Should You Judge a Book by its Cover?
If you don’t know the author of the book, the nature—and implied promise—of the cover becomes even more important.
If the book does not deliver on the promise of the cover, it will fail with many readers despite its intrinsic value. A broken promise is still a broken promise. I say cover, not necessarily the back jacket blurb, because the front cover is our first and most potent introduction to the quality of the story inside. How many of us have picked up a book, intrigued by its alluring front cover, read the blurb that seemed to resonate with the title and image, then upon reading our cherished purchase been disillusioned with the story and decided we disliked it and its author?
This is because, as readers, from the moment we pick up a book, we engage in a covenant with the story’s author (but in actual fact with the entire publishing company) for a story whose promise we have interpreted from its cover image, title and blurb. It begins with the cover. A book’s cover is its sales pitch: “This is what I’m about!” the cover proclaims in shades of color and texture. The cover sets the tone and attitude with which a reader will interpret the book’s title and back jacket blurb and its interior.
It had better be true.
Let me tell you a story…
Some time ago, a writer colleague of mine secured a New York agent—based on her excellent query and synopsis—for her imaginative dragon fantasy. The agent pitched the book to a large publishing company, who made my friend an offer, and the agent secured a three book deal on her behalf. My writing friend’s career as a published author was launched.
Because the publishing company was one of the large firms, my friend’s ability to participate—never mind influence—the cover design and blurb was restricted. Decisions lay in the hands of the people in the marketing department, who may or may not have read the book (most likely not). This is why it is so important to write a blurb / query / pitch that both scintillates AND accurately portrays the story. All too often, the marketing department misrepresents the story (to sell more books) and you end up with an unsatisfied reader. This is what happened to my friend. Through no fault of hers, the marketing people developed a cover that did not reflect the true nature of her story. The trilogy my friend had developed was a dark tale of deceit, betrayal and suffering. The cover portrayed a lively and sultry seductress, draped with flowing robes and bared thighs against her dragon; hardly the ponderous story shrouded within. The blurb at the back was sufficiently vague to aid and abet the deception.
What followed the book’s launch and accompanying ad campaign was a barrage of bad reviews and censure, unfortunately aimed mostly at the author. It was unfortunate that my friend suffered the brunt of the accusations for breaking her promise to the readers, when she had done no such thing; her publisher and marketers had created false expectations. And now she was paying for it.
I, too, experienced the effects of mis-marketing. I’d written a dark science fiction romance that ended with resolution but was far from the traditional happy ending typical of a romance. The publisher marketed it as a romance with science fiction elements instead of a science fiction with romance elements. Reviewers applauded it but it bombed with romance readers, who expected a different kind of resolution. Science fiction readers, however, enjoyed it; they didn’t have the same expectations.
The take home lesson for writers is this: write a scintillating but accurate synopsis, blurb, pitch and query that clearly establishes your genre and audience. Chances are your publishers will use it in their marketing department. If you don’t get in with the “Big Boys”, and decide to go with the small presses, chances are very good that you will have more control over marketing and cover design; that is a big bonus. If you are like me, creative control of your intellectual property is more important than the big bucks you get at the expense of your art. Don’t give in to the temptations of wolf-marketing.
I’m still learning that lesson.
The take home lesson for readers is this: don’t judge a book by its cover; certainly pick up the book if it looks interesting, then read with an open mind and let the story take you to where it needs to, despite what you may have expected from the false advertising. Chances are, the unexpected journey visited upon you may be a welcome surprise. And don’t blame the writer for something he didn’t have control over.
I’m still learning that lesson too.
That was great, thank you, Nina!
In addition to five published novels, she has authored award-winning short stories, articles and non-fiction books, which have been translated into several languages throughout the world.
Recognition for her work includes the Midwest Book Review Reader’s Choice Award and the Aurora Award, Canada’s top prize in science fiction.
Nina lectures at university and teaches writing workshops and courses based on her award-nominated textbook The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! Her award-winning blog The Alien Next Door hosts lively discussion on science, travel, pop culture, writing and movies. Visit www.ninamunteanu.com for more information and to book a coaching/workshop session or class with Nina.
Nina’s latest book is Outer Diverse, Book One of her “Splintered Universe Trilogy”, a paranormal space thriller, starring the indomitable and magnetic hero Rhea Hawke.
Thirty years have passed since the mysterious Vos invaded the galaxy to destroy Earth. If not for the intervention of the arrogant Eosians, who drove away the Vos for the right to inhabit Earth, humanity would have perished. But not all of humanity is thankful…
Rhea Hawke, Galactic Guardian, must solve the massacre of an entire spiritual sect, dubiously connected with the crime syndicate Eclipse and the toxic drug Glitter Dust, the resurgence of a dark prophesy and the return of the cruel extra-galactic Vos.
Her quest for justice catapults her into the heart of a universal struggle across alien landscapes of cruel beauty toward an unbearable truth she’s hidden from herself since she first murdered an innocent man with her eyes.
“… a master of metaphor, Munteanu turns an adventure story into a wonderland of alien rabbit holes. When the action starts it goes into hyper-drive … A fascinating and enthralling read.” Craig H. Bowlsby, author and creator of Commander’s Log.
Outer Diverse is available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. The cover art by Costi Gurgu was recently nominated for an Aurora Prix for best artistic achievement.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.
The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with science-fiction / general fiction author Karen A Wyle – the four hundred and fifteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.