Monday, April 9, 2012

The Bear of Back Cover Copy by J. E. Taylor

If you're looking for my Blogging from A to Z Challenge post for the letter "H", please scroll down the page.

But if you're a writer and know you'll have to write one of these back cover summaries for your own masterpiece one of these days, you might want to check out J. E. Taylor's guest post first.


The Bear of Back Cover Copy by J. E. Taylor

The bear of back cover copy – otherwise known as the book blurb…

I hate writing copy for query letters and back flaps. Most writers do. It requires us to boil the story we’ve spent the last who knows how long sweating out onto the page into a few short snappy sentences created to get you, the reader, to raise an eyebrow and open the front cover.

I love cover art – it’s what gets me to pick up a book in a store, or scroll down the page to the description in the online venue. But the kicker, at least for me, is the book description. If this doesn’t strike my fancy, I don’t press the all important purchase button. I might press the free sample button – and in the store, I might turn to the first page just because I know there’s an art to writing that jacket copy and it isn’t always a reflection of the writer’s skill. However, when there is a good blurb to go along with a killer cover, I don’t sample or turn to the first page.

Nope. I go all in and take a chance on the book.

I’ve found that most times, a well crafted blurb means a well crafted book - especially when the book is under the small press or indie framework. In this framework, it’s usually the author’s responsibility to submit a blurb – or at least a first cut at it as opposed to the big publishing houses that have hired hands creating the cover copy.

I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion, so how do you get from a 70,000 word novel to a paragraph or two summary? Well, it’s time to go back to school and the notion of a book report. What’s the main theme? I’m sure you could write a ten thousand word dissertation on your theme but that’s not going to catch a reader’s attention.

Let’s take a look at the original blurb for my favorite all time book – The Stand:

“This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.

And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides -- or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abigail -- and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.”

Now Mr. King could have chosen any number of key characters but he focused on the central theme of good and evil. He goes a step further by leaving it just hanging out there, tickling our interest without hinting at the battle we know is inevitable when people take sides.

Read the blurb aloud. I dare you.

Now tell me that didn’t give you goosebumps. Even if you’ve never read The Stand – this is enough to get you to read the first few pages of that mammoth manuscript.

As an editor, if this blurb passed over my desk, I would be compelled to stop and re-read it, relish the unspoken poetry of it and of course, I’d ask for the full manuscript. Not because this is Stephen King, but because he gave me just enough to tickle that spot. That spot that demands attention, demands to be scratched. Just enough for me to have to know what happens next.

Incredible power and that’s exactly what you should strive for in writing the back cover copy. But don’t stop there. The book has to deliver the promise you make in the blurb, so make sure your prose is just as sharp and satisfying.

Thanks for swinging into this stop on my Blog Tour and I hope you’ll swing in to Bitten By Books on the 20th for a chance to win a $50.00 Amazon gift certificate. If you’d like to check out Crystal Illusions, you can purchase it here on Amazon.

Crystal Illusions

Assistant D.A. Carolyn Hastings has an uncanny knack for putting away criminals. With one of the best prosecution records in recent history, her future as Manhattan’s next District Attorney looks certain. But her sixth sense for winning cases threatens to work against her when she starts seeing a string of murders through the eyes of the killer.

With suspects piling up as fast as bodies, and the motives of those closest to her questionable, Carolyn doesn’t know who to trust. When the FBI assigns Special Agent Steve Williams to the case, Carolyn discloses her deepest fear - that the man she loves may be the one responsible for the city’s latest crime spree.

The only thing Steve knows for sure is Carolyn has an inexplicable psychic connection with the killer, and all the victims have one thing in common…a striking resemblance to Carolyn Hastings.

And he knows it’s only a matter of time before this psychopath knocks on her door.

“Taylor has a strong thriller where every single character has reasonable doubt flashing like a neon sign hanging over them, and right from the beginning you are trying to guess who the killer really is. Gripping, rich and magnificent - crime whodunnits don't get any better than this!” Author Poppet / Gemma Rice – Author of Quislings, Blindsided, Djinn and Dusan


J. E., thanks so much for this post on writing the back cover blurb. Like the dreaded synopsis, the blurb requires us to see beyond the details and focus on the big picture. It's harder than it looks.

To read more about J. E. and her books, visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting J.E..

J.E. - You're so right that blurbs are an important part of getting one's book "out there," but are hard to write. They're best, as you say, if they're powerful but honest. A hard balance but critical.

JETaylor said...

Thank you for having me Pat! And Margot you are absolutely correct.

Happy Monday all!

Elspeth Antonelli said...

The terrifying back cover blurb is a cousin of the equally strike fear-into-your-inner-heart query. What makes my shoes shiver is the concept that if you can't boil your manuscript down to a few evocative sentences you don't have much of a manuscript to begin with. It's hard to time with this level of trembling dancing along my fingers.

Patricia Stoltey said...

J.E., it's a pleasure having you here, as always.

Margot and Elspeth. Even thinking about these things gives me a headache. If only we could just write and revise and the rest would happen by magic...

Lynn Proctor said...

i totally agree with the blurb being the final reason i would buy a book---but i wouldn't even read it if the cover and most important to me, the title were not good

JETaylor said...

It's funny - but as an editor or a beta reader, I don't have an issue summing up a story. I can boil other folks books down to the key elements and have actually helped a few write their query letters and book blurbs. I guess it's a matter of finding the right amount of distance from your own work to be able to do this which really isn't all that easy once you've lived and breathed the story for so long.

Patricia Stoltey said...

That need for distance is one of the things that makes critique groups so useful. We see in others' work what we can't seem to see in our own.

Stacy Jensen said...

The blurb is so important. Thanks for sharing these tips.

Patricia Stoltey said...

J.E., thanks again for being here today. And happy blurb writing to all you writers out there.