Can You Judge a Book by its Cover?

What do you think? Can you–or anyone else–actually judge a book fairly by its cover?

I think a more reasonable question is whether any of us can fail to let a book cover affect our decision to at least look at the back cover copy and possibly open the book and read the first few paragraphs.

Yes, there are exceptions. A hideously covered book may have been recommended to us by someone whose opinion we find to usually be in line with our own. Or the cover on the new book by our favorite author may be what we consider awful. In cases like those, our eyes may not see the front cover as a stop sign. And I don’t recall seeing Bibles with covers that would draw readers in; those covers tend to be pretty plain.

I doubt that any publisher fails to at least ask an author for recommendations about the cover. Sometimes the author’s contract specifically prevents the publisher from using a cover he or she disapproves of.

I’ve learned a lot about book covers during the years I’ve been writing, seeing my novels published, and now publishing novels myself. Gone is my opinion that a good cover must show at least a hint of one of the scenes from the book. And gone is my naive opinion that what looks good to my wife and me will automatically be equally attractive to other people.

At a marketing class for fiction writers some years ago, one of the teachers, a well-known literary agent, told the tale of a book by popular young adult novelist Jenny B. Jones. The cover depicted a cow–a black and white cow, if I recall correctly–with a tiara on her head. Hilarious, right? Adults, the agent/teacher said, thought it was hilarious. And wonderful.

Unfortunately, teens–the intended buyers and readers of Jenny’s book–thought the cover was horrible.

Ah, so teens and adults have different tastes? Why should that be so surprising!

When I self-published the quirky teen romance, Project Muffintop, I thought this cover would be perfect.

I spent the better part of a day taking pictures. At first my wife and I tried baking muffins in the tight jeans muffin mold I’d ordered from China, but we couldn’t get a muffin top to form quite correctly, and I ended up cutting the top off a store-bought muffin and sticking it on top of the muffin mold.

I published the book with that cover, but apparently nobody gave it a second glance. Ultimately, I had to admit it just wasn’t appropriate or professional looking.

So I found a stock photo I could use part of on top of what I’d used originally. It looked like this, and I thought it looked more appealing. Fun. Surely it would at least make a potential teen buyer take a second look.

I made the fortunate mistake–that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it?–of asking the opinion of an online group of readers. By and large, they didn’t care for either that cover OR the original. Not only that, they objected to the title. Strenuously.

Hmm. Back to the drawing board. But first I unpublished Project Muffintop. I didn’t want anyone else to see and be turned off by the original cover. (Fortunately, I never used the intended replacement cover.)

The relationship between the male and female protagonists was more important in the story than her diet, and I believe God inspired me to re-title Project Muffintop as Just Friends?–yes, the question mark is part of the title.

After numerous revisions, this is the current–and, I hope and pray, the final–version of the cover. It doesn’t portray a scene from the book or necessarily portray the protagonists accurately, but it gives the potential reader something to connect to emotionally and hints at the fact that there’s a question about the relationship between the two teens.

 

What’s your experience with book covers?  What’s your opinion about their importance? A comment would be welcome–and quite possibly helpful.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

P.S. Do you recall the original cover for The Devil and Pastor Gus, the one with a stereotypical devil at the upper right-hand cover? Or its replacement, the one with the church? When I got the rights to Pastor Gus back, I wanted something totally different, and this is it below.

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Always Ask Your Users…or Your Readers

A number of years ago I worked with a fellow who was clever at making small wooden objects. Although they were all very nicely done, the only one I remember was a small desk plaque that had a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin mounted on it. Inscribed beneath it was something like “Always ask your users.”

Whatever equally clever government employees came up with the Anthony dollar obviously failed to consider the needs, wants, and wishes of the American public. By the time my co-worker starting making those plaques, that coin had long since proved as unpopular as a stomach virus and eventually disappeared. Hence the “Always ask your users.”

Flash forward to very recent times.

I’d published a book called Project Muffintop. Cassie was disgusted with being nineteen pounds overweight. She talked her best friend, Jason, into helping her come up with a weight loss program to help her attract a hot prom date and maybe even a boyfriend. But she didn’t know Jason was crazy about her and he realized that helping her would simply make her even less interested in him except as her best friend.

He was afraid that telling Cassie how he felt about her would ruin their special friendship if she didn’t feel the same way about him–which she didn’t. He couldn’t chance having that happen. So he kept quiet.

The preacher’s daughter came up with a godly plan, however. Jason could tell Cassie everything he wanted to as her anonymous Secret Admirer.

If you want to know how everything turns out, the book will be available again shortly.

Okay, you say. What does that have to do with paying attention to users…or, in this case, to readers?

More than I’d ever dreamed of, to be honest.

I belong to a Facebook group called Avid Readers of Christian Fiction. When I realized how much of a turnoff the original cover was, I designed a new one that my wife and I thought was pretty catchy. So I submitted the following graphic to Avid Readers.

All I was expecting was a simple #1 or #2 answer. But what I got was overwhelmingly more helpful, once I got over the initial shock.

Dozens of women (and one man) not only objected to both covers (those that expressed a preference liked #1, the original one, better), but to the title and the emphasis on the importance of weight loss. Not to mention that the shorts on the muffin mold were objectionably tight. Etc.

I knew the diet was just the backbone of the story and that Jason had actually tried to convince Cassie that her weight was fine to start with. And, as her Secret Admirer, he’s able to convince her that weight didn’t affect who she was inside.

What I knew didn’t count, however. If that many avid readers wouldn’t give any consideration to Project Muffintop with that name and either cover, I had to pay attention to them. They would never even look at the back cover and see everything from a different perspective.

Tonight I plan to share with them the new cover and new title. Although I feel confident they’ll approve of it heartily, I’ve learned too well that I need their input–no matter what they say.

