Sunday, November 18, 2007

Judging Books by Their Covers

Last Wednesday our Greater St. Louis Chapter of Sisters in Crime had Jane Henderson, book editor for the Post-Dispatch as our speaker. Jane shared with us the process she uses to go through the 300 books she receives a WEEK to review.

First she notes any local tie. A handwritten sticky note or a mention in the media page at the front of an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) will do. So will a letter accompanying the book. She’ll even flip over the book and read the back to see if there’s a local tie.

Second she asks herself if her readers will be interested in the book. If the book might be a better fit for another Post-Dispatch department, she forwards it.

Third she considers the quality of the book. “Quality matters in all aspects,” she explained. She evaluates the writing, storyline, characters and the quality of the publication. Of course, to check out the first three elements, she has to read a summary of the book. But to determine that last critical decision point, she peruses the product itself. If the book if obviously self-published, Jane has to weigh another factor: Will it be available to her readers? One of the biggest problems for self-published authors is distribution. Jane doesn’t want to cover a book that her readers can’t find.

Jane admitted that telling whether a book is self-published is getting harder and harder. One clue can be the cover art.

I have to admit, when I choose a book by an author new to me the cover matters a lot. Life’s too short for ugly books. Okay, I’m teasing. Some. When it’s an older book, I don’t mind the appearance so much. But for a new one? I care a lot. To be fair, I also care about the interior design. Recently I picked up a book where to make the left and right side margins flush with an imaginary margin, huge gaps appeared between words. Not only did it look awful, but it was terribly hard to read. And I read fast. This particular bit of erratic spacing slowed me down. I nearly tossed the book in the trash. But it was written by a friend. I really wanted to mention to her that the publisher had done her a great disservice. But as my husband pointed out, "What's the upside?"

Uh, none.

As Jane talked about quality, I bit back a smile. The cover for my new mystery arrived this week. You’re the first to see it. In my humble opinion, Midnight Ink has the best covers in the business. I love mine!

What do you think? Do you like my cover? Does the appearance of a book matter to you?


Camille Minichino said...

It's a great cover, Joanna! Thanks for the preview. Let us know the pub date.

My covers matter to me a lot ... but I don't care much about covers of books I read. Except if it's hard to read like the one you described. Sometimes the printing goes out to within about a mil of the margin and I don't like that either. Mostly, I don't want covers to give away too much.

Deb Baker said...

Fabulous cover! Cover and title matter so much to me, unless I'm already familiar with the author.If I like those, I open the first page to see how it reads.

Ellen said...

Now here, you've hit my hobby - bookbinding, including layout and typesetting. I want my books to read easily. If I like the book it'll hang around, and I'd prefer it stay in one piece, with supple pages and well-attached cover.

I depend a lot on the author's reputation - I will buy anything by Terry Pratchett or John Varley, and any Dortmunder by Westlake. Otherwise, I read the first page. Being able to read the first page is the single greatest advantage of a brick and mortar store.

I try not to pay too much attention to the cover. The author is not really involved for the front cover, and it's usually a team of trained Shakespearean monkeys doing the back cover copy. I will admit, elves and bimbos are a turn-off.

But trying and succeeding are different matters, and it's a fortunate author whose book has a cover that catches the eye, favorably. You got a nice one.

You should sit down with Eleanor Arnasen if you happen to meet her, and discuss cover catastrophes. She's had a couple.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Isn't it great? The artist, Kevin, took a stroll through Archivers, the big scrapbook store, and came away with a real sense of the design trends for the industry. Scrapbookers are notoriously finicky about design. I explained that to MI. After all, just like Ellen with her bookbinding, when you have knowledge and interest, you learn to be discerning.

Sounds like Eleanor Arnasen might be an interesting interview.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Oh, pub date is September 2008.

Joyce said...

It's a gorgeous cover, Joanna!

Linda O. Johnston said...

What a great cover, Joanna! And it's also really nice that you have it ahead of the pub date, so you can use it for promotion.

I admit I judge books by their covers, whether or not I intend to. And I most certainly hope a lot of readers do the same. I'm always thrilled when I see the cover for each of my pet-sitter mysteries. They're always cute and indicate what animals star in that particular book.


caryn said...

Great cover! It makes me want to run out and buy the book! Covers matter to me if I'm trying a new author. After that-not so much. I remember the first one of Clea Simon's books had this cutesy cover-too cute-I nearly put the book back on the library shelf. I'm glad I didn't because I loved the book and am a big fan of her series now. The books are not cozies. I noticed that PoisonPenPress has made the next two covers in the seires MUCH less cutesy so I must not have been alone in my reaction.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Linda, I lobbied for the Great Dane, but I knew the artist had to have some control! And Caryn, thanks for the vote of confidence. Since we authors don't have much control over covers, it's great that readers like you are willing to see past one that's...well...not totally appealing!

Joe Moore said...

Nice cover, Joanna. Kevin Brown has outdone himself again.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Thanks, Joe. Isn't it great? And scrapbookers will LOVE it.

Kathryn Lilley said...

That is a great cover, Joanna. I think it will really make people pick up the book and give it a read! Best, Kathryn