest as possible about attendance size.

Booksellers will also want to know how your book appeals to their own customer demographic. Give them your best elevator pitch and explain why their customers would resonate with your book. 

Remember that event coordinators are extremely busy, so be respectful in your communication with them. Try to call ahead or email them instead of dropping in unannounced, as many booksellers won’t have time to meet with authors in the middle of a hectic sales day.

Preparing for the Event

The bookstore agreed to host you–woohoo! Now what?

Make sure you tell the store about any accommodations you may need, such as elevator access, a podium, a PowerPoint set-up, etc.

Prepare your presentation and select the excerpts you’d like to read. Usually the store will give you an idea of how long they’d like you to read for, so be sure to time yourself during your practice reads.

Consider your book signing, if you’re planning one. Decide if you want to sign books ahead of time or during the event, and think about how exactly you’ll personalize the books–do you want to use a catchphrase, add a doodle or share a meaningful remark?

You should also add a buy link to the store’s pre-order page on your website to show them you’re serious about driving sales to their store.

Spreading the News

You want people to show up, so don’t keep your event a secret!

First, tell your publisher and/or publicist about your event plans. This will help them best support you. Your publicity team may contact local media outlets to try to get coverage in advance of the event.

Next, tell everyone you know. Seriously! Add the event information to your author website, send out an email newsletter, and post about it on social media.

Wrapping It Up

After your event, you’ll want to thank everyone at the store who made it possible. You can show your appreciation in a few ways (the more the merrier!) Try:

  • Sending a handwritten thank you card to the store
  • Purchasing someone else’s book the day of the event
  • Sharing photos from the event on social media, tagging the store and singing their praises

If you can, stay in touch with the store and continue to shop there. If you’re a local author, they may invite you back for a book club session or to be a panelist or moderator for future events. Building a strong connection with a store now can benefit you as an author for years to come!

All About Agents: What You Need to Know as an Indie Author

There’s a wonderful history of indie authors creating a great platform, getting noticed by traditional publishers and landing a publishing deal. 

The best tactic is to query an agent on the strength of your work and current accolades. It’s very rare to go directly to a publisher these days as they mostly work with agents. After you query an agent and secure their services, they will approach prospective publishers for you.

Finding an agent can be a long and tedious process, as they each have their own submission requirements and it can be months before you hear back from each with answers. 

With this in mind, here are some of our favorite resources for finding an agent:

  • Poets & Writers has a great amount of information on agents. They have a Literary Agents Database and a helpful Agent Advice column.
  • Publishers Lunch: We recommend looking over what deals have been made for mid-list authors each day. You don’t want a blockbuster agent because they’re already set financially. Info includes: genre, author, synopsis, agent and which publisher the work sold to. You can sign up for the free daily newsletter that will give you most of this info, or you sign up for a $25/month newsletter which has all of the details.
  • QueryTracker: This free database hosts plenty of agent data. Because the info can be outdated, it’s best to use this tool to create a list of agents who represent your genre, then crosscheck with each agent’s website to confirm who they represent and which publishers they work with.
  • Guide to Literary Agents An old standby, written by Robert Lee Brewer.
  • AAR – Association of Author’s Representatives: Here’s a list of member agents, with varying amounts of information about them.
  • Children’s authors can view the Rights Reports on PW. These reports cite which agents facilitated the deal for upcoming kids books.
  • Women Writers, Women’s Books also has an Agents Corner column where authors can share their agent success stories and offer advice.
  • Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents Blog: They post notices about agents and agencies. There’s not a tremendous amount of information here, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for news.
  • We also recommend finding books that are comparable to yours in genre and audience, and seeing who the author’s agent is. These agents may be a good fit for you, so we recommend keeping a list and checking their websites, querying where it makes sense to do so.
  • Manuscript Wishlist is a helpful tool designed to help agents share information about the types of books they are looking for. Scan through to see if your manuscript is on anyone’s wishlist!

I know it feels like the possibilities are endless, and it’s not unusual for an author to query upwards of 100 agents. Casting a wide net will help make sure you’re paired with the right agent for your book.

