Thursday, May 05, 2016

Copy Strikes

One thing I've been noticing since I started receiving BookBub's daily e-mail on e-book bargains is the short copy written beside the cover art. This copy is supposed to entice me into acquiring the read. Here's a typical example (with the author and character names removed):

“[This Author] combines the best of [A Much Bigger Author] and [A Not Much Bigger Author] in this wildly imaginative and intensely gripping urban fantasy” (Publishers Weekly starred review). After her magic opens a demonic portal, [Main Character] and [Secondary Character], must journey to hell to save [Secondary Character]. With over 300 five-star ratings on Goodreads!"

Okay, let's dissect this:

Strike One: The first line tells me nothing about the book; it gives me Publishers Weekly's opinion of the author. Even if it is honest and accurate, two words that I've personally never associated with Publishers Weekly, it is a quotation (aka a blurb.) I expect quotations on the front cover, or in the opening pages; not in the copy. Most quotations are attaboys or attagirls like this, and while that's nice and all it doesn't tell me anything about the story.

Strike Two: The second line gives me a twenty-one word premise about the story. Less than half of this particular copy is actually about the story, btw. First impression? Sounds like the main character caused the whole thing, which squashes my care factor (as in, why should the reader care?) It apparently takes place in Hell*, too, which calls for a sidebar.

Sidebar to Strike One: I'm not sure how a trip to hell could be a "wildly imaginative" story. Mainly because stories like this are as old as, well, Hell. Dante Alighieri wrote epic poems about it. They made me plod through a trip to Hell via Goethe's Faust back in high school (and Lord, what a snoozer that was.) I believe we've been reading trip to Hell stories since some Myceanean dreamed up Persephone back in 1400 BCE. If you don't mind Hell not being called Hell, the ancient Egyptians were hieroglyphing tales of what happened when your soul went on the scales in Duat waaaay back in 2400 BCE. Bottom line, this leads me to believe the quotation is inaccurate -- another reason to get it out of the copy.

Strike Three: The third line assured me that at least 300 folks on Goodreads absolutely loved it. This assurance backfires with me. I am not a fan of Goodreads; among other things the people who run it have helped themselves to my blog content without my permission, then assured me they'd remove it, and then didn't. Then there's that lovely, possibly psychic review of a book I never wrote.

If you have to come up with fifty words of copy to interest me in your book, the last thing you want to do is bore me and waste my time, but even that would be better than seriously annoying me. So here are some suggestions:

1. Tell me about the story, not the author. With all due respect, I'm not buying the author. I'm buying a story.

2. Write a strong and alluring premise that hooks me with all the best points. Example: [Main Character, expressed imaginatively] must use her [interesting adjective] magic in the [scary adjective] underworld to find her lost lover and close a demonic portal before [Huge Scary Threat].

3. Ditch the mention of any secondary characters if they sound like filler. Tell me about the main character, the most thrilling aspects of the conflict, and add a twist or something that gives me a really good reason as to why I should pay money to read this story.

4. Be sure to give me something that shows how your trip to Hell story is different from all the other trip to Hell stories I've read (assuming there is something.) If it's more of the same, feature something other than the trip to Hell in the copy.

5. Finally, if five million people on Goodreads gave the book 5-star reviews, that might impress even me. Three hundred? Not so much. Skip the stars and use the space instead to tell me more about the story.

*P.S., If you must write about Hell, I wouldn't call it Hell. Hell is never particularly alluring for most people; in fact we regularly tell people we really don't like to go there, so why should we? Use something like underworld; it sounds sexier, doesn't rile the Catholics, and makes people think of Kate Beckinsale in a skin-tight leather jumpsuit. Who looked quite fetching in it, I must admit . . .


  1. I loved the Underworld series. It was such cheesy fun...

    Okay, that aside, I joined Goodreads eons ago when I first started writing. It was touted to me at that time as a great reader community where I could gauge what readers thought about the genre I wrote and what their yays and nays were. I hung around for oh...maybe a month, then lost interest because I saw even then what the potential for abuse there was. So I have no interest in reading anything that's gotten rave reviews there. If I happen to find myself in that situation, it's because the book was referred by someone else, the back blurb was interesting, the cover wasn't pink or even the paper felt wonderful (I'm very tactile and that's how I found Preston/Child and Pendergast - the paper the book was printed on was to die for.) OR, I know the author and, if I know the author, it's because I love their work. So for me, the short copy is useless and the space is wasted when it would be better spent telling me about the book itself. That way, I can make my decision as to whether or not I'm interested.

    Sorry, one of those mornings ;)

    1. No worries; I'm having one of them here, too. For my reading I rely on authors I know are decent writers and recs from trusted friends. Occasionally I'll pick up a new author at random if the copy appeals to me -- which is why effective copy is so important.

  2. I use Goodreads for two, to track what I have read and two, to track what I want to read. It's quick and simple. I generally don't pay attention to any reviews, etc, because what I like won't make the Oprah Picks (thank goodness!)

    1. That's a good use of a bad site, Judy. :)

  3. I get BookBub and BookGurilla and the descriptions right now blend into the background.

    You know what would catch my attention? A brief pitch, followed by a good line from the story so I get an idea of the tone. That's probably too hard to do, but it sure beats the current pitches, which all start sounding alike.

    And, yeah, I'm no longer impressed with 5-star reviews from Amazon / Goodreads. Heck, "New York Times bestseller" lost its allure when I saw one author proudly boasting of her accomplishment. It wasn't for her books; it was for contributing a novella to a 99-cent thriller pack that landed on both lists.

  4. I am not a fan of goodreads, it feels like a huge book-trashing site. Not that I got terrible reviews, but it seemed like some readers used it as a place to slaughter books for tiny errors.

    So I rarely look.

    ( and uh, using content sans permission? It wasn't hard to do! I asked! You replied. Egads some people.)