Okay, if there was ever any doubt I am mad, as in insane, these past few months should put those doubts to rest. I knew my production had been down the last year or so. I was still putting out books, but not at the rate I wanted to. So, when this year began, I decided to make a few changes to my routine to see if that changed. It took about six weeks for the changes to really kick in. When they did, everything changed and I swear Myrtle the Evil Muse turned more evil than ever. How so? Starting mid-February, the real work on Nocturnal Revelations began. A month ago, the book went live on Amazon, all 120k words of it. This morning, Battle Flight, a prequel to Vengeance from Ashes, went live. That book is more than 50k words. To say my brain is fried is putting it mildly.
Posts tagged ‘covers’
Last night, I was talking with Kate and some of our regular MGC readers about what I should write about today. We discussed several different possibilities but we kept coming back to a single topic and I signed off the internet, satisfied that I had my topic for this post. I finished editing the chapter I’d been working on and went to bed, knowing I’d be up early enough this morning to write the post. Then morning rolled around and after having a dearth of ideas last night, I find myself hit over the head with several new ones this morning thanks to a quick look at Facebook.
The first is thanks to our own Brad Torgersen. He linked to this article from Barnes & Noble about books publishers and editors want us to read in 2016. Brad’s question relating to the article had to do with the covers for the books from Tor. Take a look at the covers. Do they signal science fiction or fantasy to you? To me, they don’t. Two of them “read” literary. One reads as possible horror and the third has a simple contemporary fiction feel to it.
What struck me about the article even more than the covers was how different the editors from Tor described their recommendations when compared to the other recommendations on the list. Of the seven books on the list, the Tor editors start three of their blurbs with mentions of the awards the author has been nominated for or has won. One then goes on to talk about the “decorative blurbs” from other authors — before discussing what the book is about. Another starts with “For the discerning speculative reader and mainstream fantasy dabbler”. Huh? Again, this is before discussing the plot of the book in question.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but if someone is recommending a book to me, I want to know what the book is about and what genre it happens to be before knowing if the author is award-winning, etc. When I see things like “discerning speculative reader”, my first inclination is to move past that book unless I’m in the mood for something literary. I have nothing against literary fiction. I enjoy reading it from time to time. But it is only one part of my reading and even it needs to entertain me. This is something so many people seem to have forgotten. Literary doesn’t have to be boring. It can be thought-provoking even as it entertains. It can have a message — heck, any fiction can — without preaching. Most of us read for entertainment and for publishers to continue to survive, they need to remember that and quit thinking that those who are buying they books give one flip for how many awards the author has been nominated for.
Then came this article about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. No, this isn’t another opening salvo in whether Rey is a Mary Sue character or not. We can continue to debate that if you want on Saturday’s post. Actually, the article itself wasn’t so much what drew my attention as some of the comments I saw associated with it. I don’t remember who showed up on my FB feed with a link to the post but what made me follow through to it was their assertion that the problem with the movie was that, while entertaining, it didn’t go far enough to make us think. You see, it’s not enough to cast a female in the lead role or to have a person of color as a secondary lead. It wasn’t deep enough, intellectual enough. Apparently, it isn’t enough to have an entertaining movie any longer. It seems that is “dumbing down” our country.
What strikes me by comments like this is that those making them comes off not only as an intellectual snob (and I don’t doubt that most of us here at MGC have more letters after our names than many of these commenters) but they also suggest entertainment is not a good thing. This has been and still is one of the basic differences between the Sad Puppy supporters (I can’t and won’t talk for Vox and his supporters) and the Puppy-kickers. Despite what has been said by the other side, Sad Puppies are not against fiction having a message. We just want it to entertain us as it makes us think. If we — or any other reader — gets bored, we aren’t going to continue reading (or watching). But entertain us, subtly wrap your message in with your plot and character development and we will think about it, talk about it and enjoy it. And isn’t that what we, as authors, want? Don’t we want people to be entertained by our work, to think about it and talk about it?
Finally, we get to the topic that I was going to focus on when I sent to bed last night.
In one of the groups I belong to, someone posted a link to this article. Even though the headline for the post is “The Main Difference Between Urban Fantasy and Horror”, the actual thrust of the article is about the difference between the protagonist in UF vs Horror. According to the article, the difference is simple. An UF protagonist takes the supernatural in stride while the Horror protagonist doesn’t know how to react.
Urban fantasy characters generally take vampires and zombies in stride and react as competently as the reader would like to think they would do in similar straits.
Horror characters, on the hand, tend to freak out, panic, doubt their sanity, make unwise decisions,, or even descend into gibbering madness—which is probably the more realistic approach!