Want to get the inside scoop on what an agent really thinks? Check out our interview with Natalie Lakosil here:

Ask an Expert: What is “Ghostwriting”?

What is ghostwriting, how does one become a ghostwriter, and is ghostwriting “cheating?” Today, on the blog we’re sitting down with Mallory Burgey, a professional fiction ghostwriter who is giving us a peak behind the curtain at this mysterious and often misunderstood job.

What exactly does it mean to be a freelance fiction ghostwriter? What does your job entail?

I’m sure this answer is different for everyone who answers it, but for me, I work with small, independent publishing companies. I am hired to turn a provided 10,000-word outline into a full-length book. In my case, I ghostwrite under a pen name. There is no “real author” publishing the books, but rather a team of people who create the outlines, edit, and do the marketing to publish and promote the books. I am just another member of that team!

I receive an outline and have the opportunity to read through it and provide notes and feedback. I’m lucky that I have a lot of creative freedom to change things to better suit the story. Then I write! I work in chronological order, starting with chapter one and writing ~5,000 words per day until the book is complete. Occasionally I will do edits when I’ve written something that isn’t quite how the client imagined, but that is rare.

How many books have you ghostwritten?

I don’t have an exact number to offer, but it is definitely over 100 books at this point. It could be as high as 150, but it would take me a long time to go back and count! In the five years I’ve been a ghostwriter, I’ve written everything from short stories to 18,000-word novellas to 125,000-word novels. Early on, I was working on three projects per month to make a decent wage. At this point, I work on one project at a time and exclusively write novels.

How does someone get “into” ghostwriting?

Again, I’m sure this answer is different for everyone. For me, I went the freelance route. There was a window of time after college (I received my BA in English and Creative Writing) where my husband and I moved to a new state and had no clue how long we would be there. The thought of hunting for a job to potentially leave it in six months felt ridiculous, so I made some accounts on freelance sites and job hunted. I was privileged enough to be in a position where we didn’t *need* for me to make money to survive, so I was able to freelance for pennies for a couple months to build up my resume. With more experience, I could ask for a better rate. From there, I built up a loyal, stable base of clients and have had constant work ever since.

Do you write under your own name as well?

I have yet to publish anything under my own name, but that is definitely the plan! Working full time with two small children keeps me busy, but my long-term goal has always been to write under my own name, as well. Hopefully sooner rather than later! Even then, it is very likely I’ll continue ghostwriting. Momma’s still gotta eat!

What are some common misconceptions about ghostwriting?

The misconceptions about ghostwriting are innumerable and run the gamut. I’ve heard it all! People think I’m being cheated by my clients when my name isn’t on the cover of the books I ghostwrite. Or they think I’m not a “real writer” because the ideas are generated by the person who writes the outline. There are other people who seem to think I’m some kind of rare, superhuman writer because I can pump out 5,000 words per day.

When stuff like this comes up, I make it clear that I signed a contract. I’ve agreed to write a certain number of words per day or per week, the same way other people agree to work a certain number of hours. I am not being cheated when I get paid for the work I agreed to do, and I am not sad when my name is not on the cover of a book I wrote. That’s the deal! Yes, I put real thought and creative energy into writing the books I work on, but the idea belongs to someone else (in this case, to the independent publishing company I work for). There isn’t the same emotional attachment there that exists with my own personal writing projects. And while I can admit writing 5,000 words per day is impressive, money is a great motivator. Knowing I get paid per word is the kick in the pants I need to sit down and get the job done every day. At the beginning of my career, I could pump out 10,000 words per day, which is unfathomable to me now! I attribute it to my twenty-something, pre-kid brain power. Thirty-year-old me does not have that same energy!

What would you say to those who think that it’s “dishonest” for someone to put their name on someone else’s writing?

