Backcover Copy

Positioning, Priming, and the Importance of Backcover Copy

A recent Goodreads discussion asked “How do you like your scifi / fantasy?”

I responded “Well written.” A friend responded “Artesian or wishing?” I responded “Ah, to have a thirst for the magical.” Someone else responded, “Either way…DEEP.”

I followed that up with another response. It’s gone. Not sure why it got removed. I launched off the concept of “DEEP” because I’m told my writing is “deep” and “definitely not fluff.” Some readers wonder if I’m capable of writing “fluff.” “Even your short stories are deep.”

Gable Smiled – the first 10 pages, anyway – are being read by a professional actor at Concord’s Hatbox Theater at the end of this month (read the version being read here). Part of that process involves having the material evaluated by the producer.

The producer and I talked on the phone, and I received a DOC file with comments; this character wasn’t described, the environment wasn’t described, the background wasn’t described, … These comments confused me. The main characters are described. So is the environment, the background situation, the this, the that. I’ve had many first readers tell me the story’s great, when can they get more, so on and so forth. I’ve also had people tell me they don’t get it, the story makes no sense to them.

And then the producer said “There’s a lack of a reader entry points into the story.”

When in Doubt, Examine the Audience
I had no middle-of-the-road responses. Strange, that.

What caused such a clean bifurcation? My readers were quite varied: SF/F readers, lit readers, romance readers, working moms, attorneys, accountants, highschool through grad students, friends at the gym, people I know online, artists, other writers, …

Even people who don’t read SF/F liked it.

Were there any non-SF/F readers who didn’t like it? Yes. Any similarities among the readers who didn’t like it?

Shebaam sheboomie! Two items pointed to a universal. Negative responses came from readers who either didn’t know I write SF/F or didn’t get my intro note about the story. IE, they were unprepared for the story’s content.

Does the universal have a contrapositive? Yes! Everybody who liked it either knows I write SF/F or received an intro note about the story.

Backcover Copy
The bifurcation was simple once recognized (aren’t they always?); people primed for the story enjoyed it. People not primed didn’t get it, didn’t understand it, couldn’t get into it (that’s the “lack of a reader entry point into the story” one).

The unprimed people needed some backcover copy to prime them, to set them on the correct path. Backcover copy is essentially marketing. Paraphrasing Robert McKee in Story:

If a [story] has been properly promoted, the audience arrives filled with expectancy. In the jargon of marketing pros, it’s been “positioned.” “Positioning the audience” means this: We don’t want people coming to our work cold and vague, not knowing what to expect, forcing us to spend the first twenty [pages of the book] cluing them toward the necessary story attitude. We want them to settle into their seats, warm and focused with an appetite we intend to satisfy.

Skillful marketing creates genre expectation. From the title to the [bookcover] through print and TV ads, promotion seeks to fix the type of story in the mind of the audience. Having told our [readers] to expect A, we must deliver as promised.

If you’ve not read Gable Smiled, please do so and READ THIS FIRST:

Four-hundred years in the future, the planet Sipio is investigated for colonization. Ranger patrols – individual humans paired and partnered with an animal-machine hybrid – traverse the planet to ensure nothing exists to threaten that effort.
Sipio’s indigenes, the plant-animal Tlinglits, show Rangers evidence of the Behemenites, aliens whose colonization efforts failed thousands of years prior with no obvious reason for their failure.
The physical and mental demands of Rangering are extreme. But the real challenge is the pairing between human and hybrid, usually either a modified horse – or ModEquid – or modified dog – a ModCanid. The hybrids are emotional telepaths. They do not speak. Their language consists of emotion wrapped meanings — they smile, they frown, they sorrow, they joy. Hybrids select their human partners based on the human’s ability to understand the hybrid’s communications.
Gable Smiled is the story of Gable, a combat ModEquid – a WarHorse – and his human, Valen, as they enter Sipio’s dark territories to save Gable’s mare and foal, and for Valen to learn the true meaning of love and sacrifice.

How does your world change if animals love more deeply than any human? And would you sacrifice your past to save your best friend’s future?

Makes quite a bit of difference in how you enter the story, don’t you think?

What I’ve written above is essentially backcover copy. It positions and primes the reader. Don’t like the above? Don’t waste your time on the book. Do like the above? Read on.

Backcover Copy Suggestions

  • Use a strong hook and a compelling synopsis to draw readers in. (let me know what you think of the above. I know it gets my attention and it should – I wrote it)
  • Use simpler, declarative sentences and keep backstory and side plots to a minimum. (I’m open to suggestions re simpler sentences. I removed all side plots. The only info given are the major plot threads)
  • Get someone to edit your blurb and double check how it looks online. (did that. Two folks went over it with me until we were all satisfied. I, of course, made a few more changes nobody’s seen. So it goes)
  • Make your book sound interesting with appropriate and enticing adjectives. (You tell me: investigated, ranger, paired, partnered, fail, hybrid, dark territories, save, learn, love, sacrifice)
  • Use a Call to Action at the end of your description. (How does your world change? Would you sacrifice? A stronger call-to-action would be “Read Gable Smiled” and if the two current closing questions don’t create curiosity then potential readers won’t like the book no matter what is written, me thinks)

Hope this is useful.

Hope to see you at the Hatbox, too.

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