Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Judging a Book by its Back Copy

We've all heard it. "Don't judge a book by its cover!" And yet we've all done it, right?

When I was 16, I thought this looked like a book for little kids, so I refused to read it at first:

Fast forward 11 years, I'm sitting with at the midnight premiere of the last movie, wearing a Ravenclaw shirt.

We've all seen cover reveals gone wrong, so I've since learned my lesson. Even if I hate a cover, I give the book a chance.

I can't say the same about back copy. To be fair, the point of back copy of to give you an idea of what a book is about--a teaser trailer, if you will, to entice you to buy it/check it out/download it and read the rest.

Except somewhere along the line, someone got a hold of a thesaurus and can't seem to let go. The same words and phrases pop up again and again in back copy, and for me, they've become red flags. I just can't see past them. They haunt my reading dreams.

And for some reason, they usually have to do with the male protagonist/love interest. They're never funny, nice, or boy-next-door. Even if they turn out to be the funny, nice, boy-next-door. They can't just be cute, they have to smolder. I mean, why be sweet when you can be scintillating, right? Except now I have a whole list of words I could live happily never reading again.

Words I Think Should Never Appear in the Same Sentence as the Male Protagonist:

Editors tell writers: "Show, don't tell." Somebody needs to take their red pen and go to town on the back copy too! Half these words don't even make sense as stand-ins for personality indicators. Dangerous, for example, is defined as "able or likely to cause physical injury." Unless my male MC is also the villain, well...

I think this is true for certain phrases, as well. I read them and my hands twitch to put the book back on the shelf. I can't help it, book, I'm sorry! It's not you, it's me.

I Can't Handle Reading:
"Compelled to protect her..."
"Compelled to follow her..."
"Compelled to find out more about..."
"He was more than what he seemed..."
"But he's not what he seems..."
"Hiding his true nature, he..."
 "From the wrong side of the tracks..."
"A bad influence, he..."

Honorable Mention:
"Thrown into a new world full of..."
 So that's me. I'm sure I've missed out on some quality books because of un-quality back copy. But I'm sure I've saved myself a few times too.

What about all of you? What words/phrases do you loathe to see in a book description? And what book have you read despite the back copy and loved?



  1. I recently heard from an industry insider that a pitch should sound like back copy of a novel. But I thought of what you did, too -- the back copy is full of vague nonsensical description. You actually want to be very specific in a pitch and not waste words. I also don't like when a back copy gives too much away, like things that don't happen in the story until halfway through yet it's right on the back. Ergh!

  2. Lately I've been growing more and more tired of the words "love triangle". I mean, I get that it makes a great story, but come on, seriously, how many books about a love triangle can we possibly read before saying "Yup, I've read the all. Next topic of distress please." Worse even, the triangles are mostly put up with the same structure. In the end, while the characters change, I feel I'm reading the same thing over and over and over...

  3. Stephsco--I know! Giving away the big reveal in the back copy is a big pet peeve of mine too. I think that happens a lot in movie trailers as well, and it makes me think, "Well, now that I know the twist, why am I going to bother spending the time/money?"

    Mandy--I heard an interesting talk from Cassandra Clare about love triangles, and she pointed out that there were only a few different mutations that exist, and it really is in how well the triangle is executed. That being said, I also find myself moving on from a book if I read the back copy and two love interests are mentioned!

  4. Love this post! Giggled. Sighed. Agreed!

  5. Stasia--Thanks! I look forward to the day when I read the book about the nice, normal boy :)


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