Every once and a while I wander down to the first floor of our office building to chat with a copywriter in our packaging group. We have similar tastes in books and often spend quite a bit of time discussing what we’re reading, what we’ve read, and what books we might like to swap. I recommended a book to her and then directed her to Amazon so she could see what it was about. She told me that she’d rather take my word for it and very adimately stated that she “does not read flap copy.”
“Never?” I asked.
She went on to say that all these book jackets give away far too much about what will happen and it takes away a lot of the pleasure of reading for her.
I thought about this and decided that, for many of the books I got at BEA, I would not read the book jacket before reading. In the first place, I decided to get most of the books by simply hearing from a friend that I might like them or from the one sentence description in the BEA program. Since I didn’t have to invest any money in them, that seemed like enough. I could always stop reading and give it to the used book shop around the corner without any guilt.
I have to tell you, I enjoyed reading this way, knowing very little about what I was getting into. I’m not sure there’s an exact science to my experiment, but it did seem to aid in my reading pleasure. Then again, there have been many times I have been reading a book, excitedly wondering when I’ll get to the part they describe in the flap copy. But maybe it shouldn’t be that way. Maybe I shouldn’t wonder when I’m getting to a specific moment. Maybe I should wonder what that moment might be.
All of this made me think a lot about film trailers. Film trailers have evolved throughout the years from simply being a short, heavy advertising sell to a long, involved edit that gives away nearly the entire plot of the movie. This is a purposeful move on the part of the film industry. As it becomes more expensive to go to the theater, they want viewers to be assured that they are going to enjoy what they see. Because we all know that word of mouth can make or break the success of any film.
Is this what flap copy is? A way for publishers to ensure that we’re spending our hard-earned money on a book we are going to like? A way to keep us from reading books we hate?
I’m curious to know what you think of flap copy. Does it heavily influence your book purchases? How do you think these descriptions affect the way you read?
And, one last thought, I know everyone on the NYC subway is reading Chris Cleave’s Little Bee. I read this book and really enjoyed it with slightly mixed feelings as a whole, and I also have mixed feelings about the book’s description (it’s a little pretentious perhaps?) but I like the idea of the secret, of the promise that the excitement is in the journey. I actually had a very good friend and book lover tell me she absolutely would not read this book because the flap copy is, and I quote, “Stupid.” But given the success of this book might this be the wave of flap copy future?
WE DON’T WANT TO TELL YOU TOO MUCH ABOUT THIS BOOK.
It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.
Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this:
It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific.
The story starts there, but the book doesn’t.
And it’s what happens afterward that is most important.
Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.