Saturday, February 26, 2011

Writing Back Cover Copy, or Turning 90,000 Words Into 150

The skills it takes to write long-form fiction are most definitely not the same as those required to write snappy, attention-catching back cover copy. I knew this instinctively, and the belief was fully confirmed when I attempted the task for myself. Fortunately, I have a clear strategy that includes hiring experts to do the things I am not great at, and even more fortunately, I already knew of a tremendously talented resource in the form of Jane Roper, whom I ultimately hired. Jane is herself an author of wonderful fiction and non-fiction, and her "day job" is a freelance copy writer. I know Jane through Grub Street, and she'd always been superb at coming up with headlines, event titles (she coined The Muse & the Marketplace, for instance), and the like -- anything requiring pithy brilliance. So here's how it played out for Annie Begins:

I started here, which was my own best attempt to summarize the novel:

At almost 29, Annie Thompson is as brilliant in business as she is disastrous in relationships. Determined to set the emerging Internet world on fire and rise above her modest beginnings, Annie’s also a sucker for charming men who want something from her. So, when her ideal man announces his wife is divorcing him and designates Annie “the best listener he knows,” the sudden emotional intimacy and mixed signals threaten to disrupt Annie’s single-minded focus on work.

In pursuit of Mr. Tall, Dark, and Barely Available while juggling an intense start-up schedule, Annie is halted by a young cousin named April, newly diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, who makes finding a husband for Annie her dying project. With the clear-eyed insight of a truly old soul, April handpicks a fiancĂ© for her cousin, but he’s most certainly not who Annie would have chosen. Only with April’s death and the help of an unlikely additional matchmaker does Annie realize the wisdom of the little girl’s choice, which challenges every assumption that had driven Annie so hard in the first place, and reveals what she most deeply values in a man—and in herself.

And with Jane’s expert help, we ended here:

At almost 29, Annie Thompson is as brilliant in business as she is disastrous in relationships. It’s the dawn of the dot-com boom, and Annie is determined to make it big. But her single-minded focus on work is put to the test when the man of her dreams announces that his wife is divorcing him, and designates Annie “the best listener he knows.” Suddenly she’s juggling his mixed signals and her entrepreneurial ambitions—not to mention a complicated friendship with her new supervixen of a roommate.

Annie's pursuit of Mr. Tall, Dark and Barely Available takes a turn for the unexpected when her young, terminally ill cousin, April, makes it her mission to find Annie a husband. But the fiancĂ© April picks is definitely not the kind of man Annie would have chosen. Now, Annie has to ask herself what exactly she wants and values most deeply in a man—and in herself.

Shorter, better, and something I would’ve struggled to achieve on my own!

Karen McQuestion has a great blog post on this topic and offers these basic tips for formulating a book description, which I think are super useful:

1) Establish the main character and his current situation
2) Tell about the change (or the happening, or what have you)
3) Allude to what happens next in vague, but exciting terms
4) Don't be afraid of hype
5) Use strong verbs and specific nouns.

This book description is used for back cover copy, on your web site, author page, in promotional materials, and myriad other places so it’s critical to get it right. Good luck!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Preliminary results are in!

The voting has primarily taken place over at Facebook, where I originally posted the link, and here are the preliminary results:

Red Coat Girl: 14
Blue Butterfly: 2 ties (from people who liked both)

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and FishingI heard from many people who thought that the Red Coat pic is reminiscent of the Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing. I definitely see the similarities. I'm a fan of those stories and of Melissa Bank, and Whitney makes an excellent point in the comments about the popularity of that book.  But the most, most important factor in my decision to keep this photo is that I pored over stock photo sites for -- no joke -- at least 8 hours and this was the ONLY photo I liked! (What am I going to do for Book 2?!) So Red Coat Girl it is...I will be making a few changes, however, so the final will look slightly different (my name will be smaller, for one thing!). Now, I'll be moving right along to finalizing back cover copy and eliciting fabulous blurbs from wonderful writer friends. Thanks everyone! Michelle

Friday, February 11, 2011

Please, judge my book covers

One of the things I've been most looking forward to is creating the cover design for Annie Begins. Book cover design combines everything I love most about art -- graphics, fonts, and (mostly) abstract images. I discovered the Book Cover Archive and became an instant devotee -- poring over page after page of fantastic, inspiring design. I particularly loved the work of Henry Sene Yee who turns out to be the creative director of Picador. His work is amazing but he didn't respond to my email asking if he does freelance work. (In the small world department: the latest cover on his blog is for a new book by Wesley Stace, also known as John Wesley Harding, who is a musician as well as a writer and performed tonight at the City Winery. I'm a big fan of his, too.)  Through the Book Cover Archive I clicked my way around and eventually found a boutique design shop and fell in love with their work as well. Some indie or self publishers do their own book cover design or rely on the templates provided by the author services companies. I think some of these present fine options, but I am sticking to my strategy which is to replicate the quality of a traditional publisher and for that I needed some skills. And I don't  have them. (Evidence: my default graphic design program is, ahem, PowerPoint.)  The design boutique could do a custom, from-scratch cover that would in my estimation compare favorably to any Book Cover Archive entry and likely cost $2500-3500.  Yikes! (I knew it would be an investment...these guys are artistes.)

Then I discovered a really exciting option through  Tangent Covers which would allow me to customize from a selection of 21 extremely well-designed template covers for an order of magnitude less than a custom option. I thought it over for a day and, as precious as my project is to me, I concluded this is not a baby, it’s a book, and hopefully the first of many, and I needed to start making smart economic decisions with my calculator and not just my heart, and decided that the Tangent Covers option was a truly excellent one, especially since they were having a 2 for 1 deal.  I asked them to produce two covers for me so that I could have some choice. And here, to the left, are the first round covers from that process.  So now I'm in the process of gathering feedback and getting ready for the second round of edits with the folks at Tangent Covers. Comments welcome!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Look! My first author photo

I've just completed Step 47 (give or take a few) in pulling together everything one needs to produce and promote a book -- the author photo. Ta da!  Here it is:
I must say, I have such a strong appreciation for B&W photography. I just love it.  My photographer is Seth Block at Block Photogaphy in Cambridge. A terrific, talented guy. Here is his website:  A high school friend who also does heads shots is Mark Wilson, and he's here:

Ah, progress!