Monday, January 21, 2008

cover copy breakdown

I know everyone's busily preparing for the contest over their holiday weekend (right? Americans, at least?) so in honor of Dr. King I'm going to help you attain your dream of a Robert the Publisher t-shirt with the promised breakdown of cover copy on some successful debut hardcovers.

First, though, I've decided not to include the back cover copy component of the contest anymore--too much work for everyone. If you've already done it, send it along for bonus points. I've amended the rules accordingly. So now the format looks like this:

[headline--why to buy]

[front flap copy--book description]

[back flap copy--author bio]

I've chosen Susanna Clarke's JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL, in part because I'm not exactly "stealing"copy here since it's all available on Amazon with the search inside function (here). I've also offered THE SAFFRON KITCHEN copy for further elaboration (available online here). They're two very different and equally acceptable approaches to flap copy.

So here's a copy map; I've put my commentary in polite brackets {}. Jonathan Strange first:

[front flap]


{think of the headline as a brief why-to-buy"}

"Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me..."

{I think this is a pretty good headline. I think well-chosen excerpts of a line or two can really say the right enticing thing about the book. This is also a really leading line--two magicians? What could that mean? Who is "me"? The opaqueness is the exact degree you need to force a reader on into the copy with curiosity.}

[front flap copy]

{JS&MN} The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and it is hundreds of years since practical magic faded into the nation's past. But scholars of this glorious industry suddenly discover that one practicing magician still remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey. Challenged to demonstrate his powers, Norrell causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and sing, and sends a thrill through the country. The magician proceeds to London, trailed by excited rumors, where he raises a beautiful young woman from the dead and finally enters war, summoning an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French.

Yet Norrell is soon challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome, and daring, Strange is the very opposite of cautious, fussy Norrell. Still, Norrell agrees to take Strange as his pupil, and the young magician joins England's cause, enduring the rigors of Wellington's campaign in Portugal to lend the army his supernatural skill on the battlefield.

But as Strange's powers grow, so do his ambitions. He becomes obsessed with the founder of English magic, a shadowy twelfth-century figure known as the Raven King. In his increasingly restless pursuit of the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, Strange risks sacrificing not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything else that he holds dear.

Elegant, witty, and flawlessly detailed, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a magisterial first novel that draws readers into Susanna Clarke's fantastic and utterly convincing vision of a past world.

{This novel is a difficult and complicated book, and I think the flap copy did a good job of isolating the moments from the plot that would require the least amount of explanation to offer a taster of the exploits the reader will find within. I do think that there is a bit much in this copy, though--it's a little meandering; the words crowd on the page, and Jonathan Strange, the first title character, isn't even mentioned until the second paragraph. Overall, though, I think it's pretty good copy, with a lot of fascinating elements that sound like nothing I've ever read before. There's also a good hint at the plot with a particularly leading second-to-last paragraph, with not too much flowery language or overblown descriptive adjectives. What do you think? Would you buy this book? I think I would.}

[back flap copy]

Susanna Clarke was born in Nottingham, England, in 1959, the eldest daughter of a Methodist minister. She was educated at St Hilda's College, Oxford, and has worked in various areas of nonfiction publishing. In 1990 she left London to teach English in Turin and Bilbao. She returned to England in 1992 and spend the rest of that year in County Durham, where she began work on Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

From 1993 to 2003 Susanna Clarke was an editor at Simon and Schuster's Cambridge office, where she worked on their cookbook list. She has published a number of short stories and novellas in American anthologies, including "Mr Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower," which was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award in 2001.

Susanna lives in Cambridge with her partner, the novelist and reviewer Colin Greenland.

{Frankly, this is much too long for an author bio. I know that certain details were left in to authenticate her story (for example, part of the book takes place in Portugal) but I don't think the lengthy author bio was terribly helpful here. Also, there is one minor but nonetheless egregious grammatical error; anyone else catch it?

Elements that go into a successful author bio are here, though. Your author bio should do a couple of things: 1) illustrate your platform (have you published elsewhere? received awards? gotten degrees you're proud of?), and 2) supply some personal information (readers will see it and go, oh! he grew up in a Toronto suburb, just like me! I should support him! etc). Try to strike a happy medium.}


Now for The Saffron Kitchen.

[front flap]


A passionate and beguiling novel about mothers and daughters, roots and exile, from the remote mountains and riotous streets of Iran to the rain-soaked suburbs of London.

{This is the "buzzword" approach to a headline. The idea here is to throw forth the concepts that will be most resonant with the reader. EVERYONE (and her mother) loves a mother-daughter book; most Americans, at least, have some story of exile and foreign roots in their family trees; Iran is, in the words of Mugatu, "so hot right now." Notice how this headline doesn't even have a verb in it. Verbs are not necessary, unless you want them.}

[front flap copy]

In this powerful debut, Yasmin Crowther paints a stirring portrait of a family shaken by events from decades ago and a world away. On a blustery day in London, the dark secrets and troubled past of Maryam Mazar surface violently, with tragic consequences for her daughter, Sara, and her newly orphaned nephew Saeed. Consumed with guilt, Maryam leaves the safe comfort of her suburban home and mild English husband to return to Mazareh, the remote village on Iran's northeast border where her own story began. There she must face her past and the memories of a life she was forced to leave behind, in the days when she was young, headstrong, and beautiful.