I happen to agree with the above explanation. In Urban Fantasy, the fantastic is part of the world and is usually known to the mundanes. Oh, the main character might not realize at the beginning of the story that the next door neighbor turns furry with the full moon or has a dietary need for hemoglobin but, once they get over their feelings of shock or betrayal, they accept it and move on. Why? Because that is the way the world of UF is built. Horror is different. For those characters, the supernatural is not a part of their world. It is something they might have read about or watched in the movies. But it wasn’t real — until it stood up and spat in their face.
(Now, I’m going to be vague here because the discussion took place in a private forum. I am not going to name names nor be specific about what was said. I ask that those who are members of that forum remember the rules and not be specific with your comments. Forum rules still apply.)
Horror strikes people differently. Some readers love it. Others can’t stand it. Some want to read it because it gives them an adrenaline rush. There are those who won’t read it for religious reasons. Others feel it is too depressing while some see it as glorifying the tenacity of the human spirit. Like any other genre, it has its fans and it haters.
However, one thing I will say is that any author writing good horror is anything but lazy. I can think of no other genre that requires more emotional manipulation of the reader than horror. The horror author has to pull the reader in, put his hand on the virtual heart of the reader and tug it, even as the other hand is wrapped around the reader’s throat, squeezing slowly and inexorably. The author has to create characters we want to see survive and win out over the supernatural threat, even as we hope at least one person gets eaten by the big bad.
Is horror depressing? It can be. But beyond that sense of helplessness the characters feel from time to time because they are so out of their depth, good horror includes the need to survive. There are often heroes who are willing to sacrifice themselves to save the others. As with any good fiction, you see the good and bad of humanity in the characters. This isn’t Buffy who suddenly learns she is the Chosen One sent to save the world. These are Everyday Joes and Janes thrust into a situation straight from their worst nightmares. Some will fall and fail. Some will go mad, unable to adapt and deal with what is happening to them. Some will prevail. Just as would happen in real life (at least I hope so).
So, is horror lazy writing? I don’t think so.
Is entertaining in a book or movie a bad thing? I don’t think so.
Is it necessary to make people think when reading your book or watching your movie? No, but if you can slip your message in in such a way that you make them think and still manage to entertain, cool.
Is it important to readers that authors are nominated or have won awards? Nope. Most readers don’t know what the Hugo or any other literary award is.
What is important to readers? In my opinion, a book that draws them in, keeps them entertained (if they are reading for entertainment) or holds their attention (if reading for any other reason) and if it makes them think too, all the better.
So, what do you think?
“Hello, I’m Dave… and yes, I, I… have a reading problem…”
“Go on Dave, you’re among friends here. We’ve all been there.”
“Well, I don’t think I want to quit. But… but I need help.”
“Oh, none of us do, when you’re deep in a great book. But the bastards put that Amazon link at the end to the next one.”
“Uh. Not quite my problem. I’m still one of the guys who loves to wonder around a bookshop and look at the covers and read the blurbs… but lately, um…”
“You’ve got to go electronic, Dave.”
“Yeah, go to Amazon. Start with your favorite author.”
“Man, you don’t understand. Most of my favorite authors seem to be suffering from death. Baen only produce a handful, and I keep hitting stuff I can’t use, not even on my five books a day reading jags. I like to read the blurbs, see if I’m going to like it. The ones on Amazon suck.”
As you may gather, I have just been told (aka ‘offered the opportunity’ :-)) to write a description for CHANGELING’S ISLAND. It appears that blubs – the text on the back of a paperback or in the cover-flap of a hardcover, are not necessarily the same as the descriptions on Amazon. Writing either descriptions or blurbs is a skill, and not one of mine. Still, we do what must be done (and today ‘what must be done’ was two tons of firewood, so my hands are sore and not feeling like a lot of typing. So I plan to cheat, a bit).
Blurbs and covers… they’re about getting readers to engage – often on a very fleeting look. Therefore in my mind it makes sense – if you’re looking at readers who know neither the author nor anything about it that the book must 1)signal what it by the cover. 2)signal what it is by the blurb, 3)Hook the reader. 4)tell them something about the story and setting. Unless they are pre-interested… that’d better be quite easy reading, unless the hook is just too good.
He rode alone. He came out of the Malpais, the terrible volcanic badlands where nothing can live, riding a giant red stallion no other man could put a hand to. His boots were polished, his speech was gentle, but his guns were quick and smooth as silk. He shot first and talked later.
Nobody knew who he was or what he wanted. But they did know that where he walked Death walked too.
0% Passive voice.
Flesch reading ease 87.8
Flesch-Kincaid grade 4.0
Here is the description Amazon for the same book.
He left the West at the age of seventeen, leaving behind a rootless past and a bloody trail of violence. In the East he became one of the wealthiest financiers in America—and one of the most feared and hated.
Now, suffering from incurable cancer, he has come back to New Mexico to die alone. But when an all-out range war erupts, Flint chooses to help Nancy Kerrigan, a local rancher. A cold-eyed speculator is setting up the land swindle of a lifetime, and Buckdun, a notorious assassin, is there to back his play.
