Monthly Archives: February 2011

Copy Writing Part 2: Show Time

You’ve finished your novel, copy edits included, and you’re ready to send it out into the world. Now’s the time for the next big step: writing your synopsis.  This single page of compelling, tightly written copy is the basis for a lot of your future marketing and pitch plans.

Your synopsis should give the complete story, including the snazzy surprise ending. If you’re taking the traditional route, this will go out with your query letter to publishers and agents who will evaluate if the story is engaging enough to equal sales. It is also the smartest writing sample you’ll have, outside of your novel.

Know from the start, if you can take a 300+ page novel and write a cohesive 1 page synopsis, you are prepared to write ANYTHING.

Open with a hook that captures the tone, genre and setting.  If the opening line or two of your novel is to die for, consider using that as the setup for the synopsis.  Then go through and write a compelling line for each major plot turn.  I can’t emphasize enough, how important it is to make your words work for the right to be on the page.  Cut your adverbs and adjectives.  Eradicate “was”, “that” and especially “have/had”.  Passive language kills momentum for your reader.

Once you’re done and realize you have too many pages, it’s time to cut.  (Did you really think you were done with all that editing.)  What are the most pivotal plot points?  Keep those and sharpen the lines to be active and intriguing.   Are you showing how your plot is moving forward? How about character development?  Your characters grow throughout the novel, they should show growth here too.

If you have a friend or family member who is a great editor, reader or writer, call in a favor and get their opinion.  You may even want to pay a professional to look it over and make edits or suggestions.  This is usually a minimal fee (usually less than $40) and well worth the money.

In the end, you have a top-notch synopsis that is the base for your book cover, elevator pitch, author page, website, etc.  Let’s see how this translates.

Book Cover/On-line Point of Purchase
For the potential reader, you don’t want to give away the ending.  The twists, and surprises along the way is what makes reading a great novel so much fun.  Start with your incredible synopsis and look at the hook.  It’s there right at the top. Finish with an intriguing summary line that hints at a satisfying ending. In addition to becoming jacket copy, you now have your product description for on-line point of sales such as Amazon.

Tweet It
Pull pithy prose and twitter it to your followers.  Use links to your web site or point of purchase.

Pitch It
The elevator pitch should be for anyone nice enough to say hello.  Don’t wait for an unsuspecting agent at a writers conference.  Pitch your novel to your friends, your hair dresser, your daughter’s preschool teachers and anyone standing still long enough to listen. Before you know it, the pitch will tumble out naturally and with confidence. EVERYONE is a potential reader and so is everyone to whom they pass your name and novel.

Did I Mention Press Release?
The news wires and free release sites are great, but there are even greater avenues for distributing the news about your writing.  Regional writing organizations such as the North Carolina Writer’s Network promote press releases, web sites and readings to their members.  Contact local independent book stores and find out how to be involved in an author event, panel discussion or book club.  They will appreciate your professional and prepared approach.

Best of luck!  Comment and share your experience and advice for fellow writers.

Copy Writing Part 1: Introduction

There’s a lot of psychology that goes into how we receive messages and which message will motivate us to take action.

Take into account the environment where your message is encountered. Each has a unique personality that goes with the medium and a ‘reader patience threshold’. Our media saturated brains want to process information faster and craves bullet points and directness. As related to writing, I’ve grouped ad copy outlets into two categories:

Book Jacket/Back Cover copy/Online Book page (point of purchase)
You have about 5 minutes to convince a potential reader to buy your book. They may be reading the copy online on your author page or inside a book store. You have a hook at the beginning of your novel to reel in your reader; you need a hook in this copy to pique their interest.

Twitter & Social Media
140 Characters and that’s it. Luckily, you can send multiple tweets and build up a profile of your work. Even so, you need to be compelling and interesting. You may hold a reader’s interest 2 minutes. If the message works, they’ll click a link and spend much longer than that on your website or point of purchase site. Same with Facebook and similar social media: if you’re updating on a regular basis and entertaining, you’ll build a loyal following.

Tease & Entice: How do you shape the message?
This is where I step back to my writer/producer role and you become my client. My first question to you is what is your goal? Understanding the end goal up front helps you work backwards to a starting point for your promotional efforts, then you build in the steps to get you from here to there.

Identify what is unique about you and your work. You want to be fresh and differentiated from the masses shouting for attention. You want to present that in a way which is also fresh and differentiated.

