Rowena Kuo:Writing Epic Back Cover

rowenakuo2016Today I welcome Rowena Kuo to my blog. She is an Acquisitions Editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. I sat in on her Writing Epic Back Cover class at the Write to Publish Conference this past June. Her knowledge helped clarify so much for me. I have touched on the importance of awesome back cover content in a previous post. Writing back cover isn’t as easy as I once thought. It’s not my best work. And other authors admit they’d rather have a root canal. So to take some of the pain and mystery out of this daunting task I’ve called on Rowena to give us some helpful guidelines toward excellent back copy.

Ro, welcome. I am so honored to have you as a guest blogger.

Thank you, Cindy. I always enjoy visiting with you and look forward to any time I get to see you again.

The word length of the back cover copy is 100 to 300 words. Tell us how do we decide what goes into this small cache’ of words? What should we leave out? How can we discern the difference?

Every word on your back cover carries weight, so we should make each word count. The back cover should answer “who, what, where, when, and why,” with the book content being the “how.”  Introduce your main characters by name and their relationship to each other, what the story is about, the setting, the time period, and why your reader should invest in your story. When you introduce your main characters, first show what is the “normal” world before everything goes wrong. Introduce your “average citizen” before his “call to duty,” and whether or not he will answer that call to become a “superhero.”

Place your characters in a place and time setting, so that your readers can affiliate with your story. This is key to deciding the genre of your book. You should then say what that “call to duty” is, the “inciting incident” that destroys the “normal” world and forces your character into action. Every story must have conflict to be interesting. State what that conflict is. The “why” of your story should make your characters compelling, your story thought-provoking, and intrigue your reader enough to buy your book.

Leave out non-essential and complicated storylines. Don’t summarize what happens in the story. Sometimes becoming too detailed drags your back cover copy, and your reader will search for a different book. End your back cover copy with a question. That question should entice your reader and should be answered upon reading your book.

Once we decide what goes in how do we make the words epic?

Use words that drive your book to the top of searches. Go to Amazon and search for the best-selling books in your genre. Read the back cover copies, and online, these would be the description or blurb when you click on the book title.

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How do I find those top seller books in any given genre to examine the back cover?

  1. Go to Amazon.com
  2. On the Amazon search bar, the gray tab on the left drops down. Find Kindle Store.
  3. On the far left-hand vertical bar, find Kindle eBooks.
  4. Still, on that far left-hand vertical bar, there are several categories of books. Click on your genre. For example: Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense. The number in the parenthesis next to the genre is how many titles are categorized in that particular genre. This number can change depending on new books coming out that fall into that category.
  5. Refine your search to the smallest sub-category. These are still on that left-hand bar. For example: Mystery–>Cozy (2878)
  6. Click on that first book. The books can change from moment to moment depending on book sales, so what I find at the top today, you may not find there tomorrow. The important thing to look at is the back cover copy or the description of those top 10 books. For each book, there will be rankings in 3 genres.
  7. Look at the words that “pop out” at you, common words that search engines will use to align your book with the titles at the top of your genre.

Certain words trigger search engines and lead readers to those books. Plant those words into your back cover copy. Depending upon the genre, these words will vary, but a little research on your part prior to writing your back cover copy can be the difference between your audience finding your book and your novel being dead last. For example, the keywords I see on the back cover for the #1 book in Romance and Women’s Fiction are: fatal, accident, discovered, secret, lies, disappears, suspicion, love, romantic, gripping, mystery, suspense.

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How important is back cover copy to potential readers?

Back cover copy is what your reader looks at to decide whether or not to invest time and money in your book. This copy is what search engines use to connect books to the right audience. It’s important to know your genre and all the possible genres where your book might fit. Knowing your genre(s) can help you write back cover copy that will attract the readers who would enjoy your story.

How important is the wording of back cover copy to Amazon and other online and storefront retailers?

Amazon and other retailers base success on sales, and sales drive where your book ranks. Amazon gets a cut of every sale, so having a back cover copy that translates into sales is key to how successful your book is going to be. Of course, the book itself must have an amazing story, but it is the back cover copy that influences readers to make that purchase.

How many tries does it take to get this right?

Writing back cover copy can be a trying task. It can be written and rewritten dozens of times before it would pass publisher approval. Don’t lose heart at this stage. It will be worth the effort no matter how many times it takes to revise your back cover copy.

Any final words for forlorn authors struggling to make their back cover shine?

