Rowena Kuo:Writing Epic Back Cover

rowenakuo2016Today I welcome Rowena Kuo to my blog. She is an Acquisitions Editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. I sat in on her Writing Epic Back Cover class at the Write to Publish Conference this past June. Her knowledge helped clarify so much for me. I have touched on the importance of awesome back cover content in a previous post. Writing back cover isn’t as easy as I once thought. It’s not my best work. And other authors admit they’d rather have a root canal. So to take some of the pain and mystery out of this daunting task I’ve called on Rowena to give us some helpful guidelines toward excellent back copy.

Ro, welcome. I am so honored to have you as a guest blogger.

Thank you, Cindy. I always enjoy visiting with you and look forward to any time I get to see you again.

The word length of the back cover copy is 100 to 300 words. Tell us how do we decide what goes into this small cache’ of words? What should we leave out? How can we discern the difference?

Every word on your back cover carries weight, so we should make each word count. The back cover should answer “who, what, where, when, and why,” with the book content being the “how.”  Introduce your main characters by name and their relationship to each other, what the story is about, the setting, the time period, and why your reader should invest in your story. When you introduce your main characters, first show what is the “normal” world before everything goes wrong. Introduce your “average citizen” before his “call to duty,” and whether or not he will answer that call to become a “superhero.”

Place your characters in a place and time setting, so that your readers can affiliate with your story. This is key to deciding the genre of your book. You should then say what that “call to duty” is, the “inciting incident” that destroys the “normal” world and forces your character into action. Every story must have conflict to be interesting. State what that conflict is. The “why” of your story should make your characters compelling, your story thought-provoking, and intrigue your reader enough to buy your book.

Leave out non-essential and complicated storylines. Don’t summarize what happens in the story. Sometimes becoming too detailed drags your back cover copy, and your reader will search for a different book. End your back cover copy with a question. That question should entice your reader and should be answered upon reading your book.

Once we decide what goes in how do we make the words epic?

Use words that drive your book to the top of searches. Go to Amazon and search for the best-selling books in your genre. Read the back cover copies, and online, these would be the description or blurb when you click on the book title.


How do I find those top seller books in any given genre to examine the back cover?

  1. Go to
  2. On the Amazon search bar, the gray tab on the left drops down. Find Kindle Store.
  3. On the far left-hand vertical bar, find Kindle eBooks.
  4. Still, on that far left-hand vertical bar, there are several categories of books. Click on your genre. For example: Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense. The number in the parenthesis next to the genre is how many titles are categorized in that particular genre. This number can change depending on new books coming out that fall into that category.
  5. Refine your search to the smallest sub-category. These are still on that left-hand bar. For example: Mystery–>Cozy (2878)
  6. Click on that first book. The books can change from moment to moment depending on book sales, so what I find at the top today, you may not find there tomorrow. The important thing to look at is the back cover copy or the description of those top 10 books. For each book, there will be rankings in 3 genres.
  7. Look at the words that “pop out” at you, common words that search engines will use to align your book with the titles at the top of your genre.

Certain words trigger search engines and lead readers to those books. Plant those words into your back cover copy. Depending upon the genre, these words will vary, but a little research on your part prior to writing your back cover copy can be the difference between your audience finding your book and your novel being dead last. For example, the keywords I see on the back cover for the #1 book in Romance and Women’s Fiction are: fatal, accident, discovered, secret, lies, disappears, suspicion, love, romantic, gripping, mystery, suspense.


How important is back cover copy to potential readers?

Back cover copy is what your reader looks at to decide whether or not to invest time and money in your book. This copy is what search engines use to connect books to the right audience. It’s important to know your genre and all the possible genres where your book might fit. Knowing your genre(s) can help you write back cover copy that will attract the readers who would enjoy your story.

How important is the wording of back cover copy to Amazon and other online and storefront retailers?

Amazon and other retailers base success on sales, and sales drive where your book ranks. Amazon gets a cut of every sale, so having a back cover copy that translates into sales is key to how successful your book is going to be. Of course, the book itself must have an amazing story, but it is the back cover copy that influences readers to make that purchase.

How many tries does it take to get this right?

Writing back cover copy can be a trying task. It can be written and rewritten dozens of times before it would pass publisher approval. Don’t lose heart at this stage. It will be worth the effort no matter how many times it takes to revise your back cover copy.

Any final words for forlorn authors struggling to make their back cover shine?

