Pub Rants

Foiled By Whether This Is The Back Cover Copy Or Not

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STATUS: I’m really swamped right now so pardon yesterday’s radio silence.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? UNBELIEVABLE by EMF

So we haven’t analyzed back cover copy for about two weeks now. With that in mind, I thought I would pull up my list of suggested examples culled from the comments section for this blog entry.

I’ve been hearing the buzz (which has been around for a while) for the National Book Award winner THEN WE CAME TO THE END and since it was suggested, I thought it would make a good choice.

But I’ve literally just spent the last 20 minutes on and looking for the flap copy (if you are talking hardcover). This could also be the back cover copy for a trade pb but sometimes publishers decide to use that space for quotes instead (thinking that would be more powerful to sell the story).

On Amazon, all I could find were reviews. Clicking on a variety of “search inside” features didn’t get me to the flap copy or to the back cover where a blurb might be.

On, there is a synopsis listed. This may be the flap copy or back cover copy but it’s more of summary than what, traditionally, back cover copy or flap copy tends to be.

The Tattered Cover online has this same snippet listed as the description.

Here it is:

No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency Joshua Ferris brilliantly depicts in his debut novel is family at its strangest and best, coping with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks.

With a demon’s eye for the details that make life worth noticing, Joshua Ferris tells a true and funny story about survival in life’s strangest environment–the one we pretend is normal five days a week.

I have to say that I’m not sure this little snippet would have sold me on picking up, buying, and reading this book. The reviews on the other hand made my book club interested in at least including this book title in our next vote.

Not sure what point I’m making but if this is not the book copy and the actual copy is noticeably absent from the websites, it does rather de-emphasize the importance of that marketing tool.

Still, I think back cover copy is valuable as a learning tool for writing query pitch paragraphs. Perhaps my real point is to say that online sites have more room to offer a variety of written info about a novel to the reader beyond the back cover copy. And in fact, maybe enticing back cover copy is less important than reader and professional reviews.

It’s an interesting discussion…

22 Responses

  1. Natalie Hatch said:

    Kristin, great music choice, I remember dancing to that in the clubs, nice memories – hot backpackers..
    I think I’m more influenced by friends opinions of a book than the blurb on the back cover. Too many times I’ve picked up a book read the back, bought it expecting ABC and ending up being given LMN… So reader reviews and professional opinions do actually sell a book for me these days.

  2. JohnO said:

    I spent a lot of time on Amazon dissecting flap copy when I was writing my pitch letter. It was a good exercise in seeing how to boil down a story and sell it.

    So good, in fact, I began to notice that certain books had pitch flaws that reflected plot flaws (including, alas, my own).

    However, “Then We Came to the End” is going to have unusual copy, since it’s written in the POV of the agency — i.e., “we” all the way through — which means that all kinds of normal story “musts” (hero/heroine, empathy, call to action, outer motivation, character arc) don’t apply.

    It’s certainly an innovative book, but that makes it less useful for this exercise. For most people I’d suggest finding published books that in some way similar to their own.

  3. Anonymous said:

    The back cover copy on the UK edition of And Then We Came To The End is as follows:

    “They spend their days – and too many of their nights – at work. Away from friends and family, they share a stretch of stained carpet with a group of strangers they call colleagues.

    There’s Chris Yop, who is clinging to his ergonomic chair; Lynn Mason, the boss, whose breast cancer everyone pretends not to talk about; Carl Garbedian, secretly taking someone else’s medication; Marcia Dwyer, whose hair is stuck in the eighties; and Benny, who’s just – well, just Benny. Amidst the boredom, redundancies, water-cooler moments, meetings, flirtations and pure rage, life is happening, to their great surprise, all around them.

    Then We Came to the End is about sitting all morning next to someone you cross the road to avoid at lunch. It’s the story of your life, and mine.”

    I thought it was an interesting book if only for being daring enough to use first person plural as the narrative voice.

    – Britbeat

  4. Susan Helene Gottfried said:

    Personally, I wish the online stores would give us the cover copy. If the stores are trying to be as close to an in-person buying experience as possible, that’s one area in which they’re falling short.

    Reviews instead of copy? Nope, no thanks. I’d rather know the plot than read the same seven or eight words — all positive and glowing and quite possibly out of context.

  5. Anonymous said:

    It may be a great book, but based on that snippet, no, I wouldn’t buy it. It wouldn’t interest me at all. I have no idea who the protagonist is, why I should care about him, what his problem is (does he even have one?), or who or what is going to complicate it. This doesn’t sound like a plot; it sounds like a string of events. If “coping with a business downturn” is the most I can look forward to with this book, I’ll have to pass. Sorry, author.

  6. Vivien V. said:

    I agree that on websites like Amazon, the customer reviews are more likely to sell me on the book than what’s on the back copy. The back copy is written to entice a reader, while the reviews are someone’s good old opinion, and don’t have to pretend that the book is worth reading.

  7. Anonymous said:

    The snippet makes the book sound a little like literary sarcasm in the tradition of David Sedaris or Dave Eggers, though, don’t you think? Details of mundane life brought into bloom by an accute level of observation?

    I’d read it.


