Back Cover Copy: Help

I have to write three sets of back cover copy for the Rocky Start books. These aren’t blurbs, they’re paragraphs and a tag line giving enough information so that the reader can decide if they want to read the book. I put it up on Facebook (because I need a post there) but this is where the real work gets done, so over to you Argh:

Rose Malone’s landlord-employer has just died in the small town of Rocky Start, Tennessee (and North Carolina) and now she’s broke with no idea if she has a job or if she and her daughter, Poppy, have a place to live. Then a stranger shows up and tries to evict her. It just isn’t the week to do that. She smacks him with a reproduction of the Maltese Falcon, he smacks her back with his fist, and then somebody grabs him and throws him into the street.

Max Reddy just wants his boots. He’s walking the Appalachian trail with his dog, Maggs, trying to leave behind a life as an elite covert operative, and stopping in Rocky Start to pick up new boots sent to the post office there when he sees a feisty middle-aged woman get backhanded by a guy in a suit. Max throws the jerk into the street and continues on his way, determined to get his boots and get out of town, even if Feisty was pretty cute. He’s been alone on the trail a long time. Some trees are looking good to him.

Rose needs to know what’s going on, so she follows Max to the post office, no ulterior motive, honest. Except to pick his pocket to find out who he is, then he can go. But by nightfall, she’s invited him under her roof for her own protection since she’s realized she’s dealing with a town full of retired spies with fire power and boundary issues, a suspicious sheriff, a sly-eyed moocher, a knife-wielding bakery owner, a conniving teenager, and a dog who’s decided she’s done with the Appalachian Trail.

Worst of all, Max is starting to think his dog might be right.

Rocky Start: This could be the start of something dangerous.

37 thoughts on “Back Cover Copy: Help

  1. I’m not a huge fan of the line about Fiesty being cute, and even some of the trees are looking good. I think that it is the order. Maybe switch it the other way? Otherwise it kind of sounds like he is just desperate and horny and that he would find anyone attractive.

    Otherwise, I think that it is solid. Maybe just jazz it up a bit? I do think that the tree line is funny. Snark hooks me every time.

  2. that order was exactly what cracked me up!

    that would make me want to read book

    is this a choice thing? if so, the middle one followed by last one

  3. How old is Rose? Officially middle age starts at 35 or so, I suppose, but from Max’s viewpoint I don’t think he’d call a woman middle-aged until either (1) she was starting to loose her sexual attractiveness in his eyes, or (2) he was willing to admit that he himself was middle-aged, probably at closer to 50 than 40, and had reset his standards. From the opening bits on the site, I had taken Rose to be somewhere in her 30s, but I may not have read carefully enough. “Middle-aged” makes her sound perhaps a few years upwards of 40.

    For my own part, I would loose the trees line, but various opinions clearly differ there.

      1. And I did it again with the trees. Either I’m making weird typos or autocorrect is up to something!

        1. Actually, I’m commenting on the age thing. Instead of Max thinking that Rose looks middle-aged, but you want the reader to know she’s middle-aged, give Poppy’s age.

  4. If you are looking to make it shorter & tighter- take out all the ‘then’s and ‘just’s throughout.

    First paragraph take out “the small town of”.

    2nd paragraph: “leave town” instead of “get out of town”. Lose the line about trees.

    3rd paragraph: leave off “no ulterior motive, honest”.
    “She picks his pocket to find out who he is before he leaves.”
    Take out the “But”.

    4th paragraph change “might be” to “is”.

    5th paragraph is brilliant. Don’t change a thing.

  5. I would change out middle-aged woman, too. Despite the math, most of us consdier that as post 55. Maybe “a woman his age” or “a grownup woman” or “grown-ass woman”?

    Otherwise, simple tighten:
    It just isn’t the week to do that = Wrong week to do that.
    … he smacks her back with his fist= He punches her back.
    (and North Carolina) = too confusing for the back blurb, I’d leave it out
    … Trim one of these last uses of “just” (just died, just wants his boots)

  6. I do love all the details (the line about the trees is hilarious) and the strong sense of voice (“no ulterior motives, honest”) but I think there are so many specific details it slows me down and makes it harder to figure out what this story is actually about. For example, the “(and North Carolina)” detail just made me go “Wait, what??” and stopped me in my tracks before I even got to the third sentence.

    Possible details you could cut:
    – The North Carolina thing
    – The dog’s name
    – The daughter’s name

    Is the daughter a teenager? If so, you can say “her teenage daughter” which will imply the heroine’s age range without you needing to do the “middle-age” thing in Max’s POV.

    Also, this sentence was long enough I think some of it’s impact got watered down:

    “But by nightfall, she’s invited him under her roof for her own protection since she’s realized she’s dealing with a town full of retired spies with fire power and boundary issues, a suspicious sheriff, a sly-eyed moocher, a knife-wielding bakery owner, a conniving teenager, and a dog who’s decided she’s done with the Appalachian Trail.”

