There’s a Bimbo on the Cover Verse 6: There’s a Blurb on the Cover

Verse 6:

There’s a blurb on the backside of the book.

There’s a blurb on the backside of the book.

There’s one story on the cover; inside the book’s another.

There’s a blurb on the backside of the book.

Blurbage (as I like to call it) is the collection of stuff one finds on the covers of one’s novel. If you publish with a mainstream house as the Café staff does, you are not always—dare I say almost never—in control of what goes on the cover. Blurbage (as I an using the term) is composed of several parts:

Front cover copy: those snazzy little blipverts (name that show!) that adorn the front covers beneath the title. An example of this is the front cover copy for Michael Reaves’ “prequel” to our collaborative effort, MR. TWILIGHT which reads: A man. A demon. An angel. Will they save the world—or destroy it?

  1. Back cover copy: those thumbnail sketches of the action in the book aimed at getting you to buy the darned thing.
  2. Blurbs: these are the quotes from reviewers, other writers and readers aimed at impressing the sox off the person holding your Precious in their hands as they loiter in Barnes and Noble or browse Amazon.

Now, I rather liked that blurbage on Hell on Earth (the aforementioned prequel to MR. TWILIGHT), I liked the brevity, which I think adds “punch” to the message. I liked it so much that I adapted the idea to my blurbage for A PRINCESS OF PASSYUNK. To wit: Philadelphia, 1950’s: a boy, a baseball, a cockroach. Unlikely place. Unlikely characters. Unlikely love story.

Blurbage can be a writer’s best friend, spurring would be readers to pick up the book and dive in. Or it could go horribly wrong.

The back cover copy for MR. TWILIGHT reads:

In a bookshop specializing in rare volumes, an avid fan of horror fiction seizes a tome too valuable and too incredible to fathom. In the end, the man was too curious to live. . . .

A few miles away, in a Manhattan brownstone, another man learns about the explosion that left a gaping hole in the fabric of reality. Colin–he has no other name–has been an unrelenting warrior against the dark, the demonic, and the damned. A man who has angels at his side and hell staring him in the face, he has devoted his life to solving magical crimes and tracking down–and neutralizing–the perpetrators of those crimes, human and nonhuman alike. Now Colin is about to team up with a beautiful Native American a long way from home and a tough NYPD detective who seems to be immune to magic. Together, in a funhouse of evidence and apparitions, they are chasing a killer and untangling a tale that leads from the infamous Vlad the Impaler to a dead twentieth-century occult author and his gorgeous daughter–who is as seductive as the devil himself.

Mr. Twilight combines the mystical and the mysterious, the supernatural and the primitive, in a rich, steamy brew of otherworldly adventure.

I like it, BUT this was not the original copy. The original copy gave away two important plot points that the reader was supposed to have to read the novel to find out. I didn’t realize this until I got the cover flats. I can’t even begin to describe the chill that ran down my spine when I realized that the cover gave away an entire plot thread.

You bet I contacted the editor. I could almost hear her rolling her eyes when I explained what had happened.

This was not an isolated event. On a media tie-in that I co-wrote with Michael (BATMAN: FEAR ITSELF), both the back cover copy AND the cover art gave away the identity of the villain—which was something we wanted the reader to discover in their own time.

Now, I’m convinced that part of the problem here was that both of these novels were a sort of cross up of noir detective fiction and fantasy and/or SF and the marketing departments didn’t get that memo. Hence, they wrote straightforward “this is your plot” copy.

So what explanation exists for the back cover copy that prompted this verse of Bimbo? To wit:

One hundred years after she was called to the sea to become one with her god, Taminy is called to assume her next task–to become the very voice of her god on Earth.

Okay, without getting into spoilers for the first book in that series (THE MERI), which wasn’t marketed as a series (but that’s a different blog): Yes, one hundred years have passed since the title character, er, disappeared. And she was called to the Sea, in a sense. And . . . this is not at all what I would have put on the back of this book. I would have traded on the fact that this was the second book in a series and that it might answer questions raised by the twist ending of the first book. In fact, in prepping the copy for the rerelease of the series, I didn’t even attempt to synopsize what TAMINY is about. Instead, I used blurbs—given by reviewers of the first printing—to emphasize its connection to THE MERI, which was a Locus Magazine Best First Novel nominee.

