Jul 022014
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~ Short  Story Compilation? Learn How to Write Back Cover Copy ~

by Tam Francis

40s 50s college class writingAs I approach the publication of Ghostoria: Vintage Romantic Tales of Fright, I struggle with writing back cover copy, also known as, the blurb. Many blogs and sites have wonderful advice on writing blurbs, but very few talk about how to sell your story compilation/collection. The back cover copy is your second best tool (cover artwork being the first), to sell you book. On my journey, I’ve researched and experimented with advice culled from other sites discovering what would work for my collection. I hope what I’ve learned will help you.

One of the most important exercises that assist with writing Back Cover Copy is writing poetry. I hear you groaning, but poets, when they’re good, are brilliant at distilling the essence of things, getting into the psychological and emotional heart of people and situations. Poets convey moods, and emotions are your biggest tool for your blurb.  Start thinking like a poet.

Why should I write short stories and what can I do with them?

For most writers, writing short stories can help you on your path to being a better writing. Many writers have written a short story or two. Most have written enough for a collection. Some of my favorite novelist like Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, and Stephen King all have lovely short story collections. Besides writing short stories because its fun, here is a short list of other reasons why you should write short stories:

  • Writing and publishing short stories in literary magazines can attract agents
  • Writing a short story can lead to a bigger idea
  • Writing short stories can be a self-teaching tool
    • You learn how to finish a story
    • You can experiment with your voice
    • Ability to explore different genres
    • Quicker beta read returns
    • Teaches brevity of words (especially if you give yourself word count limits)
  • There are more contest for short stories than for novels (although there are short story collection contests make sure you collection has a minimum of 40,0000 words)
  • Paying journals and magazines accept short stories
  • You can now self-publish single stories and gauge your market

How Back Cover Blurbs for Novels are SIMILAR to Back Cover Copy for Compilations

Use language that reflects the tone/emotion of your novel/compilation. If your work is funny then the back cover should be humorous. If your book is scary than you must include elements of horror, if your book is romantic…

ghost stories 40s 50s book cover

  • Make the reader care about your characters.
  • Include a hint about the setting, but do not overshadow character or plot.
  • Give plot teasers, highlight the goal or main conflict. Let the reader know the stakes.
  • Do not outline the entire plot, leave them wanting more.
  • Short, short, shorter. Condense and use brevity.
  • Find the beat. Back cover copy should have a rhythm, like an ad jingle.
  • Add a quirky characteristic or detail (so many plots and characters sound the same, give the reader a new combination).
  • Aim for 150-200 words.

How Back Cover Blurbs for Compilations are DIFFERENT from Back Cover Copy for Novels

Traditional advice says to use character names, but with a compilation/collection, it would be too confusing for the reader.

  • Because you have so many plot lines (one for each story), it is impossible to give a setting, character, and plot overview for each. Mix up these elements in the individual story descriptions.
  • Or, forego individual story descriptions and go for an overall description of genre and types of characters and mood.
  • Your story collection must have a cohesive target audience and fit into a genre. It would be a disaster to mix erotic fantasy with young adult fiction.

What I did

I started out by immersing myself in other back-cover blurbs. I grabbed everything I could get my hands on, but found if I focused on genre, for me horror, I got a little closer to my goal.

judy garland ghost story bookI went back and forth between paragraph and bullets, finally settling on bullet style. I tried to incorporate an element of either character, setting, or plot, but not all in one.

Paragraph Style

Do you like scary stories with a little romance and a vintage twist?  Welcome to Ghostoria where haunts and haints populate this world of spine tingling tales.

A WWII secretary is trapped in the office with a ghost. A teacher must delve fifty years into the past to stop the haunting of her classroom. Six cocky teenagers try to survive the night locked in a turn of the century jail. A 1959 El Dorado Cadillac plays host to spirits and buried secrets. Young residents of a cursed Texas town grapple with what they’re willing to sacrifice to save themselves. A misguided hoodlum risks his hot rod, jitterbug life to spend a bloody night in the cemetery with his girlfriend.

With stories of unrequited love, woe and mystery, Ghostoria will gnaw the corners of your mind and challenge your ideas about life, love and death.

