Hang around the Buonfiglio digs long enough, and chances are, some night you'll catch a silly kid refusing to tuck into bed, lying atop the covers while being chided by an exasperated adult with the fave family saying: Hey! On is not under!

Alas, the on/under maxim isn't universal.  For instance, it doesn't necessarily hold true when applied to romance novel "cover copy."  For in most cases, the copy on flipsides of romance reads effectively entices us and sketches the big-picture storyline; after we plunk down our cash, we can be fairly certain what's on the back cover indeed is under it, as well.

Writing cover copy that leaves readers hungry is sort of an art form. "You don't want to give the cow away w/the milk," says BN Romantic Reads moderator and former Grand Central Forever romance editor Melanie Murray.  "Publishers want to tease the reader into wanting more."

But to make sure readers are satisfied that the book they buy is the same one they've read about in the cover copy, publisher's craft carefully back-cover teases. "The 'voice' of the cover copy has to match the style of the book; your cover copy for historical author Mary Balogh can't sound like romantic-comedy writer Jenny Crusie wrote it, and vice versa."

The bottom line: Most readers buy books based on cover copy, and I cull most books for consideration the same way.  So, in effect, most of the books that ended up on my list of Best Romances in BN's Best of 2009 are there because something stood out from the cover copy and drew one book out of the scores I dig through monthly.

Let me give you an example. Joey W. Hill's "A Mermaid's Ransom  ," an extraordinary erotic novel from my Best Paranormals of 2009 duo, sports this cover copy:

Daughter to an angel and a mermaid, Alexis has grown up with blue waters caressing her skin. So when her nightmares begin to plague her - dreams of fire and fear-- the mer-angel has little idea what to make of it. In her dream is the loneliest man Alexis has ever seen-and she's strangely drawn to him. Until the night her dream comes true...

Born of a vampire and a Dark One, Dante has only known brutality. And although he's the leader of the Dark One's underworld, he longs to escape. How better to do so than to hold for ransom the Prime Legion Commander's daughter? But there's one thing Dante never planned for - the way Alexis has stolen his heart, giving him the chance to embrace life instead of darkness...if he can prove himself worthy of her love.

Perhaps the words/phrases that hooked me aren't the ones you'd imagine: Dreams of fire and fear; the loneliest man; Dante brutality; hold for ransom; embrace life/darkness.  These are harsh words that give me hints to the darker nature of this novel, ones which suggest the possibility of more intense emotional and sexual intimacy.  I expected cutting-edge scenarios layered over the experiences of a heroine I suspected would be strong, yet probably innocent on her way to finding her true strength. And Hill had me at "ransom," 'cause if there's a kidnapping of any sort, I'm all over it.

What are the elements of cover copy that draw your attention?  How much does it affect your purchase?  Do you find cover copy generally delivers what it promises?

What's under the covers of Eloisa James' fave books of late?  The down-home romance of love in small towns. Check out "Our Town," Eloisa's December BN Review column!


by Moderator dhaupt on ‎12-01-2009 02:23 PM

Ah Michelle it's a rare thing indeed when a cover lives up to the content. I'd say less than half even show the characters accurately, you know blonde hero cover guy is raven headed etc.. Probably the covers where the author has some say over are the ones that really showcase and represent the read.  Now this cover is very exciting and I think I'll definitely have to check this out. The cover however has no affect on wether or not I purchase the book.


by Joan_P on ‎12-01-2009 03:43 PM

I'm new here and I have practically no experience in this genre. I guess a catchy cover will draw me in but what's really going to "hook" me is the description on the back cover. The other thing I have been doing is trolling around the sight- clicking on book covers and looking at "people who read this also read this" and reading that description. What also carries a lot of clout is what the reviewer says! :smileyhappy: Sooo many great reviewers here!! My experience thus far is that the book has been better than the cover!



by on ‎12-01-2009 03:55 PM

Welcome, Joan_P!

by 1lovealways on ‎12-01-2009 08:16 PM

Hi All & Welcome Joan_P!


That back cover copy certainly has to draw me in.  It has to give me a hint of what's in between those two covers.  Just a taste, but not give it all away, so that I'll want to read the story.  In other words, it has to be well written and give me a visual of the hero, the heroine, their names, their situation, the time frame and maybe where the story takes place. These are just some of the things that influence me.


Although, there's a picture on the front cover, it's really just something to look at for me.  More often than not, that is not the way I picture the h/h in the book.  Immediately after looking at that and the author's name, I flip it over and by reading what's on the back sets the stage as to whether I want the book or not.

I mainly go by who wrote the book, if it's an author I've read before, then enough said.  Then I take into consideration, the recommendations others have given the book, thirdly I research reviews to see if it's the book for me and lastly if I get good vibes.  Will I like it even if it's by an author I've read before?  Sometimes if I've read the author's books before, there maybe something that turns me off.  It could be something as simple as a first name or a weird scenario that I don't like.


