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Writing Copy 101: Part I

One of the things that surprised me when I first started working in editorial was how much time editors spend pitching books. We have to pitch our books to the Sales and Marketing team to get them excited about the book and get their support as they go out and talk to other people about it. We have to write catalog copy (which is basically a pitch letter for booksellers); flap copy, i.e. all the words that get printed on the jacket of the book itself (which is a pitch to people browsing in a bookstore); and, perhaps most importantly of all, web copy, you know, the words that show up when you look up a book online (which could be the only pitch people who are shopping online will see). 

And it can often be surprisingly difficult. Authors talk a lot about how hard it is to craft the perfect pitch letter, and believe me, we understand! Describing a book you love and have spent a lot of time on can be hard. When you know everything about a book, how do you choose which things are most important? What things will hook readers and get them to choose this book to acquire/promote/buy/read? We need some plot, so people know what the book is about, but too much can be overwhelming or give secrets away… it can be a tricky balance.

But, over the years, I’ve developed a few tips and tricks that can help.

First, let’s gather all the elements:

• What actually happens in the book? What is the main focus of the plot? Is this a book about two people falling in love, or about the end of the world, or both? Don’t get bogged down in specifics here, just a general idea. You can add specifics later. For example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is about an epic quest to save the world.

• Who is the book about? Pull together a short list of the main characters: the protagonist, the antagonist, the love interest, maybe the best friend/sidekick.

• What do they do and how do they do it? For each of the characters listed above, think about the role they play in the book. How are they connected to that main idea you listed above? What do they want? And what actions do they take that affect the plot?

• Where is the book set? This is something that a lot of people forget in their descriptions, but it can be surprisingly important.

• What genre is the book, and what details illustrate that? Is it a historical novel? Then, you need to include the year or era. Is it a fantasy novel? Then there should be some mention of magic or other fantastical elements. Setting can be very helpful with this…

• Are there any other important elements? Think about the kinds of things that catch your attention when you are shopping for books… is it set during a holiday? Is your heroine going to be a fashion designer? Does he have a pet dragon that readers are going to love?

• What does the book make you FEEL? Will readers laugh? Cry? Have their heartstrings tugged? Will they be holding their breath out of suspense? Will it surprise them with every twist and turn?

• And finally, do you have any other reason why people should read this book? (Other than because it’s awesome, because that’s just assumed as a given.J) Did the book win an award? Do you have an amazing quote from someone people would recognize saying it’s the best book ever? Do you personally have some life experience that makes you an expert in some topic that the book addresses?

Now that you have a list of words, elements, feelings, and facts that you want to convey, you can start building your copy. Come back next week to learn how to put it all together!

Author spotlight

Holly West

Editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel & Friends. Giant geek. Semi-professional fangirl. Half-Elven Rogue Cleric. Also answers to That-Girl-Who-Reads-A-Lot.

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