The Top 3 Entries from Our About the Book Contest

Posted by March 26th, 2014

winner-about-the-book-contestThanks to all who entered the About the Book contest on Book Country! We’ve deliberated and are ready to announce the winner. But first, we have our judge, Berkley copywriter Carly Hoogendyk, workshop the top three book descriptions. Her dissections are a great way to polish your copywriting skills! Carly wrote a fantastic back-cover copy writing guide a while back — be sure to check it out if you missed it before!

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Runner-up #1

fishing-for-hopeFISHING FOR HOPE by William Byers

This novel is a love story set in the south that derives from the perspective of three brothers. A tragic car accident occurred on Christmas Eve and claimed the lives of their wives. Each brother, living their separate life, must find a way to cope individually as well as find the strength to continue raising their daughters. This is a story that touches on brotherly love and will fully define the true meaning of what a father-daughter relationship can be under extraordinary circumstances.

First of all, based on the content of this copy, this sounds like a touching story and a worthwhile read. Unfortunately, the style of the copy suggests that it might not be told in the most compelling way. My biggest pointer is to give specific examples and details instead of just presenting the content. When it comes to book copy, the storytelling begins NOW.

That said, always include specific details like your character’s names. The story essentials will vary from case to case, but you will want to consider including character particulars like a hometown, job, foibles, and personality traits.

One unspoken rule of professional book copy is to not overtly refer to “this novel” or use the phrase “this is a story about.” In the same way that creative writing suffers imaginative losses when an author “tells” rather than “shows,” your copy ought to illustrate the characters/events/setting of your story, rather than coldly present the facts about the book you wrote.

Thus

This novel is a love story set in the south that derives from the perspective of three brothers.

becomes

On Christmas Eve in a small southern town, three brothers lost their wives in the same tragic car crash.

Instead of using the phrase “told from the perspective of…”, a fun trick to use in copy when a novel is told from the POV of multiple characters is to devote separate copy to each of those characters’ stories, suggesting that the story will focus on specifically one person’s desires, challenges, etc. If all three brothers have their own storyline, it’s important to give detailed insight into what makes their stories (and potenitally their voices) different.

(For a great example of how to suggest alternating POV’s in copy, take a look at copy for nearly any romance novel.)

Runner-up #2

OmniOMNI by Andrea Murray

Pierce only wants a shot, a real shot, and not just the excuses he’s been handed his whole life. Harmony wants to escape her future, the future she fears will be chosen for her. After their chance meeting, they might get exactly what they want.

 Omni party has created a perfect existence. From consorts to job assignments, every choice, every facet of life is under their control. Each citizen has a specific role in one of the four strata. Seventeen-year-old Pierce is a Drudge, the lowest social stratum in society. For over two years, he’s hoped—prayed—that his upcoming aptitude test will finally free him from his virtual slavery and give him a chance at a better existence. 

When he rescues Harmony, an Artist and member of the most successful stratum, at a publicity event, his life takes an unbelievable twist. With his gallant act and good looks, he becomes a media sensation. Every stratum in society seeks his membership for their publicity, but as he becomes closer to Harmony, Pierce realizes what fame in the all-seeing eye of Omni is truly like. His choices will not only affect him but Harmony as well.

In this retelling of the classic story of Paris and Helen, love must struggle against an ultramodern, ultra-controlling society. They will risk everything, even challenging the all-seeing eye of the Omni government. But will the prize be worth the cost?

I wanted to share this copy because on the whole it is well written. It flows well, quickly introduces the “intimate” human problems, pans out to divulge the more “big picture” societal setting, and by the end we know what sort of story to expect without knowing all the exhaustive details of how the plot will unfold. And just to put a cherry on top, we’re posed with an intriguing question that we can’t necessarily answer unless we read the thing.  (What IS the prize? What IS the cost? And WILL IT BE WORTH IT?!?!)

Not to mention, this author did something I’d recommend if you’re stuck with where to start copy: State in the most direct language possible what your main characters want. It’s not the best strategy for your finished copy in every single case, but it’s a great way to kick-start writing your copy with the sort of direct exposition that gets readers interested in your characters.

