Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Importance of a Good Cover

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

It’s the old saying we’ve heard over and over again. And it’s right. We really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Just because weird things are happening on the outside doesn’t mean there isn’t a really good story on the inside.

But let’s face it – we judge books by their covers all the time. Humans are visual creatures. We see clothing that we like, we buy it. We see an attractive person, we want to go talk to them. So it’s only natural that a quality cover is going to entice us more. Even if there isn’t actual judging going on, it’s the cover that’s going to catch your eye first. It’s what will draw you in to read the back of the book or take a peek on the inside. So despite the old saying, a cover is important.

And judging does happen whether we like it or not. Though to be honest, it sometimes doesn’t come as a surprise. Whether you work at a bookstore or just happen to be moseying through one, when you see a bad cover you think, “Wow. What were they thinking?” which may be followed up by something along the lines of, “If they didn’t care too much about how the cover looked, how much work did they put into the book itself?” This is actually something I’ve seen from publishers of all sizes – including big ones. Once and a while a book will arrive in the store and I’ll just have a head-scratching moment. Did they not care enough to spend the money to make this book look good? Did they think this cover was good enough? Or do they actually think this cover is good?

In fact, we’ve all seen those sudden gear shifts a publisher makes with covers. I like Sarah J. Maas’s books as a good example.

This is the first cover. I’m not saying it’s bad at all. It’s pretty good as far as covers go, but personally it didn’t really catch my eye when it first came out and sales were less than stellar (actually, if I remember right, I don’t think we sold any at all).

This is the second cover. I believe it was the UK version as well (and remember thinking, “Why didn’t they use that one here? It’s awesome.”), and when Maas’s books went to the paperback, this is what we got. I found this to be way more intriguing and we actually sold the books this time. I’m not saying the purchases were due to the cover – for all I know people didn’t want to pay the money for the hardcover but were more willing to shell out for the paperback (which is often the case for many books – there are still people waiting for Insurgent to come out in paperback).  In Sarah’s case the publishers were smart and kept going with this design with subsequent books, all of which are selling – including the hardcover versions.

Unfortunately if you get picked up by a publisher, you have very little say in how the covers come out. You’d think that by now publishers would listen to what authors have to say about covers – particularly when it comes to accuracy – but that isn’t the case. Which is why we still get “Wtf?” covers appearing on shelves from time to time.

If you’re going to self publish, this is why it’s extremely important to take time to find a good cover artist who will do what you ask and for a reasonable price. While this post isn’t a plug for my cover artist, Regina Wamba, I will say that she’s pretty damn good at what she does. (The opposite is truer; if I were smart I’d keep my mouth shut about her. Why? Because popularity may not only mean the occasional price increase, but also longer wait times for kickass covers.)

The proof is in the pudding. My first book was only an ebook and sold at just $3.99. With a 70% royalty rate, that meant I earned about $2.79 for each book sold. That cover cost me just under $400. My goal, since that was my first ebook let out into the wild, was to simply make back that money. She did the cover twice until it was how I wanted it. And yes, I made back the cover cost and added a little extra cake to the pan. Did the cover help? I’d like to think it did. The book itself was released during the final edge of the heyday that was paranormal romance. Granted, that genre is still popular, but not like it was when Twilight was in full swing and publishers everywhere were scrabbling for paranormal romance books (both teen and adult). That’s also precisely why I requested dark blue colors. That was simply the style that you would see. The Teen Paranormal Romance section of Barnes & Noble (which has since changed to just Teen Romance) was essentially a wall of black and other dark colored book spines.

The point is, don’t sell yourself short on the cover. If you have a publisher that’s offered something ugly, you can always try to fight it – your agent should be more than willing to help you because they want the book to succeed, too. They’re working for you, and sometimes a bit of a fight can work. If you’re self-publishing, even if you’re on a budget, don’t go cheap. Take a good, long look at covers on the shelves of the bookstore and think to yourself what you like and what turns you off. Shoddy photoshop? A book you realize you read and the main character looks nothing like the person on the cover? Make sure to choose a cover artist that will provide you with a cover you want and approve. Don’t expect magical sales because the cover is, after all, just the skin. It’s what’s inside that counts (among many other factors in the book world) – but at the very least you’ll have something that will make people look.

