Monday, July 14, 2008

Jacks and Jills of all Trades

Vicki here on a pleasant summery Monday.

It does seem as if mid-list authors have to do a lot more than write books these days. Donis mentions that she dreads coming up with the 250 word blurb and, worst of all, the 30 or 50 word summary. Which, before I continue, reminds me of a story that I will never be allowed to forget.

My eldest daughter, Caroline, is a great lover of the classics. Not only Pride and Prejudice as with young women her age, but she’s read many of the ‘greats’. She gave me Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Emma as her contributions to my retirement party favourite-book-giving. When she came home for a visit some years ago, she was just beginning Anna Karenina.

- Have you read this book?
- No, the only thing I know about it is that at the end she throws herself under a train
- Look of total horror – WHY DID YOU TELL ME THAT!!!
- Everyone knows that
- I didn’t.

Sorry Caroline. I guess my attempt at a blurb for Anna Karenina didn’t work very well.

I don’t mind writing the blurbs. Didn’t we all have plenty of practice with our first book when we were sending out the dreaded query letter? I think it does help to focus your mind on what is key, what is truly important, about this book, and that way you’re ready when someone at a party says “So, what’s your book about.” And you tell them.

As long as never again in all my life do I have to write a synopsis. That is indeed a killer – strip all the life and action and anything of interest out of your book and recite it like a Grade 9 boy’s book report on the abovementioned Pride and Prejudice. There’s this girl, who doesn’t like this guy, even though he’s got lots of money and ....

But beyond writing the blurbs, and the jacket copy, some writers are even designing their own covers. Rick does every detail of his own, right down to the font used in the chapter headings. (And he does a fantastic job of it). For the first time, I’ve sent some suggestions for a cover to my publisher for Gold Digger (note the change in spelling since my last post – an executive decision). I’m not a graphic designer by any means (Damn it, Jim, I’m a writer not an artist!) and my feeble attempts at a cover design were done in Word, but they were only meant to be suggestions. My ideas may not see the light of day, but I tried.

Aside from the question of where the writer is supposed to get the time to be the cover designer, the blurb writer, the marketer, the sales person, the advertising person, as well as visit every chain book store in North America, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I recently read a book by a writer with a top of the line British publisher. The book takes place on the rugged coast of Scotland; the body is found in the deep woods; a minor bit of action takes place on a sail boat at sea. The cover shows a picture of a rowboat drifting on a calm, misty lake. The cover had so little to do with the plot I wondered if they’d mixed it up with another book, and perhaps somewhere there is a book about fishing for trout in Northern Ontario with a picture on the cover of a storm lashing the crags of Scotland. What happened, I am sure, is that the cover artist never read so much as a prĂ©cis of the book. Similarly, how many books have blurbs that read as if they’re a plot summary out of TV guide?

Jones must find the killer before... He races to catch a killer. ... Before he kills again. ... Before it’s too late. Blah, blah, blah.

IMHO the purpose of advertising departments is to stifle originality and promote group-think (with some exceptions, I can’t imagine that Charles has a conformist bone in his body). Sometimes you do need the author to keep control of their product. *

* The above opinion is not in any way intended to discourage any publisher from unleashing a multi-million dollar advertising budget on any works by Vicki Delany


Donis Casey said...

I don't mind the 250 word blurb, but I don't like that 50 word s.o.b. But OMG! I forgot about that dread summary. A Very Famous Author told me once that she thanked God she had enough reputation that she didn't have to do summaries, because she didn't know if she could mangage it.

Rick Blechta said...

Here, here! Is there anybody in this world who likes doing summaries -- of anything?