Behind the scenes, your Penguin Random House teams are hard at work crafting copy that will draw readers in with a few sentences while still getting across your book’s essence. From web copy to flap copy, this relatively veiled field of publishing has evolved for all genres over the last decade.
A few months ago, we looked at the mechanics behind creating and updating the metadata for your title. Now we’re looking at how the role of copy has changed. Until recently, copy was primarily an editorial task. Editors would summarize a book, writing what they thought would pique their intended readers’ interest. According to Kendra Levin, senior editor for Viking Children’s Books, older hardcovers might have nothing at all printed on the back of the jacket. Today, not using that valuable open space would be considered a missed opportunity.
Many of our publishing groups now have experts dedicated solely to writing copy and studying its impact, who work with marketers, editors, and authors. These copywriters play a significant role in getting your work into readers’ hands.
“This is a fascinating field to work in, because we’re always learning new things and revising our best practices,” says Daniel Christensen, assistant copy director of digital for Random House. “We’re still at the tip of the iceberg.”
The tip of the iceberg, in this case, represents several recent evolutions in the world of copy.
Flap copy influences marketing copy, and vice versa.
Early in a book’s development, flap copy—the copy printed on your physical book—can inform advertising and marketing copy. Both editorial and marketing teams want their copy to be an adequate summation of the book, but marketers might focus on an attention-grabbing hook or author blurb, while editors might focus on a story’s tone or plot. This means teams work closely to make sure the copy serves both of their purposes.
“Editors still write copy, but it overlaps with what our marketing department does,” explains Levin. And many editors have learned from marketers how to make their copy more effective.
Brand identity can be infused into copy.
Visual design presents a brand, and the same can be done in web copy. When a reader searches for a book that’s part of a collection or series on search engines like Google or retailers like Amazon, the copy will reference the collection itself. For example, after the fourth book in the Millennium Series was released, copy was added to each of the three previous titles: “The Girl in the Spider’s Web, the new book in the Millennium Series, is available now!”
For some Penguin Random House imprints, a sense of brand identity is especially important. Penguin Classics, for example, recently took steps to overhaul online copy for every one of their titles with an eye toward quality and consistency. For their hardcover collection, the copy will showcase the name of the collection, distinguish the special clothbound editions, and introduce the story or author in the first sentence.
“The stronger our identity as an imprint can be,” says Samuel Raim, associate editor for Penguin Books, “the more useful it is to [Penguin Classics] readers.”
Web copy is more important than ever.
A book’s description is an important piece of metadata crafted by your publishing team. Recently, according to Christensen, retailers, authors, and readers have started expecting to see copy online earlier than ever. Readers might want to read about a favorite author’s new title almost as soon as a book deal is announced. This special web copy is particularly focused on a few strong opening sentences, to increase visibility in search engines and on consumer-facing display pages.
Keywords and search engine optimization play large roles in how readers find your book. As recently as a couple of years ago, SEO was an informal practice in the publishing industry, but now many at Penguin Random House would consider it second nature to use such tools to make connections with readers and help them find the books they don’t yet know they want.
Web copy is a living document.
Treating web copy as a living, changing document allows publishers to maximize its influence and importance.
For a recent Viking title, the publishing team tested different copy samples on their social media channels to find out which copy earned the most engagement with their audience. In the end, they felt confident they were using the strongest possible marketing copy, and they earned organic viral interest in the book.
Strong copy gives readers a chance to experience a small chunk of what the book has in store for them. If it’s a funny memoir, the copy might make the reader laugh. If the book features hard-hitting commentary and direct language, the copy should too. But if the lines aren’t getting enough engagement and feedback, editors have the chance to come at the web copy from a different angle.
This kind of experimentation leads to better future success. Retailer feeds can be updated constantly, so the copy that get the most reaction from readers can stay, and new phrases or review lines can be added.
In the last decade, the role of copy has gone through a major overhaul. Once a space on the cover of the book where editors would summarize a story, your book’s flap copy is now the culmination of months of tweaking and well-reasoned trial and error. Web copy has taken on a life of its own, reaching readers through keywords and SEO and allowing your Penguin Random House team to pitch the book to readers from the beginning of its development. Throughout this process, these teams are able to make your book stand out in a competitive marketplace.
Phil Stamper-Halpin is Manager of Publishing Development and Author Platforms for Penguin Random House. He wrote this article together with editorial, marketing, and copy teams from several publishing imprints.