Pub Rants

Blog Pitch Workshop (Part VI)

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STATUS: Happy Halloween! I try not to frighten people by going out in costume so maybe I’ll be an Evil Editor for Halloween…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THRILL ME by Simply Red

In honor of Halloween, of course we have to look at the horror genre today and I’ve got two tasty morsels for you from Horror Writers of America Grand Master Ray Garton and then another Halloween treat from Brian Keene.

To most people it’s just a large house, old and a bit run-down. To the Kellar family it’s a new start, a chance to wipe out the painful past and begin again. But soon it will become a living nightmare. The terrors begin before the Kellars have even finished unpacking. They hear things, see things, shadowy glimpses into the impossible, things that are there—and then gone.

Who are the mysterious children playing on the rusty, vine-covered swing set in the backyard? Who is the figure sitting in the dark corner of the bedroom at night? Who –or what– waits in the basement? They are the dead and they cannot rest. Horror stalks the halls of the Kellar house. And the secrets of the past are reaching from beyond the grave to destroy the living.

Now let’s analyze:
1. The back cover copy is 11 sentences and unlike any of the author works we’ve analyzed so far, this copy is mostly comprised of short, punchy sentences. Interesting.

2. The first two sentences fill in the back story for the reader and allow us to know that the Kellar family are looking for peace but are going to get anything but. (I mean, this is horror after all).

3. So the rest of the cover copy pretty much sums up what will be strange about the new house. The end sentence hints that it’s not just a ghost story but that something darker is at stake.

4. For me, the cover copy misses a bit (and perhaps feels too generic)—especially when I see the Publishers Weekly review that reads: “In this ironically titled shocker from horror maestro Garton, the dead, who are pretty ugly, make life a hell for the living. Jenna and David Kellar, after a series of personal tragedies, the worst of which is the inexplicable death of their four-year-old son, Josh, hope to make a new start at the old family homestead they’ve inherited just outside Eureka, Calif., with their surviving son, Miles. Instead, they discover a nightmare. Ghostly children cavort mysteriously on the backyard swings and vanish at will. Tantalizingly, cruelly, one resembles Josh.”

Wow. That last sentence of the review tantalizes. One of the ghost children looks like their dead son? Now I’m interested. I’m not sure why the cover copy that’s actually on the back cover of the book doesn’t capitalize on that juicy tidbit.

What I’m pointing out is that cover copy isn’t always perfect and cover copy editors get paid to write enticing blurbs to draw readers in! Writing good pitch copy is hard.

TERMINAL by Brian Keene
From award-winning author Brian Keene comes a darkly suspenseful tale of crime and the common man-with a surprising jolt of the supernatural. . . Tommy O’Brien once hoped to leave his run-down industrial hometown. But marriage and fatherhood have kept him running in place, working a job that doesn’t even pay the bills. And now he seems fated to stay for the rest of his life. Tommy’s just learned he’s going to die young-and soon. But he refuses to leave his family with less than nothing-especially now that he has nothing to lose.Over a couple of beers with his best friends, John and Sherm, Tommy launches a bold scheme to provide for his family’s future. And though his plan will spin shockingly out of control, it will throw him together with a child whose touch can heal-and whose ultimate lesson is that there are far worse things than dying.

Now let’s analyze:
1. This back cover copy is 8 sentences. I see some similarities to the Garton copy with the shorter, punchier sentences. I think this copy does a better job of introducing more information in a short amount of space.

2. The opening line is from the publisher. Writers can’t use that but you could start your query pitch with “my novel is a darkly suspenseful tale of crime and the common man-with a surprising jolt of the supernatural.” Or wrap the pitch with that line.

3. The second paragraph gives us a character sketch of Tommy’s life because this is essential to understanding his motivation for the plot twist that will be revealed at the end of the second paragraph and into the third. The first couple of sentences set up his desperation so when he learns he’s going to die, we know that might lead to choices that will cause trouble. (This is horror after all and we need to have a sense of the horror element before we close this back cover copy).

4. This comes in paragraph three. I wouldn’t have minded an escalation of the tension by allowing the reader a little hint of the plan that will spin out of control (so that’s my suggestion for this copy). The last line throws in a whole new element that’s pretty intriguing but once again, I wouldn’t mind a little more hint as to what might be “far worse things than dying.”
In just these two examples, I’d have to say that horror back cover copy might be the toughest to write. You can’t give away the surprise so what’s enough? Too much? Or not enough? All good questions that if you write in this genre, you need to be asking yourself.

9 Responses

  1. Carradee said:

    I think these examples, when compared to the previous ones, bring home more than anything else that the best way to learn to write this kind of copy is to study comparable copy of the same genre.

    Thanks for the helpfulness!

  2. April said:

    I don’t write in the genre – or read too much of it. But that second one sounds intriguing to me – though I’m not sure I would call it horror. Maybe I’ll have to read it to find out.

    Thanks for your critques, though as always insightful.

  3. sean said:

    This was magnificent, and a great help. Thank you so much.

    My last round of queries was formed largely by listening to Kristin’s advice– this mini-workshop has sharpened everything quite nicely.


  4. Katrina Stonoff said:

    With that first one, I find it a crashing disappointment that the cover copy uses the genre (“horror”) as a descriptor! Wouldn’t that be like saying a Romance novel includes a romance? Or a Western is set in the West? Or that it’s a fiction novel?

  5. poor mouse said:

    Perhaps I’m strange, but the first cover copy actually tempted me to read the book…and I don’t read horror. Yet the second one sounded so boring to me that I would have put it back on the shelf before finishing the cover copy. Plus it didn’t sound like horror to me.

  6. Christine said:

    I have to say, I’m disapointed with the horror pitches. I’m generally a horror reader rather than a romance one, but given the option between the romance pitches and the horrors, I’d go with the romances. Could we revisit the horror or maybe hit on urban fantasy pitches?

  7. Ivan Borodin said:

    I particularly like how you chose strong examples to analyze. I’ve often read breakdowns on copy where the critiquer choses inherently weak material–with obvious flaws. Since you picked solid material, I couldn’t foresee the improvements that you suggested, so your comments made a pronounced impression. Thank you for the lesson.