The Back Cover Synopsis: Writing Your “About the Book” with Copywriter Carly Hoogendyk

Posted by December 6th, 2013

Writing Your "About the Book:" on Book CountryWe are so pleased to have copywriter Carly Hoogendyk as our guest blogger this morning. Carly, a colleague of the Book Country team here at Penguin, is an expert in writing back cover copy for dozens of books in many genres. We all know how important that cover copy can be in selling a book, whether it is a physical book jacket you are reading or the “About the Book” entry on a eBook retail site. I asked Carly to apply some of her knowledge of book cover copy to what Book Country members are doing when they upload their books for peer review or to publish. Read her tips for writing your “About the Book” to attract and engage readers on Book Country.

Putting together a fantastic “About the Book” is a great next step for writers, whether you are just coming off a month of NaNoWriMo or preparing to self-publish.

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Carly HoogendykI’m a Junior Copywriter at Berkley and New American Library. I read manuscripts for soon-to-be published novels across the full spectrum of genres—New Adult, Westerns, Cozy Mysteries, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary Romance, Erotica, and Thrillers. Once I have a sense of the story, characters, and “what sets this book apart from the rest,” I write the snappy, three-paragraph persuasive book report that we all know and love: The Back Cover Synopsis.*

*Grammatically speaking, you’ll observe throughout this post my copywriter’s love affair with my favorite persuasive punctuation: ellipses, colons, the Oxford Comma, and—perhaps my favorite—the EM DASH.

I got into copywriting via fundraising. I became extremely adept at the 15-second elevator pitch by cold calling strangers to ask them for money to support the arts. (If you think writing book synopsis is difficult, trying hectoring strangers for their hard-earned dough during dinnertime.)

It was brilliant practice for what I do now: If I couldn’t engage their attention quickly and articulate my hook in an extremely short window of time, they’d hang up on me (and it happened… a lot). In the instances where I successfully got strangers to listen for long enough to actually fork over a buck or two (or a thousand), it was lively language, a confident tone, and fact-based persuasion that gave my argument the edge that won them over.

That being said, here are my basic tips for how to avoid a “hang up” when you’re writing descriptive copy for your book:

Know Your Hook(s)
In cover copy, the hook is anything that will make your story especially enticing to a potential reader. It can be the name recognition or awards won by the author, a clever turn of phrase which suggests the writing will be entertaining, or a cryptic suggestion that there’s something completely unexpected in store…*
*There’s something about the dot-dot-dot that reads like beckoning someone with a curled index finger…  Which, while creepy in real life, is fair game for effective book copy.
There’s something about your novel that makes it original and specific and intriguing to readers. That’s your hook. Working your hook into a tagline that opens your copy is a tried and true way to get a reader to continue on to the rest of your synopsis and, ideally, the first page of your book.

Know Your Audience
When deciding what makes a good hook for your novel, you’ll learn there are different hooks for different audiences. And just as different genres necessitate different voices in the telling of a story, the copy should be written to sound indicative of the genre into which it falls. (If you want my personal favorite example of how voice changes the entire description of a story, check this out.)
Take the time to learn who would read your book, and what books in your genre have done to capture the audience’s attention. I’ve spent hours on Amazon reading the copy for other books—learning common strategies, getting a feel for genre voices, and developing an intuition for what readers in that genre expect and want and respond to.

Avoid Telling Too Much
Unlike a synopsis you would send to an agent or editor, your book description copy shouldn’t give away too much. Your book description should be tantalizing (“give them the sizzle, not the steak” is the way I heard it said once).
So, to avoid overloading a casual synopsis browser, a lot of nitty-gritty exposition is best glossed over in the back cover synopsis. And you definitely don’t want to give away spoilers that would take away from the pleasure of reading your story.

Read It Out Loud
This tip is extremely optional, but it’s a strategy that I find personally indispensable. Maybe it’s because I got my start in persuasive storytelling over the phone, but I find that there’s a distinct cadence to effective book copy. When you read it aloud, it should feel fluid, and compelling, and you should be able to hear the stakes rising with each new sentence.

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