Thursday, February 4, 2010

That's a Wrap on the Flap

I have flap copy!

What the heck does that mean? You know when you pick up a book in a store and read the description either inside the book jacket’s flap or on the back of the book? The flap copy is that brief paragraph that sums up an entire novel in such a way that (hopefully) makes you want to read it.

You know how hard it is to sum up a whole book into a brief paragraph?

Personally, I’m horrible at it. Most writers are. Ask us the dreaded question, “So what’s your book about?” and we’re likely to stutter and stammer, “Well, it’s about a lot of things,” and give way too convoluted a summary including character histories and subplots. I have to practice this answer. No lie.

Ideally, any novel should be able to be summed up in ONE SENTENCE. I tell that to students in my fiction writing classes. It’s a really good exercise to try that with your own work in progress.

Obviously, there’s not a lot of room for nuance and development in a single sentence. But you should be able to capture the essence, the core story question of the plot. For example, Moby Dick becomes: “Captain Ahab obsessively searches for the whale who took his leg but fails to kill it.”

You boil it down to a concentrate.

So, my new novel, The Blessings of the Animals becomes: A veterinarian spends her first post-divorce year surrounded by a motley crew of rescue animals, but those animals actually end up rescuing her.

Fortunately, the flap copy can be a brief paragraph or two, which feels like an indulgent luxury after the one-sentence exercise. Still, it’s tough to pull off, and I’m grateful to the folks at HarperCollins who helped develop mine.

Here it is:
THE BLESSINGS OF THE ANIMALS

From the author of THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS comes a wry, engrossing, and moving story of a veterinarian's journey through the aftermath of divorce—amid a motley crew of animals.

Shaken by her recent divorce, veterinarian Cami Anderson is on a quest to unravel the secret ingredient of a happy, long-lasting marriage. Cami's parents are preparing to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary, yet her brother and his partner are legally blocked from marriage. Her best friend—and ex-sister-in-law—is newly engaged, but her teenaged daughter's romance has developed its own complications.

Surrounded by several couples approaching different milestones in their relationships, Cami reflects on the meaning of love and partnership, sharing her hopes and fears with damaged, frightened horse in her care. As she tends to the abused horse (and an escape artist goat and a three-legged cat), so, too, does Cami begin to heal herself. Coming to terms with her own divorce, she learns poignant lessons in forgiveness, flexibility, and happiness that help her master the art of simply moving on.
Screenwriters call it “the elevator pitch”—can you describe your project in an articulate, intriguing manner in the time it takes to share an elevator with someone for a couple floors?

Give it a shot. You’ll be glad you did the next time someone asks that seemingly simple question, “So, what’s your book about?”

13 comments:

  1. It sounds like a wonderful book. I'm looking forward to reading it! I loved the Kindness of Strangers.

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  2. Thank you so much! You just made my day.

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  3. Can I make your day as well.... by saying that, once again, you have proven to be a bad ass with your writing?!

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  4. I think it sounds GREAT! So the author actually writes the flap? I guess I just thought that was done by the publisher. Can't wait!

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  5. Katrina, is the flap copy (as well as the back copy) written by you? Or does the publisher have it done? Just wondering.

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  6. Folks at the publishing house do work on it, and work on it diligently! It's not an easy job. I admire the job they did.

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  7. This probably isn't the feedback you were looking for on this post, but this sentence is ambiguous:

    "Her best friend—and ex-sister-in-law—is newly engaged, but her teenaged daughter's romance has developed its own complications."

    Is she Cami's daughter or Cami's best friend's daugher (though it would obviously be made clear pretty early on in the book itself)?

    Also: I'm really looking forward to being able to read the new book!

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  8. You're right. Ooops. Good eyes.

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  9. sounds like another good read!! can't wait... :-)

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  10. YES! Every time someone asks me what my book is about I babble randomly...about shopping lists, school pickup, politics in foreign countries to which I've never been..all of which have absolutely nothing to do with an Interplanetary RomCom about a librarian who reads self help on the sly until she becomes obsessed with self hatred.

    I honestly think of myself as a writer until the very nano-second someone asks me What's Your Book About.

    I found you via EBWW on Twitter - Best, Kristi

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  11. I can't wait to read another one of your fabulous books. I was wondering if you would write about horses and a veterinarian one day just like when we were kids.

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  12. Your insight into the process of getting a book to print has been really interesting. I'm also curious about your own process. For instance, do you plow through to finish a first draft or revise as you go? Do you have friends who read your manuscripts before you send them to your agent/editor? And which draft finally makes it out the door ( and how do you know your baby is ready to leave your hands?) Just some wonderings I've had as I've read your last handful of postings...

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  13. Wow. All good questions. I'll be sure to answer these in future posts!

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