I encourage you to read the back cover copies of the best-selling books in your genres. Write down words that pop out at you and draw you to that book. Investigate what drives a book to the top of the lists and make sure your book is comparable. Use active rather than passive verbs and descriptions that engage the imagination, curiosity, and heart of your readers. I’m still looking for the magic formula that will make our books crash the download servers, but I hope that I have given you a few pointers to at least ensure your back cover copy promises a fantastic read. If your book delivers the story your back cover promises, then you are well on your way to successful sales. See you at the top of the charts!

Rowena Kuo is an editor and executive producer for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and Lighthouse Productions of the Carolinas. With over 15 years of ministering to children, youth groups, young adults, and now women and family groups, Rowena advocates for writers to build God-centered support systems consisting of people, perseverance, practice, and most of all, prayer. She has written for Christian Devotions, Written World Communications, and the 168 Write of Passage. When not working on words or films, she is a full-time mom with secret aspirations for spaceflight.

Rowena Kuo
Acquisitions Editor
Editorial Director
Fiction Division
Managing Editor, Brimstone Fiction
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas
Development Executive Producer

Do you have a love or hate relationship with back cover copy?

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Creating Memes to Promote Book Sales

I’ve been experimenting with memes. You know the words displayed in an artist frame. When I think of memes I think of comments added to the grumpy cat photo, funny kid’s pics and favorite actors. Recently, we’ve seen a lot of minion memes.


This an example of a meme you  find all over facebook.

Statistically, people stop to read words placed on a meme more than words alone. If I want my Facebook friends and twitter followers to take interest in my book I need to engage them now. Memes are a fun and actually easy way to do it.


I created this meme on Pic monkey. I found the picture on and the quote is my own.  You can change font size and color so it is easy to read.

I was surprised how easy. If you take lots of pictures or in my case, my husband takes lots of pictures, then you can search through those to start your creation. You can use free photo sites like and to find pictures. Or you can create colorful backgrounds for your quotes. Word is too painful to use to create anything artistic. Word Publishing or PowerPoint programs work pretty well. There’s a bit of a learning curve at least for me. My hubby uses them with ease.


This is a quote from a blog post. Putting key phrases from blogs either as a meme on the blog or social media draws attention to your work. There is something missing can you tell what it is? Created with Picmonkey.

I like Picmonkey. It’s a great website. I use it for preparing photos I want to post, but you can also create memes for FB, twitter or blogs. The site has FB and Twitter templates. You can customize the size. Create collages and more. Choose between the free and paid versions. It’s easy to use. The free one is great. I am a subscriber now because the fee gives me more options. There’s a free trial available and step by step instructions.


This meme has my website at the bottom. The missing component to the previous meme. Also be sure to give correct to the person or book the quote is taken from.  Created with Picmonkey.

My plan involves posting quotes from my novel nearer it’s launch date. For now, I can post memes with favorite quotes, verses and the occasional words of wisdom I create myself. There’s lots of background art to choose from to help set your meme apart. Great for me who has only a small amount of artist flare in my left pinky finger. The backgrounds help your Pinterest boards look fantastic. You can resize, sharpen or crop a photo. With the paid version you can create invitations, business cards and more.  So Cool!


This is a picture I found that reminds me of my heroine Evangeline in Secret and Charades. This quote does not appear in the novel. I wanted to show how easy it is to add text to pictures with

Tell me how you create memes? Feel free to post your meme in the comment section and share what program you use. Together we can make this meme experiment easy for everyone.

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Focusing On my Writing Helps During Stressful Times


This week has been more than hairy. My father ended up in the hospital in the midst of getting my parent’s house on the market. My Dad is already in a memory care unit and now it’s time to move my mom to assisted living. My father’s hospital stay was a nightmare and now he is in rehab with hopes of restoring function after a hard fall. He’s 87 so it won’t be easy. As POA (power of attorney) for my parents, all the decisions fall on me.  My mom needs extra attention during this time and must be removed from her home every time someone wants to view her house. She has three doctor’s appointments this week as well.

These things on top of other life events make it difficult to function at times. Yet, I find writing to be my lifeline. I’ve had to prepare two guest blogs and work on my WTP while doing other pre-pub prep for my novel’s release. Writing has been unbelievably helpful with the stress I’m under.

Some of you probably think I’m weird. I get that. In the past writing would always take a back seat to whatever else came along. It was something I did when I had time. Something I did during free moments. And certainly not in the middle of the messes of life.