Monday, September 01, 2014

The Molten Form of Poetry

Since I rarely post anymore, for those of you still out there, I bring to you a guest post by the talented Ron Gavalik! If you love poetry (like I do...although I don't think I've ever posted about it), then this post is for you.

Reading poetry is one of life’s truly intimate joys. Unlike more social entertainment such as films, theater, and sporting events, experiencing poetry is an individual pursuit. When cracking open a book of verse, we shuck off the mortal coil while our minds delve into a cerebral adventure. We are fused to the author’s thoughts, desires, and passions, all within the confines of our minds.

That, my friend, is the most profound experience. Poetry gives us new perspectives to enlighten our minds. Poetry fuels the imagination. In its raw form, poetry is life.

As readers, most of us are drawn to what’s considered popular and well reviewed. We count on so-called professional to tell us what precisely is a good read. We equate commercial advertising and movie deals with the quality of a story or poem. But then there are times, when some of us ignore the noise of our popular culture and seek the independent works of those who truly enrich the soul.

Our choice to own and experience raw, experimental poetry symbolizes courage. Delving into avant-garde expression without the safety net of widespread acceptance requires a sense of adventure. Those of us who take these leaps of faith are a cut above the average reader. We are independent thinkers who thrive on discovering uncharted waters.

In the introduction of my MicroPoetry collection, Hot Metal Tonic, I discuss how experimental writers often shrug off the conformity of industry standards to force new perspectives into the minds of our readers. Every time I sit down at the typer, I transform into an American drifter who tramps through vistas of tall grass, rarely touched by everyday society.

Free-spirited individualism is my most pronounced characteristic.

I highly recommend finding your unique identifier, the one personality trait that makes you an individual among the masses. I doubt you'll have to meet with Himalayan monks to determine your distinct qualities, but there's nothing wrong with quiet contemplation over a few whiskeys. Once you've pinpointed that one special characteristic, take the time to revel in your individualism. It's quite a freeing sensation that brings balance to the mind and to the soul.

For my part, I thrive on reading and writing free verse poetry.

In the 1960s and 70s, Charles Bukowski's free verse style often fell under the blade of academic criticism. His work was considered inordinately blue-collar and plain spoken to be real poetry, which made it far more difficult for him to publish and find a secure audience.

It took him years, but a handful of small press publishers with broad vision finally decided to print his work. Once the public got hold of that drunken writer's written voice, a whole new segment of society became poetry fans, which made Bukowski the most read poet of the 20th Century.

Free verse is the most individualized form of expression; therefore, I naturally gravitate toward that broad style. The newer form of MicroPoetry (140 character poems) that's sprung up in recent years on social media outlets has further pushed the literary envelope.

Hot Metal Tonic is a semi-autobiographical collection of over 180 MicroPoems that contend with love, family, relationships, politics, career, and spirituality. While most of the poems stand alone in each chapter's theme, many are interconnected in much of the way small human events are strung together to connect our lives. The collection has been referred to as a gritty read, the molten form of my rough and tumble life…and whiskey-laced madness.

Thankfully, readers are pleased with my work.

Now, kick back, baby.
Open your mind
and allow the hot metal to flow
as soothing tonic.
Prepare yourself
to laugh and think,
cry and rejoice.
Indeed, you will be transformed
into a state of raw emotions.
You and I,
we’re about to start a quest,
a journey to memories unseen in years.
Don’t worry, it will only hurt so good.
Grasp my calloused hand
and we’ll help each other
stumble along this treacherous path

Ron Gavalik is a writer, living in Pittsburgh, PA. You can follow him on Twitter: @RonGavalik or read his blog at PittsburghWriter.net. Hot Metal Tonic can be obtained through the usual retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and other locations. Signed copies can be purchased at a discount (free shipping) direct from the publisher at PittsburghWriter.net.