Sunday, January 20, 2008

cover copy v synopsis

I know everybody is going to be entering my contest so for those of you who don't want to write the sonnet I'm going to talk a little bit about cover copy (hope this helps, and let me know if you have any questions...).

I know you have probably had to hone perfect synopses for the seeking of agents, etc, but writing cover copy is a little different. Unlike a synopsis, cover copy a) must be heart-poundingly enticing (this is where you can let your inner pulp writer out), and b) cannot give away all the structural elements of the plot. Synopsis copy is designed to tell about; cover copy needs to leave a reader hanging.

What's really important about cover copy is the "pitch." There has to be a nutshell concept in a line or two that is so compelling readers can't imagine not buying the book and will leave the store with some regret and wistfulness if they don't end up purchasing. Writing cover copy will help you distill the one (or possibly two) super-memorable points about your novel that will be its inalienable tagline. I know it hurts writers to have to reduce complex masterpieces to a line, but in a way, it hurts less than a synopsis--no one is making you pretend you're coving everything.

Now this exercise is a little artificial, because when your book is under contract, your house will provide the cover copy--they might have a copy team, or your editor (or her assistant) might end up writing the copy. But doing this is helpful for an author, for a couple of reasons:

-you can solidify in your mind what the one-line "pitch" is (as opposed to the story)
-you become a better talker about your book (personal marketing)
-your agent is in a better position to sell your book (editors don't have any craft and care more about the buzz words, since that's what they're going to have to be selling to their accounts, etc)
-you are prepared when your house send you your cover copy and it's rather bad and you have to make changes (be very wary of any copy about your book, since most people who write about your book haven't actually read the whole thing)

When you write cover copy, do do everything you can to keep an outsider's eagle-eye view. It is even more important that you not have any extraneous or lackluster sentences--consumers are ruthless and if you lose their attention or confuse them with language that is too artistic they're not going to care about your platform/agent connections/Pulitzer prize and they'll just put it down. Seriously, break out your inner pulp.

This is a rather high-level piece of advice, since publishers fall into this trap all the time, but bonus points if you manage to not use any of the extremely tired "copy" words that keep turning up. Just for added mental gymnastics.

Alas, I need to go out to brunch with Momrat (curses! not mimosas again!) so I've run myself out of time but tomorrow, I'll do a breakdown of an extremely successful debut novel whose cover copy follows all the rules (I'm going to use the hardcover to help illuminate all the pieces I asked for as part of the submission). I hope this is enough for today to help get the wheels spinning.


Charles Gramlich said...

I've noticed that smaller presses these days sometimes let you write your own cover copy, although they will often tweak it.

Josephine Damian said...

My wheels have been spinning since the second you announced a contest - but spinning in the wrong direction. Now that I have clarification, it's back to the drawing board.

Josephine Damian said...

Am I the only one considering posting their entry to their blog for all the world (and fellow contestants) to see?

Ello said...

Hey Moonie-thanks for this, it helps! But when I clicked on the link for the words not to use, it didn't take me to the post which I do remember reading. Since I am too tired to go through all your great posts again, can you relink? Thanks!

moonrat said...

phew. thanks, ello. it's fixed now.

Josephine Damian said...

Ello, I had the same trouble with the link - wanted to make sure I checked that list before posting my entry.

Anybody else brave enough to share theirs publicly?