Why are publishers often so bad at marketing? Daniel Menaker’s piece "Flap Rules" on BarnesandNobleReview.com points out some of the more grating redundancies slapped on recent fiction: always use "stunning," always use "deeply," find a way to work in "best-selling."
But as aggravating and uninformative as these phrases are, things could be worse.
On the back cover of a Freud paperback I recently purchased, I was astounded to read this (I’ve taken out some specifics so that the poor publishers might remain anonymous):
...widely considered to be one of his greatest works of all time. This great work will surely attract a whole new generation of readers who study Sigmund Freud. For many, [book title] is required reading for various courses and curriculums. And for others who simply enjoy reading on human psychology, this gem by Sigmund Freud is highly recommended...would make an ideal gift and it should be a part of everyone’s personal library.
The copy is almost mesmerizing in its continued propulsion of disappointment. This great work is really great. If you study Freud, reading Freud will be required. A gem, highly recommended, an ideal gift. Stripped of any specificity beyond the mention of "human psychology," this paragraph could have been written about Freud or a Rich Dad, Poor Dad title.
I understand that writing book copy must be a chore—not unlike the experience of writing a cover letter for an obscure job opportunity—but could it also be intentionally designed to greet the reader with a kind of anonymous familiarity? That if we read "stunning" and "deeply" enough we will come to desire those books described as "stunning" and "deep"? If these tricks aren’t effective, surely publishers would stop writing copy in this way. Do readers merely skim flaps and back covers waiting for the right words to affirm their choice?
Perhaps my reference to the heinous Freud copy is, in fact, a Freudian slip: perhaps we hark to book flaps for Father's approval.