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Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover… Wait

We all know that saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  We hear it all the time.  But, we rarely hear it applied to actual books.  That is because we all judge our books by the cover.

In a Disney’s Phineas and Ferb episode, “The Chronicles of Meap”, there comes a very funny scene (at least to me the author).  In which Candace is with her Mom (Linda):

Phineas: Yeah, it looked way outside, but then it was right in the zone. There’s a lesson, baseball fans: never judge a book by its cover.

(scene flips to Candace, looking at a row of books)
Candace: Boring, dull, stupid, lame— heavy-handed and derivative.
Linda: Oh, thank you for those insightful reviews of books you haven’t read.
Candace: Mom, that’s why books have covers: to judge them. I mean, why did you choose these books from the library?
Linda: They looked interesting.
Candace: So…

Linda: Point taken.

Every time I see that scene (and I watch a lot of Phineas and Ferb) it makes me smile.  Because it is so true.  Books have covers to entice us to buy them.  When I am in the book store (yes they still have those,) I browse the rows of books until I see a cover that jumps out at me.  I pick it up, look it over (including the back) and I decide if I am going to buy it based solely on the cover.

This is why cover art is so important.  Once you get them to pick up the book, you need to get them to turn it over and read that all important “sales pitch” printed on the back.  Only after you get past that will you be able to get them to buy the book.  Even if the person thumbs through the first few pages, they have to pick it up off the shelf first.

That is why covers are important in the store, but what about online.  Do people still browse the virtual aisles of Amazon.com?  I think they might.  Even if they know exactly what they are looking for, they may browse more.  For example, go to Amazon.com and search Richard Flores IV… no wait that sounds vain, search Robert S. Wilson instead.  If you were specifically looking for his book Shining in Crimson because you saw my post about it (vanity again).  How would you recognize it instantly in the scrolling list of results.  THE COVER.

Now, if you click on the link to his novel.  You will see Amazon puts that “People who viewed this also viewed:” on the bottom.  Now all you see there is the cover, the title, and the author.  Now, you may not ever use that (I have), but people do that.  Otherwise, Amazon wouldn’t use it.  Again, they will make the choice to click on the novel, based on the cover.

So the cover is important in store or online.  If you go with a big publisher, chances are they will have someone take care of the cover art for you.  But, if you decide to self publish you will need to deal with cover art on your own.  Perhaps you hire somebody, or you can do it yourself if you choose.  But be prepared to spend some time on it.

A good cover needs:

  1. To have the title on it.  That seems obvious enough, but the title should be the dominate text on the cover.  I have seen books where you could easily mistake the Authors name as the Title.  Or even a tag line.  You don’t need to place the Title on top, but you do need to make it the most eye catching thing on there.  Use easy to read, but stand out fonts.  Make sure the title contrasts with the rest of the cover art, you don’t want it getting lost in the artwork.
  2. To have the Author’s name on it.  Believe it or not, I have seen covers with no Author’s name on it.  If I want to find a book by Robert S. Wilson, Lee Gimenez, or even a blockbuster like Orson Scott Card; you need to have the name on it.  I am not going to spend time looking to see who the book is written by.  You may not think you are worth looking for, but if you are marketing your book, someone is looking.  Even me, the twice published author of two short stories, gets a hit to this site based on a search for my name, an average of once a week. Again, stand out font that contrasts with the artwork.
  3. The artwork itself.  Many would argue this should have been number 1 on this list.  Sure the art may be what catches the eye first, but title is what always hooks me in to reading more.  So as far as importance goes, you decide.  There are several ways to get artwork for your cover.  There are plenty of stock photo/artwork sites.  You can buy the artwork per piece or you can pay a monthly fee and get all the artwork you want.  Some are even free.  Always check the terms and conditions carefully.  You may not be able to use the stock art commercially.  The other down side to stock is that your image could be used by some one else  not giving you exclusive rights to the art.  If that is the case, you may want to commission an artist to do your cover art.  It will likely cost you (unless you are connected) and it will likely be more than the stock art sites.
  4. Relevant artwork.  Artwork is important enough to get two bullet points (that I didn’t want to turn off my bullet point format).  Make sure however you get artwork it is relevant to the story in some way.  It should be eye catching as well.  The artwork should not be overwhelming either.  It is not an art gallery exhibit.  Just enough to entice the readers to pick it up off the shelf.
  5. The sales-pitch.  Typically this is on the back cover.  Not seen right away.  But you got the book off the shelf (or they clicked on the link).  Now you need to get them to buy it.  If you buy paper books like I do, the first thing I do after looking at the front cover, is turn the book over.  This is where the author now has a chance to tell me why I should buy the story.  Online they have a section for the Book description or synopsis.  There could be whole blogs on how to write that.  The main issue is you want to have a quick sales pitch about what your story is going to offer.  And then, if you have them, some quotes for fairly well known (or just known) reviewers.  This is your chance to get them to check out with your book.  A poorly written sales-pitch will result in them putting the book down.  Of course, they may also put the book down because the story isn’t what they like to read.  That’s okay though.  You’d rather have them not buy it then get it thinking it was something else and hate it (and possible tell a lot of people they hate it).

