Thursday, October 26, 2017

Taking the Guesswork Out of Back Cover Copy

Whether you're about to start your NaNoWriMo journey, are plotting the bones of a new project, or have a manuscript finished and want to know how to position it, writing your back cover copy can be an invaluable step in creating a marketable, cohesive, solid story. 

In my full-time book publicist job, I was responsible for writing several back cover blurbs every day, but I've found it's a completely different thing to remove myself from my own story to write a high-level summary. Can I get a witness?

Both plotters and pantsers can benefit from being armed with this awareness of their story. Let's take some of the guesswork and intimidation out of it, shall we?

Important questions to begin with:
  • What is the big question your story will answer? (Ex: Will the hero get the girl? Can the hero survive in the face of mortal peril?)                                                                                                               
  • What does your hero want or need most in the world? (Ex: Closure, safety, to win his daughter back in a custody case, to defeat the villain and restore peace to the galaxy)
  • What is keeping your hero from getting what he wants/needs? (Ex: An evil overlord, her own self-doubt, a greedy boss, his inability to move on from the past, an expiration date due to terminal illness, writer's block)
  • What will your character lose if he/she doesn’t get this? (Ex: Certain death, unemployment, his biggest hopes and dreams, an important opportunity, her one true love)
  • What must your character learn or do to overcome this? (Ex: Defeat the evil overlord once and for all, come to an important conclusion about his life, overcome her writer's block, accomplish X before it's too late)
The key elements of back cover copy are:

  •       Hook: Grabs the reader’s attention, gives clues about setting/context, and creates reader expectations about what kind of story this will be
  •       Defining Characterization: A defining feature about your main character that pertains MOST to the plot (i.e. age/job/social status/abilities/location)
  •       Glimpse of Old Normal: A glimpse at your main character’s backstory or current normal existence.
  •       Inciting Incident: An incident, change, problem, or invitation that sets the story in motion, begins the adventure, and/or propels the character from his/her normal life (often begins with “But” or “When”)
  •       Adaptation: How the character adapts or exists in the new normal
  •      A twist: Complications that arise and threaten to prevent the character from getting what he/she wants or needs most
  •       Conclusion: What the hero must do to get what he wants/needs most. Often posed in question form.

Let's do an example from True to You by Becky Wade:
After a devastating heartbreak three years ago, (Defining characterization) genealogist and historical village owner Nora Bradford has decided that burying her nose in her work and her books is far safer than romance in the here and now (Old Normal).

Unlike Nora, (Defining Characterization) former Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient John Lawson is a modern-day man, usually 100 percent focused on the present (Old Normal). But when he's diagnosed with an inherited condition (Inciting Incident), he's forced to dig into the secrets of his past and his adoption as an infant, enlisting Nora to help him uncover the identity of his birth mother,

The more time they spend together, the more this pair of opposites suspects they just might be a perfect match. (Adaptation to New Normal) However, John's already dating someone and Nora's not sure she's ready to trade her crushes on fictional heroes for the risks of a real relationship (Twist). Finding the answers they're seeking will test the limits of their identity, their faith, and their devotion to one another (Conclusion).

If you have your back cover copy written for your current manuscript, share it with us in the comments or let us know some of these elements from your story. Don't be shy! 

Laurie Tomlinson is an award-winning contemporary romance author and cheerleader for creatives. She believes that God's love is unfailing, anything can be accomplished with a good to-do list, and that life should be celebrated with cupcakes and extra sprinkles. 

Previously a full-time book publicist, Laurie now serves as a virtual assistant and runs a freelance editing and PR consulting business called 1624 Communications

She lives with her husband and two small children in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her novella, That's When I Knew, released with the Love at First Laugh rom-com collection this spring, and her debut contemporary romance novel, With No Reservations, is now available wherever books are sold from Harlequin Heartwarming.

You can connect with Laurie on her website, Facebook page, and Twitter


kaybee said...

Laurie, this is a good post and something I struggle with. Writing the story is easy by comparison. (Only by comparison.) Unless we happen to be marketing gurus, I think most writers struggle with this.
Here's one for my current WIP.
Jane Archer has never felt worthy of her hometown’s unconditional love, or of God’s (character) She’s built a life on her own merits, or so she thinks. (OLD NORMAL) When her convalescing grandmother asks her to chair the Hilltop Christmas Festival, (NEW NORMAL and INCITING INCIDENT) it challenges everything Jane ever believed about herself, her town and God.
The Rev. Noah Hastings didn’t want to come to Hilltop, New Hampshire in the first place. (NEW NORMAL) Too small, too cold and too far from his native California. (OLD NORMAL) A demanding father left him with little confidence in anything, let alone pastoring. (character) The last thing he needs is a beautiful unbeliever chairing the festival run out of his church.(INCITING INCIDENT)
As Noah and Jane work together to produce the Festival, they battle their own insecurities and preconceived notions about each other. (ADAPTATION). They must call upon all their resources, including Jane’s newfound faith, when Jane’s beloved Gram is suspected of embezzling from the Festival funds. (TWIST) . As they unravel the crime, Jane and Noah learn more about who they are in Christ, and who they could be to each other. (CONCLUSION).
Any tips welcome!
Kathy Bailey

Chris Ssuter Manion said...

I haven't been satisfied with my back cover copy and am about to change it (along with a few interior corrections) before printing more copies. Here's my proposed back copy for God's Patient Pursuit of My Soul. What do you think?

She wasn't satisfied. She wanted more(HOOK). Chris Manion's soul had a hunger for God she'd felt since childhood (GLIMPSE OF OLD NORMAL) which she couldn't seem to satisfy with church on Sunday(DEFINING CHARACTERIZATION). At the age of sixteen, she prayed a desperate prayer that opened a path of grace unbeknownst to her (INCITING INCIDENT).

As she climbed the heights of worldly success, God pulled her deeper into Himself. How could she balance the two extremes, as well as be a wife, a mother, a friend? (ADAPTION) She alternated between resisting and following God's call until once day, on a bench deep in the woods, everything changed (TWIST)

This cutting-edge memoir shines a light on a surprisingly down-to-earth, humble business leader who points directly to Christ and His gifts and grace that helped develop her $20 million sales team. While she coached and led over five thousand men and women in business, discover the doors and gifts God opened, including the secret gift of tears. (CONCLUSION)

Your feedback is welcome and requested. Thanks for teaching us so well.
Chris Manion