the art of flap copy

Last week, I received my final flap copy.  Aside from the cover design and the author’s name, this short bit of writing may be the most powerful sales tool for your book, the final thing that clinches the deal in the reader’s mind and makes her carry that book to the cash register.  Here’s what will appear on the inside cover of THE BONE GARDEN:

 Unknown bones, untold secrets, and unsolved crimes from the distant past cast ominous shadows on the present in the dazzling new thriller from New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen.

Present day: Julia Hamill has made a horrifying discovery on the grounds of her new home in rural Massachusetts: a skull buried in the rocky soil– human, female, and, according to the trained eye of Boston medical examiner Maura Isles, scarred with the unmistakable marks of murder.  But whoever this nameless woman was, and whatever befell her, is knowledge lost to another time…

Boston, 1830: In order to pay for his education, Norris Marshall, a talented but penniless student at Boston Medical College, has joined the ranks of local “resurrectionists” — those who plunder graveyards and harvest the dead for sale on the black market.  Yet even this ghoulish commerce pales beside the shocking murder of a nurse found mutilated on the university hospital grounds.  And when a distinguished doctor meets the same grisly fate, Norris finds that trafficking in the illicit cadaver trade has made him a prime suspect.

To prove his innocence, Norris must track down the only witness to have glimpsed the killer: Rose Connolly, a beautiful seamstress from the Boston slums who fears she may be the next victim.  Joined by a sardonic, keenly intelligent young man named Oliver Wendell Holmes, Norris and Rose comb the city — from its grim cemeteries and autopsy suites to its glittering mansions and centers of Brahmin power — on the trail of a maniacal fiend who lurks where least expected … and who waits for his next lethal opportunity.

With unflagging suspense and pitch-perfect period detail, The Bone Garden deftly interweaves the thrilling narratives of its nineteenth- and twenty-first century protagonists, tracing the dark mystery at its heart across time and place to a finale as ingeniously conceived as it is shocking.  Bold, bloody, and brilliant, this is Tess Gerritsen’s finest achievement to date.

I didn’t write it; an editor did. The glowing accolades make me squirm a bit out of modesty, but I think this is pretty darn good flap copy.  It manages to distill down to a few paragraphs a very complicated book that has two parallel stories spanning two centuries.  It also manages to capture a sense of the era just by its choice of vocabulary:  the words “plunder” and “ghoulish commerce” give you a clue that this story is not a modern one.   

Writing flap copy is an art, and one that not every editor is good at.  It requires you to know just what will tease a reader’s curiosity without giving too much away.  As a reader, I’m drawn to copy that immediately lays out an intriguing premise — an emotional dilemma or a baffling puzzle.  I’m also drawn toward copy that emphasizes a woman’s role in the story, but that’s just my gender talking. 

What will turn me off?  Nothing about child abuse, please.  Nothing about drug abuse or meth labs.  Evil drug companies leave me cold. = I don’t know if other readers share these dislikes, but those happen to be mine.

Now it’s time for me to start thinking about ad copy.  For every new book, I have bookmarks printed up as give-aways, and since space is limited on those bookmarks, I have to come up with a few choice sentences that will sum up the story.  You’ll notice in the flap copy above that the role of the hero, Norris Marshall, is played up.  That was a tough call to make — do you focus on the hero or the heroine?  The editor went with the hero because his role as a resurrectionist is important to setting the mood.  But the emotional heart of the story rests with Rose Connolly, the Irish seamstress.  And so when I composed the short ad copy for my bookmarks, I went with this:

Boston, 1830.

In an era of death and pestilence, a monster walks the streets.  And the only one who stands in the killer’s way is…

A seventeen-year-old girl.

Same story, but summarized with a different emphasis. 

29 replies
  1. struggler
    struggler says:

    I like it! And I have a feeling (in my bones?) that this one is going to be a big hit for you Tess. It sounds almost like a stand-alone novel rather than the latest in a series – I hope Rizzoli returns next year though, for me there’s a lot more to be enjoyed from her character. Here’s wishing you all the very best with The Bone Garden.

  2. JMH
    JMH says:

    Tess: Personally, I think it has too many spoilers in it. I like copy cover better when it doesn’t tell you what actually happens in the story. But that’s just me.

  3. Lorra Laven
    Lorra Laven says:

    Not that I wasn’t already planning on reading (and looking forward to it) “The Bone Garden”, but the “Ooooh! factor just went way up.

    Can’t wait!

  4. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    You just LOVE teasing us don’t you? haha, I can’t wait! I’ve been waiting for nearly a year for a new book from you! You need to get like King and spit out like 10 a year haha just kidding. Anyway, did you like the Harry Potter ending??? I’m sooooo sad that it’s over, but now that it is I can focus on my other authors I love to read (i.e. YOU). Nice chattin’ with ya, and those synopses work perfectly IMO. Later gator!

