By Whiney Writer
Remember when, way back over a year ago, I decided to self-publish my SF/zombie/romance/mystery/thriller? And I decided that, since I wasn’t going to have a publisher, I could skip over all the boring publishing bits, like editing? Well, I may have been a teeny bit hasty about that—not the editing part. But looking at my statistics, after a year and a month, there may be a problem with the “not paying attention to the cover and jacket copy” part.
I even had good online reviews. I knew that if you didn’t have a publisher you had to be smart about advertising, so I told everyone in my family that if they bought my book and posted a nice review online they wouldn’t have to buy me a Christmas present. Smart, right? It even got me out of having to tell Aunt Gertrude how much I like those sweaters she knits for everyone—and she sews jingle bells onto the reindeer’s antlers.
But online booksellers give you statistics about how many books you’ve sold, and after I subtracted the books my family bought there weren’t many sales. In fact, it seems you can “return” an ebook, and according to my statistics I had more copies returned than were sold in the first place. I don’t see how that’s possible…unless cousin Morrey, who actually understands computers, found a way to game the system. I’m thinking about killing Morrey in some horrible way in my next book…but I’m also beginning to think that all those “tips” about creating a good blurb and a good cover might have been right after all. And since I AM a writer, I figure I’ll start with the easy part—the jacket copy, which people also call a blurb, which is weird because it sounds like blub, which sounds like flub—and I’m not going to flub this up again!
So I went to one of the people in my critique group, who’s been writing her own jacket copy lately, and showed her the synopsis I’d put on the back of my book. I mean, the jacket copy is supposed to tell you about the story, and what better way to do that than with a synopsis?
Once my critique friend got over that terrible coughing fit, she told me that jacket copy is only supposed to reveal the central conflict of the story, and not give away the ending. Who knew? But that was really useful, since my detailed description of the final battle between the zombies and the aliens put the synopsis over three pages, and in the print version I had to put some of it on the back pages of the book because it ran off the cover.
But my friend said that just leaving the ending off the synopsis isn’t enough. She said you have to reveal the protagonist’s central conflict or story problem, in a way that makes the book sound interesting, and that it shouldn’t be longer than a few paragraphs.
Well, that was the easiest thing ever, because my protagonist’s main problem is that she’s in love with a zombie! I can say it in one sentence, and who wouldn’t find that interesting? She coughed some more—she really should get some lozenges—but she said I might want to say a bit more than that, and advised me to go to a library and read the flap copy on a whole bunch of books that were similar to mine.
That was hard advice to follow, because it turns out there are NO books like my SF/zombie/romance/mystery/thriller. In fact, the librarian said it sounded so “unusual” they wouldn’t even know what section to put it in! This is one of the nicest compliments I’ve had for my book, outside of my family’s reviews, and it encouraged me so much I went to the new books section and read some flaps. It turns out there are all kinds of different ways to write jacket copy, but the first thing I noticed was that most of them told you something to make you like the protagonist. The second thing I noticed was that some of them were a lot shorter than others, and instead of big dense paragraphs they had just a few short, punchy, interesting sentences…sometimes in the form of questions, sometimes not.
Writing the short kind of jacket copy would clearly be easier than the long kind, so I went back to my computer and begin to brainstorm, and a lot of thunder and lightning later….
A heroine with spunk and pulchritude. (Because women like heroines with spunk, men like beauty, and I like the word pulchritude, which is very writerly and also shows off my style.)
A zombie apocalypse AND an alien invasion. (Two plots in one book—and who wouldn’t find that interesting?)
Mystery, thrills and romance abound—and humor too! (Because how will readers know this if I don’t tell them? Besides, my critique group said they laughed like crazy when they read the love scene where all those body parts fall off.)
I have to admit this is a lot catchier, and quicker to read, than my original jacket copy…so maybe they’re right about the cover too. I suppose that’s going to be the haaaard part.