As I’ve gotten older and life has not slowed down around me I have no choice. If I want to make this writing thing work I have to press forward. Maybe I can’t reach all my writing goals for the week. Every week I create a too long to-do list. That’s just my nature. If I can accomplish anything on that list during a stressful time it seems to give me balance.

Balance helps me cope. Coping leads me to pray with more clarity. Increased prayer leads me to peace. And peace helps me manage the extreme stress of my present situation.

Psalms 29:11 The Lord will give strength to His people; The Lord will bless His people with peace.


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Guest post: Setting as Character

Beth's head shot-2Today I welcome my friend and fellow novelist Beth Ziarnik to my blog. I interviewed her when Her Deadly Inheritance Debut. I was quite intrigued with how her setting played into her plot. Her setting had a life of its own like her characters did. I’ve asked her to share how she built her setting character.

Exploring Setting as Character

Finding the right setting for a novel is crucial. I fell in love with Grand Island, Michigan sight unseen while reading Beatrice H. Castle’s The Grand Island Story. A fascinating wilderness island with a rich history, it remains sparsely settled and somewhat isolated. Perfect for a romantic suspense novel.

I also wanted a small paper mill town, and Munising fit my story’s needs: friendly, hardy people who love their city, are patriotic, hold old-fashioned values and dive into community events with humor and zest. Perfect!

After I read everything I could, my husband and I visited, and I knew I had my novel’s setting. It was romantic: waterfalls everywhere, magnificent color-banded cliffs, and an abundance of wildflowers, crystal clear waters shimmering in a sunset, fireworks lighting up the evening sky. As for suspense: evening fogs provided an air of mystery, while danger lurked in the waters of Lake Superior. Famous for fierce storms that break iron ore ships in half, it also stays cold enough to freeze the bodies of those who drown. They sink to the bottom where they remain. No wonder Lake Superior has earned its reputation of “never giving up its dead.”

I still needed a house with nooks and crannies and other interesting features to serve my story. Let me just admit it. Rather than borrow one already on the island or invent one of my own, I “ripped off” Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, Connecticut. Yup, I borrowed its floor plan and features—making a few minor adjustments—and plunked it down on Grand Island’s east coast across from the island’s “thumb.” If you visit Twain’s house, you will find most of it like Jill’s house on Grand Island. If you try to find it on Grand Island, you’ll be disappointed. No such house exists there.



Cliff of Grand Island


However, you can visit those island features that appear in Her Deadly Inheritance. William’s Landing, Echo Lake, the island cemetery, and the cottage where Jill’s father stayed one summer are all quite real. So are the storms Jill experienced along with their unusual features.



Grand Island Forest and Road


You can also visit the settings for scenes in Munising. Most should still be in place as they were when my husband and I made two on-site research trips: the café, the little church, the parade route, the ballpark and nearby boat docks, Powell’s Point and the ferry, the nursing home, the post office, the old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration at Bayshore Park, and even the tiny bridge over the creek nearby.



Streets of Munising


So, how then does an author take setting and present it as if it were another character in her story?

During those two visits, I not only took pictures and notes. I also soaked in all the sights, sounds, smells, textures, tastes, and unusual features of the island and town until those settings came alive to me. Not able to visit Mark Twain’s house, I found house plans and photos and read about the people who lived there. In my imagination, I walked through the house until it, too, came alive for me. Then I fed all this into my heroine’s and my hero’s hearts and let them experience it.

I’m now in the process of doing the same with my second novel because I truly believe setting is an important character in any romantic suspense novel. It sets and enhances mood, and provides unique features that help to make my stories vivid and alive.

HerDeadlyInheritanceColor-2About Beth:
A long-time fan of romantic suspense, Beth Ann Ziarnik offers her first novel Her Deadly Inheritance with all the twists and turns, cliffhangers and romantic tension she and readers have come to love. She is a co-founder of Word & Pen Christian Writers in Northeast Wisconsin and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. In addition to her 450 published pieces (several included in anthologies), she is the author of Love With Shoes On, her ten-year devotional column about love in action and based on 1 Corinthians 13.

Link to her

About Her Deadly Inheritance:

Winner of the: 2016 Writer of the Year Award at Write to Publish
First a runaway. Now running for her life. Won’t Jill Shepherd’s family be surprised when she returns to Grand Island, Michigan to end their lies and scheme to have her declared legally dead? But when Jill exposes the mastermind behind her intended death, her family’s deception may kill any chance she has of remaining alive.

