by Kim Kelly

sell yourself


I’ve learned an interesting lesson this week about the subtleties of selling that most important of commodities that is yourself – that fine line between appealing to the market and misrepresenting your work and your wares.

Excitingly, I’ve been going through all of the back cover blurbs of my novels looking for ways to refresh them for republication, but in doing that, I’ve noticed how boxed in to the notion of clichéd romantic hooks and passive heroines my original blurbs were.

I have no-one to blame for this but myself, really. Because I’m a book editor who’s been writing blurbs for other authors for twenty years, the publishers of my own novels have tended to say, ‘Hey, Kim, mind writing the back cover copy for us?’

But of course. And in the process I’ve managed to strip my leading ladies of their personality in possibly the most important sales calling card they have: the book description.

Take this snippet from This Red Earth as one of the more startling examples:

It’s 1939, another war in Europe. And Bernie Cooper is wondering what’s ahead for her. She knows Gordon Brock is about to propose. An honest country boy and graduating geologist, he’s a good catch. And she’s going to say no.

She sounds like a vacuous, characterless flake, and he sounds like a cardboard cut-out, compared to what I’ve now changed it to:

On the cusp of summer 1939, another war has begun in Europe. Bernie Cooper is wondering what might be in it for her; she’s looking for adventure, some way to stretch her wings. The boy next door, Gordon Brock, is wondering if Bernie will marry him – before he heads off on his own adventure, his first job as a geologist with an oil company in New Guinea.  

More to the point, the latter more accurately describes the situation. It also dares to include the male protagonist as a character in his own right, which is also more accurately representative of the story considering half the novel is written from his perspective – indeed, from inside his freaking head.

Why then did I tone down Bernie’s sparkle and make Gordon disappear? I can only suppose that at some level I thought this would be more attractive to readers. When I look at it now it only seems insulting to readers, and insulting to me, dumbing down my work this way.

And I’ve made a promise to myself here – and to you, too – that I’ll never do that again.