  5. Rikkesoft
    Rikkesoft says:

    JMH, for sure, you’re not the only one around….

    As a matter of fact, I stopped reading the flap texts a while ago. A long time ago I only read the cover text when I passed page 100 of a book until – on one of Henning Mankell’s books – a clue was given away of something what still had to come in the book. From then on I only read the cover texts, interviews of reviews of books I finished reading.

    Of course this makes buying a book more diffucult. But I have a open mind and I like to be surprised by the story of a book. So this works well for me.

    So Tess, sorry, but I did not read the bold parts of this posting.

    Cheers, Eric

  6. Kyle K.
    Kyle K. says:

    It’s good to know-after all of the treatments and synopses we have to write while trying to get an agent/published-that the publishers pay someone else to do it for you in the end!

    I usually don’t read flap copy, but not for the above mentioned reasons. While an 800+ page book can keep my attention for days, I usually lose interest in the flap copy after the first paragraph or so… I don’t really know why. Most of it isn’t written very well, and it always takes on that tone from movie trailers… *shrugs* I don’t really have an answer, but it does make buying books a lot more fun, let me tell you!

  7. jilljames
    jilljames says:

    Sounds very intriquing. Your books are already auto-buys for me, but I can’t wait for this one, the teaser did just what it was supposed to, picqued my interest.

  8. 5harmaine
    5harmaine says:

    Wow, both of them sound really good, but have undercurrents of all the extra research you must have had to toil through to make it authentic. I really love how you do that, you never know when you might need to know some of the facts! I certainly hope I won’t be getting to know any insider info from the morgue personally anytime soon, but it’s always good to hear a fresh perspective.

    I’ve been a little apprehensive of period stories before due to some books that I felt weren’t quite… based in reality; but I know if it’s written by you Tess, you’ll make it one amazing, fast-paced ride! I love how you don’t get bogged down with adjectives.

    I can’t wait for the Bone Garden.

  9. Craig
    Craig says:

    Tess, when it comes to your books I don’t necessarily have to read the flap. I get your books automatically. But still, one should never judge a book by a flap alone. My bookstore has tables and chairs and they are there for a reason. If it’s an author who’s new to me then I sit down and read the first 10-15 pages. I can usually tell whether or not we’re going to be compatible. I never go by the flaps because I’m not sure who writes them. Other authors whose books I pick up automatically now include JA Konrath, Perri O’Shaughnessy, and Michael Connelly. I’m currently in the middle of Will Thomas’ Hellfire Conspiracy. His detective who bristles at being called a detective is Cyrus Barker who is currently stalking London’s first serial killer [this takes place in Victorian England], Mr. Miacca, who takes his name from a child eating ghoul in a Victorian bedtime story. For you Potter fans Preston and Child have a new Pendergast novel. Apparently he’s on an ocean liner and someone has conjured up some sort of nasty creature.
    I will address the Potter question asked by GerritsenFever10. Everyone I know liked the seventh book and found the ending very satisfactory. My bookstore honored me by allowing me to help out with their Potter party which went on until 2 am. I had the pleasure of taking the receipts and handing the books to the customers. There was so much joy in the store and the adults were just as excited as the kids if not more so. They were so sweet and thanked me profusely as if I had something to do with publishing it. There were two concerns one of which Rowling addressed on TV. She didn’t say what happened afterwards to the lion’s share of the characters, especially the students. But later on she says there will be some sort of encyclopedia. Well, what a surprise. The only other concern that I had with the book is what loving caring parent would name his child Scorpius?

  10. Tom Young
    Tom Young says:

    Love them both, can’t wait for the release. Bookmark? How, where? Never see them around here.

  11. drosdelnoch
    drosdelnoch says:

    Looking forward to this however Im going to have to wait until January for the UK release :(. Mind you hopefully Tess will be on tour again 🙂

    Both look pretty cool (bookmarks and also the flapcopy) but I was sort of wondering about not naming Maura on the bookmarks, after all she is pretty much a Tess Gerritsen Known character perhaps something like:
    Maura Isles, Norris Marshall, united by one case nearly 2 Centuries apart.
    Tess Gerritsen – The Bone Garden

  12. Tess
    Tess says:

    Yep, I do give out bookmarks. I’m waiting for mine to arrive from the printer, but when they do come, I’d be happy to mail them to anyone who’d like them. Especially if you promise to hand some out to other readers who might be enticed to try one of my books!

  13. drosdelnoch
    drosdelnoch says:

    To be honest Jude, when Tess mentioned that not every editor can write a good flap copy I suspect that the same is true of authors. Its a fine art. Its like asking a director to write the Advert and bypassing the Advertising department. ALthough they may do a passable job you need the experts in that field to turn up the right concept that will sell the thing to the public at that time.

