The few paragraphs on the back of paperback books is the same copy that appears on a book’s online seller page, and it’s also the copy that appears on the inside flap of a hardcover book. It’s called flap copy, and it’s an indispensable tool for selling books. But it’s also important when you’re writing your book.
It may be inviting to put this difficult step off until the end of your writing and editing process. After all, it’s inevitable that your book will change—a lot—between conceptualization and finished product. And, I mean, owch. Flap copy is hard. It needs to be snappy but not smirking, brief but thorough, and chock full of hooks. In short, it must entice the prospective reader into hitting the “buy” button or running to the checkout. Ugh. Who wants to go through this brain-melting process when you could just do it later, instead?
But I’ll share something my experience as a publisher, an editor, and especially a writer has taught me. Your flap copy is indispensable from day one of book creation. Here are five reasons why.
Writing flap copy teaches you about your project.
In traditional publishing, writers very rarely have any say over the flap copy that ends up on their books. Instead, the task gets assigned to a marketing professional who may not really know much about the project. Instead of letting somebody else tell you what your project is, who it’s for, and what’s great about it, writing your own version of “flap” copy for your creative project lets you brainstorm your way to answering these questions for yourself. That sets a precedent for taking control of your work! It’s a lot easier to write a book, a blog, a story—anything—when you know exactly what it needs to be.
You need to know where you’re going.
Your “flap” copy is your short, sweet, incredibly important guide to keeping yourself on track! There’s no bigger thrill as a writer than exploring new ideas concepts, growing and changing with your project, and seeing where your inspiration takes you. But that means that it’s all too easy to be lured off your path by distraction’s siren call. Anytime you feel yourself wandering off the path, refer to your flap copy for a quick reminder of what it is that you’re doing, why, and for whom. (Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t let yourself be inspired! If you have other ideas you want to explore, make a note of them elsewhere! Then return to them another time or as part of a different project. Just don’t let them distract you!)
It’s your easy answer to “What’s your project about?”
Every writer knows the frustration of trying to answer this question, like, all the time. The thing is, most people who ask it don’t have a lot of time or attention to hear your answer. They don’t want a rambling explanation of your thought process. They want a quick answer that they can walk away with—and maybe remember for later, when they’re looking for something to read. That’s where flap copy comes in. Once you’ve got a few short paragraphs written, an idea of who you’re writing for, and a strong feel for what sets your project apart, answering the dreaded “What’s it about?” question will be easy for you, and will leave a better impression on them.
You never know when you might run into someone who could help.
Every person who asks about your book is a potential ally on your journey to writerly success. The better you get at briefly and creatively describing your opus, the more likely you’ll be prepared when you cross paths with someone who could help you—an agent, a publisher, a movie producer. Moreover, if you’re hoping to be published traditionally down the line, your flap copy will be your go-to resource for query letters, book proposal introductions, and more. If you’re self-publishing, your flap copy is your source material for website copy, blog post concepts, and social media posts. It’s a treasure trove!
It’s just important. Period.
According to a study by Publishing Trends, flap copy is the second-most-important factor in consumers’ book-buying decision making. And, whether you’re writing and selling books or starting your blog, your ability summarize your work is vital to your success with readers. It’s much more effective to start now and tweak it as you go than to start out unfocused and spend a lot of time doing work that won’t end up helping you reach your goals or your readers.
So, now that you know why you should write your flap copy… How do you do it? I’m glad you asked. There’s no one right way to do it—some of the best-selling books out there buck copy-writing trends entirely, while others follow all the “rules” and don’t take off. But there are three simple steps to get you started.
Thinking about your book, consider what single part of it you want your readers find most interesting. What’s the ONE THING they should walk away remembering? Is it the world you’ve invented? A plot twist that will change everything? The brilliant characters you’ve created? A single moment of total, unfettered literary beauty that will live forever in the annals of great writing?
Now, think about how to describe that ONE THING clearly in one or two sentences that your audience will find enticing. This is your HOOK, and it’s the reason why your prospective readers (or agents or publishers) will keep reading.
Hint: Try to match the overall tone that your book will be written in—if your book is funny, make this statement hilarious. If you’re aiming for haunting prose, get spooky. Whatever you do, make it short, snappy, and unforgettable.
Keep them reading.
Quick question: What is the driving force that will keep your story moving forward? Is it the world? The plot? The characters? Something else? Your answer is important. Once the reader gets past the hook, what will keep them engaged and excited about your book for two to three short paragraphs? Whatever it is, focus on that element as you write about 300 words on what will happen in your book. Yep, I know it’s short. But remember, this needs to fit on the back cover or inside flap of your book when it’s printed. And it needs to be a quick read to snag your prospective reader.
Hint: Entice your reader by telling them a little bit about what to expect…but don’t edge into spoiler territory! You’ve already hooked your reader, but if you real them in too quickly, they might lose interest and get away!
Leave them with a kick in the pants.
Whatever the effect you set out to achieve with your hook, make sure that it hits home with your closer. Craft a sentence that’s seductive, exciting, and mysterious all at once. Leave them wanting more!
Hint: Go to Amazon or GoodReads (or your local bookstore) and check out the closing sentences of some of your favorite books’ flap copy. How do they leave readers panting for more? Try crafting your own closing line in a similar way and see what works!
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