My favorite? This one:

“If THE MERI is about the liberating and empowering aspects of Divine love, TAMINY is about its sometimes fearsome human consequences.  They make a good pair, richer together than either would be alone. …I will be keeping an eye out for the third.”
— Science Fiction Review

Above, is the original cover for TAMINY. Here’s the cover of the Book View Cafe trade paperback reprint and the back cover copy I wrote with the help of my colleagues here at BVC.

Taminy by Maya Kaathryn BohnhoffThey said Taminy-a-Cuinn was a sorceress who drowned in the Meri’s Sea, punished for seeking a station denied to women by tradition. One hundred years have passed. Taminy has returned to the land of the living with a purpose only she knows. Some see her reappearance as a miracle. Others see it as a diabolical plot to overthrow both the religion and government of Caraid-land. Colfre Malcuin, King, sees it as a means of making his own power absolute. For good or ill, Taminy is the pivot upon which the future of a people turns. She is also an eighteen year old girl, learning anew what it means to be human. Will she fulfill her purpose, or will she become a pawn in a high-stakes game of chess?

We’ve done a bit of theorizing here at the Café about what makes effective cover copy (and covers). We do this because when it comes to our eBooks, we—the writers—DO have control over what goes on the cover. The goal or the trick or the madcap idea is that a good blurb— combined, perhaps, with an interesting cover—will make you, Dear Reader, want to read our books. The problem is, of course, is that we only know what makes US want to read books.

So, what does make you want to read a book? What makes you keep an eye out for a new title from an author? I’ll just sit here with my little note pad and you talk amongst yourselves—don’t mind me . . .

Next: My name is on the cover of my book.



There’s a Bimbo on the Cover Verse 6: There’s a Blurb on the Cover — 8 Comments

  1. I don’t want a dozen blurbs and no idea of what I’m getting myself in to; nor do I want the sort of fullsome copy that tells me so much I lose all desire to read the book. Tell me who the character(s) are and what the initial problem is. Maybe sketch out where it is (especially if that has some bearing on the problem).

    But that, as they say, is just me.

  2. I agree with Mad. If the back cover copy is as long as a chapter my eyes cross with boredom. Get to the meat of the problem, show me an interesting character, and something quirky, different, compelling about the set up, situation, landscape. 1 reasonable paragraph, not the history of the universe.

  3. I, too, am pulled in by the quirk. I LOVE the quirk. And I think the shorter, the better.

    The problem with longer “splanatory” blurbs is that the marketing functionary who writes it may not hit the notes that will intrigue a reader. Whoever wrote the BC copy for TAMINY, for example, didn’t really get at what the book was “about”. But the reviewer who actually read it, did.

    Another effective blurb for me, is the SETUP. The copy tells me who the protagonist is, what they face and to what purpose. That will usually grab me.

  4. On the other hand, the -right- blurb can make the book. It is said that George Bernard Shaw’s praise for THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD made it a hit; Benjamin Disraeli wrote an entire short essay lauding PRECIOUS BANE which not only ensured its publication but kept it alive. One of the -major- career errors of my life was when Harlan Ellison phoned me, late one night. (Of course he was calling from California.) He said, “I just finished HOW LIKE A GOD. You write like an angel.” Like an idiot I did not instantly reply, “Harlan, can I use that quote for the rest of my life?” Think of the business cards, the postcards, the tee shirt!

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  6. Yeah, blurbage is tricky. One of my least favorites is for the first of Lackey’s “Free Bard” series–it’s accurate enough, I’ll grant you, but the action it describes all takes place in the first 15-20% of the book!

    One thing that occasionally bemuses me is cover blurbage for “nth” printings that refer to subsequent books in the series. Some of these don’t actually let you know that the other book mentioned is a sequel, so you can pick up a pair of books–each of which refers to the other on the cover–and then try to figure out which one to read first.

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  8. Hmm…nobody picked up your challenge. Blipverts were the mind-blowing (literally) ads from Max Headroom, right?