Lets take a look at the cover of Shining in Crimson and The Nanotech Muders.

Cover design by CL Stegall of Dark Red Press.

On SIC we see a large red eye.  That certainly will get you a second look.  The eye is not just some red circle.  It is very detailed eye that almost starts to tell the story itself.  The title is a unique font, but very readable and stands out.  The author name stands out from the cover art, while not taking over the cover.  The book description from Amazon provides a brief sales pitch and some praise:

Set in a dystopian, religiously-demented American Empire, the city of Las Vegas is no longer a city of sin. Now called Necropolis, it is a city that eats sin. The vampires of Necropolis wait patiently for the Empire’s weekly drop off of guilty Penitents; sinners and criminals full of fresh blood.

Hank Evans is one of those Penitents and he would gladly let the vampires take every drop of his blood if it weren’t for one detail: Toby. Toby is Hank’s only son. Now, Hank must do whatever it takes to escape the city of the dead and save his son from an Empire as bloodthirsty as the vampires it uses to keep its people in line.

Praise for Shining in Crimson:

“A big-scale vampire thriller that changes the rules.”–Scott Nicholson, author of Liquid Fear, The Red Church, and They Hunger

“One of the best surprises I’ve had in a long while. Writing with a smart, self-assured ease, Robert S. Wilson has given us a gift with Shining in Crimson. Part Underworld, part Escape From New York, Shining in Crimson is genuinely frightening, genuinely thrilling, but above all, first-rate storytelling. I’m a Robert S. Wilson fan from now on!”–Joe McKinney, author of Flesh Eaters and Apocalypse of the Dead

“Robert S. Wilson shows a lot of promise here with this debut novel. Now it’s time to see where that promise will take him.”–Ray Wallace, The Chiaroscuro

“You’ll not find some glistening torsos and smouldering eyes in this book. What you will find is a brilliantly thought out society of Vampires.”–Jim Mcleod, Ginger Nuts of Horror

“The Mesh of Religious symbolism and political commentary tucked neatly between pure horror and suspense is superb.”–Lisa Lane, The Cerebral Writer

Cover art by Deron Douglas

On The Nanotech Murders we have a beautiful woman standing in front of a detailed back drop, holding a gun.  Let’s be honest here, it catches your eye for several reasons.  One you have an attractive woman, two you have interesting shading, that almost implies she might not be all human, and last you have that gun.  The cover certainly catches the eye.  The font on the title is unique while readable and the authors name is prominent but not overwhelming.  The book description from Amazon offers a brief sales pitch:

The year is 2071 and there’s a serial killer loose in Atlanta. Lieutenant Jak Decker, a homicide cop, is on the case but is getting nowhere. As the body count mounts, his boss assigns him a partner, the smart and beautiful Detective Cassandra Smith. Decker, a tough, wise-cracking loner, doesn’t want a partner, especially when he finds out she’s an android.

While I am no expert in Book Covers, I do understand that we judge books by their covers.  If you want to sell some books cover art helps a lot (and it certainly doesn’t harm anything).  We must also remember that your cover art will become that books brand.  And we all know how powerful branding is.  Just think about golden arches.  So consider your cover art carefully.  I can’t wait to get some cover art for my first novel.  Please comment below with your cover art tips and tricks to help others learn from your own experience.

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Updates: February 2012

A lot has gone on since I wrote my January Updates in the first part of January.  There are new announcements and progress reports to share.  Let’s get started, shall we.

On February 5th, I finished the first draft of my still untitled novel.  It game is at just over 67,000 words and only took forty seven days start to finish.  As I mentioned before, I didn’t write everyday.  Life gets in the way sometimes.  So, it took 21 days of writing.  I am pleased to be finished, but now the real work starts.  There are many other steps ahead and I will probably start the self editing in March.

I did write a January short story.  I put it out for critiques and the overwhelming response is that it seems unfinished.  I originally wrote it with a quick little idea, thinking a flash piece.  But it seems it needs some expanding.  The problem is, I am not sure where I will go from here.  We will see.

My other two short stories are still out with various markets.  I hope to hear back on both of them soon.  Of course I will still announce their sales on Twitter and Facebook.

Daddy is Tired,  the children’s picture book, is still waiting on the illustrator.  So, unfortunately there is no cover art to show you yet.  I also don’t think a March release will happen either.  The lead time from the publisher is lengthy.  So, perhaps April.  The illustrator has told me she will be staying up late tomorrow and hopes to finish then.  Official release dates will be announced as soon as I have them.