  14. dustinhood
    dustinhood says:

    I loved both of them. Make sure that I have a bookmark, Tess. I am always making my own with the cover of the book on it. As for the bookmark text, I loved it, it would make me want to run to the book store and get the book. As for the flap, if I didn’t know it was one your books, because if it was written by you I automatically buy it because I know it will be good, I would definitely buy it because it sounds so interesting. So glad to see Dr. Isles is back in business, she’s been gone too long, lol (laugh out loud). Looking forward to THE BONE GARDEN!

  15. dustinhood
    dustinhood says:

    Tess, I just read your book mark comment. Please send me as much as you can. I have gotten almost all of my teachers at school reading them and I can put some at the Tri-City Tribune, where I work, and at my local small town library to get you some more hits! I hope THE BONE GARDEN does wonders for you! You’re the best!


  16. sheri doyle
    sheri doyle says:

    i have to admit, i don’t read flap copy either. however, being a writer i have to learn what makes good and bad copy. i think yours is very good. it doesn’t give the story away but does give me reason to read it.
    i love your bookmark hook! and the title, which is enough to make me consider buying it on it’s own merit. i look forward to seeing it on the shelves.

  17. terri
    terri says:

    Yeah, when will The Bone Garden be released in Singapore!? We’re longing to see them, both the book and the bookmarks! How do I get them (the bookmarks)? Oh you wouldn’t imagine how happy my aunt will be to see your bookmark in her Birthday Surprise.

    I’ve a question, being incredibly naive since I’m a not a writer, how does publicity spread for an author? Leave out the obvious, by words of mouth, book tours and maybe promotions by publishers, how long does it take to rise and be outstanding from the rest? And what does it take to find your niche of audience that stick throughout your career or how do you convince the publishers that you have what it takes to be a astounding writer worth investing on at the start of your career? Is is hard to penetrate markets other than Europe and US? I am puzzled, by how J. K. Rowling manages to convert a huge portion of readers to stay loyal to the Harry Potter series, when they’re meant for teens and not adults. From a reader’s point of view (that has never associated with any of her books), I find it hard and weird, what’s THE thing that manages to persuade people to purchase their first novel when the synopses does not give us any clue about the plot at all? And when I go to bookstores and see stacks of her books on the floor, I’d wonder 1. What an exaggerated anticipation by the media and 2. what makes her novels attract the masses?

    Well, I know I’ve said I wanted to ask a question, but sometimes it’s amazing to see and feel the mechanisms, how much work, worries and effort so many incredibly hard working people put behind the sweet veneer for the production of a book.

  18. Tess
    Tess says:

    you ask so many good questions — but no one really knows the answers to them, or we’d all be as popular as JK Rowling. I’m going to think about it and blog about it if I can come up with something intelligent to say about it.

    And if anyone would like bookmarks, simply email me your mailing address! (And if you have friends who might want some, let me know how many)

  19. MrsDidi
    MrsDidi says:

    sualYou know me as Edith from Edinburgh, Tess. Pleased to see that you have a new book coming out. Looking forward to it and wish you all the best with the sales. You seem to have quite a following!
    I am also pleased to see the word “interweave” on the flap, as I am not a big fan of historical novels.
    I would also love a couple of your bookmarks.
    As usual,Best Wishes1

  20. Vanessa F
    Vanessa F says:

    I agree, the flap copy is very important. When my favorote authors have nothing new out and I’m browsing for a new book, the cover or title catches my eye first. Then I read the inside. I stopped reading the flap copies in your books before buying them though. I know I’ll love it so now I just buy anything by you 🙂 I’m so excited to read this story. I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction but I’m such a fan of your writing I’m sure I’ll love it.

  21. Julia Talvitie
    Julia Talvitie says:

    WOW! The Bone Garden sounds so interesting!
    I can´t wait!
    It was a good flap copy. It got my attention! And I´m happy that Maura is in it. (even if she have just a little part)

    I´m so excited! Mephisto Club just got released here in Finland. Now I can read it in finnish.
    I have to say…it was one scary book. And I really liked it.
    It´s nice to read the books in it´s original language and then in my own language. It´s interesting to see the tranlation and the way the text is changeing (and the way it´s not).

    Thanks for the wonderful books Tess!

    – Julia

  22. crazygirl13
    crazygirl13 says:

    hey tess,
    Do you any idea when it will be released in the Philippines? and can i also have a bookmark? hehehe.. im seriously addicted to all your novels i always recommend it to my friends and so far i have infulenced three people in collecting all your novels.. hehehe:)

  23. april
    april says:

    I actually don’t read cover copy if it’s an autobuy. If it’s a new author, a lot of information does help so I know exactly what I’m getting into.

    For so many books, something in the copy turned me off and, therefore, turned me off to a great book. However, I’m never going to buy a new author without knowing something so it’s a love/hate relationship.

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