Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Little Flap Copy Reader-Response Question

Just out of curiosity, how would you all, as readers, respond if you opened up a book and read this flap copy? My curiosity is sincere, though the chance that we'll actually use this copy is small.

Dear Reader,

This is an amazing novel about a boy who works miracles and his older sister, who tries to stop him. (It is also about the existence of God.) However, we have decided we don’t want to waste your valuable time with more flap copy. Instead, we encourage you to flip to page 1 and read the first chapter—yes, the whole thing. It is also amazing. You will not regret it. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
The Editors
What would you do? (It really is an astonishing first chapter.)

47 comments:

  1. I liked it all the way up to "Thank you for your time."
    I think after reading this I would flip immediately to page 1.

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  2. Take out the however sentence, and the last one, and I would so be there.

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  3. I don't like the "Thank you for your time" either. The "we don't want to waste your valuable time" also sounds a tad obsequious, so I'd shift to something like "Rather than delay you with more flap copy, we encourage you..."

    The "It is also amazing" is clunky, both because amazing sounds repetitive, and because "also" doesn't seem like quite the right word. The novel is amazing, and the first chapter is also amazing? Also sounds like their relationship is separate, rather than one of part to whole.

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  4. Sorry, I wouldn't.

    I don't trust other people's reading preferences, only my own.

    When I read the flap copy, I read it to work out if the storyline will be of interest to me (I am not an avid reader, only a mediocre adult reader).

    You had me at the boy working miracles and the sister wanting to prevent him,(I was ready to flip straight to page one at reading those words) but lost me immediately thereafter, because frankly it was another person's opinion rather than fact about the content.

    So, if instructed to read page one? Sorry, those words wouldn't have encouraged me. But on a positive note, I would probably have already left the flap and turned to page one after that very first line.

    Regards
    Char

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  5. Re-reading it after having made my comment...

    I would stick to:

    "This is an amazing novel about a boy who works miracles, and his older sister who tries to stop him.

    We encourage you to read this amazing story: you will not regret it!"

    Char

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. I like to read flap copy that tells me a little more about the book. Today I picked up a book by a well-known author, but I didn't know what it was about. It was a hardback with no flap (at the library) and the only review at all was "praise" for his first book, on the back.

    I started reading and was intrigued, but felt a little lost not knowing what I was trying to read.

    This might just be me but I would add a bit more. Just a bit. And then take out the Thank you.

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  8. I think that, were I not the publishing-obsessed fiend that I am (and therefore a little more like other readers), I would be turned off by the signature being from "The Editors." In my experience (and no offense meant, of course) a lot of readers don't particularly value the opinions of editors -- because they don't know what editors do.

    I'd be more intrigued if the letter was signed by a character and written in his or her voice. You do seem to have a particular voice going on here, anyway: a hint of irreverence and spunk.

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  9. This is all really useful to hear, thanks! (And rereading it now, I myself would take out the "valuable" at least, and maybe the "Thank you for your time," as "time" would echo badly.)

    As I may have said before, the flap copy that has stuck with me the most ever was on the original hardcover of LIFE OF PI, which was something like:

    "A boy, a tiger, and a zebra are in a boat.

    < one or two lines I don't remember about what this book will do >

    It may even make you believe in God."

    And that was just BRILLIANT at hooking me in (though it ultimately made me disappointed in the book, which did not live up to that last promise). The way some people want to write a perfect poem, I want to write perfect flap copy like that.

    Please, keep those honest responses coming!

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  10. Mm, how would *you* react to a query letter like that?

    That's how I'd react to the jacket copy.

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  11. It felt a bit condescending to me. Dont know why? Being from the editors seems a like it was a sales gimmick. I dont think most readers feel a connection to the editor and to follow these directions, you kinda need some trust.

    can it be from the author with a few concepts like the Pi book did. I agree - it was brilliant.

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  12. I think I have to agree with Anon at 8:40. I think of flap copy as kind of a query letter. If I were an agent or editor and found a query letter like that...FORM REJECTION! Sorry, just doesn't work for me. I don't have anything against the first sentence or the sentence in parentheses. Beyond that...meh.

