You read the phrase ‘spoiler alert’ all the time online. Someone is writing about a film, a TV show, a book. And they so very desperately want to give away the ending. Why? Well, sometimes a title cannot be throughly explored unless the ending is scrutinized. Other that than one reason, I can’t think of any for destroying other reader’s pleasure. But, that’s why the polite, socially acceptable thing to do, is state up front and out in the open, that you are going to detail the specifics of a book most have not yet read. And that takes care of the spoiler’s responsibilities to readers of his words.
But what about those pesky dust jacket synopses’? So many times I’ve mistakenly read all the way down the front DJ flat, and even onto the trailing end on the back DJ flap. And an equal amount of times, I kick myself, and put the book back down, because it’s clear they’ve given too much away in their delight in the manuscript. I’ve made a habit of checking out the first couple paragraphs and if interested, stop reading. So those who are writing the blurbs better make the story compelling fast, or you’ve lost me.
I’m not certain how much this applies to straight literature. No doubt there are plot points that arrive far into the book, that the jacket spills before the reader gets to them, but they aren’t usually as damaging as declaring a murder victim right there, when the book doesn’t reveal who the body is until half way through. That, my publishing friends, is a spoiler. There has to be a way to entice readers to your titles, without killing off the victim before the murderer does.
I remember the trailers (in the olden days of my youth, they were called coming attractions) for a film with Harrison Ford and Michele Pfeiffer. It was a psychological suspense story about a married couple, and naturally there was a villain, but who? Well, no need to bother seeing the film after they showed a clip of Ford chasing Pfeiffer with the intent to kill. (Notice I don’t give the name of the film? Although, how many times did those two make a movie together? –I should have given a spoiler alert for the 5 people who never saw the trailer, and still would care) How stupid could a film distributer be? How pissed off Ford and Pfeiffer, the director, everyone who worked weeks, months on this project must have been, to see it go down in spoiler flames before it even opened. Another film example–The Sixth Sense. Some people thrilled in ruining the film for everybody else- proclaiming as loud as possible the twists and turns involved. Actor, singer, idiot, Nathan Lane, thought he was hilariously funny by giving away everything on the Letterman show. An actor, for god’s sake. He should be aware that the same situation could occur to a project of his someday, and as an audience member, I wish it would. Millions of people were watching, a good percentage of them not having seen the film, maybe waiting for it to come out in video, and he singlehandedly wiped out huge amounts of customers, as well as destroying many viewers anticipation of a highly buzzed about film.
I feel as strongly about the blurbs on jackets that reveal practically all. As just happened, a cover proclaimed plot points that didn’t occur till the very very end, which was the kicker of the book. Here I go–SPOILER ALERT! On the cover of a 60s paperback of a book by the incredible suspense writer Margaret Millar, this come on was printed: “A novel of subtle evil–forbidden love unleashed a savage lust for revenge.” OK, well, this blurb makes you think one way, which is what the author intended. I’m pretty positive that the back copy was abhorrent to Millar, as it twists and confuses the reader who is half way through, and nothing remotely like it has yet occurred, which then gets them thinking, hmm, , well if it’s not what I’ve believed so far, then there must be a twist, and then the reader starts trying to figure out what that twist is, instead of enjoying the ride the book is providing. The back copy says: “Love and death were intimately and irrevocably intertwined, first in the violent suicide of a careless guilt ridden lover—then in murder, a murder of rage and hate and jealousy and in a murderer who believed that blood could wash away the sins of the past.”
The problem? No one is murdered in this book. No one. Not until the last few pages. And the murderer washing bloody hands?–not revealed until then. Because the suicide was in fact murder. So that makes the opening statement which is the impression the author wanted the reader to get until her twist, completely invalid, because the suicide and murder are the same crime. The blurb intentionally creates the idea that a murder comes in the wake of the suicide, and if that were true, the reader is going down a path mentally that goes no where, and nowhere wasn’t the area Millar wanted her fans to be. I am a seasoned crime fiction reader, and can usually figure out plot points pretty quickly, except for a few amazing writers, such as Millar, who can throw me a a school of red herrings. And this would have been a humdinger surprise, if I hadn’t read the damn back cover. The murder isn’t the eye opener, but who and what and why and what happened then. However, there was a let down because for almost half the book, I was searching around wondering when the murder was going to occur, what did forbidden love come into play, who was running around washing their hands like MacBeth’s wife. (Whoops, never say the name that cannot be said, for disaster befalls those who do!) Another rule thespians follow.
A manuscript and creative process that took months to come to fruition, is jeopardized because someone somewhere within the Bantam company sat around trying to figure out how to sell a book that already sold well in hardcover. And then a higher upper approved the copy, the cover designer fitted in on, and the rest is history. I wonder if any one had read the complete book, or worked on the copy from a bad synopsis? I’ll never know, and I’ll never be able to reclaim the astonishment that should have been mine, when the final answer was revealed.