Monday, December 14, 2009

More Flap Copy Shenanigans

So I was browsing books to give for Christmas presents today (at my local independent bookstore, and I hope you all are shopping at yours), and I saw the quite-lovely cover of Little Bee, an adult novel by Chris Cleave. And look at this flap copy!:

We don't want to tell you WHAT HAPPENS in this book.

It is a truly SPECIAL STORY and we don't want to spoil it.

NEVERTHELESS, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this:

THIS IS THE STORY OF TWO WOMEN. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again--the story starts there . . .

Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.
So I'm curious about this now: Does anyone who objected to my copy below like this better? If you do like this better, then I would guess that it's mostly a matter of style -- that mine was signed "The Editors," which was, perhaps, a little obsequious; and that mine wasn't that polished. Also, this is not demanding five minutes of your time to read the first chapter. But if you don't, then I'd guess it's the whole principle of the thing. . . .

I dislike this copy, actually -- the slight condescension of the "kind of choice we hope you never have to make" undercuts the supposed terribleness of whatever that terrible choice is, and "one fateful day" and "magic" make it sound twee. The cover is really gorgeous, and the pages have deckled edges, but I wanted to read this book less after I read the copy. . . . (And sure, perhaps I'd dislike my own copy if I had distance from it.) It would be interesting to talk to the editor about it, and will be interesting to see what they do with the paperback.

And anyone read the book? Is it any good?


  1. Hi Cheryl

    No, I didn't like this flap copy more than your one.

    Yours at least started drawing me in with the sentences about the boy and miracles and the opposing sister.

    This is another person's opinion about a story, which I find completely unreliable because we all have different tastes e.g. you like Jane Austen, I can't get into her books, I LOVE Harry Potter, others are iffy etc. But there wasn't much in this flap copy that even tempted me to head to the first chapter, unlike yours which did.

    Hope my comments have been helpful.

    Kind regards

  2. Someone recommended Little Bee to me. Otherwise I would have been turned off by the jacket copy. Also, none of those things are true. I didn't want anything to do with it when I was done. And the "surprise" wasn't a huge surprise at that point, you kind of gathered what it was leading up to. Also, by that point, I didn't really care. (But I did finish it, because I'm just that stubborn.)

  3. No, I don't like it better. It feels like a gimmick. And it would have to come highly recommended for me to get past a "sell" like that.

    And I'm afraid that's what would bother me about any similar jacket copy.

    Just my opinion:)

  4. Yeah, even though this one wasn't signed, "The Editors," it still uses "we." I just think that most readers would think that Chris Cleave is a little full of himself using the royal "we."

    I'm making the assumption, of course, that most readers aren't privy to (or just aren't thinking about the) publishing process.

    For example, I saw this thing on YouTube about the number of people involved with producing the Harry Potter books (I think you're one of them, right?), and even though I'm an aspiring novelist, I just never thought of it that way. I had always imagined Ms. Rowling hammering the novels out on her computer and shipping them straight to print as is...not really, but the point is, I had never stopped to think about the work it took to get HP to my local bookstore. I was just interested in the story.

    Maybe it would be better if it were a note from the author rather than from "The Editors" or "we."

  5. In the spirit of not being totally negative (I really am a positive kinda guy:) I wanted to show an example of really great flap copy that truly made the difference in my choice to buy the book.

    Brandon Mull's Fablehaven...

    Must be responsible, adaptable, and willing to perform emergency dental surgery on a fog giant. Strong stomach required. On-the-job training. Deluxe accommodations provided. Retirement available, assuming you aren't drowned, devoured, or turned to stone. Familiarity with gnomish languages a plus."

    There was no such advert in the book and you really didn't expect there to be, but this was really creative AND descriptive of the work.

  6. I found this a little more appealing than the one you posted, perhaps because the tone was less "we know what's best and we're telling you how to start reading" and more "we're sharing a secret!" It reminded me of the marketing of the film The Crying Game, where not revealing the twist became part of the experience of the film.

    However, I didn't find their brief description of the book's content as interesting as your book's summary, so I'm not sure I'd read it. But overall, it didn't switch on my inner rebel like the one you posted.

  7. I didn't like that flap copy. I was thinking, "Get that nitwit out of my way! Why won't she tell me what the story's about? What's with all the pre-story? Arrgh."

    Perhaps I am jaded. Well, okay, I am. But don't tell me that you don't want to tell me something. I care not what the flap-copy ghostwriter thinks. I want to read flap copy that makes me think, "Whee! What a ride!"

    Now if I could follow my own advice when writing a query, I should be doing well.

  8. I liked yours better and I think with a little polishing it could be very effective.

    In both cases I wonder if the technique of talking to the reader will also appear in the book. Is there a similar stylistic voice of sorts or a type of metafiction in the book?
    This type of approach could work great in a book where there the narrator gives asides to the reader.

    Your copy is better because it does tell me something about the book that catches my interest and doesn't give the reader negative instructions such as "don't tell."

  9. To be honest, that flap copy was the main reason I never read Little Bee, even though other booksellers were so excited about it - it didn't tell me a thing about the book.

    Of course, when I got around to looking up a plot summary, I still didn't feel compelled to check it out. Not quite my kind of thing.

    (For the record, my views on flap copy are totally shaped by the fact that I'm a bookseller who has an almost-full TBR notebook. And don't even get me started on ARCs that don't give plot information...)

  10. I like it better than the last post's flap copy because some substance of what's in the book is at included.

    For me, it really boils down to this question:

    "Is the flap copy doing it's job?"

    Note that the job in question is to generate interest in the book. This is achieved by sharing a portion of the story and when it all comes down to it, is there ANYTHING else to work with but the story? Books are not sold by any other method or means.

