Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Cover story

I finished reading a book the other day (no surprises so far). It had a cover that was a perfect illustration (sorry about that) of a discussion I had followed some weeks ago. Namely, what is the cover of a book for (apart from protecting the pages that is)? Which is a clumsy way of saying I haven’t been much impressed with book covers of late. There have been some stunning ones, but on the whole… dull.

But this is not what the discussion was about. Rather, it was about the function of the cover. Is it there to illustrate the content of the book? Is it there to make people buy? Of course, this isn’t really an either/or question. A good cover design should do both. It is, after all, the first thing you see when you pick up the book.

Yet, book buying habits are changing. And along with that, marketing strategies are changing as well. The discussion was prompted by a book that had been given a cover that illustrated the content. The book wasn’t selling well. The publishers changed to cover so that it more closely resembled those ‘chick lit’ (awful term) covers that are jaunty, pastel drawings reminiscent of the opening titles of the TV series Bewitched. It began to sell much better.

It didn’t entirely abandon an attempt to reflect the content, but one wonders what is at work and whether the book, once bought (and hooray to publisher and author for that), was actually read.

The big chain stores frequently (if not permanently) have 3 for 2 promotions. This is fine if you buy in bulk and if the titles you are interested in are included in such an offer. You can perhaps tell from the look that previous sentence exuded, that I don’t and they aren’t. But that is beside the point (I just thought I’d have a grumble). I assume the thinking behind cover design these days is to get a title shifted because the cover looks a bit like books that have been enjoyed previously. Which presupposes people are buying books as much (if not more) on the way they look. Content? Who cares if the tills are ringing and the royalty cheques are fat.

Now, as a writer, I cannot argue with that. I don’t actually make a living from my books. Not many authors do (and even that depends on your definition of ‘a living’). But I do wonder why we seem (and it is only a subjective grumble on my part, I haven’t looked at every cover produced over the last few years) to have abandoned the double approach – that is a cover that accurately reflects/interprets the content whilst also attracting the cash from readers’ pockets.

It seems (that word again) to me that covers are designed by genre rather than by individual book. Thus we have a ‘chick lit’ style, just as we have a ‘fantasy’ style or an ‘sf’ style, ‘crime’ style, and so on.

Or maybe I just don’t get out enough, these days.

Do you have any favourite covers (ancient or modern) that manage that balance of being attractive and accurately interpretive?

Sunday, 16 November 2008


My computer broke. Blue screen of death. I now have the laptop configured and will be rebuilding the desktop (sounds grand, eh).

Until normal service is resumed, here is a small piece for your entertainment/bemusement*

*Delete as appropriate.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Halfway there

I have reached the half way point in my first conscious re-write. Conscious as in deliberate, that is, rather than the ‘being awake’ kind (although being awake does help).

My ‘first’ draft of a piece of work is never quite that. I am able to suppress my inner editor sufficiently to get words on paper, but I do like a draft I can read and understand when I come back to it. So, as I write, I change things; knocking off some of the rougher edges as I go. Which means my first draft is never quite that. Bits of it are; other bits are second, third, or even fourth attempts to get the phrase, sentence, or paragraph into a viable state.

There is a balancing act here that I think many (if not most) writers find difficult, especially when they start. If you try to write perfect sentences as you go, you may never finish your work and you will probably have little or no concept of the overall shape of the piece. Beautiful sentences are fine. We all strive for that. But if, as a whole, they have no dynamic, if there is no sense of story, then they are a waste of time.

On the other hand, you want your 100,000 words (or whatever) to be sufficiently coherent and interesting to yourself to want to go back to them. Over and again.

I’m not sure people who don’t write quite appreciate this aspect of writing. The fact that a piece of work has to be drafted, re-drafted, read and re-read, altered, fine-tuned, all in the knowledge that the first person who reads it will probably point to a sentence on the first page and point out three errors.

This aspect requires a real passion for what you do. It also requires considerable skill.

Oh well, back to the drawing board.