Back in England, Sara, who has never felt a strong tie to Maryam's birthplace, tries to understand what could have compelled her mother to leave. Together with Saeed and her distraught father, she begins to unearth Maryam's story from amid her memory of opium poppies, family lore and fragments of conversation, photographs and a few lines of poetry. In her quest to piece their life back together, Sara follows her mother to Iran to discover the roots of her unhappiness and to try to bring her home. Far from the streets of London, in a land of minarets, among the snow-capped mountains and dusty plains that have haunted her mother's dreams for half a century, Sara finally learns the terrible price Maryam once had to pay for her freedom, and of the love she left behind.

A rich and haunting narrative, The Saffron Kitchen tells of betrayal and retribution, of secrets that can lie undisturbed for decades, of the pain of exile, and of the bittersweet joy of homecoming.

{First, I wish they hadn't used the words "haunted" and "haunting" in quick succession; but what are you gonna do. Otherwise, I think this is pretty strong copy. Notice how this one, unlike JONATHAN STRANGE, leads with a reference to the author and the fact that this is a debut. I have mixed feelings about this, although some publishers have very strong beliefs about leading with a placer like this, particularly in debut and literary novels. My feeling is that it doesn't attract consumers--no average reader in Borders cares that this is a debut, and in fact, that might be a negative in some people's minds--but it does make the book of greater interest to writers and reviewers. Anyway, this is a style thing that varies from house to house, but you should decide what you think. In the cases of certain books and certain stories, it helps to lead with something to place the book.}

[back cover copy]

Yasmin Crowther was born to an Iranian mother and a British father. This is her first novel.

{Wow, ok. Now here's an author bio that's way too short. We know nothing--nothing!!--about pretty Yasmin except that perhaps she's not very creative, since she wrote a novel that might just be her life story. She didn't even give herself the credit of letting us know that she went to school or anything. I don't think this author bio helped at all, since it didn't open up interest in the book beyond what the plot description already had.}


Ok, I'm all done for now. Hope this helps!


Josephine Damian said...

*First, though, I've decided not to include the back cover copy component of the contest anymore--too much work for everyone.*

Fuck. That was the easy part!

*If you've already done it, send it along for bonus points.*

Well, that's some consolation. Still gotta go back to the drawing board. Jeesh.

Holly Kennedy said...

Interesting post.
Re: the super-short author bio noted toward the end of your post, mine is also short, but I was never given the option of expanding on it. The publisher wrote it and I guess I have to live with it as is for now.

moonrat said...

JD: sorry about that! but please feel free to send. bonus points rock.

HK: ask them!! if you're happy with the bio, stick with it; also, you seem to have quite a readership already, so maybe you're past the point of that being relevant. but if you're unhappy with copy, drop a note to your editor and ask if you can make some suggestions this time. i know it does happen that dates are rushed and we forget to loop authors in (woops--i know, it's so bad; i try my best not to do this, ever!) but we're almost always really happy to hear what an author has to say about his/her own book, since they have a different relationship with the story than we do.

Josephine Damian said...

Moonie, I just did my revision, but I may keep my power dry till I see what the others have done.

When, oh, when will someone be brave enough to post their entry?

Holly: I think the message of this exercise is for the writer to develop the skills to perform all these promotional tasks - lest someone at the publishing house screw it up.

Colorado Writer said...

Holy crap, you are working so hard on this for us! I write MG, so I won't participate...too boring for all the intellectuals here.

I do plan to learn from your exercise.

Froog said...

On the Saffron Kitchen - I quite like minimalist author bios. In fact, I quite like no author bios. I know that's not the convention in the industry at the moment - but frankly I don't give a damn about who the author is. At least a minimalist bio is a spur to the imagination. A "graduated from Columbia, works at an animal shelter, enjoys knitting" kind of bio is boring and rather too obviously sucking up to potential readerships. I'd rather have little or none than this "like me, like, I've got something in common with you" crap.

The jacket copy sucks lemons. It's full of cliches - and I'd really pretty much decided I didn't want to read the book after a few lines.

Luckily I don't decide whether to read a book on the jacket copy but on the actual writing inside.

Merry Monteleone said...

colorado writer,

I write mg, too, and I'll still try my hand at it!

I already did the back cover copy, so, sorry Moonie, extra stuff for to wade through...


I'll post mine if you post yours :-)
*Why does that sound like something a vulgar 10 year old might say?*

I should have mine done and off in the next day or two... I'll post then...

Demon Hunter said...

I'd love toi participate, but not sure if I have the time or not. I'll try! :*)

moonrat said...

please feel free to enter--MG, YA, SF, UR, you name it.

i'm REALLY happy to read back cover copy if you have it--no prob there, bob. the truth is, i noticed belatedly that both of the examples i used were British originals whose back covers were covered in blurbs with no original copy, and i didn't have the bandwidth to go and find new examples!

Precie said...

moonie---Have I told you lately that you're an editorial GODDESS?

Conduit said...

Moonrat, I noticed the same thing when I checked through my books for examples. Pretty much everything had blurbs on the back!

Thanks for taking the time to do this. :)