The angst of the back-cover blurb
I am learning new lessons today. At the moment I think they are lessons about marketing oneself and one’s work, but already I sense deeper layers of what’s going on in my mind and heart. I stand with my fingertips brushing something that is, at least to me, huge.
Yesterday, with the page count for The Shadow of the Sun stable, I sent final data for cover development to Wynette Hoffman, the friend and artist who is doing the cover for the novel. She’d already put together a concept a number of weeks ago; now we’re dealing with the nuts and bolts of actual measurements and fine-tuning the design. Among the things I sent, naturally, was the back-cover copy (or blurb, as we say in the trenches) I wrote a few months ago, and which my editor blessed with minor tweaks.
I always write the blurbs for Mercury Retrograde books. It comes with the territory. Naturally I always work with the author of the book in question, asking them to fine-tune, making sure that what I’ve written accurately represents their intent. One of the things I’ve observed is that authors consistently tone down the language I come up with: I over-dramatize things; I don’t quite nail the intent here or there. Naturally, this time, no author asked me to tone my description down.
Actually, quite the opposite happened: Wynette called today to say that she agreed with all the ideas I’d put forth for fine-tuning the cover concept…but, she said gently, that blurb was awfully dry. Was I attached to it?
Well, no. I was surprised to learn it was dry, as I thought it was a reasonable representation of the story; but I found it easy to believe that I was too close to the work in question to do a good job of reducing the concept to 75 words or less. Wynette is the publisher of Alien Perspective and an author in her own right (as well as a visual artist. Feeling inadequate yet?) and has written her share of back-cover copy; so I asked her to see if she could draft a better one. We yacked for quite some time about non-work-related things, as is our way, and she said she had some ideas for how to attack the blurb, promising to send a draft today or tomorrow.
Tonight, as I returned to my desk for a last check-in, there was a draft blurb from Wynette. The drama level in this piece almost knocked me out of my chair. Really, it’s *immodest*. I couldn’t ever write such things about my own work, and I’m not comfortable with someone else making it sound that dramatic either.
As has so often happened during the process of bringing this novel to press, I suddenly see things from the other side of the desk. This is how all those authors for whom I’ve been writing blurbs feel, I now suspect: jittery and insecure at seeing the contents of their imaginations, their fantasy lives, described in such huge and dramatic terms.
I’m almost certain Wynette is on the trail of exactly the blurb that should be written for this book. But I am reeling, and will have to come back to it tomorrow. Meanwhile, I have a theory: what I am feeling stems from every writer’s bugaboo, insecurity. Our years in the world, most of them spent as geeks, have taught us that the likeliest follow-up to being held up as awesome in public is being taken down several pegs shortly afterward. To see one’s own work described as dramatic and actually kinda magnificent raises embarrassment and defensiveness, as we anticipate humiliation–whether consciously or not.
There’s a lesson in there that is about way more than publishing books. I’m going to be chewing on it for hours. Tomorrow I will come back to the blurb.