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Book jacket copy

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by friend of the friendless, Jul 25, 2007.

  1. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Sirs, Madames,

    I'm going back and forth with my editor on jacket copy for my next book, Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts ... an awful title that manages to work five publishing buzzwords into one breath. Anyone have any thoughts about improving on this? I am your pinata, swing away.

    National Hockey League scouts know the
    game better than anybody else. They travel
    across North America and Europe but see little
    of the world outside the arenas, working more
    than 200 junior-hockey games every season.
    They don’t watch the game, they study it.
    Scouts live by their opinions. The methods
    they use to reach them are closely guarded
    secrets. Scouts don't welcome strangers. They
    keep themselves to themselves on the stands.
    They shun the press. Information is the scouts’
    currency, so who can blame them for protecting
    it from prying eyes?
    But now the arcane world of the hockey
    scouts has been infiltrated.
    Friend of the Friendless, one of North America’s finest
    sports writers, has always harboured an ambition
    to be a hockey scout. It even struck him that a
    journalist's skills would be useful tools for the
    trade. Who better to do deep background checks
    on promising players and spot the ones with
    “issues” than someone with years of hard-talking
    interview experience?
    After knocking on many, many doors—“We
    don’t do that crap” was a typical response—Friend
    of the Friendless finally got his chance. The Columbus
    Blue Jackets gave him a seat in their war room
    leading up to the 2006 NHL entry draft. It was an
    opportunity to see a struggling team working
    under pressure to turn the corner. For the season
    leading up to the 2007 draft, Friendless crossed
    Canada and Europe, scouting the next class of
    teenage stars. At the same time he scouted the
    NHL scouts, observing their methods and witnessing
    their struggles. For them it was never just
    another day at the arena, not when their jobs
    were on the line and their owners' millions were
    riding on making the right draft pick.
    Future Greats and Heartbreaks is a piece of
    hockey literature like no other—combining
    first-rate journalism, memoir and travelogue.
    Friend of the Friendless gives the reader a unique insight into
    the workings of the game. He walks the reader
    down the thin line that separates a future great
    hockey player and a talented also-ran. His season
    undercover put him at the shoulders of the scouts
    as they whittled down the best of North America’s
    young players to the few who will go on to make
    tomorrow’s headlines.

    YHS, etc
     
  2. verbalkint

    verbalkint Member

    Just a few ideas:

    "They travel
    across North America and Europe but see little
    of the world outside the arenas, working more
    than 200 junior-hockey games every season."
    - I think you want to get a bit more out of the lifestyle here. 200 games, plus travel, I assume leaves them with about, uh, five days of vacation. I get the feeling that a lot of people think, "God, scouting's gotta' be the life." But if regular guys got the chance to do it, they'd quit six months in because the lifestyle is so shitty. Feels like you could hammer this home. (Bad hotels, pizza every night, busrides, flying coach on the red-eye to Finland, etc.)

    "Scouts don't welcome strangers. They
    keep themselves to themselves on the stands.
    They shun the press. Information is the scouts’
    currency, so who can blame them for protecting
    it from prying eyes?"
    - I think you should cut this down, and ditch "who can blame..." (Information is the scouts currency. They shun the press.)

    "For the season
    leading up to the 2007 draft, Friendless crossed
    Canada and Europe, scouting the next class of
    teenage stars."
    - Were you scouting, or were you watching scouts? I'd suggest "For (number) months, Friendless joined scouts as they chased the next class of teenage stars from Really Cold, Canada, to Even Colder, Sweden."

    "He walks the reader
    down the thin line that separates a future great
    hockey player and a talented also-ran."
    - Seems obvious, but you could hint at the divergent fortunes of those whom scouts like, and those that are left behind. (As in a $2 million contract with half-a-mill bonus, and another year on a $12,000 allowance in Fargo.)

    "His season
    undercover put him at the shoulders of the scouts
    as they whittled down the best of North America’s
    young players to the few who will go on to make
    tomorrow’s headlines."
    - North America, or the world?

    My overall thought was this:

    With both your title and your jacket, it feels like there are details missing. I would imagine a TON of work went into this, and yet I get the feeling that you could have written the bulk of the jacket copy before you did any reporting. Seems a bit general.

    I assume that somewhere in your reporting there was a moment -- either in a Bluejackets meeting, or a single phone call, or one game some unknown kid had -- where you thought, "Wow, I can't believe I was here for that. NOBODY has this story." I think you should tease that on the jacket. Hint at a moment, or a level of insight that you got, that is completely exclusive to your book. Details, details.

    That being said, it's good. I can see your book captivating readers nation wide.

    In Canada. (Kidding. Not really.)

    Best of luck,
    verbal.
     
  3. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    A thought.

    Is there any way to characterize the scouts a little more colorfully? "Irascible," "cigar-chewing," "desperate", etc.?

