I have great respect for good cover copy. Even if the cover art is less than appealing, one or two well-written paragraphs on the back can induce me to buy your novel. Naturally good copy is a bitch to write well.
Novel copy needs to snag the reader's attention, develop his or her interest in the story, and give compelling reason(s) to invest in the book. I prefer brief, simply worded copy because it appeals to anyone versus the kind of copy you have to acquire a PhD to fathom. The most common problems I see with novel copy are that it's too long, too busy with info dumpage, too hard-sell, or doesn't provide any information about the story.
Take this example: "From [previous title] to [previous title] to [previoustitle], [author] has written one explosive thriller after another featuring [previous title's protagonist]. Now, in an electrifying departure, [author] presents a novel that breaks all the rules and will keep your heart racing and your mind guessing until the very last page."
Title dropping is a waste of copy space, particularly if the new novel has absolutely no connection with previous work, which this one evidently hasn't. What would an electrifying depature from explosive thrillers be, exactly? A dull thriller? A silly one? A chick-lit thriller? I need some details here. Predicting my stupidity and upcoming cardiac episode is a nice psychic trick, but mind telling me what this story is about?
And this little gem: "The master's first novel in 10 years is an erotic tale about a 90-year-old who discovers the transforming power of uncorrupted love."
This tells me that the master is lazy, ninety year olds are erotic? and I can expect uncorrupted love from the book, which btw has the word whores in the title. So did someone drink their lunch before they wrote this?
We are none of us safe from lame copy. My first published novel had a spelling error on the cover copy (I was not allowed to see it until it was too late to correct.) Flats for one of my 2005 novels went out with the wrong name for the heroine (I caught it in time to correct the final edition.) Another of my books starts off with "The circus is in town, and all the citizens are eager to attend the show" and, trust me, just gets worse from there.
Other than composition, I think the most common problems with copy for authors are spelling, name, place, and other errors. I find an error with copy about every three to four novels. If you get a chance to proof yours, read it carefully. On one of my novels, the copy included the hero's name, the heroine's name, and a different hero's name. Turned out that the copy writer had arbitrarily renamed my hero in mid-copy.
There is great copy out there, though. This has to be the funniest and most fetching paranormal romance copy I've read in a while:
IF YOU THINK LIFE IS COMPLICATED, TRY IMMORTALITY. Justine Bennett is cursing her life. She’s the Guardian of the Goblet of Eternal Youth, she hasn’t left the house in ages, and it’s been over 200 years since she’s had sex. Oh, and the Goblet has shape-shifted into an espresso machine named Mona. Not exactly the stuff grand destiny is made of... Derek LaValle is worried. Due to a family curse, he’ll be dead in the space of a week unless he finds the Guardian of the Goblet of Eternal Youth and beheads her. Which wouldn’t be a problem if she weren’t so sexy, smart... and ready to behead him right back.
The novel it belongs to: Date Me Baby, One More Time by Stephanie Rowe*, coming in May 2006 from Warner Forever. And God, I hope they put this on the back cover, because it's hilarious.
Effective copy hooks your interest immediately, and the first line of Stephanie's copy does that in a wry tone without the usual hard-sell push that sounds so fake. Investing the body of the copy with humor (or drama, angst, mystery, etc. as applicable to the story) draws the reader along (I love the goblet shape-shifting into an expresso machine.) The copy delivers a lot of information about the story with just 111 words. Stephanie's also got a beautiful wrap-up with delivering conflict as a punchline -- that's a neat teaser.
As with cover art, most authors are not consulted about copy for their novels, so how yours is written may be beyond your control. Always offer to help out writing and/or proofing copy whenever possible, though, and you just might be able to head off a minor to major copy nightmare.
*(Stephanie & book discovered via me link-hopping over at Vanessa's place)