This is definitely one of the big misconceptions about ghostwriting. I can understand how some readers feel cheated by the idea of a ghostwriter. A lot of authors can attest to the fact that readers often equate them with their art. They believe an author writing about a character who has a certain background or feelings about a situation must have that same background or feel that same way. For the reader, authors can be intimately tangled with their understanding and experience of a book. In some cases, this is true! Especially when looking at memoirs or fiction books about incredibly heavy or socially relevant subject matter. But in most cases, it isn’t that deep. Usually, the books that people know are ghostwritten include celebrity memoirs. Do we really expect people who are top of their field in acting, singing, athletics, etc. to also be good writers? No. That would be unfair to us mere mortals. Plus, when it comes to celebrities, we are paying for a story full of hot gossip, not their writing ability. Other ghostwritten works are decades-long series like Goosebumps or Nancy Drew where it would be difficult for any one person to keep up with the quick publishing timeline. Then there are a slew of genre books like the ones I work on. I love genre books (give me all the romance, thrillers/mysteries, and fantasy), but they are primarily books meant for entertainment. If the ghostwriter gets paid and the reader is entertained, I don’t see any problem with it. Now if people still feel cheated, it’s pretty easy to suss out which books might be ghostwritten, so do your research and avoid those.

Optional bonus question: What do you think it means to be a “successful” writer?

A successful writer is a person who has written something and is proud of it. That is the cheesy, cliché answer, but in this case, I stand behind the cheesiness one-hundred percent! At one point in my life, I thought I would only be successful if I published a book that topped bestseller lists. Now, I’m really content knowing I write books that bring people a few hours of entertainment. They don’t know I wrote the book, and I don’t care. My goal was to be paid to write for a living, and I’ve made it! If I one day top bestseller lists, that would be amazing, don’t get me wrong. But I feel like a success right now. I hope the same feeling for any writer, whether they get paid for it or not.

How to write back cover copy

A book’s front cover should be eye-catching and inviting enough to compel a reader to pick up your book. But, that’s only half the battle! Without enticing back cover copy, your book — with its beautifully designed front cover — may go right back on the bookseller shelves. 

The back cover, though less glamorous than the front cover, does most of the work when it comes to convincing readers to pull out their wallet. So, it’s important to give it the attention it deserves. In this article, we’ll share a few tips for nailing your back cover copy.

Research what other authors in your genre have done.

After seeing what’s been working for your competition, you’ll have a better idea of the structure and style you should use in your own copy. This will vary depending on your genre. For example, fantasy and romance authors may rely more heavily on taglines to get their message across, whereas nonfiction writers may use bullet points for the same purpose.

Remember that researching does not mean copying. Even if you find inspiration from what other authors have done, you have to put your own spin on things!

Consider your target audience. 

What are your readers looking for? What keywords will draw them in — and which ones will push them away? 

For nonfiction authors, readers are typically looking to learn something new. Often, they are searching for an answer to a problem. Your copy should acknowledge the problem/question they have, and then promise to provide an answer. Tell your reader exactly what they will take away from the book.

For fiction authors, especially genre fiction, your copy might take inspiration from a movie trailer. You’ll want to showcase the suspense, drama, excitement and romance contained in your book’s pages. Readers should get a feeling for the emotional content of the book in addition to a basic understanding of the plot.

Start drafting.

As you begin drafting options for your copy, try to fit everything into one or two paragraphs and aim for 200-250 words. If you go over this limit, your potential buyer may feel overwhelmed.

Include a tagline.

A tagline is an optional way to hook your reader before diving into the full description. A tagline can be a short descriptive sentence or a memorable quote or phrase from the book. Here are a few examples:

From Sarah Winman’s “Tin Man”:

This is almost a love story.

But it’s not as simple as that.

From Ta-Nehesi Coates’ “The Water Dancer”:

A magical gift. A devastating loss.

An underground war for freedom.

Fom Lois Lowry’s “The Giver”:

“I have a great honor,” The Giver said. “So will you. But you will find that it is not the same as power.”

From Min Jin Lee’s “Pachinko”:

“There could only be a few winners, and a lot of losers. And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones.”

All of these taglines are short and snappy, capturing the reader’s attention, and encouraging them to read on.

