Although many of our authors are completing some major projects this month, some of them are in a place of (relative) relaxation—Catherine, for one, published her latest book in August, Shards of Ice, a science fiction Romance which is available on Amazon and Smashwords. A big congratulations to her!
This does bring to the forefront a whole other aspect of book selling and buying: how to capture a potential reader’s attention. From a good title to a great cover, fancy binding or cute gimmicks, we have seen some very interesting attempts at capturing our attention in the last years. This edition of the Ask an Author feature asks our writers about the best book title/book cover/book binding/book gimmick they have ever seen—and some of their answers might surprise you.
Sahar, what an interesting question! Straight away it made me think of the Monster Book of Monsters from the Restricted Section of the library at Hogwarts. Children’s books employ a whole repertoire of gimmicks—er… not all as creepy as that one—to encourage children’s reading. Quite aside from magic of the language, such as rhyming and onomatopoeia, there is the colour and enchantment incorporated into the book’s images, and, depending on the format of the book, options for lift-the-flap and pop-up images, texture, hyperlinks and music. Even a book’s typography can contribute to engage a child’s attention. But the simple things are often best. A long-time favourite of my children was searching for the Lowly Worm character hidden in the Richard Scarry books. The cricket sound added to the last page of Eric Carle’s The Very Quiet Cricket was always a big hit, too. Adult readers are less influenced by gimmicks, but with a sea of titles out there to choose from, a good cover is key. White space is another good inducement—because, even with the ability to change the font size, no one likes to read cramped text. Overall though, I think the very best inducement for making people turn the page, is not gimmick at all: it’s just a matter of writing an engaging story, one that your reader can’t put down.
My absolute favorite is House of Leaves. The inside cover has a complex puzzle picture that you can use to help decode things in the story. I loved it but felt it didn’t go far enough as far as engaging the reader and making them a part of the story. (It was really for the footnotes rather than part of the main tale, however it did engage in other cryptography, if lightly, and I loved it.) I hope to follow in its footsteps one day and draw the reader into the tale like that! It’s an ongoing goal.
I’m a bit of a crafter, and I have to admit that I love book binding, and have been trying it, with limited success, but I love old fashioned traditional book binding, with hand stitching and leather covers. But my all-time favourite book cover, is the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. There is something magical about the black and the white, with small wisps of red. It alludes to the magical mystery of the story inside, and all of the versions of the book cover follow the black, white and red theme. There is a hint of steampunk with the characters, and on the covers with the clock face. It also suggests a romance, all while set against the backdrop of a circus. I can’t explain why such a simple cover is my favourite, but as soon as I read the question, this cover popped into my mind.
This time, I’ve succumbed to temptation. My choice of title, cover, gimmick is my third novel. All the credit goes to my wife, Bob Etier. She helped me create the main character, Claudia Barry, a baby boomer female assassin. At the end of my first book, The Tourist Killer, Claudia decides to take a twelve month sabbatical.
In a conversation with my wife:
FCE: I’m going to write a sequel about Claudia’s adventures during her 12 months off.
Bob: Good idea, you should call it A Year Without Killing.
That’s the story of the title.
I came up with the idea for Claudia to use a calendar for target practice during that year, and now we have a cover. Graphics designer, Julie Medina did the cover and added a rose to bring in some femininity.
Unless it’s for a kid’s book, and I want a fold-out pirate ship, or to check out the holes made by the hungry caterpillar, then throw that book gimmick away! I’m not saying don’t use them – but don’t use them unless they’re integral to the story. Anyone need to look after a pet rock! Here’s a pet rock, with its own care manual! Perfect. But a gimmick for its own sake is pointless. Yes, it may get a few more people to pick the book up, but in my experience that doesn’t lead to more sales. I’ve seen customers get so distracted by the gimmick, and showing it to their friends, they don’t take notice of the story. Not the blurb you took days on, and not the inside of the book. And the book, even if it’s really good, goes unsold.
Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful books, if it’s a book designed for the gift book market, you should try hardback. Even go a little fancy and add ribbon markers and embossing. Your feature here is a beautiful gift book. But 3D plates on covers don’t impress buyers who want a great read. And complicated opening regimes are just annoying. The “gimmick” I’d suggest you use to get your standard novel to stand out while keeping costs down, is to print out some cover ideas and take them to your bookshop and see how they look. Do they get lost amongst the other books? Do they look dated? If so, take a look around and notice what books look great and stand out from the crowd. If you get the opportunity, talk to the bookshop owner, and after picking their brains (about covers and what the market wants), buy a book to show just how much you appreciated their time, and just maybe they’ll take you seriously when you bring them your own novel to sell, because they’ll remember you and know you did your homework.
This was a really tricky one to answer. I’ve been reading so many books in digital format for so long now that I barely register what’s on the cover of a book. That said, one series that stood out to me was Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black books. The Joey Hi Fi covers were stunning and I really loved them, the colour scheme, all the little details. Just gorgeous.
Aside from this I think it would be remiss of me to mention Baby Teeth, a charity anthology that our lovely Lee Murray was a co-editor of, which features stories by both of us. Baby Teeth: Bite Sized Tales of Terror was an awesome gimmick, as the stories are all quite short and feature children – not only this, but they used a necklace made from baby teeth on the cover! (My baby teeth, in fact…)