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The flap copy challenge

I’m thoroughly launched on the first section of the History of the Medieval World, Volume II of the History of Everything (that’s the title of the folder on my Mac desktop with all my drafts in it). As proof, I append the following: my bulletin board, now cleared of ancient history timelines and charts and beginning to accumulate lists of medieval rulers and sources:

and my first batch of new primary sources, which arrived yesterday from Amazon. I LOVE primary sources. With a project this size, I have to use secondary sources to construct a basic outline of events, but the medieval historians themselves are grand reading.


(Thank goodness for Penguin!)

But I had to pull myself away from the medieval world, day before yesterday, to address the next challenge in getting the History of the Ancient World on the shelves: flap copy. My editor’s assistant sent me this note:

Susan, please take a look at the attached flap copy and let us know what else you’d like to add/emphasize. this feels a little light as is:

A lively and engaging narrative history showing the common threads in the cultures that gave birth to our own.

This is the first volume in a bold new series that tells the stories of all peoples, connecting historical events from Europe to the Middle East to the far coast of China, while still giving weight to the characteristics of each country. Susan Wise Bauer provides both sweeping scope and vivid attention to the individual lives that give flesh to abstract assertions about human history.

Dozens of maps provide a clear geography of great events, while timelines give the reader an ongoing sense of the passage of years and cultural interconnection. This old-fashioned narrative history employs the methods of “history from beneath”: literature, epic traditions, private letters and accounts are all used to connect kings and leaders with the lives of those they ruled. The result is an engrossing tapestry of human behavior, from which we may draw conclusions about the direction of world events, and the causes behind them.

(end flap copy)

So I wrestled with this for a little while, keeping in mind the biggest challenge in flap-copy writing: not opening yourself up to unnecessary potshots. I decided that characterizing what I do as “history from beneath” was only going to annoy historians who actually DO “history from beneath”–telling the stories of the voiceless, rather than those of leaders and kings. And I followed my husband’s advice, which was to avoid saying that the book was “meticulously researched.” (Yes. Definitely NOT a good plan.)

So here’s what I sent as a modification:

(begin flap copy)

A lively and engaging narrative history showing the common threads in
the cultures that gave birth to our own.

This is the first volume in a bold new series that tells the
stories of all peoples, connecting historical events from Europe to the
Middle East to the far coast of China.

The Story of the Ancient World provides both sweeping scale and
vivid attention to the individual lives that give flesh to abstract
theories about human history. Particular lives and audible voices
emerge from the distant past, and anchor bold conclusions about the
direction of world events and the causes behind them. The result is an
engrossing tapestry of human behavior which illuminates the broad scope
of world history. Dozens of maps provide a clear geography of great
events, while timelines give the reader an ongoing sense of the passage
of years and cultural interconnection.

Susan Wise Bauer combines traditional narrative history with the
most recent scholarship to produce a readable and thorough guide to the
complexities of the ancient world. From the earliest emperors of China
to the late days of the Roman empire, The Story of the Ancient World
gives every reader a chance to view the big picture of world history.

(end flap copy)

Don’t know how much better it is. I HATE writing flap copy. It’s even worse than writing catalog copy–which, after all, is going to be read only by salesmen and bookstore buyers. Flap copy goes out to EVERYONE.

At least it’s finished, and I can go back to Ammianus Marcellinus and his Excursus on Huns and Alans. It’s a beautiful, subdued, misty fall morning, and from my office door I can see down the lane. The perfect scenery to accompany medieval history-writing. (Although perhaps not very Hun-like, unless you can imagine them charging down it, “consumed by a savage passion to pillage the property of others.”)