IPT Writing Clinic Paragraph Summary 4 – An Alternative to Paragraph Summary

In the past few posts, we’ve looked at two ways to use paragraph summary. I showed you how to use paragraph summary to develop a new idea and we looked at ways to rework on old idea before making revisions.

One of the keys to writing a good paragraph summary is knowing the events on which your story pivots. Each of the previous clinics included a look at the major turning points for the story we were working with.

But what if you don’t know the major turning points? Are you doomed to struggle with them until you get them figured out?

No. There is an alternative to paragraph summary.

Back cover copy.

What Is Back Cover Copy?

Back cover copy is a summary of your novel in much the same way a paragraph summary is. Back cover copy and paragraph summary are similar in that they are both short. There appears to be no hard-and-fast rule for length, but if you can keep them between 100 and 200 words, you’re in the ballpark. 100 to 120 is ideal.

But they differ in a couple of major aspects:

  1. Back cover copy is designed for readers while the paragraph summary is designed for you, the author.
  2. Back cover copy doesn’t reveal the end of the story, while the paragraph summary does.

Why Do I Need to Think About Back Cover Copy?

It’s not absolutely necessary to give much time to back cover copy at any stage. If you go the traditional publishing route, in fact, you may not ever need to think about or write back cover copy. There will be editors and writers to do that.

But when it comes to figuring out your story, it’s helpful to have an idea how you want the story to play to the reader. Sometimes, the best way to uncover reader appeal is to write back cover copy.


  • Because back cover copy is (or should be) short and sweet
  • Because back cover copy can often be written off the cuff in half an hour or less
  • Because writing back cover copy that appeals to potential readers shows you where your story’s strengths lie and where you might need to bolster the story
  • Because writing good back cover copy gives you something to tell readers who hear your tagline and want to know more about your story
  • Because, unlike paragraph summary, you can see how back cover copy is written by looking at the back covers of books wherever you find them.

Why Back Cover Copy Instead of Paragraph Summary?

The primary reason I sometimes write back cover copy instead of a paragraph summary (or before a paragraph summary), is that’s often easier to think like a reader than a writer. That can be a major benefit if you’re still trying to figure out what your story is about.

Writing back cover copy is especially helpful in planning if you don’t know what the major turning points are, but have a good idea of what the story is about.

How To Write Back Cover Copy

Step 1: Start with your basic ideas for characters. Write a short sentence or two for each of the two lead characters. Then write another sentence or two to summarize their conflict and you’ve made a good start.

Use character names (if they have names–if they don’t that’s okay. Use generic titles like The Male Lead or The Female Lead). Remember, you’re introducing them to readers just like you’d introduce two of your living friends to each other.

Step 2: Take half an hour or an hour and write as many versions of back cover copy as you can come up with. Don’t worry about whether or not they’re good. Just write them.

Look for two compelling characters, clear lines of conflict, and a story question that’s clear and evocative.

Step 3: Repeat each day for two or three days. Start from scratch each day and write as many samples of back cover copy as you can. Choose the best one from each day’s work.

Do this exercise as many days as you wish or until you find a sample you like.

Step 4: At the end of that time, if you haven’t found something you like, take the best samples from each day and continue to tweak them until something clicks.

If you don’t get something that makes your heart sing, don’t worry. Remember my writing axiom? Everything is subject to change until a novel is published. That includes ALL of your planning documents, even back cover copy.

Writing back cover copy may be more helpful in uncovering the story you want to tell than paragraph summary. That’s okay, too. Run with it.

Don’t forget the elements of good back cover copy.

  • Short and Sweet
  • Two Compelling Characters
  • Clear Lines of Conflict
  • Compelling Story Question

In Conclusion

If you’re stuck at turning points in mapping out the revisions for your current story (or in planning the next one), give back copy cover a try. It might be just the thing to get you past the sticking point.

If you’ve already written a paragraph summary, take a good look at it. Lop off the final sentence. That gives away the ending and you don’t want to give anything away in the back cover copy.

Now how can you increase the stakes in the sentences that remain?

That’s all you need.

Clinics In This Series
Week 1: What is a Paragraph Summary and Why Should You Care?
Week 2: Developing a New Story
Week 3: Improving a First Draft
Week 4: An Alternative to Paragraph Summary

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