I’ve done a lot of reading since I finished Shining in Crimson by Robert S. Wilson.  I read Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card and The NanoTech Murders by Lee Gimenez (review here).  Right now I am reading I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.  I know it is amazing that I have not read this book yet, not sure why I never got to it but I am reading it now.  Once I finish that, I will have to head back to the book store.

I’m planning a move any day now.  I plan to move back to Vacaville, my hometown here in California.  I’m living just up the road in a neighboring city right now.  We moved here for cheaper rent, but we miss home (even with it being so close) and we hope to move before March 1st.  But, that may not be possible.  It all depends on if we hear back from the applications we have put in.

Well, that’s the updates for February.  We’ll have to touch base on these again in March.  Hopefully then I will have release dates and other fun stuff to share.

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What am I Reading?

I get a lot of people who email me and ask what I am reading.  Some give no reason for asking, others explain that they would like an idea of who to read for ideas in their own writing.

So I thought I would share a bit about what I am reading now.  If you want to keep up with everything I have read, you can find me on Goodreads.com.

Short Stories

Every day I read Daily Science Fiction.  They email a short (often flash length) story to me Monday through Friday.  I find it is a great short read and I usually enjoy them.  If  you don’t get them by email they do post them to their website after a bit.  I won’t review them, because that’s not the point.  I will tell you which ones I enjoyed the most.

I also read Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, but I have not received the new issue yet.

Recently I enjoyed these stories for DSF (in no particular order):

Fields of Ice by Jay Caselberg

Ned Thrall by Amalia Dillin

A Great Destiny by Eric James Stone
Call Center Blues by Carrie Cuinn
I Kill Monsters by Nathaniel Matthews Lee
Tomorrow’s Dawn by Milo James Fowler
There are many more I like, but those are the most recent.

Books

In the books category I recently finished, Empress of Eternity by L.E. Modessit Jr.  It was a great read.  My review in on Goodreads, so you can read it there.  Its the second book I have read by Modessit Jr. and his style was close to the same in both books.  I think he always an entertaining read.
I am currently reading Black Prism by Brent Weeks.  I have not read anything by Weeks, but I had not read any Fantasy is a very long time.  I saw this book and it was the first of a series and a newer release.  So far I find the story very compelling and I am enjoying every page.  I am not very far into it and it is already a page turner.  It seems promising.
Of course I list all the books I read on Goodreads, so please come by and you can keep see what I am reading now.  If you don’t use Goodreads I recommend it.  There are a ton of good ideas on there if you are looking for a new book.
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Shining in Crimson By Robert S. Wilson

Today Shining in Crimson (Empire of Blood) by Robert S. Wilson was released in the Kindle Version with the Paperback and Hardcover editions set to be released October 2nd.  You can check out his website to see more about it, or visit Amazon to buy eReader version.  Also you can follow Shining in Crimson on Facebook.

Now that you can look up what I am talking about, I thought I would explain why I mention this particular book release.  Robert and I are both members of the Hatrack Writers Workshop (or Hatrackers).  In early February I came across a post in our Fragments and Feedback section in which I read an intro to a Vampire book.

Typically this is not my genre and I tend to steer away from it.  I don’t remember why I chose to read this, but I am glad I did.  I was hooked by the style of this small opening fragment.  I offered to review the whole thing.  I had not read a critiqued a novel before, but if I can help I figured I would try it.

I spent the rest of the month reading over three chapter blocks.  I offered my advice but truthfully I fell for Robert’s characters, their struggles, and the overall plot.   And I continued to push him to send me more chapters, while he continued to try to get them edited.  And, like most stories I truly love deep down, I was a little sad when it was over.    From the time I read that draft to now, I would say that I gained a friend in Robert.

It was a really good book, and I generally don’t care for Vampire stories.  Perhaps it is my limited knowledge of the genre.  Perhaps it is the way Twilight has transformed the mainstream vampire story.  I don’t know why I don’t care for the genre.  However, Robert changed my mind.  Or at least opened my mind a little.

This is not the Vampire story where the vampires are hunky men, and you have to join Team Mark or Team Sam.  This is about Hank, the Main Character who finds himself charged with a crime and sentenced to visit Necropolis, a city belonging to the Vampires now.  This is a sure death sentence, but Hank is desperate to survive for the sake of his son.

There are several plot threads to this story giving it depth and forward motion.  I found myself turning pages with ease as I hoped for the success of the various characters.  I’ll stop here.  It’s time for you to pick up your Kindle and read Shining in Crimson.

I have chosen to pre-order the paperback version which will ship on October 2nd in honor of Robert’s mother’s birthday (who passed away in 2006).  If you wish to pre-order a paperback or hardback edition you can do it here.  If you are on Goodreads you can enter to win a copy here.

At the very least, pick up the Kindle Version for only 99 cents.  It will be the best dollar you ever spent.

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