Last week, IÂ received myÂ final flap copy.Â Aside from the cover design and the author’s name, this short bit of writing may be the most powerful sales tool for your book, the final thing that clinches the deal in the reader’s mind and makes her carry that book to the cash register.Â Here’s what will appear on the inside cover of THE BONE GARDEN:
Â Unknown bones, untold secrets, and unsolved crimes from the distant past cast ominous shadows on the present in the dazzling new thriller from New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen.
Present day: Julia Hamill has made a horrifying discovery on the grounds of her new home in rural Massachusetts: a skull buried in the rocky soil– human, female, and, according to the trained eye of Boston medical examiner Maura Isles, scarred with the unmistakable marks of murder.Â But whoever this nameless woman was, and whatever befell her, is knowledge lost to another time…
Boston, 1830: In order to pay for his education, Norris Marshall, a talented but penniless student at Boston Medical College, has joined the ranks of local “resurrectionists” — those who plunder graveyards and harvest the dead for sale on the black market.Â Yet even this ghoulish commerce pales beside the shocking murder of a nurse found mutilated on the university hospital grounds.Â And when a distinguished doctor meets the same grisly fate, Norris finds that trafficking in the illicit cadaver trade has made him a prime suspect.
To prove his innocence, Norris must track down the only witness to have glimpsed the killer: Rose Connolly, a beautiful seamstress from the Boston slums who fears she may be the next victim.Â Joined by a sardonic, keenly intelligent young man named Oliver Wendell Holmes, Norris and Rose comb the city — from its grim cemeteries and autopsy suites to its glittering mansions and centers of Brahmin power — on the trail of a maniacal fiend who lurks where least expected … and who waits for his next lethal opportunity.
With unflagging suspense and pitch-perfect period detail, The Bone Garden deftly interweaves the thrilling narratives of its nineteenth- and twenty-first century protagonists, tracing the dark mystery at its heart across time and place to a finale as ingeniously conceived as it is shocking.Â Bold, bloody, and brilliant, this is Tess Gerritsen’s finest achievement to date.
I didn’t write it; an editor did. The glowing accolades make me squirm a bit out of modesty, but I think this is pretty darn good flap copy.Â It manages to distill down to a few paragraphs a very complicated bookÂ that hasÂ two parallel stories spanning two centuries.Â It also manages to capture a sense of the era just by its choice of vocabulary:Â the words “plunder” and “ghoulish commerce” give you a clue that this story is not a modern one.Â Â
Writing flap copy is an art, and one that not every editor is good at.Â It requires you to know just what will tease a reader’s curiosity without giving too much away.Â As a reader, I’m drawn to copy that immediately lays out an intriguing premise — an emotional dilemma or a baffling puzzle.Â I’m also drawn toward copy that emphasizes a woman’s role in the story, but that’s just my gender talking.Â
What will turn me off?Â Â Nothing about child abuse, please.Â Nothing about drug abuse or meth labs.Â Evil drug companies leave me cold.Â =Â I don’t know if other readers share these dislikes, but those happen to be mine.
Now it’s time for me to start thinking about ad copy.Â For every new book, I have bookmarks printed up as give-aways, and since space is limited on those bookmarks,Â I have to come up with a few choice sentences that will sum up the story.Â You’ll notice in the flap copy above that the role of the hero, Norris Marshall, is played up.Â That was a tough call to make — do you focus on the hero or the heroine?Â The editor went with the hero because his role as a resurrectionist isÂ important to setting the mood.Â But the emotional heart of the story rests with Rose Connolly, the Irish seamstress.Â And so when I composed the short ad copy for my bookmarks, I went with this:
In an era of death and pestilence, a monster walks the streets.Â And the only one who stands in the killer’s way is…
A seventeen-year-old girl.
Same story, but summarized with aÂ different emphasis.Â