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  13. I'm one more person who sees the flap copy as a kind of query letter. I don't trust the word "amazing" (too generic, too overused)... I assume that ALL editors think their books are amazing (otherwise what's the point?)... and I *love* flap copy, so telling me that you don't want to waste my valuable time with something I normally LIKE TO READ is not going to put me in a good mood.

    This is very much like a writer saying, "dear agent, please just read the full, trust me." Yeah, right.

    Which is sad, because "a boy who works miracles and his older sister, who tries to stop him" and the existence of God IS probably a book I would read. But you have to tell me more first.

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  14. It doesn't work for me, either. I'm sorry! I don't like the idea of it being an endorsement b/c endorsements are so subjective, and I don't think a young reader would know why s/he should trust the nebulous editors. Also, and this may just be me, but I have strong feelings about books with no flap copy. I bring my kids to the library several times a week and watch the same scene over and over: kid picks book off shelf because the cover and/or title looks interesting. Kid flips to the jacket or back cover, trying to figure out what the book is about (ie, looking for an actual hook) to see if it's interesting to him/her. Kid finds a) an endorsement by someone s/he has never heard of, b) a random (and usually rather boring) few lines from some random part of the novel, or c) NOTHING AT ALL. Kid gives up trying to get a 30-second grip on the premise of the book and PUTS IT BACK.

    Now, if you're the mom who also writes, you know that most books have a one-line Library of Congress summary inside--and sometimes that can help. But the kid is long gone. (And sometimes the books don't even have the LOC summary.) One thing I've always appreciated about Scholastic books is that they do give flap copy, unlike um...another publishing umbrella.

    Er, this sounds kind of crabby--I'm sorry! I do like the lines that actually tell what the book is about--if you put in a bit more meat and left out some of the seasoning, it would be perfect. :)

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  15. It most definitely does not work for me. Seems kind of like "the cheque is in the mail."

    Don't make me promises - deliver the goods!

    Show me, don't tell me!

    I liked the first line and the God line (would change the punctuation of both, though). Everything after that would irk me and make me put the book back on the shelf and look for something else.

    As for the "thank...time" lines, sounds like an advertorial or a request for a donation from your local charity.

    Cheers, Jill
    "Blood and Groom" is now in stores!
    www.jilledmondson.com

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  16. Well, there would be an element of surprise in seeing a flap like this in a published book, because it is so unusual to address the reader directly, and that could easily turn to interest. This sort of letter is actually common enough in queries that it would just come off as incompetence or arrogance. . . .

    I think if I got a query letter like this, I would be annoyed, but I would read the ms. pages, because I always do anyway (at least the first couple), requiring of them a very high burden of proof. And if the pages lived up to it and DID justify the "amazing" and the writer's confidence in saying it, then I'd forgive the snarky query.

    With that said, the query letter point is a fair one, and the negative response here has more or less convinced me never to try this, because (as I said on FB) we want our flap copy to have as close to a 100% positive response rate as possible, and the 50-50 positive-negative I'm getting is not going to cut it.

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  17. Apparently I'm in the minority here because it would cause me to immediately flip to page one and start reading (but I think I would buy the book before doing so.) I felt it was honest, and surprising, and is a subject I am intensely interested in. A lot of flap copy feels dull or manipulative to me. This felt real and very different.

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  18. Sorry, I'd put the book back on the shelf. The letter did not entice me into reading the first chapter.

    Cheryl, if this was a query letter would you continue reading or send a rejection? It sounds like a letter that might be typed on pretty lue paper with some glitter in the envelope. I just read Noah Lukeman's HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY. I'd expect better hook and a more concise description from the editors. (I'd also expect their names if they thought it was worthy of writing a letter for the flap.)

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  19. Flap copy is usually puff anyway. Isn't it better to rely on what real readers are saying when it comes to deciding to buy a book?

