Spoiler alert: this post is not going to talk about COVID-19 or the state of our world and the ways in which we’ve all needed to adjust. But it is going to look at the pandemic as an example of something I’m asked about all the time. You guessed it: spoilers.
Rarely does a week go by when an author does not ask me whether posting a particular snippet with plot information to Facebook, or sharing a description of their main character’s conflicts or fate with a reporter will “give away too much.” In other words, whether it’ll be a spoiler.
Every single time—regardless of the amount of detail being shared—my answer is no.
Though it might sound surprising, in the world of book promotion, more information is…more. And less is…flat. In order to engage people who have not yet picked up your book, there needs to be enough powerful, detailed information to pique their curiosity. Far too often I see authors very carefully opting to give away little more than a publication date, a cover image, the sources of their inspiration and the content of the back cover copy. But in holding back juicy detail, you’re missing opportunities to engage.
Think about it. Details in and of themselves don’t tell the story. To anybody who has not read the book, details are like bait. As the author, you know your own book intimately. You instantaneously connect the dots from each tiny detail to the bigger picture. But that’s only because you know the bigger picture. Future readers have no way to do this.
Here’s how you can artfully weave the right spoilers into shout-outs and other communications about your book:
Share juicy details abundantly. In and of themselves, they give little away. Instead, they give a flavor for what makes the characters, the setting, the conflicts and your voice unique. These little tidbits will create intrigue and make people want to know more, not less.
For example, buried in one book we recently promoted is the author’s story of having been fired from her dream job due to sexual discrimination but deciding not to file a claim about it. (You might be wondering why. You can read about that here.) Most authors would want to hold back from sharing the details of a story like this and its outcome in the promotion process for fear that readers will get enough satisfaction from that stand-alone anecdote that they won’t want to read the entire book. But in fact, this tidbit is an intriguing inroad to the book itself, serving to pique curiosity. Doesn’t it make you want to know more?
Deliver the shock
I once worked with an author whose main character experiences a ‘false pregnancy,’ meaning, all the symptoms of pregnancy, including a growing belly, for many months. The author was extremely reluctant to mention this in her press materials or social media for fear that it would be a spoiler. But from a potential reader’s perspective, isn’t the mere concept of a false pregnancy utterly intriguing? If there’s something unthinkable or shocking in your storyline, put it out there. Simply by mentioning the shocker you’re providing bait without giving away the background or resolution. Curiosity about the background and resolution is what’s going to make people want to pick the book up and read.
Convey the tension and its roots
Good stories are about conflict and tension. Without revealing at least a glimmer of these and their roots, you won’t give readers a reason to pick the book up. But if you do convey tension—whether from a specific scene or moment, or from the overarching plot or conflict—you’ll be compelling potential readers to seek resolution by reading the book.
An author and I recently debated the following two versions of a line in his press release:
1- “Luca struggles against a deep-seated disillusionment with the convictions of his youth.”
2- “Luca is enraged to learn that not only has his father taken control of the Italian military presence in Africa and amassed considerable power, but he has also become involved in the slave trade—shattering the family’s cherished values.”
In the end we opted to go with the author’s preference—Number 1—so as not to give away what the author perceived to be a “spoiler:” the involvement of the main character’s father in the slave trade. But as the book’s publicist, I would have preferred to include Number 2, which shows exactly where the ‘disillusionment’ mentioned in version Number 1 stems from. It’s also more specific, and does a much better job delivering shock.
Give away the spirit of the ending but not the ending itself
Consider these three imaginary snippets from an imaginary book description:
1- “…in which the world is hit by a pandemic and the characters must figure out how to adjust to the new reality.”
2- “…in which the world is hit by a pandemic that leads to the death of millions and the main character ultimately decides to move to a cabin in the woods.”
3- “…in which the world is hit by a deadly pandemic that leads to wide-scale social upheaval, turmoil and a universal reckoning with choices – past and future.”
Though you may have your own take on each of these examples, with my publicist’s hat on I find that Number 1 falls flat because it does not give away enough detail. Number 2 gives away the ending, so is, in fact, a classic spoiler and creates very little intrigue, if any. Number 3 would be my vote for including a few, well-chosen albeit relatively vague (the example is made up, after all) spoilers to pull readers in.
Now, let’s all go out and write juicy, detailed spoilers about happy endings to the world’s current woes, in which tension is resolved all-too-neatly and the spirit of the ending is upbeat.
Have you held back from sharing details of your book you’ve seen as spoilers? What’s your take on the examples above?