Have you ever written a book review?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dust Jackets: The Flap Text

In my estimation, dust jacket flap copy ranks right up there with a great cover design as a key marketing component for a book. Potential readers have to see and want to pick up the book first, but once they get to that point, it is usually the flap copy that convinces them to buy it.

So . . . what exactly is flap copy? Flap copy is the text that appears on the inside flap(s) of the dust jacket wrapped around a book. Its sole purpose is to inform the reader what the book is about--beyond what is obvious from the front cover--and in doing so, "hook" the potential reader in a persuasive way.

[Right: Once a Marine inside front flap.]

Think of it this way. When you (as in you, personally) open a book to glance through the flap copy, you are thinking the same basic things everyone else is: Will I enjoy reading this book? What is different or special about this book that sets it apart from another book on the same topic? Do I want to own this?

A potential author asked me recently how flap copy is created, i.e., do we write it, does the author write it, or does an outside agency / editor write it?

At Savas Beatie, we almost always ask our authors to pen a first cut on the flap copy, and provide them with some basic points to cover within a certain length. Very few come back in usable form. (I always find it odd how hard authors find it to write flap copy.)

Invariably, authors ignore much of what we ask from them and instead tell readers their book is the greatest piece of literature ever written on "XYZ" topic (a PR conclusion that means little or nothing to a potential buyer and usually puts them off), while forgetting to tell them what about the book is special, different, unique, etc. Communicate that to the reader, and he will reach the right conclusion about whether the book is worth reading. Still, in most cases the return work product nearly always contain the rough gems we need to polish the text stones to perfection.

When we finish our first round of edits, we return it to the author for review and comment. We want, nay, DEMAND their feedback, corrections, and further suggestions. As those of you who have worked with us know, we strive to reach complete or (at worst) substantial agreement on every aspect of the final book.

AUTHOR LESSON: Flap copy is the second most important marketing tool for your book, so you better know what the publisher is putting there.

Many publishers do not even ask authors for input. Instead, they pass the dust jacket writing assignment to some editor to craft a couple hundred words and slap them on the flaps. If you are not publishing with Savas Beatie, make sure your publisher offers you the same courtesy we extend to our author/clients.

In fact, demand it.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dust Jackets: Front Cover Design

This will be the first of four posts about dust jackets, based upon a poll I did last week when I posed this question:

"What element of the dust jacket is the most important to you in making a buying decision?"

There were 44 responses. Here is how they broke down:

The front cover design: 10 (25%)

The flap text information: 17 (42%)

The endorsements: 3 (7%)

I never make a purchasing decision based upon a dust jacket: 14 (35%)

Long before I was in publishing I was a lover of dust jackets, but I was not nearly as critical of the design as I am now. This is largely true because I didn't fully appreciate the importance of the various elements and how, taken together, they advertise, communicate, educate, and ultimately sell a book.


From my perspective, this is the most important element. A design has to do most of the things mentioned above (advertise, communicate, and educate) within about five seconds. If it takes longer than that to convince potential buyers to pick it up, they usually won't. If they do, and then like it, read more, flip through the book, etc. and ultimately buy it, then the front cover design was the gateway hook that achieved that end. (This is important primarily in the general book trade. The digital age and sales on line make this a tad less important.)

I like to visualize covers even before a manuscript is complete. With the genre locked down (Civil War, Revolution, Current Events, etc.) I like to get a full understanding of the feel, pacing, substance, and depth of the writing itself. Once I do, then I know which designer gets the book.

Primarily, we use two jacket designers with very different styles and approaches. I would like to introduce these two graphic designers to you.

Ian Hughes of Mousemat Design Limited lives in London, England. Ian does a wide variety of covers for a number of publishers, most of whom live in the UK. You can see Ians's outstanding work here: www.mousematdesign.com. We usually use Ian for our 19th-century book covers. For example, he designed our covers for the Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series, Saratoga, Sickles, Shiloh, etc.

Our second designer is Jim Zach of Zgrafix. Jim is a graduate of Iowa State University and a graphic designer par excellence. I met Jim when I lived in Iowa for a short time in the late 1990s. His remarkable and original dust jacket designs and interior design work have been turning heads for many years. We like to use Jim for our "modern"-style titles, like our basic training series, Once a Marine, Confessions of a Military Wife, and so forth.

