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Curb Appeal
book cover, MoC
Long hiatus from updating the blog, but when you don't have much to say, why waste the space and time?

Anyway, I'll be making up for it in spades today. Cut for length to spare my flist from too much scrolling.

Let's talk book covers. As an author trying to peddle a product to the customer, I find this subject of intense interest. From the author perspective, I see it as one of the most powerful marketing tools (for good or bad) that's given to the book, with the back blurb coming second. Why? Because as a reader, the cover represents the visual "hook." Writers are told repeatedly how important the opening hook is in a manuscript. I see the book cover in the same light.

That old and quite tired adage of "you can't judge a book by its cover" may have a certain wisdom, but I think it disregards an integral piece of human nature. We judge by appearance all the time on every thing. I might be a genius money manager and investment guru, capable of turning a mom and pop business into a multi-billion dollar corporation or a beggar into a billionaire and have the resume to back it up (these are all examples - I don't have these particular super powers in case you were wondering). However, if I show up in some muckety-muck's corner office for my interview wearing a t-shirt, old jeans and flip flops, there's high percentage chance of me not landing the job.

Real estate agents constantly hammer it into the clients the importance of curb appeal. If your house has dead bushes in the yard, along with overgrown grass a foot high and a couple of broken down appliances sitting out by the sidewalk, and your spouse's latest auto-rebuild project (translation - rusted out piece of crap car some guy at the local junkyard couldn't even sell for scrap metal but managed to find some chump to buy it anyway), potential buyers probably won't stop to take a look inside, even if the interior sports travertine marble, walnut flooring, granite countertops and Viking appliances (and this is Viking, people. Broken or not, it should never, ever go out in the yard. An off-brand? Maybe. Viking? No. That's sacrilege.)

Where was I? Oh yeah. Cover art. Cover art is the interview outfit and the curb appeal. I've read some readers say they don't buy a book based on its cover. I don't either. More than just the cover has to sway me to plunk down money for the book. But, and I'm speaking for me alone, the cover by itself can be the deciding factor in my NOT buying it. The writing inside may be exquisite, and if I have a recommendation from a source I both know and trust and whose writing preferences are in line with mine, I may look past the cover to check out more of the book. However, as an author, I want to appeal to the widest audience possible, so why narrow my field of potential buyers?

A reader takes about 3 seconds in deciding whether or not to pull a book from a shelf for a closer look. To me, this is where the cover does the heavy lifting. It's not trying to convince you to buy it. It's trying to convince you to stop, pull it off the shelf and take a closer look, despite the strain on your time and the fact that there are 5,000 other titles on that very precious and high priced real estate called a commercial bookshelf that are vying for your attention. If the cover can get the reader to stop for a moment and look a little deeper into the book (back blurb, front excerpt, first 15 pages), then half the battle is already won.

Cover taste is as subjective as book content, and each has things we love and hate in both. I love secret baby stories and know other readers who'd rather spork their own eyes out than read that particular trope. I loathe the clench cover a la some of the older Johanna Lindsey books:

Others have said they love these covers and consider them the "branding" of the genre. The reader knows instantly, without having to look at a title, know an author name or read a back blurb, that this is a romance novel. It certainly does make it easier for the bookseller to shelve it quickly without even having to flip to the spine to see how the publisher is labeling it.

Still, I think some art departments can take the branding idea and run with it--straight off the highest cliff. As authors, we all want our books to stand out, be noticed, be discussed, be remembered and most of all, be bought. Promotion can be difficult and expensive, especially with the competition out there and publishing houses who will only fork out promotion dollars to their top sellers. However, I've seen too many times where "branding" goes overboard and an author gets a cover that well...makes me want to weep and pray to God that I don't get something like it in the future.

As authors, we may or may not have a little input as to what goes on our covers, but ultimately, it's the publisher who calls the shots on that one, and we are either left to grind our teeth in sheer horror and frustration or dance around our living rooms, ecstatic and euphorically relieved that we got something that won't make a reader want to wash their hands after hurriedly putting the book back on the shelf and running away.

Six book covers I absolutely love (these are all romance genre. I lke too many fantasy ones to count) - I'm putting in links so you can decide whether or not to click. Some may or may not be work-safe, depending on varying definitions, so I'll leave it up to you:

1. P.C. Cast - Goddess of Light -

I like a lot of P.C.'s covers. I don't know what cover god she pleased, but I am envious.

