SOME COPY TIPS

Cover copy, sell copy, catalog copy, web copy . . . the reality is that unless you, your editor, or some other helpful soul writes this, your book will forever be overlooked. Though yes, it is possible to present a book without cover copy, like the Beatles’s White Album, let’s just say the Beatles were the Beatles before the White Album came out.

You need cover copy, and so do I.

But how much copy is too much? And most of all there is such a thing as too much? And how much is too little—though that’s a much less common problem.

Let’s break down some copy that I wrote, for The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff, which I wrote and self-published with Mel Odom. This is what you’ll find if you go to the book’s Amazon page:

“The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff is a great read. Fast-paced, old-school rip-roaring fighting action in the Conan vein, but with humor and a cast of engaging characters—especially the Hound and the magus. The hauntings alone are worth the price of admission. I loved it.”

—Ed Greenwood, creator of the Forgotten Realms and best-selling fantasy author

 Arron is the last of his kind. The sole survivor of the Twelve Tribes of the Black Forest. And he’s on the run.

Pursued through a raging hurricane by a ruthless bounty hunter known as the Hound, Arron is driven into the dark embrace of a crumbling old house on the edge of the world.

The mansion once known as Dragon’s Cliff hasn’t seen a living soul in decades. And what waits within has grown impatient. Ruled by greed and hate, the spirits that call Dragon’s Cliff home want Arron as much as the bounty hunter does.

But all the Hound wants is Arron’s head. The ghosts have more gruesome plans.

The New York Times best-selling fantasy author Philip Athans and veteran storyteller Mel Odom join forces to create a new sword and sorcery adventure series in the tradition of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and H.P. Lovecraft.

But Arron isn’t your grandfather’s barbarian. This is a whole new world of adventure.

This is the world of Arron of the Black Forest!

Arron Cover

 

I think it’s important to note up front that learning how to write good sell copy is a skill that indie publishers need to learn, practice, and take very, very seriously. That Amazon (or Smashwords or Nook, etc.) landing page is far and away the most important single piece of marketing your book will ever have. This is where the actual final purchase decision is made, and clunky, poorly-written copy is not the first impression you want for your book.

So let’s break that down:

First, a blurb:

“The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff is a great read. Fast-paced, old-school rip-roaring fighting action in the Conan vein, but with humor and a cast of engaging characters—especially the Hound and the magus. The hauntings alone are worth the price of admission. I loved it.”

—Ed Greenwood, creator of the Forgotten Realms and best-selling fantasy author

I’ve spent a lot of years in this business and have gathered a nice group of friends I can appeal to for blurbs. These can be a bit hard to come by and the art and craft of securing them is a post in itself, but if anyone has said anything nice about you, especially if that “anyone” is a respected author in the same genre, like Mr. Greenwood here, by all means lead with that!

Next comes the hero:

Arron is the last of his kind. The sole survivor of the Twelve Tribes of the Black Forest. And he’s on the run.

Stories are about people, and characters matter more to readers than any single element. In this case, our book has a clear “hero”, but that word could be “protagonist”, “anti-hero” . . . whatever. Certainly you know who the protagonist of your book is even if he or she isn’t necessarily a “hero”.

The copy itself is punchy—and yes, the occasional sentence fragment is fine—and spends very few words on who this guy is. We get his name (Arron), where he’s from (Black Forest) and why that’s interesting (sole survivor), and what his situation is at the beginning of the story (he’s on the run).

Next comes the villain:

Pursued through a raging hurricane by a ruthless bounty hunter known as the Hound, Arron is driven into the dark embrace of a crumbling old house on the edge of the world.

Likewise, it’s okay to call this character the antagonist. Who is it that your protagonist is in conflict with? After all, the definition of a story is characters in conflict. Whatever that conflict—and no, it doesn’t have to be a violent sword fight—who’s on the other side of that struggle?

Here we get even less information about the villain. His name is the Hound and he’s a ruthless bounty hunter, then it fades into the set up for the story: they end up in the haunted mansion, which is the setting:

The mansion once known as Dragon’s Cliff hasn’t seen a living soul in decades. And what waits within has grown impatient. Ruled by greed and hate, the spirits that call Dragon’s Cliff home want Arron as much as the bounty hunter does.

Where is all this happening (Dragon’s Cliff) and what’s so interesting about that place (it’s haunted)? Surely you haven’t set your story in an uninteresting place? This could be “against the backdrop of war-torn Europe,” or “at the dawn of the iron age,” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” You get the idea.