I often hear from other publishers about how expensive good jackets are to produce. My response to them is exactly the opposite: It is too expensive NOT to produce a good jacket.

If you carefully study our jackets, you will see (in most cases, depending upon available artwork) a layered, complex design that creates a striking element that (hopefully) grabs potential readers. (Personally, I also do that for the authors, because authors work hard to produce a great manuscript. If I gave them a fast and inexpensive design job to save a few bucks, I am demeaning their work. I will never do that.)

The next time you get a chance, study a jacket design carefully. Is it just type on an image? Can you set it back six feet and read it, knowing what it is about? Does it grab you? Does it make you want to pick it up and flip through it?

Think about it.

Next installment: The flap text information.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ted Savas Radio Interview: All About Publishing

Many people ask me questions about publishing in general, and Savas Beatie in particular. How do you do this? How do you decide that? Why did you publish so and so? Are you moving into Current Events? What do you think about the Google settlement? The list is long and varied and, unfortunately, the time to answer them is always limited.

Last week, Mike Noirot, webmaster extraordinaire of This Mighty Scourge, was kind enough to want to take the time and trouble to interview me about all things publishing. Certainly I appreciated the offer.

A few days ago, Mike posted 13 radio clips on his site, broken down largely by the topic of discussion. If you want to know more about publishing, book acquisition, working with authors, and everything except the skeletons in our closets, have a listen here.

PHOTO: A shot inside the belly of the beast, from left to right: Sarah Keeney (marketing director), Veronica Kane (account manager), and Nick "Gunny Pop" Popaditch, author of Once a Marine, signing books earlier this year in our office in El Dorado Hills.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book Jackets: What Do You Do With Them? (Part 1)

I personally love dust jackets, and if you buy our books, you know Savas Beatie spends a lot of time and money crafting them. We do so for many reasons, and many publishers ignore this step of the publishing process at their peril.

Before we get to those reasons (a different poll, top left, and a different blog post), I asked a completely different question (more for fun than for anything else) in a recent poll.

Question: What do you do with your jackets when you are reading the book?

Here were the responses:

I leave them on when I read and rarely take them off. 18 (58%)

I take them off when I read and put them back on. 11 (35%)

Sometimes I leave them on, sometimes I take them off. 2 (6%)

I take them off when I receive my books, store them separately, and shelve the books without jackets. 0 (0%)

(That last one was a nod toward a friend of mine in Richmond (Paul S.) who strips his books naked and shelves them that way, storing his books separately from the jackets. I don't know, either.)

I did not vote in this poll, but I almost always remove the jacket, keep it in my nightstand, finish the book, re-jacket it, and then shelve it. I can't stand it when I snag the jacket corner or bottom, scuff it, bump it, etc.

Please check out the current poll question (top left) and answer it. That one I will discuss that jacket subject at greater depth.

Be well.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Poll Question Response

QUESTION: What Western Campaign Should We Cover in the Next Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series?

Here is how the responses broke down:

Shiloh 5 (26%)

Chattanooga-Knoxville 3 (15%)

Atlanta Campaign 7 (36%)

Kentucky Campaign 4 (21%)

A half-dozen more called or emailed for other reasons, mentioned the poll, that they hadn't yet voted (and then told me how they would vote). I did not include them. And I did not vote, nor did anyone who works here (as far as I know).

I was surprised the result was spread as evenly as it was, but I was not surprised that the Atlanta Campaign triumphed. There has always been much more interest in that campaign than the scholarship reflects. I also believe that Russell Bonds' new and outstanding book War Like the Thunderbolt will increase that interest. (I don't say this about many books, but that is one I wish we had published.)

We will take all this under advisement.

Just to reiterate, here are the first three volumes in this series:

The Maps of Gettysburg, by Bradley Gottfried (text and cartography)

The Maps of First Bull Run, by Bradley Gottfried (text and cartography)

The Maps of Chickamauga, by David Powell (text) and David Friedrichs (cartography)

Dr. Gottfried is currently at work on The Maps of the Maryland Campaign.