  11. You know, I didn't comment on yours - I had to go back through the comments to see if I had, because I read it and formed an opinion, but for whatever reason didn't comment...

    I actually liked yours, I think because of the first sentence, and I would have read the first chapter, or at least the first few pages to see if I'd want it. BUT, it's a big but so I capitalized it, I didn't think that would work for a middle grade audience, which I assume was your intended reader. My daughter would've rolled her eyes and walked away. Adults care way more about what the editors think - adult writers care more by about 300 times. (Non-writers might not care at all, or know the difference).

    I didn't like this copy and I'm not sure why except that it tells me nothing. Yours didn't tell me much more, so I'm not quite possitive why I was okay with one and not the other - maybe the voice?

    I like jacket copy to give me a good blurb, introduce me to the main character, basically what we're looking to accomplish with our query pitch.

  12. Nope.

    I've never read the book, and--based on the flap copy, I am even MORE unlikely to pick it up.

  13. I hate, hate, hate all-caps. Anything in all-caps turns me off immediately. I feel like I am being yelled at.

  14. Did not like this copy at all. It had a "we know what's best" tone, while I didn't mind yours because the tone was one of shared excitement.

  15. While the "we" is confusing, my guess is the editors were representing the dual voice of the novel. The wording feels a little cheap considering the subject topic. It doesn't particularly strike my fancy. I would rather have a bit of the voice (like the quote below)included with an invitation to meet Andrew and Sarah and Little Bee.

    "That is when Yevette gave me a great push in the chest and I flew backwards. And that is how it was, the first time I touched the soil of England as a free woman, it was not with the soles of my boots but with the seat of my trousers."

    I haven't read this book, but I went to and read the interview. By the way, to the curious, you can read chapter one online. It's good.

    Honestly, I have more soap boxes about cover art than flap copies. (Compliments of a visual generations.) At least the cover art of Little Bee/The Other Hand is great.

    Being even more honest, a flap copy is an appetizer, not a meal. Sometimes I order one, sometimes I just save my money for the meal.

    Only when I am at writing workshops and they do drills that require me to think about such things does my mind venture into a realm where you can sum up a brilliant work in a few words. I know there is something to be said for brevity and that saying less is actually more, but truly I want an opinion from someone who reads like me about whether the book is worth my hard earned money. Am I going to love it with my whole heart, or do I need to read it to stay on the cusp of good reads? I care more if Cheryl, the reader, recommends Little Bee. (And I mean that with great respect to Cheryl, the editor.)

  16. Well I sort of feel like an outsider in this, but that flap copy made me want to read LITTLE BEE. I had felt the same way about your flap copy, too. Of course, I'm assuming in both cases that I would have recognized the publishing house to be reputable prior to reading the flap copy. I actually want to read LITTLE BEE now, out of sheer curiosity.

  17. I didn't like this flap copy either, but when I clicked to the link you provided, the quote at the top (which actually told me what the book was about) sounded interesting.

    I look to the flap copy or blurb on the back to give me an idea of the time and place of the book, as well as the style. The two flap copies in question didn't give me any of that information and that's why they didn't appeal to me.

  18. Now Quartland included a quote from Little Bee that just grabbed me with its amazingness:

    "That is when Yevette gave me a great push in the chest and I flew backwards. And that is how it was, the first time I touched the soil of England as a free woman, it was not with the soles of my boots but with the seat of my trousers."

    Well, shoot, you had me at hello! If this had been in the flap copy, I would have been crazy intrigued.

    Let the book speak for itself is the lesson I've learned here today.

  19. A previous comment noted the importance that flap copy does its job of generating interest in the book. I agree.

    However, once a customer picks up a certain book and reads the flap there is already interest. The flap needs to propel the reader's interest to the first page of the book. The example you displayed shows enough about the story to wet the appetite, but it makes readers who like those types of stories hunger for clarification just enough to read the first paragraph of the first page.

  20. If I read this while at the bookstore, it would go back on the shelf. *I* will decide if I think the story is magical, thank you very much.

    Same with yours, though. Sorry. =(

  21. I would read this book only because of book lists like NPR, where it's mentioned. The flap copy is a turn-off because it feels like a sales pitch.
    I know that the subject is flap copy but there seems to be a trend in 'showing' a the main characters face on the jacket cover. I hate that and I don't find the trendy look very appealing. Lisa Yee's (partial facial image intriguing)books and the H.P. books are the exceptions. I think Neffenegger's cover for HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY is an example of a beautiful, mysterious, eye catching cover. The cover even feels good. BTW, I thought MARCELO was an effective cover, and I bonded with the jacket even more after reading the book. Finding the money for jacket designers, art, etc. for the covers has got to be problem these days, but are young readers
    connecting with 'portraits' of the main characters?

  22. well seems like i'm in the minority but i did like the flap copy for little bee or "the other hand" as it is titled in ireland(where i am)and i did read the book.i felt like it was a secret someone was telling me, or when a friend describes a movie or book and goes, well i don't want to ruin it for you, but it's amazing i liked it, didn't love it, it's written in 2 different voices and one of them doesn't work for me.

  23. I started reading Little Bee without having read the flap copy, which is something I do sometimes if a book is on the bestseller's list and has a good cover. It's like seeing a movie without having seen a preview; there's just something fun about experiencing a story with absolutely no prior knowledge. I realize that I may be alone in this.

    After the first 30 pages or so, I went back and read the flap because I thought, "What is this book about, again?" I had to laugh out loud when I read the copy because about a month ago I was teaching my high school English students how to give a good book review. They have a tendency to start to share the plot and then abruptly stop and say, "I don't want to tell you anymore or I might spoil the ending." I actually used flap copy as an example, explaining to them that they would never read something like that in a book. Boy, was I proven wrong! Nevertheless, I loved the book and would definitely recommend it.