You Can't Make This Stuff Up

From the ad on the back page of the Times Book Review today:

Origin of Mystery
by Richard Heim

Author reveals troubling parallels between society, government today and 1843-45 NJ, multiple slayings and the hanging of two innocent men, and exposes universal root turmoil, hatred and misery. Also reveals thesis of remedy for vast majority secretly waiting to be forced back into emotional vulnerability; reclaim authentic self.

My Only Son
by Maria Clement

Joey, an only son, never dreamed that his actions would so affect the life of his mother. In the early hours of the morning, she witnesses Joey's arrest by federal agents. This heartrending incident is only the first of many surprising revelations.

A Place to Belong
by Paul Miller

A Place to Belong follows a young boy's search for self-worth and faith in a cruel world. Through a mystifying journey from coast to coast he endures the depths of despair and finds that life hangs by the simplest knowledge through the kindness of strangers.

This is the ad copy for books on the back page of the Times Book Review today -a page that isn't free by any stretch of the imagination. This is the exact same kind of writing I see in my slush pile. Before you get all bent out of shape at how stupid agents are for overlooking your work, make sure your writing doesn't stink. This ad copy sux. Of course it's "published" by Authorhouse--they only writing they care about starts out Pay to the Order of AuthorHouse.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what The Da Vinci Code's ad would have looked like three years ago? I don't think it would have been any goofier than these. Goes to show that bad writing abounds and that we just never, ever know what will sell.
These authors are really hopeful - no unrealistic.

Inez said...

I read two of those exact blurbs to my husband last night. I truly could not believe that the company behind the ad didn't bother to polish them, or at least demand that they make some kind of sense.

archer said...

The usual ad that appears in that space is a list of rare manuscripts for sale--Ulysses S. Grant's Memoirs, signed, $14,000.00, that kind of thing. I hadn't had my coffee yet, and couldn't figure out why these were so valuable.

down_not_out said...


I've been reading books for review lately, becoming more disheartened with each new title.

I'm concerned that good writing no longer counts, though in my soul I know it does.

The last book I read for review was, literally, tossed off my front porch. It is so irritating that ideas, alone, get contracts.

I know, I know-- not always the case. I'm in a bad run of bad books. But... still... As I've said before, any monkey can write 50,000 words-- that doesn't mean they deserve a banana.

Anonymous said...

Origin of Mystery by Richard Heim

So, why would you buy the book when everything's already revealed in the blurb?

Now I'm off to reclaim my authentic self as I've been feeling a little, you know, artificial, lately.


S. W. Vaughn said...

Regarding the first ad in this post...


Even reading with a thesaurus in hand doesn't make it any clearer. It's just not real sentences.

The other two are simply over-hypey, melodramatic drivel.

I am a copywriter by profession. If we turned out copy like this, we'd be shot. Twice.

Anonymous said...

"...life hangs by the simplest knowledge through the kindness of strangers."


I still can't understand why an author would self-pub instead of writing a book that's good enough for traditional publication. Lazy MF's.

McKoala said...

I'm a copywriter and imho that stuff stinks beyond stinkiness. I'm thinking that it was the work of an unsupervised intern - no insult to interns, sorry, grovel. This is the kind of meaningless, grammarless stuff that graduates doing work experience at my agency used to hand to me. They would expect me to smile and pat them on the back and say, yes, let's put this straight into print, because they had used a long word or two and chucked 'new and improved' into the headline.

In the UK it's hard to find decent young copywriters - colleges are too busy telling students to go and find 'the big idea' than to bother with the nuts and bolts of actually writing that idea down on paper. So they all come out thinking that they're great, but in reality, they can't do what the job actually demands. I only had one writer actually listen to what I was telling him. He buried himself in the grammar book, read widely and ended up winning awards. Most of the others just changed job.

I'll get off my soapbox now. I'm freelance now, no more junior writers, yippee. No more free lunches either, though, boo hiss.

Miss Snark said...

I'm pretty sure the authors wrote this copy. This kind of ad is probably a subscription base. The "publisher" sends out an email saying "we're going to put your book in a NYT ad..send $5000 and 25 words to accompany the .jpg file of your book's cover". The authors do. No one from the "publisher" invests money in editing or polishing...that's a loss of money for them.

Miss Snark said...

Oh, and i read the pr copy for DaVinci Code when it came out and wasn't badly written at all.

Just look at DC's flap copy (which is what the pr folks used) to see the difference. Here it is, lifted straight off Amazon:

From the Inside Flap
While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. While working to solve the enigmatic riddle, Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci -- clues visible for all to see -- yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.

Langdon joins forces with a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, and learns the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion -- an actual secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci, among others.

