Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Cold Beautiful Truth About Covers


Tom Doherty, of Tor Books, once gave me a percentage breakdown of the various factors that make or break books: cover, title, jacket copy, blurbs, advertising, etc.  In his opinion, covers accounted for ten percent or less.  And, seemingly confirming this, Tor gave one of their top stars, John Farris, the most garish, ridiculous covers on earth--and John kept selling about 100,000 copies.

John's core readership, developed in the course of thirty years then, may well have stuck by him regardless.  Then again, with better covers, he may have been selling half a million copies.  At that time, I worked at Oxford Books, and I'm here to tell you that I couldn't give those books away to discriminating readers who'd never heard of John.  Not until, with DRAGONFLY, John wrote a different sort of book--stronger on mystery and romance, lighter on extreme gore--and was blessed with a fabulous cover, as elegant as his prose style.  We couldn't keep that book in stock.  And shoppers flocked across the aisle to the New Arrivals to pick it up and have a look...

The importance of the cover to an indie writer is certainly far higher than just ten percent.  And you know what?  Rightly so.  A single glance will tell them if our book belongs to the herd or apart...how we think about ourselves and the work we're offering...what they might expect from us in terms of style or approach...and, far from least, how resourceful and committed we are to delivering real razzmatazz.

When I e-pubbed THE VANISHING MAGIC OF SNOW, I was still learning the ropes.  And this showed:  the cover was nothing more than a slightly altered author photo...and the book's formatting was spotty because I'd chosen a cheap formatter.  Onward to the learning curve.  For #2, SOUTHERN SCOTCH, I chose a more professional and more expensive formatter who took genuine pride in her work:  Jo Harrison.  And a friend who's quite good with computers helped design a more colorful cover
that suggested both the Scottish and the Southern elements.

BUT...Though the cover was wild, bold, playful and unusual, I still wasn't entirely happy.  Though I had a helluva story, I'd failed to inspire readers to even download the novel for free.  I began to brood on the word resourceful.  And then the word independent.  With a single tip from Jo Harrison, I set my sights on Fotolia, a data base for stock photos and images.  For my third ebook, NOBILITY, I wanted a killer image of a train at night.  And I began to pour through hundreds of shots...till I found my killer cover.  Fired up now, I started searching for a cover in the same vein for the sequel to SOUTHERN SCOTCH.  Days later, I found it.

As always, I'll heed the feedback I get.  At this point, I'm satisfied that these new covers will turn heads and convey the essence of a book by Reb MacRath.

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