Jacket copy is exactly what it sounds like—it’s the copy you find on the inside flaps of jacket of a hardback book. On a paperback—where there’s no jacket—you find it on the backcover.
Remember when we used to roam around bookstores and pull out a book? Jacket copy is what you’d read to discover whether you want to buy the book.
Jacket copy is sales copy. It lets the reader know what the book is about, why they should care, and ultimately why they should buy it.
As an aspiring author, there are at least three reasons you should care:
#1: Jacket copy forces you to describe your book in a very succinct fashion. If you can’t do that, chances are you are still fuzzy about your book idea—the main point. It’s a sign you still have work to do.
#2: Whatever you choose for your publication path, YOU will ultimately be number one marketer of your book. Jacket copy forces you to think about your book out in the world, who your reader is, and what she needs. Again, if you are having difficulty writing jacket copy, it’s a sign you have more work to do—clarifying WHO your reader is and what she’s looking for.
#3: Third reason is practical. You actually need to write this jacket copy not just as an exercise to see how clear you are on your point and your reader—if you are self-publishing, you need to write this copy yourself unless you farm it out to someone else. And, if you are attempting traditional publication, jacket copy will give you a headstart on your query letter, which is the document you use to pitch your book to agents.
Let’s look at an example of jacket copy: Untamed by Glennon Doyle, her bestselling memoir and manifesto:
This is how you find yourself.
There is a voice of longing inside each woman. We strive so mightily to be good: good partners, daughters, mothers, employees, and friends. We hope all this striving will make us feel alive. Instead, it leaves us feeling weary, stuck, overwhelmed, and underwhelmed. We look at our lives and wonder: Wasn’t it all supposed to be more beautiful than this? We quickly silence that question, telling ourselves to be grateful, hiding our discontent—even from ourselves.
For many years, Glennon Doyle denied her own discontent. Then, while speaking at a conference, she looked at a woman across the room and fell instantly in love. Three words flooded her mind: There She Is. At first, Glennon assumed these words came to her from on high. But she soon realized they had come to her from within. This was her own voice—the one she had buried beneath decades of numbing addictions, cultural conditioning, and institutional allegiances. This was the voice of the girl she had been before the world told her who to be. Glennon decided to quit abandoning herself and to instead abandon the world’s expectations of her. She quit being good so she could be free. She quit pleasing and started living.
Soulful and uproarious, forceful and tender, Untamed is both an intimate memoir and a galvanizing wake-up call. It is the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live. It is the story of navigating divorce, forming a new blended family, and discovering that the brokenness or wholeness of a family depends not on its structure but on each member’s ability to bring her full self to the table. And it is the story of how each of us can begin to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries, make peace with our bodies, honor our anger and heartbreak, and unleash our truest, wildest instincts so that we become women who can finally look at ourselves and say: There She Is.
Untamed shows us how to be brave. As Glennon insists: The braver we are, the luckier we get.
I think this jacket copy is stunning in its clarity and directness. We know what this book is about. Who is it for. And why the reader should care.
We can’t all be Glennon Doyle (and I’m 99% sure SHE didn’t write that jacket copy—although she’s certainly capable of writing it).
So let’s look at the jacket copy from a mere mortal—me! Here's a draft of my jacket copy for my memoir:
Fifty-something empty nesters Suzette and Evan head off on a year-long “adventure” to figure out their next chapter, a year Suzette privately views as her last chance to break old patterns of safe choices and get clear on what she really wants. Three years later, a comment on Suzette’s memoir manuscript upsets their tidy new chapter and thrusts Suzette into the battle of her life: will she listen to the inner voice calling her to a more authentic life or will she stick with the safe path and stay in her thirty-year marriage? Eventually, she makes a decision to create the life she’s been longing for for decades.
Reflective and brutally honest, Graveyard of Safe Choices takes us inside one woman’s midlife journey as she learns to listen to the voice that’s deep inside each of us. It is the story of breaking the container you’ve carefully curated in your first half of life and creating a new one that allows you to live with your arms wide open. It is the story of weighing the costs of authenticity and becoming brave at any age. Graveyard of Safe Choices taps into the longing inside each of us: the desire to live authentically as ourselves.
Hey, I’m no Glennon Doyle, but how do you think I did? Measure my jacket copy (and yours!) against these three key elements that my mentor Jennie Nash says are essential to effective jacket copy:
#1: The transformation. We see a clear sense of the transformation the reader can expect from the book. In a self-help book, will they learn a new skill or be inspired to adopt a new habit? In a memoir, will they gain new insight into humanity or the world? What’s the journey the author is going to take her reader on?
#2: The format. We see how that transformation or journey is going to unfold. We’re clued into the structure of the book. Is this the author’s story? Someone else’s story? Are they making an argument or answering a series of questions?
#3: The takeaway/point. We get a clear sense of what the reader is going to “take away” from the book, and why the reader should care.
It is a useful exercise no matter where you are in the book-development process—before you’ve written a word of your draft, or you're stuck in the messy middle, or you are revising a full draft.
Drafting jacket copy is the perfect exercise to show you what is solid in your book idea (or manuscript) and what still needs work.