In a breathless race through Paris, London, and beyond, Langdon and Neveu match wits with a faceless powerbroker who seems to anticipate their every move. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory's ancient secret -- and an explosive historical truth -- will be lost forever.

Can you see the difference?

Rei said...

"Can you see the difference?"

Yes - four times the words.

Now, clearly, the writing in the blurb is better. It's also four times as long, which gives a lot more room to capture the interest of the reader.

The first book summary Miss Snark posted is clearly awful. The other two, however, are just too short to allow for much other than vague emotional phrases. I'd drop some generalities and replace them with specifics, but they don't read that bad to me as they stand.

Writerious said...

Still, if the vanity that printed these books (I hesitate to say "published," as stuffy and biased as that may sound, but one must have one's opinions) paid great big smackin' bucks to get this ad printed in the New York Times, you'd think they'd want some copy that would actually make them look good. Instead, their ad is one more convincing argument against the vanities.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Ah, the mystery solved.

Author-written flap copy is rarely a good read. It's like writing query letters: we're too close to the work to do it justice, even if it's the most brilliant thing since...well, since the Da Vinci code.

Those poor authors. POD pubs make it too easy to believe you will be super-successful by "sticking it to the man" and bypassing all those nasty industry pros who are too stubborn to recognize genius when they see it.

Oh yes. Just sign here and send us a check, and we'll make you famous. Some of them do actually care about their authors (gasp! blasphemy!) but the sad truth is, POD models are just not conducive to bookstore sales. And if you can't get your book in stores, you can't be a best-seller.

I can hear the outcry now: Amazon rankings! Online sales! If I sell a thousand copies, a traditional house will rescue me from POD!

When it comes to fiction, though, editors (and agents) want bigger numbers--at least the ones I've heard from (who patiently repeated "Have you sold ten thousand copies by yourself?" to dozens of hopeful PODers at a live pitch session I worked). Yes, there have been exceptions, but like everything else in publishing, the exceptions do not prove the rules.

One of the biggest problems with POD publishing is that authors are not educated enough about the publishing industry to recognize they're being scammed, or at least slightly misled by the phrasing POD companies use to tout their services. Their claims are undeniably attractive to desperate authors who have been rejected time and again on their very first novel effort. "We are selective about what we publish! If we choose you, you can have your book in your hands in a matter of weeks! It will be available in bookstores everywhere!"

Available, yes. Stocked, no. That means no one will know it exists. And you don't get sales.

Off the soapbox now. :-)

P.S. How do I know this? Sadly, through personal experience.

Corn Dog said...

"Joey, an only son, never dreamed that his actions would so affect the life of his mother. In the early hours of the morning, she witnesses Joey's arrest by federal agents. This heartrending incident is only the first of many surprising revelations."

I like this better..
Josephine, an only daughter, never dreamed her actions would so affect the life of her mother. In the early hours of the morning, she witnesses Josephine's arrest for whoring around. The incident is only the first of many.

Sam said...

In 'A Place to Belong' the hero ends up with Blanche Dubois I suppose.
There's nothing worse than reading shoddy blurbs, unless it's reading an interesting blurb and then paying full price for the Da Vinci Code.

December Quinn said...

I like that an arrest by federal agents is apparently a "surprising revelation".

-ril said...

Writerious said...
...you'd think they'd want some copy that would actually make them look good.

Exactly. It seems self-defeating. Even if the real point is to sell the printing services, they're selling to people who want their books to reach an audience. If the potential clients are reading these blurbs and thinking "WTF?" about those books, why would they then sign up with a "publisher" that would presumably market their books in the same way?

How is that helping Authorhouse? If the blurbs were more enticing, then potentially both the authors and Authorhouse would sell. Whatever the pros and cons of the Authorhouse model, it's not good marketing.


Mark said...

Yeah Dan Brown definitely didn't write that copy. He could have though, despite what some say. I'm sort of a friend of Lewis Perdue so that's tougher for me to say given my access to the details, and history of the Brown literary machine, but since I've read all of Brown's books as homework I can.

As for the others, it's typical author copy; the books too.

McKoala said...

OK, I'll do this one...

'A Place to Belong' follows a young dog's search for quality doggy treats and a stylish pink tam. Traveling from coast to coast, surrounded by poor fashion choices and plagued by evil, sharp-clawed cats, he endures the depths of despair before discovering true happiness lies in the heart of New York - in the heart of Miss Snark.

Maya said...

Sam: You made me laugh out loud. I had exactly the same reaction to "the kindness of strangers."

The only thing worse than poor writing is plagiarism. On which note, I hear there's a new case of "word theft" in the news today.

BuffySquirrel said...

I think you're overlooking the "gosh, those people got published and their writing's no better than mine" factor...