I encourage you to read the back cover copies of the best-selling books in your genres. Write down words that pop out at you and draw you to that book. Investigate what drives a book to the top of the lists and make sure your book is comparable. Use active rather than passive verbs and descriptions that engage the imagination, curiosity, and heart of your readers. I’m still looking for the magic formula that will make our books crash the download servers, but I hope that I have given you a few pointers to at least ensure your back cover copy promises a fantastic read. If your book delivers the story your back cover promises, then you are well on your way to successful sales. See you at the top of the charts!

Rowena Kuo is an editor and executive producer for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and Lighthouse Productions of the Carolinas. With over 15 years of ministering to children, youth groups, young adults, and now women and family groups, Rowena advocates for writers to build God-centered support systems consisting of people, perseverance, practice, and most of all, prayer. She has written for Christian Devotions, Written World Communications, and the 168 Write of Passage. When not working on words or films, she is a full-time mom with secret aspirations for spaceflight.

Rowena Kuo
Acquisitions Editor
Editorial Director
Fiction Division
Managing Editor, Brimstone Fiction
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas
http://lighthousepublishingofthecarolinas.com/
Development Executive Producer
http://lpcmediagroup.com

Do you have a love or hate relationship with back cover copy?

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Why Network?

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Networking with an editor and other writers over lunch.

Eva Marie Everson posted a video clip on Facebook. She’d ask James Watkins what was the one piece of advice he’d give authors. His answer. “Three words: network, network, network.”

As an author and editor he understands the value more than most.

We’d rather write

Writers are stereotyped as introverts and shy. Although I have never been accused of either, I understand how much alone time is required to create awesome words.  Writers prefer to spend their free hours writing and reading rather than anything else. But networking is too essential to be ignored.

An important key

Networking is a key to getting published. Really!  The more writers you get to know, editors you befriend and publishers you are acquainted with opens doors. At a conference you may find the perfect lead to a magazine or editor who is looking for the very thing you write. The book you pitched to Editor A wasn’t suited to his present needs. After a few conferences of maintaining dialogue with Editor A, he asks to see the manuscript you pitched a few years ago. Now his publisher is frantic for your theme.

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Critique groups are networking opportunity too.

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I keep in touch with Susan Baganz, Acquistion Editor for Prism Book Group on Facebook.

You’re struggling to improve your craft. Your rejection letter, all have a common theme—your writing’s not great. A writer friends hooks you up with a critique group. The group helps you see the weak spots and encourages your progress. You get the contract that’s evaded you for years.

Writer friends understand you and your goals. So build those relationships.

Editors are more likely to give your manuscript a second look if they are acquainted with you and see your persistence in developing into a better writer.

Network in your community

Networking isn’t restricted to the writing world. Historical writers might get involved with local historical societies. Any genre might find some buyers at local festivals. Visitors will discover you’re an author. They find it cool to know someone local writes “real” books.  Network with an organization that promotes the message you spent years putting on paper. If your story is about adoption or foster care, volunteer in organizations who banner your cause.

Networking helps create a fan base for book sales, future contracts, and speaking engagements.

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Rowena Kuo, Acquistion Editor of LPC and I developed a great friendship over the years that eventual lead to my current contract.

Works for me

My personal journey to publication was on the road of networking. The people in the literary world I have gotten to know and helped on their journey have made a difference. As I explained in a previous post, it took me ten years to get a book contract. I truly believe if I had not made an effort to network, I would still be on the outside looking in. I say a hearty amen to James Watkins statement. Network, network, network.

What are your thoughts on networking? What kind of success have you had with networking? Please leave a comment.

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Conference Tip # 9 Dress For Success

Often people envision a writer as some shy soul who wears out-of-date clothes and blends in with the walls. At a conference be sure to project a different image. Dress for success is an old adage that still holds true. Don’t clone the look of your favorite author. Aim for conservative and comfortable.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on wardrobe, but you do need to leave your lounge pants, shorts and flip flops at home. (Flip flops might be Ok at a conference in Hawaii or Florida.) Choose clothes that reflect a serious attitude. You’re at the conference to meet people, get leads and promote your manuscripts. Dress so you are approachable.

Casual business defined.

Women’s business casual consists of dresses and skirts in conservative lengths. Slacks, not jeans; tops, not t-shirts; and avoid denim. If you want to pack light, think of mix and matching. Neutral shades with splashes of color. The same skirt or slacks can be paired with various tops. A jacket can be added to a short sleeve or sleeveless dress or blouse if the weather turns cool. Scarves always dress up a simple blouse and sensible shoes are a must. Jewelry is another way to dress up an outfit and give it a different look. And it may not need to be said but I will not assume—women be sure your cleavage is covered. The smile on your face and the words you share are the kind of attention you want to garner.