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  20. To me, unless I have a relationship with "The Editors" in question, I'd view that like advertising. In this case, I do have a relationship, so I'd read it since it must be extraordinary! Still, taking a step back, if I'm a book lover who knows who "The Editors" refers to (even conceptual, not by name), then I'm thinking "of course they love this book! It's THEIR BOOK!" If I don't know who "The Editors" are, then yes, you're right, there is an element of surprise: someone I don't know or trust is INSIDE the book telling me to read it instead of hanging out on the back jacket with all the other testimonials. Bringing that voice inside the book feels like a violation somehow to me, and doesn't equate to the Pi flap copy's bold statement. Love that you're thinking of new ideas, though!

    Seems like a first chapter that could be a great, free download....

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  21. For me this is sort of like some of the comments about acknowledgements over at the Shelf Talker blog, those on whether editors should be recognized or not, especially for works of fiction. Some felt yes and some felt no for various reasons.

    This puts the editors right up front for a work of fiction and I have to say it doesn't work for me. It makes me think about what READER is being addressed and who those EDITORS are exactly rather than the book and its characters. It is, for me, distracting. Unless, of course, that is tone of the whole book (al a Lemony Snicket) in which case I'd say go for it. If not, I'd say stick with something less pulling-me-out-of-the-book-before-I-even-begin-reading-it. That is, I think flap copy should provide just enough for the reader to know what to expect, not a testimonial or endorsement which this feels like to me.

    Hope I'm not being too harsh, but you asked!

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  22. I like it and it would definitely make make me take a took at chapter one because my insane curiosity wouldn't let me put the book down. On the con side if the first two paragraphs of chapter one didn't hook me straight away I would view this as anegative experience.
    Maureen. www.thepizzagang.com

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  23. There's something about it that gives me the impression that someone is trying too hard to convince me of something--like an email written in all caps.

    I think I (and most folks today) would immediately feel a sense of distrust rather than trust after reading this.

    I like originality, but I want to see it in the story, not in the way the book is presented. To me, the story idea is a home run and doesn't need a gimmick anyway.

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  24. ...and from a reader's point of view, it would be confusing to get a note from "The Editors." I think most readers don't think in those terms. They see the book as a product of the author. I would find it strange after picking up the latest Eoin Colfer novel to see a note from the editors.

    I might even think that "The Editors" were characters in the book, then I'd be real confused waiting for them to appear in the story.

    I just don't think that readers think much about editors. Writers do, but readers...not so much.

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  25. It seems like a gimmick to me. I tend to be contrary, so any time someone tells me I must do something, my immediate reaction is no. I also don't like the idea of editors telling me something is great--show me if you want to convince me.

    If the opening is so amazing, why not start the flap copy with the first paragraph? Then the plea to "find out for yourself" will seem justified.

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  26. If I pretend I don't know this is coming from you, the only part of that works for me is "a boy who works miracles and his older sister, who tries to stop him." Right away I want to know what kind of miracles the boy performs and why the sister would want to stop them. That's enough to make me poke my nose into the book to find out more. And if you make sure that you've activated Amazon's "look inside this book" feature, I will read those opening pages without being asked to.

    The word "amazing" seems too subjective and unspecific to help a prospective reader and, coming from the publishing house itself, sounds a bit like hype.

    That said, knowing that this is coming from Cheryl Klein, I am eager to read it. What's the title?

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  27. I'm not fond of "thank you for your time," but other than that I'd appreciate it. I love marketing that is *aware* of itself as marketing.

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  28. I'd love the flap copy if written in the MC's voice. I think it would great to address the potential reader directly, but it would work better, if it were coming from the MC. Or, maybe from the sister, who's trying to sabotage his efforts.

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  29. I don't know. What might hook an editor or a writer might just leave a typical reader feeling manipulated by the "superior" and "all-knowing" editors.

    The descriptive you've shared is a short version of flap copy, and does a good job of hooking the reader. Do you really need the invitation to read the chapter?(And it doesn't seem like an invitation, it's more a "we're not going to tell you anything else, so you'll have to commit twenty minutes if you want to have any idea where this book is going)

    It also might come across as lazy, as if the editors didn't want to write flap copy.

    To me, it sounds like what agents and editors are always telling writers NOT TO DO.