2. Covers by Timothy Lantz for Juno Books -

Too damn hard to pick just one. These are incredibly lucky authors to get this kind of cover work, IMO. I love this artist's style. I especially like Blackness Tower.

3. G.A. Aiken - Dragon Actually - illustrated by Natalie Winters for Samhain Publishing -

Hey, I can appreciate well-executed man-titty on a cover just like another living, breathing woman. Thing is, you gotta be careful with how you portray man-titty. Sometimes it gets beyond silly. Honestly, does he have to be oiled? Luckily, Ms. Winters didn't oil her model for this book cover, and he's not twisting the heroine into a pretzel for the typical clench pose. Thank you, Ms. Winters.

4. C J England - Eyes of Fire - illustrated by Scott Carpenter for Samhain Publishing -

Samhain Publishing has managed to acquire an impressive stable of talented cover artists. Sometimes they miss the mark and miss wide, but for the most part, I love the covers, especially those by Ann Caine. This isn't one of Ann's, but I like this one because 1) The artist depicts the hero in a vulnerable pose. The funky eye-color is a little off-putting but minor compared to the emotional appeal of that pose, and you only get a hint of man-titty because it's mostly hidden by the title.

5. C L Wilson - Lady of Light and Shadow - Dorchester Publishing -

I didn't care for the covers of the first and third books in this trilogy but loved the second. The jewel tone colors are almost ethereal, and I think showcases and "brands" this story brilliantly within its subgenre of fantasy romance.

6. Rebecca Anderson - Wizard's Moon - illustrated by Trace Edward Zaber for Amber Quill Press -

Disclaimer - I write for AQP and TEZ is also my cover artist. However, if I didn't like any of his cover art, I simply wouldn't list it. As it is, I love this cover he did for Rebecca Anderson. It's subtle, mysterious and gives nice hints as to what the story might be about--a good branding motif without being in your face with it.

I could list six covers that make me want to hurl, but as an author in what is really a tiny community, I have no wish to step on toes too hard. I am not my product, but I do represent it, and I'd rather have my readers recognize me because of my books, not because of any outrageous behavior on the net. I save the worst rants for private and for the ears of my long-suffering but oh so patient spouse. ;D

Let's briefly discuss titles. I don't think they carry quite the same weight as the cover art, but they are very important. Again, I think they can be the deal-maker or breaker when it comes to a reader's decision to not only pick up the book but to buy it as well. There are some out there that are beautifully poetic and go beyond the stale "Hearts Aflame" or "Restless, Relentless Love." That second one sounds rather stalkerish to me. There are also those that command a lot of attention and discussion, and I'm not always sure if it's a good thing. A controversial or shocker title is bound to garner a good amount of exposure. The thing is, does that translate to a good amount of sales? Seriously, I'd love to know how that bears out.

Titles that made me take a second look (note - I've seen a couple of these classified in romance and in either women's fiction or historical fiction):

1. The King's Nun by Catherine Munroe (I like the cover too) -
2. Lord of the Fading Lands by C.L. Wilson -
3. The Winter Prince by Cheryl Sawyer -
4. King of Sword and Sky by C.L. Wilson -
5. Sacred and Profane by Nina Merrill -

Titles that made me go bug-eyed with amazement and not in a good way:

1. Beautiful Cocksucker by Barbara Sheridan - - This book's title has been a very hot topic on romance blogs this past month. As far as exposure goes, the author and the editor nailed it with choosing such a controversial title. The cover art is stunning in my opinion, but that title? Oooh, I'm afraid I'd pass on the book. Just can't get past that awful title.

2. Big Spankable Asses - an anthology put out by Kensington Publishing - - You're kidding, right? There's controversial and then there's just absurd. I couldn't take this to the checkout counter with any semblance of a straight face. As a bookseller, I'd have to work hard to keep a straight face when trying to hand sell it. Since titles, like cover art, are often decided by the publishing house and not the author (at least in the case of the NY houses), I can only hope the three authors in this anthology made a boatload of money off of it,! Had I been one of these authors and seen that cover flat for the first time, I'd have run for the scotch. And folks, while that ass may be spankable, it most certainly isn't big.