Copy writing is powerful because it is precise. You need to make every word in every sentence earn the right to be there. Use words that carry double duty by being active, descriptive and mood setting. When you think what you have written is fairly tight, go back and cut some more. The bones of the message should be there, not the flesh which is what you deliver in the novel.

Don’t be afraid to tweak and test. There are many tools available to measure click-through on tweet links so you know right away if your message works. When you find something that resonates, tweak it for another medium, perhaps a Facebook update, or blurb on a forum signature line. Expand on it and test it on your book page.

Advertising is a growing, changing, moody animal. What worked for a particular company 50 years ago may still work today and in the same breath, what is hot today may be irrelevant tomorrow. Know your audience, put yourself in their place and think hard about what would make them want to read your work.

Next Time
Copy Writing Part 2: Copy Writing for Your Book Cover

This will concentrate on how to pull the best from your novel to make your jacket copy as compelling as possible.

(I’ve spent over 20 years working in media with 13 of those in advertising. My producer credits range from 30 minute programming for sports franchises to award presentations, Internet marketing and thousands of television commercials. I’ve learned a lot over the years, mostly how to listen to my clients. After all, it is the client (aka YOU) that knows their product the best. Now, go write something.)

Character Flaws

I love my characters, but just like the rest of us, they have a few flaws.  Jade has retrograde amnesia and a weakness for Salvador Dali.  Stewart is overworked and a little bitter about the lack of respect he gets from his peers.  Andre is lonely and poor Robyn is a little bit of an air-head but she’s working on it.

They have their strengths as well, but it is their flaws that make them interesting.  It’s when there’s an obstacle in their way that we see what they’re truly capable of doing.  I’d love to make their lives wine and daisies, but would anyone want to read it?  Seriously, that would be dull and instead of pulling the reader through the puzzle of a plot, they would march a straight line to the end, if they read that far.

Imagine what a few character flaws and details could do for your fiction.  For example, your character, like me, HATES spiders.  Normally, she can handle the little ones and goes through the plot unperturbed.  Suppose at a critical moment, she’s trying to eavesdrop on another character and a black widow crawls over her arm.  I know what I would do, but what about your character?  Can she hold it in?  Will her weakness cause her to scream and give herself away?  How does that affect the outcome of the scene and propel your plot?

Flawed details make us human and likable and interesting.  Using these details strategically can make your scenes come alive for the reader.

Now, if you will, imagine your villain.  Not such a nice guy, but just like the annoying co-worker you once had, you have to find at least one redeeming quality in order to make him/her tolerable.  No one is ever completely evil.  In contrast to your Hero, the villain’s weakness may just be his one redeeming quality.

Give your characters flaws, complicate their lives by not letting them get what they want too easily, put delays in their paths.  Each step will flesh out the character for your reader and add realistic detail to even the most fantastical fiction.

I have a Google Puppy

I have a Google puppy that fetches news articles, blogs and press releases several times a day and drops them into my mail box. These aren’t your random posts, but targeted to what I need for my WIP. Google Alerts are quick and easy to set up, and if the information it brings doesn’t work out, I can tweak it until I’m getting quality and insightful morsels.

I originally set up an alert for “FBI art theft”: worked great, although there is a video game that keeps popping up. Then I set up “Interpol art theft”. Apparently there’s a band by that name currently touring, but not quite what I was looking for. Since 90% of the fetches were band related with no criminal intent, I dropped the search.

I discovered that by automating the research and having it done on a rolling basis, I was getting more news clips and updates on old theft cases than if I had done this at random times on my own. The criminal methods and outcomes of these cases are evolving, and to keep my work fresh, I want to be in the know about what’s going on in the art world, what’s been stolen and who is getting arrested. This timely information helped me create a realistic world for my main character and fueled creative ideas.

Google Alerts reminds me of the old clip service bureaus. Those were the people who scoured newspapers and magazines for their clients and made a “clip book” of their public image. Google Alerts take much less time and you’re never in danger of paper cuts.

20 Years ago, we would have scanned microfiche to read up on news events or locate historical documents. We’d drive to the county seat courthouse to look up birth records and find old maps and photos to help fuel our fiction. Be thankful for the 21st century.

To try it out yourself go to and click More at the top, then click Even More at the bottom of the drop-down and Alerts will appear in a list of Google-ish options.

If you’d like to help name my puppy, DM me at @jpg_writer.


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