Stage Fright: Your Sample & Your Back Cover Text

My blog post for Steyer Associates — Stage Fright Part II: Your Writing Sample — examines how a tech-comms manager reviews writing samples when hiring a tech-communications professional. I discuss solutions for common problems, like when your current work sample is still under non-disclosure agreement.

FacePunchI like to describe a parallel effort here on my blog for fiction writers, but the cases differ significantly:

  • Your writing sample online is the first 10% of your ebook on Amazon. 
    Tip: Did you move the front matter to the back of your fiction ebook, so that a significant portion of that 10% is not copyright, dedication, and table of contents?Your “sample” should start as close to “a name=start” as possible.
  • Your description / back cover text is what lures your reader.
    Did you write a Fourth Grade book report or a marketing enticement that will help you “close” a sale with browsing readers?Most writers I’m met hate writing the back-cover text. It calls for an entirely different view of the story than what you just spend hundreds of hours writing. I’ve struggled with this 250 words more than any other text  I’ve drafted, and don’t feel anything like a journeyman, must less an expert. Yet it’s not something that DIY writers can readily outsource.Here’s the most succinct guidance I’ve found, for staying on track in back-cover descriptions:

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A Series of Unfortunate Coincidences

I’m finishing proofs and approving cover art and copy for two books in the new Rain City Comedy of Manners series (coming soon from Jugum Press).

These books keep running into a series of real-world coincidences. Some examples:

The first backstory I planned for the cyberthriller The Grrrl of Limberlost seemed unique and evocative. I was 20% into the text when my office neighbor in Building 27 sat in my visitor chair distressed, and told a horrifying story of what was happening to his family.

Which was a 1:1 fit against my story premise.
So, I had to abandon that backstory. Distressed, I abandoned that manuscript for a while. It took me till last fall to return to this story, reset the backstory, and finish the book.

Another example: my clever name for a documentary described on the first page of The Grrrl of Limberlost was “My Life as a Chechnyan Dog.” I was nearly ready one Monday morning to hand the Limberlost manuscript to my copy editor Liz, when the news cycle about the Boston Marathon bombing began. Since my daughter works near the blast zone, I was distracted for several days, like the rest of the U.S.

When I came back to prep the copy handoff, I realized “Chechnya” had to go since it resonated inappropriately. An hour spent in an online atlas led to a substitution: “My Life as a Chisinau Dog.”

I’m crossing my fingers that Chisinau doesn’t figure in a controversy or catastrophe by the time The Grrrl from Limberlost is published.

Two days ago I was writing jacket copy for the second book, Nine Volt Heart. The original premise for the story was: could Bruce Springsteen ever have a love affair without asking his beloved to sign an NDA after he appeared on the cover of Time magazine?

So I started my jacket hook from that premise, dropping Bruce’s name. Also, who reads Time magazine anymore? So I substituted Rolling Stone, and pondered how close I could trespass on the song by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.

By the time I paused my work to read that day’s fresh online news, the cover of Rolling Stone had wandered into Chechnya territory—creating irrelevant reverberations for Limberlost by reprinting the insipid face of the Marathon bomber.

I can’t substitute Spin or No Depression—not enough readers would recognize those names to create resonance. CREEM and Crawdaddy died, and three-quarters of the people alive today never heard of them. Billboard isn’t relevant for what I want to capture. Only Rolling Stone works—which is why the Jakar picture spawned controversy.

So, Rolling Stone stays in the Nine Volt hook:

Can you find true love without a non-disclosure agreement after your picture is on the cover of Rolling Stone?

See the current Rain City Comedy of Manners series blurbs to read the blurbs. Crossing my fingers again in hopes that I’ve removed unfortunate coincidences from the books’ text and blurbs.

Or maybe in an SEO world, coincidence is good fortune.
— Annie Pearson