Drop Down Literature
Posted by Panio Gianopoulos on Thursday, July 26, 2012
In preparation for the upcoming publication of my novella, A Familiar Beast (November 2012, Nouvella Books), I recently wrote an early draft of the jacket copy. Jacket copy tends to be a collaborative undertaking, written and rewritten as it’s passed back and forth from editor to author to agent, with additional contributions from other editors and maybe a publicist and a house copyeditor. This is a welcome change from the creation of the jacket itself, where the author has essentially no influence regarding the image used (that’s what “consultation” in the contract means: Congratulations! You’ve been consulted! Enjoy your image of ponies frolicking in the misty surf…)
Despite my gratitude at being involved in the process of creating the jacket copy, I discovered that when it’s your own book, writing jacket copy is oddly challenging. I honestly didn’t expect this. I thought it would be easy, as during my career as an editor and publisher, I wrote (or rewrote) jacket copy for at least a hundred and fifty titles. At one point I was writing it with such frequency that I noticed patterns emerging. This wasn’t that unexpected a discovery, since writers tend to repeat themselves, but when I began to examine copy from titles that I hadn’t written, I saw similar patterns. Upon further analysis, there seemed to be only a few basic structures at work, (slightly adapted to each genre), populated with a series of sentences that, except for some adjectival and tonal variance, sounded essentially similar.
This was when I had the idea of automating the process. Using hundreds of samples, I could devise a template to be reused each time. It would be like Mad Libs: The Publisher Edition, featuring a handful of core patterns with key adjectives, nouns, character names, and settings blanked out. For example, the program might draw from a pool of candidates and randomly supply me with this first sentence: “Set in ___________, this ___________ first novel tells the _____________ story of _________, a ______________ who _____________ that _________________.” Then I would populate it with the particular features. “Set in Reykjavik, this remarkable first novel tells the harrowing story of Corbin Bjornson, a fisherman who discovers that all is not what it seems.”
Luckily, during the process of trying to figure out how to create drop down menus to speed up the input process (stunning/moving/breathtaking/unforgettable) I made a discovery as harrowing as Corbin Bjornson’s: I was an idiot. Not just because computer programming consistently confused and bored me, but because if I disliked something for being formulaic, perhaps the solution wasn’t to render it even more formulaic.
So I gave up on the master template and, years later, when confronted with the prospect of my own jacket copy, I completed it with (heartening/refreshing/stylish/uncharacteristic) originality.