    I think you could bump up town full of retired spies to the first part of the sentence, since that’s the hook, i.e. “But by nightfall she’s realized she’s dealing with a town full of retired spies—and they’ve got fire power and boundary issues. Max can stay the night, but only until they [whatever she’s trying to do/ figure out]. Until then, they’re dealing with a suspicious sheriff, a sly-eyed moocher, a knife-wielding bakery owner, a conniving teenager, and a dog who’s decided she’s done with the Appalachian Trail.”

    Love your two closing sentences.

    Can’t wait to read this!

    1. Wait! Better version!

      Instead of “Until then, they’re…” I’d do “Now they’re dealing with…”

      (I realize you didn’t ask for line edits but I couldn’t help myself)

  7. I think the middle-aged description is open to lots of variation. My mother once described herself and my father to me as « middle-aged. ». Since she was 75 at the time and my dad was 81, I found the comment hilarious and somewhat ominous as it would imply she planned on living to be 150.

    1. I tightened it up using ideas above and also thought that probably Rose isn’t dealing with Maggs, Max is. So I thought it might be fun to give Maggs her own para.

      Rose Malone’s landlord-employer just died in Rocky Start (TN & NC). Now she’s broke with no idea whether she has a job or whether she and her teenage daughter, Poppy, have a home. Then a stranger tries to evict her. It’s the wrong week to do that. She smacks him with a Maltese Falcon, he smacks her with his fist, and then somebody throws him into the street.

      Max Reddy just wants his boots. He’s walking the Appalachian trail with his dog, Maggs, trying to leave behind a life as an elite covert operative, and stopping in Rocky Start to pick up his new boots when he sees a woman get backhanded by a guy in a suit. Max throws the jerk into the street and continues to the post office, determined to get his boots and get out of town.

      Rose needs to know what’s going on, so she follows Max to pick his pocket to find out who he is, then he can go. But by nightfall, she’s invited him under her roof for her own protection since she’s realized she’s dealing with a town full of retired spies with fire power and boundary issues, a suspicious sheriff, a sly-eyed moocher, a knife-wielding bakery owner, and a conniving teenager.

      Maggs has decided she’s done with the Appalachian Trail.

      Worst of all, Max is starting to think Maggs might be right.

      Rocky Start: This could be the start of something dangerous.

      1. Actually you could take this out
        It’s the wrong week to do that. She smacks him with a Maltese Falcon, he smacks her with his fist, and then somebody throws him into the street.

        And tighten this more so it’s

        Max Reddy is walking the Appalachian trail with his dog, Maggs, and stopping in Rocky Start to pick up his new boots when he sees a woman get backhanded by a guy in a suit. Max throws the jerk into the street and continues to the post office.

        Rose follows Max to pick his pocket to find out who he is. By nightfall, she’s invited him under her roof for protection since …

  8. Oh, gosh. I enjoyed the versions of the first chapter you published on here, Jenny, but I’m afraid these three paragraphs awaken no desire in me to read the story at all. Are they supposed to be read together? Or are they to appear separately?
    They start up all kinds of niggling questions in my mind.
    “But by nightfall, she’s invited him under her roof for her own protection since she’s realized she’s dealing with a town full of retired spies with fire power and boundary issues,” Didn’t Rose already know her fellow citizens were retired spies? Earlier on you gave the impression that she’d lived in that town for years.
    “Max is starting to think his dog might be right.” What did the dog say? O, hang on, that refers back to that bit about Rose realising things, but we’ve jumped to Max. Doesn’t that come under head-hopping?
    It seems to me that you are giving away far too much of the plot, which only confuses me, and I’ve had the benefit of reading the first scenes, which your intended reader has not.

    1. I agree. I didn’t make it past the first paragraph. And then he hit her… I was done.

      It doesn’t feel as snappy as usual Cruise blurbs.

    2. It doesn’t work for me either. Too many specific details in the first 2 paragraphs (that basically cover what happens in the first chapter (s) you have shared here) and then it gets very broad in the 3rd paragraph.

      For me there is a disconnect from these very specific 2 people and the late introduction to the larger group of town residents from whom she suddenly needs protection

  9. Overall it’s too long for a back cover blurb with too many details.

    I loved this bit: she’s realized she’s dealing with a town full of retired spies with fire power and boundary issues, a suspicious sheriff, a sly-eyed moocher, a knife-wielding bakery owner, a conniving teenager, and a dog who’s decided she’s done with the Appalachian Trail. The list hints at a book full of chaotic screwball energy that I want to read.

  10. So, I am reading the back of books to pick to take on vacation. Generally, there are 2 paragraphs. One about her and one about him. Then there’s 0-2 sentences to tie the 2 together.

    I’m not going to make suggestions other than to cut out a paragraph.

    Good luck!

  11. I just realized it’s Max and Maggs, which might trip people up. I read fast and I guess my brain often just grabs the first initial of character names. They also sound a lot alike.

    Definitely too long and more like a synopsis. We need the heart and soul and tropes.