Then, the twist:

But all the Hound wants is Arron’s head. The ghosts have more gruesome plans.

If your story is simply: “two people show up in a place, fight it out, and the hero wins,” you don’t have much of a story. What’s the first or central twist or complication that ups the stakes or the danger for one or both parties (the ghosts are scary and have a separate agenda)?

Now, let’s hear about you:

The New York Times best-selling fantasy author Philip Athans and veteran storyteller Mel Odom join forces to create a new sword and sorcery adventure series in the tradition of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and H.P. Lovecraft.

Your bio here needs to be short and sweet. No one wants to read your whole life story, but they do want some idea of what it is you bring to this book. I get to brag about some past successes but if this is your first book, find something that personalizes it. Is this a military science fiction novel you’ve written? If so, did you serve in the military? That’s a great hook. Is your story set in your home town? Is this a story of cattle rustlers in the old west and you work on dude ranch? There must be something that drove you to write this story, some experience that drew you to the characters, setting, etc. Make that the story behind the bio.

And you can leave it at that, or maybe toss in a very little bit of bonus material:

But Arron isn’t your grandfather’s barbarian. This is a whole new world of adventure.

This is the world of Arron of the Black Forest!

We expected this to be the first book in a series. Though we’re still working on that, these last two lines are designed to let you know that, and to give the book, character, and series some context in the genre. There are all sorts of fantasy, and this is one kind, and we want you to know that though we invoked names like Burroughs and Howard, this is written with a contemporary sensibility, not as a direct homage to the Weird Tales tradition.

Go ahead and play with the order of those elements, but when in doubt, fall back on what I have here and you’ll be on solid footing. Just keep it short, punchy, and focus on the strengths.

Don’t lie, but there’s no reason to be overly honest in cover copy. You may be a bit shaking jumping out into the indie publishing world but if your bio reads like an apology . . . Sally Smith has never written a book before and though she knows this book could be better, she tried real hard and thinks it’s pretty good, but not great.

I’m not reading that. If you think it sucks, please don’t publish it.

But how about: Debut author Sally Smith is a resident in cardio-vascular surgery and has brought her experience as an ER surgeon to bear in the universe of Hospital Planet. Dr. Smith lives and works in Orem, Utah where she shares a home with her husband and two cats.

Better?

 

—Philip Athans

 

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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7 Responses to SOME COPY TIPS

  1. Craig says:

    Interesting…

    It’s a great copy, as it definitely seems like an exciting story… Plus you have two strong authors who are established and well known names in the genre. The cover art is outstanding. All the pieces are there for a good selling story. Yet, I follow the link to amazon and it’s #842,349 on the sellers rank, despite a very reasonable price. Honestly this industry is so puzzling…

    As an aspiring author, it’s hard not to be discouraged when seeing something like that.

    Yeah, I keep telling myself I’m not in it for the money (and I’m honestly not), but a writer wants to have readers. Besides, I’m sure George R R Martin isn’t exactly struggling to pay the bills…

    I guess it’d be nice if there was a bit more middle ground between the J K Rowling’s of the world and the tens of thousands of writers who essentially make nil.

    • There are some things we could have done better in terms of selling this book–for instance, we still haven’t delivered on a second book, so what we promised as a series is still just this one, and that hasn’t helped–but that aside, pay no attention to Amazon ranks, which tend to be indicative of nothing.

      The indie publishing world is easy, fast, and cheap, but the overwhelming majority of the “success stories” are either outright lies or more indicative of luck, of a tiny minority, than any kind of actual trend. Most indie authors sell books numbered in the tens, maybe low hundreds. And by most, I’d peg that number in the mid-90 percentile.

      • Craig says:

        Thank you for the honest response.

        I just worry that the rise of self-publishing and ebooks is, to authors, somewhat like globalization. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle-class shrinks.

        …But, perhaps I should spend more time writing and less time getting philosophical about the publishing world😉

  2. C.M. Rivers says:

    Your posts always educate me, and they shed light on the world of writing and publishing fantasy. As a yet unpublished writer knee-deep in a fantasy series, I gain a great deal from your willingness to share knowledge and information. Thank you! (I also find your guide to writing fantasy and sci-fi quite useful)

  3. Kristoffer Harbo says:

    Thanks for the interesting posts, I have a quick question. Is your marketing advice exclusive to the American industry or is it applicable across borders? My intention is to try and publish my works here in Sweden.

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