Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book voice

Flap copy.

Anybody ever tried to write it?

It's HARD!

Thank the good lord I've never had to write it from scratch and have only been asked for my input - because I'm afraid I wouldn't even know where to begin.

It's like that stupid, um, I mean, that supposedly worthwhile exercise where you explain what your book is about in one sentence...

Flap copy (the book description on the inside of the jacket):
  • Must be short
  • Must summarize the story without giving anything away
  • Must be short
  • Must intrigue the potential reader
  • Must be short
  • And, here's one of the most important ones: Must (well, okay - SHOULD) reflect the voice of the book.
  • And did I mention - must be short?

Remember a while back when I was discussing book voice?

Book voice (I think I made that term up. Like it?) is hard to define - in the way that writing voice is hard to define.

But for me, book voice means the overall feel of the book.

Its aura, so to speak.

I think it's important for the flap copy to reflect the book voice.

If the flap copy is upbeat and jaunty, the potential reader expects that the book is upbeat and jaunty.

If the flap copy is hip and edgy, the potential reader expects that the book is hip and edgy.

If the flap copy is quirky and humorous, the potential reader expects that the book is quirky and humorous.

The potential reader doesn't want to be misled by flap copy that doesn't adequately reflect the voice of the book.

Which leads me to why I was particularly thrilled to receive a draft of the flap copy for my next middle grade novel, The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, written by a writer whose work I adore, associate editor at FSG and one of the Longstockings, Lisa Graff.

This flap copy captures the book voice perfectly:

Nothing ever happens in Fayette, South Carolina. That’s what Popeye thinks, anyway. His whole life, everything has just been boring, boring, boring. But things start to look up when the Jewells’ Holiday Rambler makes a wrong turn and gets stuck in the mud, trapping Elvis and his five rowdy siblings in Fayette for who knows how long.

Popeye has never met anyone like Elvis Jewell. He’s so good at swearing he makes Uncle Dooley look like a harp-strumming angel, and he says “So what?” like he really means it. Then an adventure comes floating down the creek—a small adventure, just the right size for a kid like Popeye—and it all seems too good to be true.

Still, Popeye can’t help but wonder: After Elvis leaves town, will Popeye ever be able to find any adventures again, or will he just go back to being a skinny-headed ding dong?

And I can't even tell you how happy I was to see that Lisa used the phrase "skinny-headed ding dong" - one of my personal favorites, if I do say so myself. (Lisa and I are both clearly stuck in our ten-year-old selves.)


Mary Lee said...

I can't help but think some of the same rules apply for a book trailer. Yours for Greetings from Nowhere captured the feel of the book so perfectly, while others are just a glorified powerpoint. Did you just have input, or did you create it? Either way -- spot on.

Barbara O'Connor said...

I created that book trailer myself - by the seat of my pants! I had no idea how to do it, so I'm so glad to hear that it worked for you. Once I got into it, it was really fun to do - to look for the perfect photos, but more importantly, to find the perfect music. I think the music really sets the tone/voice of the piece.

Thanks, Mary Lee.

Lisa Graff said...

Yay, Barbara, I'm so glad you love the flaps! And "skinny-headed ding dong" was such a fabulous phrase I couldn't NOT steal it for the flap copy. :)

Colorado Writer said...

I hate writing synopses.

Jacketflap must be even harder.

Sounds like a great story!

Augusta Scattergood said...

I'd rather write flap copy than anything else! Especially if I had a fun story with an excellent voice (AKA Barbara's books) to work with. Can't wait to read Popeye!