Clay Merrick may seem to be little more than a handy-man restoring homes, but when the former Special Forces operative tracks a brutal killer to Jill’s historic house under renovation, he has most of the evidence he needs to bring the killer to justice … until Jill gets in the way.

When the killer sets sights on Jill as the next victim, it’s not just Clay’s mission on the line, but his heart.

What setting in a novel took on a life of its own matching wits with the characters in a novel you’ve read? Why was it a great addition to the novel?


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Grammarly’s Free Download Helpful to Writers


Recently, I took the plunge. I downloaded the free version of Grammarly. A software program that corrects grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence structure. The free version catches my often overlooked typos. My family moved a few weeks into my sophomore year and beginning typing. Therefore, my typing skills are less than stellar. Thanks to the invention of the personal computer I am now able to fix my typos quickly. However, there are still other things I can miss. Grammarly catches those. It underlines the word in question and shows me in a sidebar the problem. Or in some cases the assumed problem.

The program pinged on the word Wok—asking if I might mean walk. Because I was referring to the pan, I choose the ignore button. When it questioned the spelling of neighbor to be corrected as neighbour, I again hit ignore. I didn’t want the British spelling. Most of the time it catches not only misspelled words (my bad typing) but improperly used words, missing articles, etc. Pretty cool. When the software challenges a word, I have found myself coming up with an even better word than the one cited as a possible error. Great way to stretch your creative juices.

A downside, you have to get out of the program to save your corrections. I ran the spell check in Word as a double check. They disagree on a few things.  Words spell check doesn’t come close to catching what Grammarly does, and its limited vocabulary pings errors that aren’t.

Writers still need to do the work.

Grammarly doesn’t replace working hard at crafting good sentences. Nor should it be used as the lazy man’s final draft. My college son relies on it to proof his work. Yes, he admits it’s the lazy way. But as writers, we still need critique partners to help us craft better prose.  We need to practice honing the phrasing of our words until they shine.

As a novelist, the basic program doesn’t understand the need for sentence fragments for pacing or dialogue syntax. For example, woulda used to expression a character’s speech pattern is underlined as misspelled.

Overall it’s a great tool to keep your conscience mindful of your most common errors as you draft your copy. I’d recommend anyone who wants to improve the grammar areas of their writing to give the free download a try. I’ve installed it on FB as well. Everyone notices when a writer has a blaring typo. Haven’t decided if I want to purchase the advanced edition. That portion claims to catch errors on a deeper level. I would recommend checking out the free version.

Have you used Grammarly? What do you think of it?

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Describing Acronyms while Writing Fiction


At a recent critique session, the group was reviewing a chapter from my second unpublished novel, New Duet. Dan is a veteran, and while having dinner with Issy, he tells her about his truck being hit with an IED, mentioning his MOS while serving in the military. However, nowhere did I define what those acronyms meant. Defining IED (improvised explosive device) and MOS (military occupational specialty code) to my critique group help me realize I needed to make them clear to my reader. So within the dialogue exchange over dinner, Issy asked the questions one might ask in a casual conversation. Therefore, giving the definitions and making things clear rather than the archaic writing style of the narrator stepping in and saying, “Dear reader, let me explain what he is talking about.”

Obvious Acronyms

Some acronyms need no explanation. SWAT- everyone knows these are specially trained police in bullet-proof vests carrying assault weapons with particular skills to take down the bad guys. We know FBI, CIA, DEA. And every TV viewer now knows what CSI and NCIS stand for. Tests like MRI or CAT scan or CPR are understood either through experience or watching medical dramas.

Define so they stay engaged

Then again we can’t assume everyone knows. I recently ran across DIY. My mind went blank. But within the ad were the words do-it-yourself. Ah, sweet clarity. As writers, we should be familiar with the term WIP. But non-writers have no clue. Work in progress needs to appear somewhere in the same paragraph for clarity.

If you are writing about a specific trade the acronyms need to be defined once either before or after its first use. Otherwise, readers are confused and leave your story to google the mystery letters. Too many of those and you’ve lost the momentum of turning pages to get to the end at 2 a.m.

My example

As you craft your story, don’t forget to define terms within the story as quickly as you can without drawing the reader out of the story.  If a DEA agent comes to the door, don’t stop to give a brief history of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Instead:

“Men, are in position, sir.” The tall lanky DEA agent looked to Detective Marshall for confirmation.

“Tell the men to move in. Slowly. Don’t want to spook these guys.”