Include a review quote.

Either instead of, or in addition to, a tagline, you might include a review quote or testimonial from a respected source. This may come from a well-known author in your genre, from an expert in your field, or from a trusted industry source like Publishers Weekly or Kirkus.

Consider your author bio and headshot.

If you have room, you might feature a short bio along with your professional headshot on your back cover.

An author bio is most important for nonfiction authors, as this will give you the opportunity to establish your credibility and expertise. Be sure to state clearly what experience you have and why you are a good fit for writing on this topic. Space will be limited, so aim for 1-2 sentences or roughly 25 words.

Get feedback from your network.

At long last, you have a draft (or two or three!) complete. Consider sending it to your writing group or network of trusted friends for their feedback. Authors learn best from each other, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!

What does it mean to be a NYT bestselling author?

For many authors, writing a book that becomes a bestseller is their dream goal. But what does it really take to become a bestselling author?

In the most broad strokes, you’ll want to sell at least 5,000-10,000 books in a single week in order to be considered by any of the major bestseller lists. Unfortunately, there’s no magic number of sales that will guarantee you a spot on a list.

And when you focus on the New York Times bestseller list in particular — which is perhaps the most well-known and considered by many to be the most prestigious — things get even more hazy. 

The NYT bestseller list isn’t representative of pure sales data alone. After all, recording every sale of every book within the U.S. in a single week is an impossible task. So, there’s some wiggle room as far as accuracy goes. But, there are also other factors that appear to work for or against certain books.

Right away in the against category, we have certain genres that are excluded from the list. At the time of writing this article, NYT states that “the categories not actively tracked at this time are: perennial sellers, required classroom reading, textbooks, reference and test preparation guides, e-books available exclusively from a single vendor, journals, workbooks, calorie counters, shopping guides, periodicals and crossword puzzles.”

If not all genres are created equal in the eyes of The New York Times, the same can be said about retailers. 

NYT has said it receives sales reports from some, but not all, independent bookstores, along with (we assume) major retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Since not all stores report to The New York Times, some sales may go unrecorded.

It’s also been rumored that diversity in sales will work in a book’s favor. The idea is that if sales are coming in from retailers in different regions across the country, and if the retailers vary from indie stores to big-box chains, this will increase an author’s chance of hitting the list.

This approach has caused some authors who sell the majority of their books on Amazon, and who appear to have met sales quotas, to question why they’ve not been featured in the NYT’s list. It’s possible that NYT favors sales from indie bookstores and that these carry more weight than sales via Amazon. This could be for legitimacy reasons, as NYT tends to be suspicious of authors or publishers who try to game the system.

As far as we know, a list of all indie stores that report to The Times is not publically available. That said, many authors will try to identify stores they believe report to NYT, and then they will arrange events with those stores, hoping to boost their rankings. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this strategy. It’s always a good idea to connect with indie bookstores, and if they happen to report your sales, even better! But, some authors have taken to more aggressive sales-boosting strategies that NYT frowns upon.

For example, some authors have admitted to purchasing bulk orders of their book from NYT-reporting stores with the intention of hands-selling them later on. But, if a book’s sales appear to be artificially inflated by bulk orders, The Times may not count those sales at all. Or, if they do, they’ll place a dagger next to the book’s title to denote that the sales numbers may have been given an unfair boost.

We get why authors are keen on making the NYT bestseller list. It usually results in increased sales and it’s excellent for branding. It’s an honor that you can carry with you throughout your career. Any book you publish in the future can have the words “NYT bestselling author” on it!

However, there are no shortcuts to making the list. Many authors who appear to have done everything “right” by getting the 5,000-10,000 sales they hoped for are left disappointed when they don’t make the list. 

Instead of making bestseller status your primary goal, try setting your sights on the stepping stones that may lead you there, such as building strong, lasting relationships with indie booksellers, or growing your fanbase and running a successful pre-order campaign. 

You may surprise yourself by all you can accomplish, and after each milestone achievement, you may even find yourself an unexpected bestseller.