More often than not, most of the cover copy I've read has been true to the story.  I've found myself in many instances, wondering who these people were who write the short synopsis on the back.  Some of the ones I've read are just beautiful and just grab me and pull me in before I even open the book.  I don't know the technical term for what they do, but for me they do a great job.  I love that back cover copy!  :smileywink: 

by MalePerspectiveGuy on ‎12-01-2009 08:18 PM

I actually try to avoid reading the cover copy. I'm afraid that I'll learn too much from the cover copy, and it might spoil the  read for me.  I typically do not use that as a determining factor in whether I buy a book.  I qonder just how much sales of books can actually be traced to the cover copy.


BTW, I was there at the Bounfiglio household when the "on is not under" phrase was born, and I know how proud we are that the phrase has now been heralded here at H2H.



by Joan_P on ‎12-01-2009 08:56 PM

Hi! I would agree that if it's a hot cover it will get me to look at it and go from there!


I just might adopt that "on is not under" phrase :smileyhappy: love it!!



by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-01-2009 11:49 PM

I'm all about the author. First and foremost, I look for authors I know. Because I hang out with readers and authors, even debut author's names are usually familiar to me. Once I've read and liked a book by an author, I tend to buy up their backlist and pre-order whatever is coming up.


But still, sometimes I want a surprise. I buy books both online and at the store, and I'm more likely to make impulse buys in person. Sometimes I'm drawn by a cover, but more often I work my way through the new release racks, reading back cover copy of every book that interests me. If I like the blurb, I'll read the first few pages while I'm standing there. I did that last year with Shana Abe's Queen of Dragons and had to sit down so I could read more. I had book one of that series at home but couldn't wait to read them in order. Read Queen of Dragons that night and went back to buy (and read) the Dream Thief in the morning. Read the first three books in reverse order, and I didn't even care. 


I get a kick out of it when I buy a book because of its intriguing back cover copy only to find out later that Melanie wrote it! (She hides her light under a barrel at times . . .)

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎12-02-2009 08:25 AM

Hi, Deb: I'm with you on the actual cover design for the most part. If it's sharp, it certainly catches my eye, but I don't expect it to reflect the story w/in.  But, says Obvious Girl here, it does tell me who the author is. As becke says, that lets me know what I might expect.  As MPG says -- and gawd, don't I hate to agree w/him on anything -- there's a certain sense of anticipation to be had from not reading cover copy. That's why I was careful to write above that I read most cover copy to cull books.  Sometimes I skim to pull words that alert me.  Cover copy can prejudice a read in the same way covers can -- to me -- and I still want to give books tries despite not great shows on either. does that make sense?

Joan, I'm laughing at the 'book is better than the cover," because in most cases, it'd stink if the opposite were true.  When I ws in music school and we were critiquing classmates, we learned that even if we thought someone tanked, we started w/a positive, like, 'you looked great while you were singing!" Imagine if you had to tell an author who asked how you liked her book, "wow! It was even better than the cover!" : )

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎12-02-2009 08:30 AM

Wow, 1la, well said/written.  I feel a lot like you, and really admire great cover copy. It turns me on to a book in ways other recommendations of books don't; I don't like when someone tells me the full story of a book in telling me whether they like it.  I like when they tell me the way a friend would, by hinting at the juiciest stuff, telling me a tease about the hero and the heroine, and what the major thing is that keeps them apart. I try to keep that in mind when I write about books. Yet I know there are lots of readers who want to know way more, and that's cool too, cause there are lots of resources for that info, too.  But my friends and I kill when someone gives away something big -- unless we've begged each other to do so. : )

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎12-02-2009 08:38 AM

Oh, and 1la, you and becke hit on something really important: Author recognition in sales.  Sounds like a no-brainer, but romance readers are wildly loyal consumers.  Generally, I hear readers say they'll buy their faves no matter what. And if they're disappointed w/one book by a fave, they'll give more shots. 



Hi, MPG.  I already said I agreed w/you twice. Enjoy.  Melanie Murray says publishers believe front cover is what attracts readers to pick up a book, cover copy is what gets them to buy.  I'm not sure if you pulled out stats, whether cover copy, author name rec or recommendations would pull larger share of ultimate sale motivation.  I'd guess point-of-purchase impulse or enticement.  RWA stats say that online, at least, romance readers are most influenced to buy by recommendations at online bookseller point-of-purchase.

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎12-02-2009 08:44 AM

Ah, becke, I forgot to delineate between the normal and the obsessive  book buyer.  : )  You're right, that being in atmosphere in which folks talk books/authors all day, one tends to think authors. Especially when they're 'knocking on the door' all the time. And that's a good thing, because it makes us aware of what's coming that we might miss sometimes.  Another great reason to pay attn to author names is, like you said, finding debut authors, who aren't always noticed or shelved prominently.   

