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.



Anonymous said...

Savas Beatie

Good lesson, and an interesting series. I look forward to more.

Great blog!

Mehlia Atcheson

J David Petruzzi said...

You know, it's very true that authors find it hard to write the flap copy. I've found it to be that way on all three of my books. In fact, it's difficult to write a summation of the book beyond the basics - I can talk about them easily enough - but writing what would be acceptable flap copy just seems tough. Maybe it's because the author is so close to the work. I did the basics for all three - Plenty of Blame, One Continuous Fight, and The Complete Gettysburg Guide - but you were able to take snippets from them and polish them.
Maybe it takes a bit more objectivity to write flap text that interests a potential buyer.
Interesting subject.

Chris Evans said...

Very Informative post. I've seen many Flaps that the writing is copied directly from the Introduction. I really am enjoying this dissection of books as I love collecting and reading them alls sorts of books.

J David Petruzzi said...

Chris - that does happen a lot... the flap copy comes from some part of the book, and in most cases it doesn't help much, and certainly may not induce a potential buyer.

I've been thinking more about why it's tough for authors to write their own flap copy. I think it's sort of like writing a review of your own book. I'm too close, and I just can't do it. I can give an outline, or things that should be included in the flap text perhaps, but I find it nearly impossible to write it cohesively.


Unknown said...

What do you need to become a book jacket writer?

TPS said...

Becca, it takes familiarity with the subject matter, and a good sense of how to communicate what is important to a potential buyer in a small amount of space. And lots of practice.