  8. Amy Nathan said:

    I read back cover copy differently since your posts on the topic — and since I attended one of your workshops. I think it’s the best way for a writer to figure it out for him or herself. That being said, as with everything else, it’s subjective. The copy you posted above would not entice me, I had to read the first sentence twice (the second time aloud) to figure it out. But obviously someone thought it was fabulous.

    I’m leery of reviews of books like I am of reviews of movies. I know they create a buzz and how important that is, but for personal reading choices I stick to my gut, and the gut of my friends.

    I find it difficult to choose a book “out of nowhere” from an online site. I buy many, many books from Amazon, but usually I’ve heard about them somewhere or have seen it in a store and then impulse-purchase it when I’m bored and surfing the net.

    Browsing a real book store is the way I like to find books – picking up the books, reading the back, the first page, finding out about the author, and even the feel of it.

    And every bit of it helps me as a writer, I believe.

  9. Kristi said:

    The issue with the missing cover copy is one of the things I hate about shopping online. If I know what I want ahead of time, I will buy from Amazon and save a couple of $. However, I have to go to a real brick-and-morar-and-paper bookstore to truly browse, see a cover, flip it over and read the blurb/teaser/summary.

    I find Amazon (and the other online retailers) sites impossible to browse, and their ratings and recommendations are 99% useless to me. I have no interest in putting Barne & Noble, Borders, Books a Million, etc out of business, so maybe Amazon shouldn’t improve things.

    I’m not sure that this is the point you were trying to make.

  10. Ryan Field said:

    “Perhaps my real point is to say that online sites have more room to offer a variety of written info about a novel to the reader beyond the back cover copy. And in fact, maybe enticing back cover copy is less important than reader and professional reviews.”

    I’ve tried many times to find back cover copy (or more written info in general) for certain books and I’ve been disappointed (and frustrated) too. Reviews don’t interest me…I’d like to see more written info.

  11. Karen Duvall said:

    I don’t trust back cover blurbs. I’ve been burned too many times. I find it terribly strange that a backcover might give one perspective of the story, yet the book delivers something completely different. If the cover copy is designed to entice readers, why not edit/rewrite the book to coincide with that goal? I don’t get it.

    As for And Then We Came to The End, I haven’t read it yet, but I think the premise is fabulous. The office family is a whole different culture, kind of like the difference between a tribe of pygmies and a football team. Who wouldn’t want to read about that? The characters in this story must be amazing. When I think back on my various corporate office families over the years… Yeah, I could write a book or two. It would be an amazing memoir. And it would win an award and become a bestseller! Bwahahaha! 8^)

  12. Anonymous said:

    The reason why there is no back copy is because the book is boring, boring, boring. Even the one with the descriptions of all the characters — you realize as you read the book that those are the only things you ever learn about the characters. At all. So it’s not so much back copy as giving away any tiny smidgen of characterization the book has.

    Sorry, I hated that book.

  13. Dave F. said:

    That’s the first and last paragraphs of the flap copy. the middle paragraph is longer than those two and talks about the characters in the book.

    I bought the book because of the HYPE of good writing. I made it through 75 pages and the Second Person – YOU – finally defeated my efforts. I didn’t find the characters engaging or the story interesting. But that’s merely my opinion. COMPANY by Max Barry was similarly themed and much better.

    This is the book that made me stop buying books that were RAVED about online.

  14. Kristina said:

    I absolutely loved this book, and I read it based on Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation, who recommended it in a sidebar to his blog.

  15. Margaret Yang said:

    Kristin, you’re in a book club? Really? Talk about the busman’s holiday.

    When I worked as a food critic, I didn’t want to go out do dinner on my own time. Ever. When not working, I cooked at home.

    All I can say is, an agent who is in a book club must reeeeaaallly love books.

  16. Tish Cohen said:

    That snippet actually intrigued me. Mainly because, as much as I couldn’t wait to remove myself from the 9 to 5 thing and do not want to go back, I find office relationships and “forced family” fascinating.

    As for reviews – I don’t care so much whether the reviewer loved a book or hated it, if the story sounds good to me, I’ll buy.

  17. doortoriver said:

    Huh – that’s a very strange cover-copy. If I read that, I would honestly assume there wasn’t really a plot; it would appeal, maybe, if I liked shows like Big Brother, wherein I got to spy on people’s day-to-day, but otherwise, it almost sounds almost like they’re just trying to appeal to fans of “The Office.”

    I guess the lesson for today is, “Behold the power of word-of-mouth!”

  18. Cindy Procter-King said:

    I frequently buy from Canadian Amazon and another on-line Canadian bookstore, and I didn’t even realize they didn’t include cover copy, until I read this post and some responses. This is because I know which books and authors I’m looking for when I order on-line. But for a browser? Yeah, put the cover copy on-line. Seems strange that they don’t.

  19. La Gringa said:

    I agree; I picked up the book and put it down several times in my local bookstore. It was only after hearing Ferris read from the book and hearing how laugh-out-loud funny it is that I decided to buy a copy.


    Colleen Lindsay, fellow agent
    (who is currently suffering from an ice-cream headache)

  20. AR said:

    Doortoriver: That seems obvious to me, too.

    Movies once left their mark on novels – and ever since everyone insists on showing rather than telling, opening with an action scene, conceiving of the novel as a a series of “scenes” in the first place.

    Now it looks like Reality TV and crossover shows like “Office” are leaving their mark, too.

    ‘Course, I haven’t read the book.