    I send regards.
     
  4. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Sirs,

    Appreciated, one and all.

    I almost think I'd be better off to tear it up and start over. I was sent a mishmosh from my editor and tried to write within the template ... an attempt to make a bad idea workable.

    YHS, etc
     
  5. swenk

    swenk Member

    Seems you've buried the most interesting part--that you got direct inside access into the secret world of the scouts, by becoming one yourself.

    It reads more like a proposal; I would not be surprised if you said this was taken from the cover letter. Anyone who picks up the book already knows what scouts do. You need to sell them on what YOU did. You got inside.

    I like to see a quick hit of narrative at the top, and this is (professional disclaimer) bad and off the top of my head: 'It was draft day at XX headquarters, thirty experts packing the chaotic and sweaty war room, amid laptops and notes and half-eaten hot dogs and stale coffee. For the next X hours, they would this and that in top secrecy, changing lives and career and dreams, forever.

    But for the first time ever, there was an 'outsider' in their midst--the only journalist ever allowed direct and immediate access to the closed and secretive world of scounting. FotF, one of yadda yadda, followed the inside story the only way possible: by being inside the story.

    For X months, FotF (what you did, what your discovered, etc).


    Stress inside story, first time ever, get into some of the characters ('from the one-eyed goalie to Eskimo Bill....) and some of the drama.
     
  6. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Sirs, Madames,

    I've tried a second take here, incorporating some of your suggestions -- a little more of the specifics. I do like the idea of a situation lead (something from the war room) but I couldn't get it by my editor. Anyway, here goes. Again, many, many thanks for your help.

    National Hockey League scouts know the game
    better than anyone anywhere. They travel
    across North America and Europe, working more
    than 200 junior-hockey games every season.
    They don’t watch the game, they study it.
    Scouts live by their opinions. And die by them.
    Their methods are closely guarded secrets.
    Next to the scouting fraternity the Masons are an
    open book. Scouts keep to themselves and especially
    shun the prying eyes of press. Who can blame them
    for hiding out when information is their currency?
    Now, at last, that arcane world of the hockey
    scouts has been infiltrated.

    Friend of the Friendless, one of North America’s finest
    sports writers, has always long harboured the ambition
    to be a hockey scout. It struck him that a
    journalist's skills would be useful tools for the
    trade. Who better to do deep background checks
    on promising players - and spot the ones with
    “issues” - than someone with years of hard-won
    interview experience?

    After knocking on many doors—“We
    don’t do that crap” was a the typical response—FotF
    finally got his chance. The Columbus
    Blue Jackets gave him a seat in their war room
    for the 2006 NHL entry draft. It was an
    opportunity to see a struggling team working
    under pressure to turn the corner. For an entire season
    leading up to the 2007 draft, FotF crisscrossed
    Canada with the scouts—one night it would be a humble,
    history-rich community barn like Moose Jaw's “Crushed Can”
    and the next it might be a plush, state-of-the-art facility
    like London's John Labatt Centre, which would be the envy of some
    NHL teams. FotF also joined the scouts
    on their forays into Scandinavia and central Europe for
    major international tournaments. Along the way FotF crossed paths
    and looked into the lives of hockey's next generation, which ranged
    from Howie Morenz's great grandson to a Nigerian-born teenager who
    didn't try on skates until age 12. And the same time he scouted the
    scouts, observing their methods and witnessing
    their struggles. For them it was never just
    another day at the arena, not when their jobs
    were on the line and their owners' millions were
    riding on finding the game's next great star.

    Future Greats and Heartbreaks is a piece of
    hockey literature like no other—combining
    first-rate journalism, memoir and travelogue.
    FotF gives the reader a unique insight into
    the workings of the game. He walks the reader
    down that thin line that separating the future greats from
    the also-ran. His season
    undercover put him at the shoulders of the scouts
    as they whittled down the best of North America’s
    young players to the few who will make
    tomorrow’s headlines.

    YHS, etc
     
  7. verbalkint

    verbalkint Member

    Fotf - Here's what I've got: (resisting the urge to say that the FIRST thing you need to change is your editor...)

    - I think there are a handful of simple writing mistakes here that you'll catch yourself when you read it. Aside from those, this version is much cleaner, much stronger.

    - "Scouts live by their opinions. And die by them."
    Just a personal thing here, but - and I don't think I'm alone here - I'm a bit skittish about life and death metaphors in sports, having been taken to task for trying to infuse war imagery into a hockey feature a few years ago. Stuff like this reads particularly hollow when the lead story every day out of Iraq is a death toll. I think "livelhood," "pay the bills," even "rely on" could work... I'm not really impressing myself with any of those suggestions, but still, I'd suggest you look for something else.

    - "Next to the scouting fraternity the Masons are an
    open book."
    Some people might miss that reference. I had to read it twice myself, wondering if I had missed a first reference to someone named Mason. "The justice department"? "The Vatican"?

