“Writing the jacket copy for Come Sunday was agony! Here were the challenges:
An unknown author;
the plot hinges on the fact that a little girl dies in the first chapter, a fact which can drive away the very audience we’re trying to attract, and which might make the book sound like a downer when it is, in fact, full of hard-won joy and redemption;
and, the story takes place in both Hawaii and South Africa, a fact which might make it sound “foreign” to potential buyers and readers.
Here were the potential pluses: It has a great, sweeping, old-fashioned storytelling quality to it;
a real, but not heavy-handed or evangelical, Christian spirit to it;
a flawed but evolving lead female character;
a great, redemptive ending.
At FSG what normally happens is that an editorial assistant (with the editor overseeing) works up catalogue copy for a book. Then, when the time comes, that copy is adapted (either by the editorial assistants or by the editors themselves) for the book jacket. The copy then goes to the marketing director, who (in our case) is very wise and tends to kick the copy back a lot.
Where you can go wrong with this method is that you are very often speaking to quite different audiences. The catalogue copy has to appeal to potential reviewers and booksellers, whereas with the flap copy, this is your one chance to speak directly to the buyers and readers. I sometimes forget this—and when I do, I deeply regret it. When I get lazy, and leave my copy to assistants, it tends to lean heavily on the regurgitation of the plot, because, what else does an editorial assistant have to go on?
In the case of Come Sunday, plot regurgitation was going to drive away prospective readers, because you start with a dead three year old, and then a marriage breaks up, and then a woman leaves Hawaii and returns to her native South Africa, where her childhood home has become a hospice for children with AIDS. It doesn’t sound like fun.
But in fact it’s a real stretch-out-on-the-couch read. So we worked on comparisons (Kingsolver, Picoult and, digging back into the great read on foreign soil territory, The Thorn Birds). We made sure to use adjectives that stress the redemptive spirit (luminous, transcendent, spirits soar), both to make the storyline feel less scary and to also covey some of its spiritual quality. And even though one tends not to do this, the Sara Gruen quote on the back was so strong, and she has such appeal with readers, I used part of the quote again to kick off the flap copy. Our copy editors thought it was tacky to repeat it in two places, but, tough.”