  12. When I read it, I thought of it like a one of those movie trailer, where they put everything in. What it boils down is “Rose Malone is having a really bad day. Her boss is dead and a stranger, who seems about as trustworthy as a three dollar bill is trying to evict her before the body is even cold, then some guy who claims he’s looking for a new pair of boots literally walks into her life “

  13. The hook works for me (she doesn’t know if she has a job/place to live; she’s attacked—although I’d almost rather the guy is threatening and Max prevents the actual hit; she asks loner passing through to stay with her as protection while she figures it out), but could we know what the job is? I was also confused about how long Rose has been in Rocky Start & how she just now realizes there all all these spies in town.

    I DO love the concept of a town full of retired spies and the one retired spy who wants to pass through but gets snagged by intrigue and a sassy, old-enough-to-know-better woman with pickpocket tendencies. Those details intrigued me.

  14. Jenny – I am looking forward to these books. I think, however, some of your usual readers are not going to follow you down this path because…because – I don’t know why, actually. At this point they surely can’t think you will bruise them or give good characters a bad end.

    Please don’t stop or be discouraged by a few people boxing you into writing only one thing one way. I followed Bob Dylan from acoustic to electric & have never regretted it. I’ll follow you down this path, also.

    I think people miss out when they cling so tightly to the norm. Your Krissie, Anne Stuart, for example. She writes wonderful historicals and then she branches out to her ICE series – completely different – still wonderful.

  15. I tried to get it down to two paras and failed but I think this is better —

    Rose Malone’s landlord-employer just died. Now she has no idea whether she has a job or whether she and her teenage daughter, Poppy, have a home. Then a stranger tries to evict her.

    Max Reddy is walking the Appalachian trail with his dog, Maggs, trying to leave behind a life as an elite covert operative, and stopping in Rocky Start to pick up his new boots when he sees a woman get backhanded by a guy in a suit.

    By nightfall, Rose has invited him under her roof for her protection since she’s realized she’s dealing with a town full of retired spies with fire power and boundary issues, a suspicious sheriff, a sly-eyed moocher, a knife-wielding bakery owner, and a conniving teenager.

    Maggs has decided she’s done with the Appalachian Trail.

    Worst of all, Max is starting to think Maggs might be right.

    Rocky Start: This could be the start of something dangerous.

  16. I missed this when you posted it, and I have to say that is a lot of detail. Maybe too much to dump all at once?

  17. Okay, I would go with this but take out all the extraneous stuff because it’s a blurb so details aren’t necessary. So, frex:

    After her landlord-employers death in the small Appalachian town of Rocky Start, Rose Malone is employing the Maltese Falcon to defend herself from a forceful eviction when stranger Max Reddy wanders into town and throws her attacker into the street.

    Max is tired and just wants to collect his new boots and finish hiking the AT with his dog. But when he sees a middle aged woman being bullied, he steps in to help her, not planning to stick around even if she is cute and feisty.

    Rose wants security. Max just wants to be left alone. But Rocky Start is no ordinary small town, and Rose and Max are about to discover that the residents have interesting, and dangerous, pasts.

  18. I feel late to the party, but here are a few thoughts in case they’re still useful! (I read your draft pages and am excited for the series, for context.)

    1. I’d condense the first two paragraphs, but I’d keep the quirky/voice details and cut anything more generic. I read this type of summary more for voice and tone than for plot.

    2. I’d try rearranging the first paragraph to start with a) Rose getting smacked, b) fine, she smacked him first, c) but ugh, what a week!, then maybe d) Max getting involved.

    (I’d either work around mentioning “the stranger” in the first paragraph or mention Max by name here too. At a quick skim, it wasn’t immediately clear to me that Max wasn’t “the stranger” who smacked Rose.)

    3. I’d try rewriting the second to be more about Max in context with Rose, the incident, and the town rather than Max the former operative standing alone. Maybe something like a) just trying to get boots, b) ugh, training took over (hey, trees looking good), c) get out before anyone puts that together, d) ugh, pocket picked, and/or dog done.

    4. I’d cut the third paragraph way, way down, maybe just to a sentence or two. Maybe something about too late, former spies in town noticed? Or something about whoever’s after Rose? I feel like that could show the conflict building without getting into the weeds — readers know how stories go.

    5. Or, you could have a framing sentence or two at the beginning that are more about the town, so the reader sees Rose and Max with that context already in place?
    Something like:
    Rocky Start, civilians 2, former operatives 50. Come for the anonymity, stay for the community spirit (but snappier/better.)

    Best of luck with it — these are my least fav pieces to write!

  19. I love this back blurb! I want to read the story.

    Regardless of how you define middle-aged, the years do happen. Frankly, I’m glad the MC/SC aren’t in their 20s and 30s but yet we recognize what happens to people as they get older. Life isn’t stopping because they’re no longer younger!

    I like the dog giving up on hiking the Appalachian Trail, aka “the footpath of the people.” I think it adds the comic element, and, actually life is fun(ny).

    I want to read the story.

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