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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Art of Cover Copy

When someone picks up a book in the bookstore and turns it over to read the back cover to find out what the book is about, they're looking at something that probably took hours to write. Producing good back cover copy requires a lot of skill. Basically, the writer has two paragraphs to tell what the story is about and to make it interesting to the reader. Most authors don't write this themselves.

I have several theories for this. One is that authors are too close to their work to pull out the key strand and create a concise, exciting summary. Two is that just because someone is good at one kind of writing doesn't mean they're good at all kinds of writing.

Starting with the second point first, I can't write a business letter to save my life. I agonize over the thing and end up going with: Enclosed please find....Thank you. Um, yeah. My letters always come across awkward and stilted. That applies even to business email. Writing book copy is along those lines. It's a specialized skill that needs to be honed.

Actually, as an advertising copywriting major in college, the blurb strikes me as ad copy. When I was in school and I was writing ad copy every week if not every day, I got very good at it. But I didn't go into advertising and I haven't exercised my ad copy writing muscles in a long time. They're atrophied now and it's agonizing to try to sum up a 400 page book in two paragraphs. It's agonizing to try to sum up a 60 page short story in two paragraphs now.

Which kind of leads into the first theory--a lot of writers have a hard time distancing themselves from every nuance of their work. Me included. I keep pulling in side issues that relate to the main thread, but really aren't appropriate for the two paragraphs of cover blurb. My advertising background tells me this, but the author part whispers yeah, but it's important.

I'm gaining new appreciation for the writers of my book jacket copy. I'm trying to write a couple of paragraphs of description for my two short stories, Blood Feud and The Troll Bridge. It's hard!

I'm doing better with Blood Feud. On this one the thread is pretty clear to me--it's a Romeo and Juliet kind of story where the vampires are the Capulets and the demons are the Montagues. Or vice versa. Only instead of dying, this star-crossed pair have been separated for the past two hundred years. Now, a demon is killing vampires and the two of them must work together to find the killer before all-out war breaks out between their peoples.

The Troll Bridge is another story. Um, no pun intended. Sorry. I can kind of see the main thread--there's an accident at a particle accelerator and Lia is pulled through a wormhole. She ends up in 2050 on Jarved Nine. Do I mention she's suspected to be a spy or not? Do I mention that Troll is part of Wyatt's team from Eternal Nights? Probably not, but is that a selling point for a reader?

This is really hard work! I guess I owe a belated thank you to all the people who wrote the cover copy on my books, so Thank you!