Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cover Copy

My latest learning experience as a soon-to-be published author has been in writing/editing cover copy for one's own book.  The lesson is this:

It's really fricking hard.

My fabulous (truly, she is wonderful, so colloborative, insightful, nice...) editor sent me her company's first stab at the copy for the front and back cover of my book, and invited me to give her my thoughts.  Now, I work in Hollywood by day, where writers get no say in the taglines for their TV shows.  Vast publicity and marketing departments determine how a film or show will be presented to the public, and as a writer you just sit there and are grateful you got paid to write the script.  So this was rather revolutionary to my way of thinking. Asking the writer's opinion?  On anything?  As a writer I have to say - Huzzah!

I liked a lot about the copy they sent me but because I'm so close to the material, I, of course, had opinions. Hey, I'm an opinionated person about most things. But about my book?? Puh-lease. I try NOT to think of it as my baby, but you get the idea...

I wrote them down. I tried to be more clever than the copy they sent. I read the back covers of tons of other books.

Okay, maybe not non-fiction books like this, but you see what I mean. I rifled through my library, focusing on YA books. Hard backs didn't help me much, since they often don't have any copy on the back. Also, everything on my Kindle was pretty useless for these purposes.  (Poor Kindle users don't get to see the pretty pretty covers or read the blurbs we writers work so hard to get!)  But fortunately for these purposes, I'm a total book hoarder.

But really, that wasn't very useful because there were infinite ways to approach writing back cover copy. Do you tell a bit of the story, naming the main characters, and being very explicit about the main conflict?  Here's the text of the back cover of the UK copy of GAME OF THRONES:

In the game of thrones, you win or you die.
As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must. . . and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty. The old gods have no power in the south, Stark's family is split, and there is treachery at court. Worse, a vengeance mad boy has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities beyond the sea. Heir of the mad Dragon King deposed by Robert, he claims the Iron Throne.

Or do you show the conflict, but emphasize mostly emotion? Here's the back of Stephanie Meyer's YA blockbuster, TWILIGHT, with what I think is a masterful pitch on the back cover.

Or do you tantalize and tease, hoping to ensnare folks with just enough of a mystery that they want to find out more? Check out the back cover copy for Karsten Knight's new YA book, WILDFIRE:

I am the fieriest depths of hell

I am the surface of the sun.

I am the belly of a volcano.
I am the unstoppable force that
has formed new islands, and the
same unstoppable force that has
brought cities to their knees.

I am the volcano goddess who has
survived a thousand years.

I am Ashline Wilde, and I may
not survive another thousand
years, but I'll go down in flames
before I go up in smoke.

Intrigued?  That's what they're hoping.

I pretty much tore my hair out over the weekend trying variations of all three approches.  I reread most of my book, hoping to pick out useful quotes.  I consulted my critique partner, doubted everything I'd ever written, then kept going back to the thesaurus to make sure there wasn't a better word in there for "power" or "lurk" or "prowl." I ended up going for the more mysterious sort of copy.  My editor approved, but cleaned it up and made it much better, much less awkward. Now we think we've basically got it.  

Is it perfect? No.

Will you get to see it here right now?  Nope. Sorry. Not yet.  (Told you we went for the more mysterious/tantalizing type of copy.)

Will I think of a dozen other ways it could have gone?  Yep.

But I really do need to get to wrapping up my outline for book 2 so I can write the darned thing.  Can't dwell on stuff too long, or you go crazy and never get anything done.

But hat's off to the publicity and marketing folks who come up with this stuff. 'Cause it ain't easy.

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