    Just my opinion:)

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  30. It feels a little gimmicky to me. I think as a bookseller, I read a fair number of ARC letters that sounded a lot like this.

    Perhaps an excerpt from the first chapter, then a few lines similar to the PI ones you mentioned: A brother who can perform miracles. A sister who begs him not to. And a God neither is sure they believe in. Or whatever.

    If you did want a plea to read the first chapter, it might carry more weight if you got a blurber to make the request. If Sharon Creech or J.K. Rowling or Cynthia Rylant told me to skip the flap copy and just read the first three pages, I'd do so much more eagerly than if the book's editor asked me to.

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  31. Hmmm. I'd have to see the cover.

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  32. I agree with many of the comments here. The flap copy has promise and almost succeeds to invite the reader to plunge into the book--which is the point, obviously. Where it falls short is that clunkiness others have mentioned. One or two clearer sentences directing the reader to delve into the story would be more appropriate. It is sort of like a "hard sell" pitch.

    "You can't eat just one."
    "Try it, you'll like it."
    "Millions of readers have already fallen in love with..."

    You get the point. But I like the comments that point to a voice (or deleting the "From the Editors"). If you explore that voice and use it to inspire, cajole or promise then you would probably hook me.

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  33. I'd probably think it was gimmicky, but I'd also probably read the chapter.

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  34. Actually I like it. I'm a sucker for the odd and quirky.... however, "It is also about the existence of God." would make me put the down. My inner kid reader would think, "Euugh! One of those church books. It's going to be preachy or possibly New Age-y." and that would be the end of that. This is a shame because I really liked "Millions" and two thirds of the Narnian Chronicles. If the story has God in it, I need it to sneak up on me.

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  35. Chances are I would have gone straight to the first chapter anyway and never read this.

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  36. No, absolutely not. I would put the book down.

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  37. When I read a flap copy, I read it to find out a bit about the story if I haven't already heard of the book. The letter didn't tell me enough about the story to make me want to read further, though I might. I'd worry that parents or kids who'd be buying the book, if that's all they read, wouldn't decide to buy the book. Also, it's not enough of a hook for the Scholastic book orders sent through the schools to help sell the book.

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  38. The only time I don't read flap copy is with my favorite author. She is also the only author I'll buy in hardcover.

    I vaguely remember a story where the lack of a flap copy on a new Stephen King book was an indication that flap copy was becoming less and less important. No, it's an indication that it's Stephen Freaking King. His audience is built in. For the rest, I want some indication of whether I will like the direction of the story.

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  39. It reminded me too much of those annoying Nigerian scam emails. And the God comment would definitely have put me off as a kid. So no, I would not read any of that book, and would probably take note of the author's name so I could avoid all of their other books too.

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  40. All right, all right, I won't use this copy! And I won't mention God. Thank you all for your input; this has been instructive.

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  41. Cheryl,

    This type of flap would work better in a book like the one you are writing about your speeches that you discussed in your post last week. Your target audience would already have a basic understanding of the role of editors in the publishing business.

    I admire your willingness to put forth your ideas and generate discussion. This post and the comments help me understand how flaps affect book sales.

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  42. I wouldn't. It sounds too unprofessional.

    BTW, wouldn't this be better as a poll with comments?

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  43. Too clever by half, and a little too pleased with itself. It presumes to astonish. (The whole first chapter? Really?)

    Simply the first sentence or some variation thereof does the job better.

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  44. I think this flap-copy has potential for great appeal because it is out of the ordinary. And because it's so short I would make the flap copy visually more artful.Personally, if I were writing this I would make the sentence about the existence of God more mysterious. I would rename God. (I bet editors have that kind of power)I would leave off the thank-you. It seems to be more of a sales ploy than a nudge to urge the reader to the first chapter. I would use the last sentence to point to the possibilities of what the reader might discover reading the first chapter. But then again, that could be overkill.
    That's my humble opinion.
    s.r.

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  45. I really want to read that first chapter. And what's the name of the book? And when is it published?

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  46. Hmm. I know this is late, but I would not feel compelled to read the book. In fact, I would be somewhat annoyed at that description and would likely put the book back on the shelf. :x

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