“For sure, they’ve given us the slip more than once. “The agent keyed his mike. “Move in, low and slow.”

“If they flush the drugs, our case is toast.” Detective Marshall kept his eyes on the third story window. Three guys sat at a table. What they were doing could not be seen from his vantage point. Fear moistened his collar. He hated dealing with drug smugglers. It always brought in the feds, and more hands in the pie could end badly.

“I heard from a guy in Vice over at Precinct 23 that these guys operate in four states.”  The young detective moved closer with the declaration. Marshall wasn’t in the mood to chat.

“Well, today it stops here.” Withdrawing his Glock from its holster, he moves in a squat posture toward the building.

Now in this less than stellar scene you get the idea. I have given you the information that the DEA is a federal branch of law enforcement that deals with drug-related crime. I’ve given the reader the needed info without stepping away from the scene.  Always give just enough to define the acronym but not so much as to drag the reader from the action.

What interesting acronyms have you run across? Do you have an example of how yuo defined an acronym while still moving the story along?

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Finding Weeds in Your Word Garden



Photo by Charles Huff

How many of you love gardening? Seeing your landscape creation take shape, watching the bulbs you painstakingly planted bloom in glorious, magnificent colors. Now, how many of you love weeding?  Getting down on hands and knees and ripping out those menacing thistles, dandelions, grass, stray saplings, and (if you have a neighbor who feeds squirrels) corn stalks. Well, if we were in a gardeners class, I’d be the one hiding behind the big kid, hoping to avoid getting volunteered.




Photo by Charles Huff

I love a beautiful garden but hate, HATE weeding! The whole process makes my arms and shoulders ache and my fingernails acquire black French tips just thinking about it. Needless to say, my yard gets pretty weedy before it is attended to. Over the years, my landscaping has become pretty Spartan.


A writer’s garden of words needs weeding, and that can become a pretty daunting task, too. Especially for the novice. It’s like sending a four-year-old into your flower beds to weed. They know not what to pull so they remove a lot of healthy foliage. If her eyes are green, don’t keep telling me her eyes are green. He gazed into her green eyes. Or, Her green eyes snapped. Maybe those eyes blaze like an emerald when she’s angry. Still green but more exciting.  Her pupils grew large when the villain approached. See what I’m getting at?

Does your hero fist his hands a lot? Or run them through his hair? (Mine sure did.)  Flex fingers, white knuckles, clenched-fisted. Find more interesting ways to refer to physical action.


Some varieties of flowers come in different sizes. Daisies can be small, tall, bushes and a myriad of colors. Daisies are my favorite flower, but I would not want my whole yard covered in them. Neither does your reader want to read the same word over and over again. Rather than your hero breathing try panting, gasping or straining. His breathing might be thready, heavy, faint or gulping. You might write:

The thready sound of air passed through his teeth.

A whisper of air tickled her neck.

My editor found a lot of sipping going on in my novel. So we had to weed those sips out. My characters held the mug to their lips. Stirred the content. She gazed over the cup. Gulped, swallowed, savored and drank.

Don’t walk across the room. Stride, skip, stomp, waltz, plod or any other action word.

We use lots of was, were, is, are in our writing. She was sad might transform to sadness gripped her. If it gripped her heart in one paragraph be sure it travels to her toes or spills out her eyes later.

Thistles end up in my yard and flowerbeds because of the Cardinal bird feeders in the neighborhood. When you think you’ve got them all, more pop up. Common words can become thistles. Just, only, have just, but, because, really, very and lots of -ly words.



Photo By Charles Huff


When a thistle blooms, it is lovely. It’s the national flower of Scotland.  Most Americans don’t grow them intentionally. They are prickly and a nuisance when they pop up in random places. Do you recall listening to a speech sprinkled with the words: you know? Or have a friend end every sentence with –just saying. Make sure your word garden is free of those.

Below is a list of words to weed from the landscape of your novel. Words that distract the reader. The passive word that slows the action. Perhaps a favorite go-to word planted between awesome words causing the scenes to droop. These words distract the reader from the beauty of the overall work.



It is recommended by most authors I know to start your own list of words you habitually plant in your projects.  Refer to your list when you begin editing. Get out your weeding tools and eliminate the majority of them. Thin others. Not every was is unneeded and an occasional just is just fine.  Keep the list handy because those little buggers are going to reappear time and time again. And you will probably add to your list when you notice your replacement words become repetitive.

What are some favorite words you use in excess in your writing?

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