    - It struck him that a
    journalist's skills would be useful tools for the
    trade.
    Ditch "It struck him."

    "... - and spot the ones with
    “issues” - ..."
    I know what you're going for here, but on the first read it sounds a bit goulish, a bit predatory. (Particularly because I assume you are an adult, and you're looking into the lives of teenagers.) Maybe find some wording that assures the reader that you're not actively looking for "issues," but that sometimes the evidence can't be ignored. (Again, not perfect, but an example: "Who better to know where the secrets are buried than someone who'd spent his adult life digging?")

    - "It was an
    opportunity to see a struggling team working
    under pressure to turn the corner."
    Seems a bit bland, and like another chance for you to hammer home your great access. A lot of people got an opportunity to see them working to turrn the corner -- NO ONE got to see it from the inside-out. Also, I'd ditch "under pressure." Every team is under pressure. Though, if you wanted to do it, this would be the point to throw in the NHL's woes on the whole. "A struggling team trying to turn the corner in a struggling league," that kind of thing. I'm under the assumption most NHL teams are losing money, and have been for years. Is it the same for the BJs?

    - "from Howie Morenz's great grandson..."
    I know sportswriters aren't supposed to admit this, but this reference is lost on me. I'm not very old, and I'm not a hockey nut, but I follow the sport and have some knowledge of its history. I've just looked him up, and I know now that I probably should have known him, but I think you could throw in an exposition phrase there to help readers like myself.

    - Other than that, it's good. I'd say you're close to finished. Just look for anywhere you can squeeze in teases for your very unique level of access.

    Good luck,
    verbal
     
  8. verbalkint

    verbalkint Member

    Whoa. When someone gets a free minute, can they edit my edits? Christ. I need to start getting more sleep.
     
  9. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Mr Kint,

    Thanks for your help on this. This is a Canadian book and as such a lot of folks here are well-acquainted with Howie Morenz and know that a lot/most NHL teams are profitable (extremely so in some cases) or at worst live gate to gate. I think it probably wpould be clearer as Freemasons. Justice Department is probably good given the present Admnistration but not really applicable in Canada where we give public guided tours through archives that Congressmen can't subpoena in Washington. And I'm not of a mind that i fire my editor because he made the case for my book, saw that I had my second payment put through (without my asking) and wants my next book sans proposal. But I get your pt.

    YHS, etc
     
  10. FOTF,

    I think you need to treat this like a feature story; ask yourself what your lead - your book's selling proposition - is. Seems, in this copy, as if you might've forgotten the thing that'll make people buy a copy...it's that you've given readers a rare inside look at the lives of people who do what 87% of Canadian males probably think is their dream job: watching hockey for a living. The first question people will have when they read the title is either "So just what is a scout's life actually like?" or "Damn, how much fun would it be to watch hockey for a living?"

    So...go from there. Give them a colourful, brief glimpse into just what this life is like...as verbalkint said, describe plane rides to finland, etc...and/or make it personal. I'm exhausted, and this is probably bad, but you could start by challenging the reader's primary question with something as simple as a direct-address question like

    So you think it would be fun to watch hockey for a living?

    And go from there.

    Or...repeated contrasts?

    They know more about hockey than anyone on the planet - and they'll never tell you anything they know about hockey. They _____ - and they ____.

    Or...maybe the best damn scene you've got.
    -
    The man sitting by himself in the corner - the only man in the arena who doesn't cheer when the Icecats score, the only man in the stands who holds a notebook instead of a beer - knows more about hockey than almost everyone on the planet.

    Just don't try to ask him what he knows about hockey.

    The man sitting by himself in the corner is a professional hockey scout. The first rule of professional hockey scouting: don't talk about professional hockey scouting. But for Future Greats and Heartbreaks, Smith - and 15 of the other hilarious, cynical men who belong to one of the most exclusive secret societies on the continent - broke their code of silence to give award-winning sportswriter Friend of the Friendless an unprecedented look into their fascinating world.

    2 AM plane trips to Finland. 15 hour drives to Sudbury. (Something.) Think it would be fun to watch hockey for a living? For these men, it is. But it's also (something.)
    --
    I'll stop making up stuff. Gooood luck, sir.
     
  11. JR

    JR Active Member

    Just came across this.

    I'm on the Swenk team here.

    Remember that you're writing so when Gord from Scarborough picks up the book at his local Chapters, you'll engage him in the first two sentences. Right now your first paragraph does not do it.

    The selling point is that YOU, FoF have been granted inside status to an exclusive world. Bang the potential customer (they haven't bought the book yet) over the head with it.

    That said, can I get a copy of the galleys? :)
     
  12. For the Gords From Scarborough on the board, would you kindly explain what "Swenk" means?
     
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