Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Of covers and titles

Barbara here. What an interesting discussion we are having on Type M! It revolves around covers and titles, and how important they are when we choose a new book. Several people have commented that the two most important determinants in choosing a book are:

1. I've read and liked the author before.
2. Friends and reputable reviewers have recommended it.

This is true for me as well, although I would add that winning or being short-listed for a juried award that I respect might make me at least check out the book.

But what about all those excellent, unsung books that I've never heard of? Much as Rick described, there are several stages in my book buying process. First, "something" has to draw me to pick up the book off the shelf. Second, I read the back cover to see what it's about. If that's intriguing enough, I read the first page to see if it's well written and if I like the author's writing style. If I continue to be intrigued and impressed, even if I've never heard of the author and never read a review, I might buy the book. Online book browsing is somewhat different because it's much more annoying and fiddly to click through multiple links to read back covers and opening pages, and then you lose your place on the "shelf". Moreover, the first details to leap out at you are ratings and reviews, which can ruin a good book in no time.

But in either buying experience, there is that "something" that first makes you pick an unknown book from the shelf. And to me, that something is firstly cover, and secondly title. Both say a lot about the book, the style, and the sub-genre. Pun titles are almost always cozy, at times too clever by half. The covers often feature food, cats, and quaintly comfortable settings (think drawing rooms, porches, and libraries). On the other hand, guns, explosions, or silhouettes in dark alleys, accompanied by two-word, often two syllable titles like White Fear and Dead Eyes are almost always thrillers meant to keep you up all night. Neither are likely to attract me. I want stories that are unique and layered, stories that make me think as well as feel, so I will go for the title with a hint of mystery and intelligence.

Marketers and cover designers know their markets. They know the guns and short titles will attract the reader who wants to be kept up all night, while cats and tea cups will attract the reader who wants to spend a delightful few hours on a friendly puzzle. If the marketer and cover designer get it wrong, writers may never find the audience who will love their books and readers may miss a great story.

Fortunately for me, my publishers allow me to think up my own titles (which as Aline says could be a disaster, but I work hard to find a title that captures exactly what I want to say about the book). The publishers also ask for my cover ideas and send me the preliminary mock-up for my feedback. This is a fascinating process because the errors are usually not with the image itself but the colour or mood. Covers are much less about the image itself as they are about the atmosphere they create and the mood they evoke.

FIRE IN THE STARS is an example in point. The novel takes place in Newfoundland. The first cover, shown above, portrayed a stretch of rocky coast with a cluster of little house perched on the slope. It was meant to look bleak, but it was far too pretty and peaceful. The colours were pastel blue, grey, and white. The font was white. The book is fiery and full of danger from the crashing ocean and the dark, jagged shores. Readers hoping for a story of quaint bygone Newfoundland life would have been surprised by my book and those hoping for an edgy, suspenseful mystery might not have picked it up.

Fortunately, in the exchange of ideas that ensued, the present cover was developed. I hope the right balance was struck. What do you think? And  have you encountered any titles and covers that are jarringly wrong?


Eileen Goudge said...

Good call, Barbara. I like the cover you ended up with, and you're right: It reflects the mood of a mystery much more the previous one. Looks very intriguing! Now I want to read it.

Patricia Filteau said...

It is a good cover.