Being Careful with Back Cover Copy – Especially Sequels!

003I have this sentimental love for Easter lilies. Especially at this time of year. Though I don’t really do anything else Easter, I always buy an Easter lily.

Back cover copy for books is a funny realm. Referred to casually as the “BCC” in the publishing biz, those are the (usually) two paragraphs on the back of paper books, or accompanying the description with the eBook. If you’re much of a reader, you’ve probably read hundreds of these in your life. You spot the book on the shelf and pick it up. Maybe you like the author or the title intrigues you or the cover catches your eye. What’s the next thing you do? That’s right – flip it over and read the BCC. Then you might read the inside jacket copy, which is longer. Then maybe the first page. Same essential process with an eBook.

So the BCC is considered crucial in the buying decision – a position that’s hard to argue with. And, like with covers, authors only get so much input into what the BCC says. The marketing people keep a firm grip on this and it can be fascinating to see how they phrase concepts to entice readers. For example, this is my final BCC for Platinum.

Althea Grant is doing fine. Sure, her Charleston gallery is suffering from the bad economy, and her artistic aspirations have gone nowhere. But she’s happy enough. When rugged metal sculptor Steel rides up on his motorcycle looking to rent studio space, his infusion of cash is more than welcome. But his art is raw, visceral, sexual-and completely inappropriate for her pastel world of watercolor landscapes.

Steel, fascinated by Althea’s rare albino coloring, sees in her the key to his next piece: a metal satyr that can be used for bondage games. Moving into her gallery basement is the first step; seducing the coolly polite lady into modeling for him is the second.

As Steel peels away her careful manners and tasteful outfits, Althea begins to realize her life isn’t just fine at all-it’s as pale and washed-out as the watercolor paintings she’s failing to sell. Can she transform her life and accept her most secret desires?

What happens is, a person who works for Carina writes the BCC and sends it to me and my editor for input. We come up with all sorts of changes, most of which they refuse. For example, we suggested “cool Southern Belle” instead of “coolly polite lady.” Nope. I wanted to call Steel a bad boy. No dice. But the thing we really fought for was to change the final line. The one you see now is one of three possibilities we suggested.

Because what they had originally was a TOTAL SPOILER.

Really.

I won’t tell you what it was because, um, it was a total spoiler. But it essentially went “Can she do the thing she does at the end to solve her problems?”

No no no.

Surprisingly, this happens A LOT with BCC. It’s funny because writers really have to learn to say how their stories end, in dealing with the publication process. When you write a synopsis, you *have* to say how it ends. Because it’s crucial to the decision-making process for agents and editors. It’s hard to get over, this “giving-away” of the ending. Like learning to get over standing there naked while a tailor measures you for clothes. But this is how publishing works – and the people in publishing get so inured to this, that they forget not to give the ending away.

So, as the author (or editor), it’s something to really stay on top of.

I saw a new permutation of this the other day. A book had been on my Kindle for quite a while. Along with Carien at Pearls Cast Before a McPig, I’ve bee engaged in the TBR Orphan Project – where each month we read a book that’s been in our To Be Read pile for longer than three months. I saw that the book’s sequel was coming out soon, so I thought, ooh! good timing to read the first book.

I started it, got about 20% in and was liking it fine, not love love love, but just fine. Then I happened to see the BCC for the second book.

And it totally ruined it for me.

No lie.

The BCC for book 2 totally gave away the ending of book 1. Blatantly. Along the lines of “now that these terrible things happened to the heroine and now that the hero hates her and is struggle to recover from these terrible things…” I stopped reading book 1 immediately. Deleted it from my Kindle. I couldn’t keep reading, knowing how it turned out.

Now, you could argue that if I’d known it would have a happy ending, I might have kept going. Maybe? It depends on how how it was described. But this BCC was so explicit that it removed too much mystery from the story.

I don’t know if the author realized, or if she and her editor fought to change it and couldn’t. But wow.

Definitely something to keep in mind.

11 Replies to “Being Careful with Back Cover Copy – Especially Sequels!”

  1. This reminds me of spoilers in reviews. I try so hard to not spoil it for readers and it is never my intent but I think it happens sometimes. I get so caught up in talking about how much I love a book that I realize I share too much. I do that in real life too – share too much. Anyway, I have been trying really hard to NOT spoil a book in my reviews. I thought about that when I interviewed Steel for Platinum. I changed one of the questions to be more vague before publishing the post, too.

    1. Oh yes, Amy – reviews can be terrible for spoilers! But, people also know that, by reading a review, they might learn more about the book than they want to. It’s an acquired skill, learning just how much to reveal. Once you’ve read a story (or written it) you forget which things were a surprise. That’s why I wonder, with this sequel I’m talking about, if anyone involved really paid attention to how much of the first book they gave away. I went and looked at it again and the blurb is nearly a summary of the first book. Alas.

  2. Oh, dear. I have a feeling you may be talking about my series. I winced when I read the back cover copy, but so much of book two’s plot revolves around the consequences of ending of book one I was at a loss on how to fix it. I let it pass. Next time I’ll fight harder!

    1. This kind of thing is So Hard, Nicole! And nobody really teaches us how to do it, either. All we can do is try to do right by the reader and learn as we go. That’s why I try to pay attention when something affects me as a reader, so I can derive *some* kind of lesson from it!

  3. I hate it when that happens. I usually make sure to not read bcc from later books in the series and even avoid reviews of books I know im going to read.

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