Thursday, September 6, 2012

Judging Books by their Covers

When my editor and I talked about book covers for The Deathday Letter, I didn't have much input beyond asking her to give me a cover that my thirteen-year-old self wouldn't be embarrassed to carry around.

A lot of readers believe that authors have say in the covers of their books, but that's not true.  While most editors and book publishers ask the author their opinion, at the end of the day, they don't have to, and even if the author doesn't like the cover the publisher comes up with, there's not much they can do about it.  Unless of course your name starts with JK and ends with Rowling.

But when I saw my cover for Deathday, I was ecstatic.  It was dark and cool and my younger self would have proudly carried it around.

When the book came out though, I saw that the cover was causing confusion.  Some saw it and thought it looked like a book for younger children, others thought it looked dark.  A lot of female readers were instantly turned off because they thought it was too much of a "boy book" to bother with it.

Like it or not, people do judge books by their covers.  A cover needs to grab someone at a bookstore. It needs to scream, "Look at me! Look at me!  Pick me up right now and take me home!"  A person glancing at covers needs to quickly get a feel for what kind of book this is and that they want it.  While I love my Deathday Letter cover and I know that it would have intrigued me if I'd seen it at a bookstore, I can understand why people might be confused by it.

Which is why I'm so in love with my cover for FML.  FML is a great book about a party.  About a seventeen-year-old named Simon Cross who wants to tell the girl of his dreams he loves her.  And he's got two timelines to do it in.  But how to get that across?  My working title for FML was A TALE OF TWO PARTIES.  It was my brilliant editor's idea to change the title to FML.  I'm sure we all know what that stands for.  Secretly, I add an "s" to the end...F My Lives...because we do get to follow Simon through two timelines.  We get to see how he Fs up his life two different ways.

When people see the cover of FML, they may not get the whole of what FML is about, but they'll definitely know what kind of book they're getting. A fun, crazy, sarcastic read full of characters with heart.  When someone picks up FML, there won't be any confusion as to what type of book this is.

A keen reader on Goodreads mentioned that my cover looked like two other books that might be similar.  And he's right.  One of those books was even published by my publisher.  I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.  Selling books is difficult.  Getting people to go into a bookstore and pick one up is even harder.  If you go look through the paranormal romance sections, you'll see rows of covers that look similar.  The reason for that is recognition.  You see a book with a headless girl in a flowy dress on the front and you can pretty much guess what type of book you're going to be reading.  So I'm sure the decision to model FML after these types of party books was a way of saying, "Hey! I'm a party book.  Buy me, and I guarantee you a great freaking time."

Of course the only real similarity FML shares with those books is the party and sense of fun, but getting people to pick up the book and buy it is half the battle.  And I think that those who do read it will enjoy the hell out of it.  There's partying and drinking and water Shakespeare and contact Scrabble and Truth or Beer Pong and mini golf and a blind dog and cross dressing and bed jumping.  And that's just in the first couple of chapters.  There's also a lot of heart on every single page.

I've known people who haven't been too thrilled with their covers, but I have to say that I've been insanely lucky.  The fine folks at Simon Pulse have really gone out of their way to make sure they put the best face on both Deathday and FML, and as a writer, I can't ask for more.


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.