My advice for this author is to tighten it up. Frankly, even a well-written book description shouldn’t exceed 200 words. (And 200 is not an entirely arbitrary number—physical book covers have space limits, and frankly, book browsers have limited attention spans.) If cutting seems impossible—take heart. I agonize over shortening copy when I feel like all the details I’ve included are necessary. But there are plot points and descriptive details perhaps better saved for when your crisp and concise copy gets the reader to crack open the cover…

And the winning copy is…

the-adders-keeperTHE ADDER’S KEEPER by Eve-Anne Griffin!

The Adder’s Keeper is a historical novel in the years following the Norman Conquest, when blood feuds reign over reason, shadows carry swords, and a man can die at the hands of a myth.

Of all King William’s trusted barons, Tristran de Lidrenne is the one he approaches when he hears rumors that the half-Norman, half-Saxon Earl of Lynnchester is insane. Honor and justice are innate to Tristran, which is why he finds himself taking on a second task as he travels to Lynnshire: hunting a mysterious man named the Adder who attacked a London tailor.

Tristran expects no help from the conquered Saxons, but when aid comes from the daughter of the Earl of Lynnchester, he feels little relief. Lady Adele claims to be seeking the same answers, yet she lures him into her own quests: hunting honey-stealing, former priests and men who want her dead; a list Tristran expects to grow.

In a manner he never anticipates, Adele fulfills her promise and actually unmasks the Adder for Tristran. But the shadowy legend no longer matters when the two discover a plot developing in the heart of Lynnshire. Their new-found trust in each other is tested as they race to stop a bloody rebellion that threatens disaster for Saxons and Normans, alike.

To be completely frank, historical fiction is not what I’d call “my genre.” But hey, I guess that just highlights what successful copy can do to persuade even the unlikeliest of readers! Because once I read the opening headline, I was hooked. This first line introduces us to the book at an expert pace, exemplifying a sophisticated genre tone, and compelling me to read on. (Not to mention the phrase “shadows carry swords” is just patently cool.)

This copy is not perfect, but it wins nevertheless. It attempts some difficult copy feats, and while a lot of it works, some of it could still be re-worked.  A) It transports readers to an unfamiliar time and place by using a stylistic, genre-tailored voice, B) it presents the most simplified version of a complicated plot, and C) it attempts to communicate the story’s continually rising stakes as the copy progresses.

One substantial rewording I would suggest is this:

In a manner he never anticipates, Adele fulfills her promise and actually unmasks the Adder for Tristran. But the shadowy legend no longer matters when the two discover a plot developing in the heart of Lynnshire.

might be stronger if you changed it to

But even once the Adder is successfully unmasked, Tristran and Adele discover the shadowy legend poses far less of a threat than a nefarious uprising developing in the heart of Lynnshire.

The copy needn’t focus on the manner in which the Adder is unmasked (we’ll get the surprise when we get to it), but rather put emphasis on the shifting importance and rising stakes in the story. (Also, it’s shorter… so that’s good!)

All in all, I congratulate this author on her ambitious copy, killer headline, and compelling story summary!

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About Carly Hoogendyk:

Carly Hoogendyk is a copywriter at Penguin for Berkley and New American Library. She earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Creative Writing from Columbia University (’07). She produces and acts in video sketch comedy for www.localempire.tv. Follow her on Twitter @carlyhoogs

Do you need feedback on your book synopsis? Workshop it here!

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2 thoughts on “The Top 3 Entries from Our About the Book Contest

  1. Andrea Murray

    Carly and Nevena, thank you so much for this honor. It means a great deal to me to have my blurb critiqued by someone at Penguin, and to receive runner-up, WOW! Also, thank you, Carly, for the advice. It is much appreciated. (Please forgive me if you receive multiple comments. I’ve have problems getting my comment to post.) THANKS again!

    Reply
  2. Eve-Anne Griffin

    Thank you so much! I appreciate the compliments and especially the suggestions. What a great way to help us take a critical look at our work and make a compelling synopsis.

    Reply

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