Men too should avoid jeans, shorts and too casual footwear. Trade in your T-shirts for polo shirts or dress shirts. Ties are nice for banquets and a jacket is always a great addition to a casual slack. Jackets are optional. A jacket over a polo or golf shirt can look sharp. Dress slacks or Dockers always look better than jeans. Casual Friday does not apply to conferences.

Make sure your hair is neat and your breath fresh. Altoids anyone?

You can still have your own style. Some friends I’ve meet at conferences wear cowboy hats, a loud jacket or fun ties. A conference I attended a few years ago had a woman dressing as a different Biblical character each day to promote her book of women of the Bible. Some conferences also have a costume ball or a gala. Be sure to have an appropriate outfit for those occasions.

Author John Turney in his signature cowboy hat.

Author John Turney in his signature cowboy hat.

There is always an exception to every rule. Check the dress code guidelines for your upcoming conference. Most conferences have them on their website. When in doubt dress your best.

What’s your favorite outfit for a writer’s conference?

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Great reward for those who consistently attend writer’s conferences

My award. I am so blessed.

My award. I am so blessed.

For those of you who have never attended or no longer attend writer’s conferences I challenge you to rethink that. After attending writer’s conferences for six years, I have finally reaped an awesome reward. I was chosen as the recipient of the Editor’s Choice Award at the 2014 Write-To-Publish Conference. This award is for perseverance and potential. It entitles me to professional editing of my novel and mentoring and the opportunity to have my novel presented to the publication board of Lighthouse Publications of the Carolinas. Whether they actually decide to publish my book is another story. But it’s a win-win because my manuscript will be ready to present to any other interested party.

The truth about attending conferences

Often beginner writers approach a conference expecting to get a contract with the first editor they pitch their story to. They lug around their manuscript hoping someone will take it home with them. Those stories of instant contracts are few and far between, and if you get down to the real nitty-gritty of details, you will find most of these authors have paid their dues. They have attended conference after conference as true students of the craft of writing. Taking home all the information gleaned from the pros to apply to their own manuscript and marketing strategies. Networking with other writers to be encouraged as well as encourage.

Rowena Kuo presented me with my award. She is one of the wonderful editors full of enouragement for writers that I meet at Write-to-Publish.

Rowena Kuo presented me with my award. She is one of the wonderful editors full of enouragement for writers that I meet at Write-to-Publish.

Writers encouraging writers

For me, my first conference was a learning experience. I flew to Colorado Springs for the Writing for the Soul conference. On the plane I sat next to a published author. I don’t recall her name, only the blessing she was to me. During the flight she took the time to instruct me how to pitch my story ideas and who might be a good fit. She encourage me to enjoy the conference and have fun meeting others. At the conference one devotional editor took the time to mark up my devotional to show how it would best fit her needs. She gave me tips on the right attitude to bring to the editors I would pitch my novel idea to. The editors and agents were encouraging. I went home ready to write my novel.

Guess what, folks, I returned the next year to the same conference pitched my story, got interest. Went home and sent off my novel and got all rejections. 😦

Learning from rejection

That is the nature of the beast. One publisher was brave enough to say the writing wasn’t to their standard. 😦 😦 To his credit he was absolutely correct. I knew nothing about POV and many other fiction craft techniques. So, I took another class and read more craft books and continued submitting articles and writing skits and doing whatever writerly thing God brought my way while rewriting my novel.

Arthor Cynthia Ruchti not only was such a wonderful encouragement on my writng journey but she autographed her novel for me.

Arthor Cynthia Ruchti not only was such a wonderful encouragement on my writng journey but she autographed her novel for me.

Benefits of attending even if you don’t get a writing contract

The next four years I attended Write-To-Publish conference. Each time I went home and sent off my manuscript to those who requested it. Each time it was rejected. But I picked up other smaller writing assignments that gave me more publishing credits. I started this blog and a Facebook page. The third year I received excellent edits with my reject manuscript. I persevered through family tragedies and lots of life interrupting my rewrites and still wrote articles and short stories. Some getting rejected, others published.

This last year I reaped the blessing of my perseverance with this award. That is six years from my first conferences. Don’t wait until you have the perfect manuscript to attend. Don’t skip the opportunity because you have nothing to hawk. Come because you need to grow your craft, you need to network with writers, agents and editors. The secret ingredients at all conferences is the knowledge you can take home and the life-long friends you make. Both can grow your writing career at a faster pace than those who don’t attend.

 How has perserverance at a writer’s conference benefitted you?