3. Okay, I'm going to cheat here and put three in one spot to make my five:

a. The Spanish Billionaire's Pregnant Wife
b. The Mediterranean Millionaire's Reluctant Mistress
c. The Prince's Waitress Wife

...all to be found here:

Okay, as for these last three, they are the ultimate marketing/branding technique used by Harlequin to pinpoint a particular line in their books for their readers. And guess what? Despite these horrendous titles, they sell like hotcakes. In fact, the titles are what defines the line and what the readers expect when they pick something from the line. They are often fodder for both humorous parody and serious debate, but make this line one of the most successful, long-standing and popular of Harlequin's many lines. Go figure. I suspect there's a certain snicker-behind-the-hand factor about the titles that has their own appeal. My husband's grandmother, bless her soul, didn't just read these things, she inhaled them.

Last but not least, let's talk back blurb. Based on my observations (and your experiences may vary), back blurbs are not usually written by the author at the NY publishing houses but by someone else like an editor or even a person hired to do nothing but write back blurbs. With the smaller presses, both print and e-book, the author is often relied on to provide the back blurb, with some editorial contribution, depending on the blurb the author selected.

With that being said, I've found that the blurb (not excerpt--there's a difference) by the author can give you a pretty honest summary of the story and a quick glimpse of the author's writing style. On the other hand, a lot of blurbs I've read from NY published books are very misleading, have nothing to do with the storyline between the covers and is often written in a high-drama voice that I think contributes to the idea that romance is trashy, silly and soap-operish (billionaire-pregnant-spanish-waitress-mistress-and- reluctant-wife titles not withstanding).

My favorite romance reviewer, Aztec Lady on the Karen Knows Best blog - - will often briefly critique a book's back blurb before getting into the review of the book itself. Bless her, I'd love to see more critique like that from other reviewers and readers. Maybe if the romance reading crowd spoke up on those as well, a little more attention might be paid to the blurb.

Now, just like cover art and titles, I think the appeal of a back blurb is subjective and singular to the person reading it. A fellow writer and now editor of another press is a fan of the fantasy author Louise Cooper. During a discussion of a favorite trilogy by Cooper - The Time Master Trilogy - I mentioned I first pulled the book off the shelf because of the cover art (artist - Robert Gould). She said she pulled the book off the despite the cover art (perfect example of art's subjective nature). However, we both agreed that the back blurb was what sold us on the book from this unfamiliar to us author. The blurbs captured not only the premise of the books but also the scope and epic style as well as the continuity of the three books.

Many years later, the author verified with me that the back blurbs for all three books were written by someone else at Tor Publishing. While many blurbs leave me feeling as if the blurb writer not only didn't read the book but the synopsis either, these made me think the blurb writer not only read Cooper's work, but loved it. I wish I could find that person because I want them to write my back blurbs from here on out. The following are the back blurbs from the original versions published in the mid 1980s. They have since been republished with different covers and blurbs with Mundania Press -

The Initiate by Louise Cooper:

Down all the ages the twin powers of Order and Chaos have been locked in an eternal struggle for control of the worlds of men.

Somewhere beyond the realms we know, in a time when Order has triumphed, a child is born; a nameless outcast destined to restore the terrible balance. This is the tale of his initiation...

The Outcast by Louise Cooper:

The Outcast waits in a Castle outside of Time, his soul imprisoned in an ancient jewel. Spawn of Darkness, Adept of Chaos, he dreams of vengeance on the Lords of Light.

Cast on his shores by sorcerous winds, a woman comes who will set him free to defy his terrible destiny. This is the tale of his deliverance...

The Master by Louise Cooper:

Chaos stalks the Realm of Order; the fate of a world hangs on one woman's life. In Conclave grave the Lords of Light will summon their God to battle.

Adept of Chaos, sworn to the Law, the Master rides to confront his terrible destiny. This is the tale of his decision...

So, with all that blah, blah, blah above, I'd be interested to hear what book covers (any genre) you like and ones you don't, and why. Same wth titles and back blurbs. Whether we write or not, we're all readers and base our buying habits on a multitude of things. Do these three have any influence on whether or not you bring a book to the cash wrap or order it online? Inquiring minds want to know.

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