This is my third posting. Students and readers and soon-to-be/hope-to-be authors are always asking me about the importance of covers and titles of books. My response: Worry about your writing first. Its your best promotion tool! Nothing is more important than that. Intelligent writing compliments your reader. They will become your fans. Revise, revise until your sick of it. Take a break, a long weekend, then revise again. And don't give up.
Joe Konrath, ("The Newbies Guide to Publishing" blog) submitted his novels for years before he was finally published. By then he'd collected over 500 rejection slips. When he stacked up his rejected manuscripts the pile (originals, not copies) stood over NINE FEET TALL. Think of it. Now his books sell in the hundreds of thousands.
Back to COVERS AND TITLES. Our most basic sense is smell. Its how we survived in caves in the age when pterodactyls flew. But sight, ah, sight! Our eyes have evolved into the great monopolists of our senses. Eighty percent of the body's sense receptors cluster in the eye. You see a striking BOOK COVER, and you pause. You are, repulsed or, ideally, drawn. The main thing is to make a reader REACT. A cover should be somehow memorable, unique. Most people forget book titles, but they always remember covers!
I have bought books by unknown (to me) authors, just by their covers. This is how I discovered Michael Ondaatje, one of my all time favorites (THE ENGLISH PATIENT.) A couple lying in a bed. It was the gentle way the man's hand lay on the naked woman's back that induced me to buy the book, IN THE SKIN OF A LION. It was gorgeous.
For a moment, I'll pimp for my own book, my first ebook, HOUSE OF SKIN, PRIZE-WINNING STORIES. The cover is the back of a fully tattooed man. A simple yellow background. Distinctive font. Most people have loved that cover. Some folks were repulsed, or puzzled. Until they read the first story in the collection and saw the connection. The cover has gotten considerable attention. Love it or hate it, no one can forget it. (Credit to the cover designer, not to me.)
A cover can also be so beautiful, so aesthetically pleasing, it draws you in, transports you. Look at Dee DeTarsio's novel, THE SCENT OF JADE. Its gorgeous. Green, lush trees, flowing waters. The suggestion of the tropics (well, Costa Rica where in fact its set.) I saw the cover and knew I had to read the book, and thank god, its wonderful! It lives up to the cover. But the COVER drew me first. Check it out on Kindle.
Want to be frightened, nearly repulsed? Check out Joe Konrath's novel ORIGINS. The smoldering, piercing eyes of the creature, the promise of apocalyptic horror. I had to buy it because I am drawn to dark fiction that's well written, and to anything relating to ...the Devil. (I know he exists, I think I saw him driving a cab in New York City. ) Anyway, the cover is mesmerizing. You are repulsed, and scared, but drawn. The concept of the novel is even more frightening. It lives up to the cover. And there will be a sequel.
Now, for TITLES. Again, they should be memorable. They should intrigue the reader, make him/her want to explore the novel or story WITHIN. But they must have content behind them. Don't use a title just for shock-effect, or because its lyrical. Your content, your writing, have to live up to the title. Sometimes when I finish a story or novel, I do extra research on the subject before I can give it a title that does it justice. Now that may just be answering a need that calls to the hunter/gatherer in my genes. But ten times out of ten, a little research helps. It gives you more authority on the subject. And may introduce a fascinating twist to the title.
WITH TITLES, KNOW WHAT YOU'RE SAYING. And, why your saying it. You have to have muscle behind that title. And it will show up in the content. The title of my upcoming ebook story collection, CANNIBAL NIGHTS, sounds like a horror-story collection. No, I don't do genre. So maybe I made a mistake. But I wanted something that drew readers in, even though its taken from a story entitled "Cannibal Nights, Colonial Afternoons," about Gauguin in the Marquesas Islands in his last morphine-addled, syphillis-ridden days (and the mystery of who really painted his last canvases.) Does the book title work? Or will readers will feel manipulated? Oh, dear. Time will tell.
Another story in the book is called "The French Foreign Legionnaire's Batard," (Bastard). About a Tahitian girl who goes to France searching for her biological father, a French Foreign Legionnaire who had once done military duty in Tahiti (Alas, its still a commonwealth of France.) Its a long title, but I hope intriguing. I had another title but then did some research on the French Foreign Legion, and came up with this better title. (Again, my hunter-gatherer genes.) "Assassin Orders Peking Duck" is another story in the collection. I must confess, its less about assassins and ducks and more about loyalty, love and loss. But once I decided on the title, I was hooked. Again, time will tell if it works.
I don't know. Maybe I'm all wrong. Who would have thought the title WAR AND PEACE (yawn) would be a novel that ranked up there with the Bible. MOBY DICK? Oh, please. How intriguing and seductive is that? Yet, its one of my favorite books of all time. LITTLE WOMEN? Enough.
I have an albino friend, Andre, (more about him in another blog.)His albinism has caused loss of vision in one eye, and so he mostly does audio-books when his good eye tires. But he's an inveterate book-lover and likes to cruise his three rooms of paperbacks, nose to the spines, smelling that good musty book smell, that in the odorless, digital future, we will one day mourn the passing of. Andre is constantly scanning new books and title just to keep abreast. Most of them he finds redundant. He has formulated a theory:
Books should have ONE-WORD TITLES only. The background should always be DEAD-WHITE. The brilliance of the writing within should compensate. Huh? That to me is brain-rape. Who could survive such a white-out? Imagine it in stores, on your computer screen. Anyway. After the long haul of writing a book, authors deserve to cut loose a little, throw paint at a canvas, explode with novas blazing outward from our spleen. In other words, like hyper-inmates, let us have our fun, and splash around in our covers and titles. Ideas! Ideas!
Eventually, if the gods are good, we will come to our senses, remember who we are, who our target audience is, how we want to be remembered. And we will arrive at sane and memorable COVERS and TITLES that will enhance the content of our books, so that they will stand forever irrefutably... unalone.
(On the other hand, Andre, one of the most memorable covers I have ever seen was Don DeLillo's novel, WHITE NOISE. Two words. On a dead-white cover. And it was brilliant. )