My next attempt was bullet style with rhetorical questions.

Bullet Style

Do you like scary stories with a little romance and a vintage twist?  Welcome to Ghostoria.

  • What happens when a WWII secretary is trapped in the office with a ghost and the only way out is to make an unwelcome choice?
  • Drive-in movies, hot rods, and jitterbugs populate Long Way Home; can one young man survive a bloody night in a historic cemetery with his girlfriend?
  • Young residents of a cursed Texas town grapple with what they’re willing to sacrifice in order to save their crops, animals, and loved ones?
  • Can a kindergarten teacher silence the talking doll that has frightened her students, by solving a fifty year old mystery?
  • A lone lady hitchhiker hops a ride in a 1959 El Dorado Cadillac by a roadside grave. Who will be alive at the end of the drive?
  • A turn of the century jail that housed murderers, liars, and thieves for over a hundred years is taken over by six teenagers on Halloween. What happens when a childhood chant turns deadly?

Those are just a few haunts and haints that populate this world of  unrequited love, woe, and mystery. Ghostoria will gnaw the corners of your mind and challenge your ideas about life, love, and death long after you leave.


Which version do you like? Do you have short stories you don’t know what to do with? Have you discovered a key to writing back cover copy?

Tam Francis, authorTam Francis is writer, blogger, swing dance teacher, avid vintage collector, and seamstress. She  shares her love of this genre through her novels, blog, and short stories. She enjoys hearing from you, sharing ideas, forging friendships, and exchanging guest blogs. For all the Girl in the Jitterbug Dress news, give-aways, events, and excitement, make sure to join her list and like her FB page! Join my list ~ Facebook page


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  11 Responses to “Short Story Compilation? Learn How to Write Back Cover Copy”

Comments (11)
  1. This was awesome for getting me into thinking mode. Short stories are not my forte but I dug deep and did a collection. A blogger asked for the book blurb and I didn’t have one. All the searches were for novels so imagine my surprise when I stumbled across your site. Kudos. Now I have work to do.

  2. Thank you so much. This is an excellent overview on how to get started. Extremely helpful and informative.

    • I’m thrilled you found it helpful. I had a devil of a time with doing the short story blurb. Single stories are so much easier. Glad it was helpful to you. :) Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Thank you very much for writing this article. I’ve never put out a collection of short stories before and writing the back cover copy was driving me crazy. Even with your help, I think it took me about three times as long to write the back cover than it did to write a 30 page short. Without your help, however, I might still be banging my head against a wall.
    Thank you, again, for an excellent post!

    , Mike

  4. Tam- your blog and your website are both terrific. As a Civil War reenactor, I’m truly appreciative of other folks who share a passion for one slice of time and one special element of that period, and the material culture that reflects the time and the element (swing dancing for you). Your blog and websites must be a treasure trove for other folks like you who revel in the 1940’s.

    As a writer, I share your and Gretchen’s affinity for bullets over paragraphs for blurbs. I think I’ve learned through writing professional grant applications and program reports (dry, dry, dry stuff) and hobby magazine articles that short lists keep a readers attention longer than do paragraphs. Key points get lost in paragraphs. So, the back cover of Novel #2, McBee’s Bloody Boots, will be bullets – the literary kind.

    I’m going to keep visiting this site for more, so keep tapping those keys and your toes.

    Phil McBride
    Author: Whittled Away: A Civil War Novel of the Alamo Rifles

    • Phil,

      You are VERY welcome. I’m enjoying your new blog as well. Don’t be afraid to link it in your signature! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read a bit and comment.


  5. I vote for bullet style, but I’d change the first line to: Do you like scary stories with a little romance? What about with a vintage twist? Welcome to Ghostoria. (Something like that) The rest of your story descriptions rock! How much would you charge to write my upcoming blurbs?

    • I wish there was a “Like” button on these comments. :-) Guess we’ll have to add one, Tammy!

  6. Great tips. Will RT. Very useful. You’re right. It’s totally different from writing a back cover blurb for a novel.

    • Thank you Anne. I’m excited about the ability to put out short story collections. I really believe the format keeps us on our toes as writers and readers. Thanks for stopping by and the RT :)

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