Since I don’t think any of them follow this blog, let me share the new cover with you.

There you have it. If you have some kind of product you want others to take seriously, make sure to get some feedback before you go deeply into something that might prove unsuitable.

Any comments–like whether you’d look at the back cover copy after looking at the front? I’d love to hear ’em.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Which Book Would You Pick?

For the sake of this post I’m assuming that all of you are readers of novels. Maybe Christian ones, maybe secular. Maybe both.

And you’re confronted with far more books than you have the time and inclination to read. And possibly the money, too. Are you with me so far?

You spend a long time browsing the bookshelves–or doing a comparable search online–and you’re paying special attention to three things: the title, the front cover, and the back cover blurb.

If those three things impress you, you may also look at the first sentence and maybe the first paragraph. Those steps help you make the best possible choices.

Well, let’s have a little fun with this now.  I have nine UNPUBLISHED novel manuscripts on my computer. So there’s no front cover or back cover blurb. I’ve listed their titles below along with a brief description. Please read them carefully. You should be able to tell which ones are Young Adult and which ones are general adult. All of them are Christian novels, however.

  • Project Muffintop: A teen girl diets to attract a boyfriend. But is she after the right boy?
  • Do I Ever!: Two couples try to hide their pending divorces from one another only to fall in love all over again.
  • Impractically Yours: Middle-aged best friends Robbie and María must overcome trust issues, blood sugar complications, and an ill-timed practical joke to keep their friendship intact and reveal their mutual love.
  • Fifty-Fifty: A greedy businessman who’s turned his back on love faces certain death at the age of fifty. But what if he miraculously survives?
  • Misfits: Two teenaged preacher’s kids discover the joys of being different when they start a misfits club that even the in-crowd kids want to join–and then rediscover one another.
  • Wherefore Art Thou Ramon?: As children, Ramón and Julianne unwittingly start a feud between their fathers. As teenagers, they must stop it. But do the ends justify the means?
  • Rosa No-Name: A young woman returns to the tiny Mexican village that once rejected her and earns acceptance by helping the villagers learn to read, to forgive, and to survive.
  • Overshadowed: A teen who’s lived under the shadow of family and friends discovers a self she never knew she could be after becoming a hesitant leader.
  • A Twisted Rainbow: Two young men discover the never-ending joy of following Christ after winning and then losing a fortune in the lottery.

Okay. You still with me? Would you now please leave a comment specifying which two manuscript would appeal to you the most if they’re ever published. Don’t worry. You’re not committing yourself to anything. I’m just curious.

~*~

I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

If you enjoy my writing, you’ll find a number of things to read on my website.  Also music to listen to and music-related videos to watch.

My newest novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Go HERE for links to those places.
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Best regards,
Roger

Overly Well-Fed Americans

On a trip to Romania around fifteen years ago, I was desperately trying to locate my flight to Budapest, Hungary. It didn’t help that nobody at the Paris airport seemed to speak English. Nonetheless, I got on board in time. Unfortunately, my suitcase didn’t.

In America we’re used to late luggage being delivered in as timely a way as possible, but on this trip, the best they could do was to hold on to my stuff till I returned to Budapest a week or so later. No wonder. The mission team I was traveling to catch up with faced many hours of driving to reach the border between Hungary and Romania and on to the small town we were to serve in. No way any airline would’ve delivered my luggage to Romania under those circumstances.

But that left me with a problem. The only clothes I had with me were the ones I’d been traveling forever in.

Fortunately, the team leader had some discretionary funds he could use to buy me a few essentials. The town was having a market day the next day, so I didn’t have to wait long to go shopping.

Oh, but I discovered something horrible that day. Romanian clothes don’t often come in the sizes worn by overly well-fed Americans. I had to settle for one pair of pants that was big enough–way too big, if I recall correctly–a sweater, and a couple of shirts.

When I asked my host if the pants and sweater matched–color blindness can be such a nuisance at times–he said, “Pants dark, sweater dark. They match.”

As we went about our activities that week, I’m not sure that I saw any overweight Romanians, much less any that were my size at that time. When I got home, I was all too aware of how drastically overweight too many Americans are.

I don’t agree with the Obamas about many things–and I don’t think overweight is a problem the government has any business trying to deal with–but Mrs. Obama is certainly right on the ball in being concerned about America’s weight problems. Especially among children and teens.

Every time I go to the mall, I invariably see one or more teens with fat bulging out over the top of a pair of jeans–all too often bare. And it’s not just teens, either. Do they actually think “muffin tops” are attractive?

Is it any wonder that the Young Adult (teen) novel I’m writing currently is called Project Muffintop? It deals with that problem. But it won’t help most overweight Americans.

You see, my protagonist knows she’s overweight and wants to do something about it, but I’m not sure whether most people really care. Maybe not until–like me–they find themselves diabetic when maintaining a desirable weight would’ve prevented the development of diabetes. And maybe they wouldn’t care even then. Not until a heart attack knocks them down.

I don’t know what the answer is. Americans have grown accustomed to the convenience and tastiness of the unhealthiest of foods, foods that are almost guaranteed to put on undesirable weight and keep it there. We’re spoiled.

I’ve read a dystopian novel or two–those are books about situations that have gotten as bad as bad can be. Including severe shortages of even the most basic foods. Not something any of us would enjoy having to live through. But what’s going to turn us away from the luxury of our unbridled eating, otherwise?

I’d love to have your feedback on this. Please leave a comment.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

If you enjoy my writing, you’ll find a number of things to read on my website. Also music to listen to and music-related videos to watch.

My new novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is out now. If you’re interested, please check it out at Amazon.
Tentative-Front-Cover
Best regards,
Roger