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎12-02-2009 08:46 AM

Joan, we'd love for you to spread the gospel of 'on is not under!'  Never fails to get kids to giggle in our house. Or to get our daughter to climb under the bed. Not the optimal response, of course. 

by Moderator Melanie_Murray on ‎12-02-2009 09:57 AM

Great conversation here! I do think that cover and cover copy don't matter quite so much when it's an author that you know and love and read religiously. I mean, I doubt that either front cover or cover copy are going to discourage a die-hard Nora fan from buying her latest book. And when it's a part of a series, say like the next JD Robb, sometimes I don't even pay attention to the front cover. I know I just am going to buy it.


But for new authors, or authors we don't know, (and Becke, yes, I think you're part of a demographic that has its own rules, because you're relying on first- and second-hand word of mouth) I think cover copy, both front and back, makes the sale.


One more thing I'll add: I never hold copy against a book, if it turns out to be misleading or not entirely accurate. But I'll definitely note the discrepancies. I'm forgiving of hair color inaccuracies from the front cover, but copy that doesn't completely stay true to the book irritates me.


Oh, and Becke? Stop giving away my secret life. :smileywink: I like hiding my light.


And Michelle, congrats on agreeing with your husband. I'd tell my husband about it, but he'd refuse to believe there's such a thing as an agreeing wife.

by PrincessBumblebee on ‎12-02-2009 01:58 PM

Hey, girls!

Yes, those covers can definately be intriguing. Which is the point, I guess. I agree, Michelle, I feel like if it's a new author, the cover catches my attention and makes me want to read more on the back. However, like the covers, sometimes the blurb can be misleading. Not naming names, but one author had a very funny little snippet on the back of her blurb and a great cover, but the book just didn't hold up to either one. Sometimes that happens, but more often than not they're a keeper. Like Nalini Singh. Had never read her and her "Carressed By Ice" cover was VERY intriguing, not to mention the back and I just had to get it. Now, I'm obssessed with her Psy/Changelings and Guild Hunters!

I think they should get Chester Bennington on a cover or one of those hawt Romulans! That would definately get my attention! Hubba Hubba!

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-03-2009 12:44 AM

Melanie, you just reminded me of a book I read this year where the back cover copy had different names for the hero and heroine than the book did. I'm assuming the cover copy was written at the time of an early draft, and when the author changed them, no one remembered to change the back copy. It was a little weird, but it didn't affect my enjoyment of the book. And of course, after all this time I have no idea which book it was. Darn those senior moments, anyway!

by Moderator Melanie_Murray on ‎12-03-2009 08:26 AM

That does happen, Becke. Sometimes the covers are shot and written before the book comes in and then there are some discrepancies. But I've never heard of something that egregious! Remember what book it is! I'm dying of curiosity!

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-03-2009 11:27 AM

I think it was a book I read in the spring. I've read so many since then that even if senior moments weren't an issue, I doubt if I could remember it. And I pass on most of my books to friends, so I doubt if it's on my bookshelf.

by Mary_Anne_Landers on ‎12-04-2009 05:28 PM

Thank you for your post, Michelle.


I can't drive home this point strongly enough:  BACK COVER COPY MATTERS!  That and the description of a book on the Internet, which are often the same words or close enough, are what determines whether or not I'll buy a book.  Cover art and a catchy title might grab my attention, but the description is the deciding factor.


I carefully note whether the copy mentions character types, situations, and other themes I like---too long a list to mention here---and those I don't---ditto.  I realize that because cover copy is designed to sell the book, it might not represent the work to the degree that, say, a synopsis would.  Most likely, the copy emphasizes highly marketable elements and doesn't mention at all those that aren't, even if they figure prominently in the book.


As a result, my method of selecting books isn't foolproof.  Still, it's more reliable than buying a book based on factors such as cover art, the title, or recommendation blurbs from famous authors, which also figure prominently on the covers. 


I wouldn't care for a back-cover description that tells too much of the story.  But that's pretty rare.  What's much more common is one that doesn't tell enough.


Keep up the good work!


by on ‎12-04-2009 11:46 PM

Well after a perus in the book store one thing is very clear. Except for mysteries nearly all books are getting the romance book cover treatment. We've had several discusions over in paranormal, "who else is tired of leather clad babbes that nothing to do with the story on the covers??!" Ect..


But back copy (sigh) Is either all written by this one really bored person, or has little nothing to do with the book inside. For the last 5 years, several publishers; I simply can not find either engageing or truthful back cover copy. Just can't find it anymore.

by Joan_P on ‎12-05-2009 02:24 PM



You sound hopeless; how sad. I tend toward optimism... hang in there! You never know; with all this discussion, perhaps there will be change!  

Have a wonderful day!


by on ‎12-05-2009 03:47 PM

Oh not not hopeless, grumpy perhaps.  I just stopped reading the back copy and no longer think a book cover has anything to do with the story, They're like .. have you seen those perfume commercials and ads where until it gets to the very small letters of the perfume name there's no way to tell what the ads was about. That's how covers have become. (shrug) At least some of the art's getting better.


(chuckle) I doubt that. Until a normal best seller's new book doesn't sell a single copy due to the cover, it just not likely to happen.


You too!


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