Friday, August 28, 2009

Of Flaps and Blurbs

Ham-fisted Charles following John’s elegant blog post. Not an enviable position.

As you may recall, my next release will be a Young Adult novel published by Harper-Collins entitled You. This past week I was working with my editor, Anne Hoppe, on the book flap copy. The book is not coming out until October, 2010, but they work at a different pace over at Harper-Collins and if they need book flap copy more than a year in advance, that’s when they need it. But that’s okay, writing book flap copy means that I have a book coming out soon (soon-ish) and that’s always a fun thing.

For me, book flap copy is what drives my decision to buy a book. Covers are nice and it’s always interesting to read the reviews and the blurbs, but it’s what I read on the flap that will make me haul out my Visa card. Or not.

I don’t like flap copy that starts with a paragraph telling me what a wonderful writer the author is and how he/she set the literary world on it’s ear/on fire/on edge, and how he/she is loved by millions of fans around the globe. You don’t have to be an ad man to recognize fluff filler copy. At the same time, I don’t like book flaps that give too much away. Hint at the story and the tone, maybe pose a question or describe the central problem, but don’t tell me exactly what the protagonist has to do, by when, for who and why. And if the flap ends with warnings that the fate of the world hangs in the balance, I set the book down.

Have I bought many books based on the flap copy and been horribly disappointed? Yes, but fewer than the number of times I’ve been disappointed when I bought books based on the review or the blurbs.

How about you, dear reader? How does the flap fit in your book buying decisions?

NOTE: This week’s guest blogger is Ray Arsenault, author of Tempestuous Seas. Ray is an old army pal who has lived a Bond-esque life in exotic places around the globe. He completed much of his novel while working as a civilian pilot for the military in Iraq and other places far-flung and classified. But if you’re expecting that that kind of life would lead to a Tom Clancy, dick-lit knockoff, you’d be wrong. Ray’s crafted a classic romantic adventure novel set on the eastern seaboard in the age of sail.


John Corrigan said...

Great topic. Something that is never discussed. I just picked up a Greg Isles book based 100% on the jacket copy. Only 50 pages in, but the book is living up to the jacket's vivid description.

Vicki Delany said...

Agreed, Charles. The book flap copy is about 90% of my buying decision. An attractive cover will make me pick the book up, but the blurb has to be the kicker. As for reviews and author endorsements - meaningless.

NL Gassert said...

I agree with Vicki. Reviews and author endorsement are meaningless (half the time I don’t know the author or reviewer, so I really couldn’t care less). I don’t even bother with covers. The majority of books in stores are still spine-out. I simply pick book after book, reading the flap or back copy until something catches my interest.

I don’t buy a book if there is no copy – I have come across those a lot lately (the entire flap or back are devoted to praise for previous titles).


Rick Blechta said...

I find it really interesting that advertising copy (because that's what it really is) on book flaps is probably never written by the experts in this field, people like you, Charles. Why is it that editors seem to think they are qualified to write advertising copy? I know from working in graphic design how difficult sell copy is and what a special talent a copywriter needs to possess in order to be successful.

Why don't publishers hire these experts? They might spend a bit more money, but I suspect they'd make that up in increased book sales. In your case, they at least asked you to help with it, Charles, which is a step in the right direction. But why didn't your editor say, "Charles, you're the expert on this stuff, and you wrote the novel, why don't you handle this part of the job?" Bet you the flap copy would have been better.

SusanMy said...

This is an interesting entry, as are the comments. It just so happens that writing cover copy is what I do for a living. I'm currently a freelancer (having elected to stay at home after having my son), but I was a full-time copywriter at the Penguin Group for several years before I became a senior copywriter and then copy director at another house.

Cover copy is, indeed, a very specific writing skill, and although it is advertising copy, you'd never find an ad agency who'd hire a book copywriter to do ad copy (for whatever reason, they think we can't do it.)

In my experience, authors (no matter how brilliant) are not usually the best at writing cover copy for their own books. There are various reasons for this, not the least of which is that they're too close to the work itself to write the kind of copy that's most likely to sell it. I've had to rewrite copy attempts from authors, but it doesn't come up too often if you work for a house with a decent budget to pay professional copywriters. I've never known an editor who wouldn't rather have had a skilled copywriter write the copy than the author.

A good copywriter will read the material and zero in on what will hook a potential reader. There are also front and back copy lines to be written--another very specific skill.

The best cover copywriter I've ever known is a freelancer I employed while copy director. She's now a bestselling YA author--and she never writes her own copy. :-)

Oh, and I heartily agree that endorsements don't necessarily sell the book. I hate it when my only job is to jockey quotes around on the front and back. The thing is, copywriters have no choice whatsoever about whether or not the copy will be all quotes. This decision falls to the publisher and editor, and they'd almost always rather have quotes, quotes, quotes, than copy.