Writing Back Cover Text
Back cover text is one of the most important elements for selling a book. However writing it is not easy, even for the author, or maybe, especially for the author. If they could have said everything they needed to in a couple of paragraphs then why write a book?
Since good back cover text is so tricky to do I figured I'd share the RDSP perspective and processt. This works best for edgy works that are stylistically interesting, since those are the kinds of books we publish.
The process is a little different each time. I always feel a lot of pressure to come up with something great because it's so important for selling the book but also because I want the author to be happy with it. Sometimes the author has already written a description that is perfect but that's rare. As I mentioned before the author is not necessarily the best person for the job because describing your own work is tough. I generally think that collaboration is the best way to go. Sometimes I'll start the process, write a draft and send it to the author for help. Other times it will be reversed.
For me it's a bit like composing a poem. Each word needs to be carefully chosen because they all give the potential reader cues about the book. For example if the text is humorous I try to work in some funny-sounding words. Sometimes I make a list of words that I think describe the book, or fit with the mood, and try to include them. Often, each sentence will be a complete thought about the book and I like to have one or two that can serve as a tag line of sorts. I generally like to keep it short, it's better to leave the reader with questions, pique their interest so they have to go to the source to relieve their curiosity.
Our aim is to give the potential reader as accurate an idea as possible of what the 'experience' of reading the book will be like. Since many of our books are challenging or disturbing we like to get that across in the description. Though we might be able to foist the book off on unsuspecting readers, by making it sound different than it actually is, we'd wind up with unhappy customers in the end. I like to try to target the readers that will enjoy the book most and write with them in mind. Is the book heavily descriptive and atmospheric? Then the description should be too. Is the style spare and clean or action-packed and breathless? I try to take my tone cues from the actual book. Before working on the text, I like to read some of my favorite passages. Ideally, I would write the text as soon as I finished reading the book for the first time. But I rarely actually do that.
The reason to focus on the 'experience' of reading the book is that a plot summary is usually pretty boring. Plus our books are about how the tale is told not just the tale itself. Again, why read a book if the summary can tell you everything in it? I like to include enough details so the reader knows the general subject, has an idea of some of the themes, knows a bit about the main character and the setting but not so much that they can predict where the book is headed. Sometimes I use small details to stand for a whole. For instance, if the book is full of fascinating facts I might use one of them in the description to get that idea across. Sometimes a quote from the text is useful. The more closely I can replicate the experience of reading the book, the better. I do my best not to tell the reader what, or how, to think about the book just describe it as well as I can. I also try to avoid generalizations like, "This is a great book, everyone should read it," even though that's usually exactly what I'm thinking!