Flint alone can help Nancy save her ranch…with his cash, his connections—and his gun. He still has his legendary will to fight. All he needs is time, and that’s fast running out….
Flesch reading ease 69.6
Flesch-Kincaid grade 7.5
Personally, I did buy on the first. Not sure (if I didn’t know the author) I would on the second. But it does carry quite a lot of information about the story, whereas the first did not really, but worked on hooking the reader to look inside…
I looked at the Hugo Finalists Amazon descriptions (I don’t have the actual books and therefore it hard to guess if this is the same as on the back of the paperback/jacket-copy. They’re in Alphabetical order.
Breq is a soldier who used to be a warship. Once a weapon of conquest controlling thousands of minds, now she has only a single body and serves the emperor.
With a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to go to the only place in the galaxy she would agree to go: to Athoek Station to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew – a lieutenant she murdered in cold blood.
Flesch reading ease 61
Flesch-Kincaid grade 10.8
The sheer shortness of this may positively influence it’s readability scores. There is little information about the story. The hook, IMO is the lieutenant she murdered in cold blood. I can’t say I’d have looked inside, or picked it up on the cover, but your mileage may vary. In terms of attracting readers I think it relies on being the second book, and the hype created by the publisher.
The Dark Between the Stars
Twenty years after the elemental conflict that nearly tore apart the cosmos in The Saga of Seven Suns, a new threat emerges from the darkness. The human race must set aside its own inner conflicts to rebuild their alliance with the Ildiran Empire for the survival of the galaxy.
In Kevin J. Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars, galactic empires clash, elemental beings devastate whole planetary systems, and factions of humanity are pitted against each other. Heroes rise and enemies make their last stands in the climax of an epic tale seven years in the making.
Flesch reading ease 47,6
Flesch-Kincaid grade 12.5
Well, it is quite a description of the setting, not the story. No hooks for me. I personally like the cover.
The Goblin Emperor
The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend . . . and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne-or his life.
Flesch reading ease 49.5
Flesch-Kincaid grade 14.2
Well, that was more interesting to me. Once again a lot of scene setting, but several hooks.
Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.
He doesn’t know the half of it…
Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town, so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.
It’s a smash and grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.
Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…
Flesch reading ease 57.6
Flesch-Kincaid grade 10
I have a problem with the cover – I like cowboy books so it works for me. Jim Butcher fans probably look no further than the name, and in context with the story they’re cool with the cover being appropriate. But to someone who neither knows Harry Dresden nor Jim Butcher… they might not even get to the description – Which IMO is several miles above the rest in quality (I’d love this description-writer to write mine!) It has hooks, it has quite a lot of scene setting (telling you what kind of book this is).
Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.
The description is from the hard-cover. The kindle version is quite different and more attractive IMO. I gather it’s a good read, I quite like the cover, but that’s not a blurb that hooked me.
Flesch reading ease 47.5
Flesch-Kincaid grade 11.5
And this is my attempt (which Baen may use none of, some of or as they please).
Addendum 🙂 CHANGELING’S ISLAND is YA (so not directly comparable) and the cover is not yet available. I’ve seen the art – it’s been up on Baen’s Bar, but I don’t have it.
Tim Ryan was a kid in trouble. Or who caused trouble just by being there, with his own personal poltergeist. His mother called him a changeling. After the shoplifting incident and the fire, he’d been sent to live with his crazy old grandmother, a woman who wouldn’t look at him, and talked to the fairies. And to make it worse she lived on a rundown old farm in the bush… on a remote island off the coast of Australia.
He was city boy, and he hated it. He didn’t milk cows, chase sheep or hunt fish with a spear. He didn’t go out on the wild sea in tiny boats. Except… well, here he had to. And the place didn’t hate him. It was a spirit place, a place of ancient magic, full of sadness, triumph, murder and survival. It wanted him here. Waiting just offshore lurked a Selkie, a seal woman, ready to trap him, to kill him, or take him somewhere else. Because Tim’s mother was right. He was a changeling, sort of. And this island was part of him, and he was part of it. It was in his bones, and the sea around it was in his blood.
It was his. He just had to learn to take it, to be an islander.
Sometimes that also meant taking trouble head on, whether it was drug-runners, snakes or risking his life at sea in the storm.
It was tough, but then, maybe, so was he.
Flesch reading ease 87
Flesch-Kincaid grade 3.7
And now you tell me which of those books you would have bought on cover/blurb (not knowing the authors, without the Hugo) and why? I need to learn :-).
Morning, everyone. Sarah asked me to put up a quick note to apologize for not having a chapter today. It seems the con crud she’s been fighting since LibertyCon has finally hit and is laying her low. She will be back for her regular post on Wednesday and a chapter next week.
In the meantime, here are some links for your consideration.
This is Sarah and I have a message for my friends and colleagues still trapped in and only in Traditional Publishing:
Look, people, you might choose to close your eyes, put your fingers in your ears, and believe that your publishers are your friends. They’re not.
Oh, okay, perhaps a small exception can be made for Baen books, a small family run company that treats its authors like family. The others?
They’ve made it very clear what you are. Widgets. Another can of beans. Burn your career (snap of fingers.) No skin off their noses. There are another ten . . . writers just like you in line waiting to break in.
On that same note, there is this article from across the ocean:
The ALCS set its findings against Department of Culture, Media and Sport figures which show that in 2014, the creative industries were worth £71.4bn per year to the UK economy. “In contrast to the decline in earnings of professional authors, the wealth generated by the UK creative industries is on the increase,” it said. “If unchecked, this rapid decline in the number of full-time writers could have serious implications for the breadth and quality of content that drives the economic success of our creative industries in the UK.”
Then, for those of you who have been following the, er, “discussion” on covers, experts and other things over at According to Hoyt, here is an awesome post by Dorothy Grant on cuing with your book covers. Read it, read it again and learn. I know I am doing my best to take in everything she says.
The best way to get a feel for what your cover needs to signal is to look at your genre’s covers, discard the classics and the iconic covers with major push, and average the differences for cues.
Now, have a great Sunday, enjoy the World Cup, all you soccer fans and Sarah will be back on Wednesday.
Every so often someone who has deep expertise in one field (say, an artist or photographer) will make a complete ass of him or herself (or itself, let’s not be binary-genderist here) pontificating or offering advice in another field where they don’t have any expertise. Sometimes the field is related, sometimes not. Say… book covers.
So why, you say, would an artist not know anything about book covers? They’re art, aren’t they?
Well, no. They contain art, but they’re not primarily art. They’re primarily a marketing tool. That marketing tool has to communicate several pieces of information: who wrote the book, what genre (and in some cases subgenre) it is, the title, and something about the feel of the book. That’s a crapload of information to pack into a smallish rectangle that needs to attract potential buyers from several feet away (or the other side of a screen anything from phone sized up).
What this means is that everything on a cover has to multitask. Everything. Including font size, the font itself (do not ever use fonts that are hard to read. And if you have words like “flick” in your title choose your font very, very carefully indeed. It might not look like “flick” when you read it from five feet away (I know whereof I speak, here. There was a – much laughed about – public obscenity case in Australia over a bumper sticker that read “FLICK OFF”. In a font that… well… Let’s just say that with more spacing between the L and the I it wouldn’t have been quite such a problem)).
The first way to make the right links in a casual viewer’s mind is for the cover to have an appearance that more or less fits with similar books. This is why if you look at say, historical romance covers, they have a similar kind of feel to them. More than that, these conventions change. Rapidly.
If you have a large enough collection gathered over a long enough time frame, take a look at 1960s SF covers. Then 1970s. Then 80s. 90s. 2K-ish, 05-ish, 10-ish and nowish (do not include Baen covers in any grouping. They’re a category unto themselves, for Reasons). They change quite a lot, in terms of dominant theming, preferred fonts, embossing, chroming, assorted effects… as well as the kind of art used, color saturation and a ton of other things. Notice too, how changes are happening more rapidly lately – which makes it much more difficult to keep up with what’s current.
Trends in art are different than trends in covers. Trends in each genre are different, and different subgenres have their own trends. I said in a recent comment over on According To Hoyt that
good covers can be totally shitty art. They can look like someone crapped on your computer after ODing on rainbow glitter, as long as they fit with the norm for covers of that genre.
If you doubt, go and look at the 60s and 70s covers again. Many of the new age covers did look exactly like that – and for the time frame and genre they were perfectly good covers. They signaled that these were not traditional SF books, and they had a look that distinguished them from the traditional covers of their time.
Of course, the “artist” (I think he’s a photographer, actually) on that thread got all offended and gave a world-class performance of the epic dummy spit, and at the time I’m writing this has yet to figure out that nobody is slamming his tastes or his abilities. People are being remarkably polite in the face of a toddler tantrum, at least so far (okay, okay, it’s amusing me to play at being polite while seeing how much of an ass he can make of himself. I never said I was nice).
The point being, of course, that he’s forgotten or never knew that his abilities in his field do not transfer automatically to book covers, because while there are some similarities and you could say the fields are related, they aren’t close enough for an artist or photographer to be a good cover designer without training or study. So, of course, instead of listening to the people who have studied, he made an ass of himself.
It’s common. Physicists have done it when talking about climate. Movie stars do it all the time (especially when talking about politics or economics). The solution is that you don’t just bloody assume because you know a lot about one thing you automatically know about some other thing that looks kind of like the thing you do know.