How much difference does a front cover make to sales of a novel? Given the volume of new books published, combined with the millions of existing titles, I would say a big difference. If the author is not famous or lacks a dedicated online following you’ve got to try every trick in the, em, book to catch the attention of the time-poor viewer. In my own case about a second.
I’ve been troubling with the challenge of grabbing attention for my own novel, The Captured. The first cover design – by myself – I grew to hate: It somehow looked simultaneously clever and amateurish, suggesting “this is not your conventional presentation of a Science fiction novel.” Not that even I’m sure what the conventional standard is, let alone what’s appropriate. So I changed it but kept a minimalist design. Changed it within the constraints of using free software. But I’m still not entirely happy with it – not professional enough. Then it has to be worth considering getting a professional to design it.
Subgenre-ization (if that can be a word) should make front cover design easy for SF. Except mine doesn’t easily fit into any of those. Can we blame Amazon for such pigeon-holing? I’m sure that works fine for most authors and readers. I guess there’s no perfect solution. For a start you can often guess the demographic the novel is aimed at within a second, though it can all become homogenized (dystopian SF anyone?) where you might wonder about its originality.
In the last decade literary novels have tended more to use ultra minimalist front covers, whereas genre fiction more commonly features fine artwork and detailed illustrations. Taking the minimalist approach, then, might seem pretentious; but going for the elaborate, and highly descriptive, artwork is a time – and possibly money – consuming exercise, which can give a false impression if it’s not judged just right.
So how much does a front cover matter? Well, if you’re already a famous author, not all that much – as your books are far less likely to be merely stumbled upon. For the 99.9etc percent of us writers it is the quickest portal to our undiscovered
To discover The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)
At the start the thought of reaching 100,000+ words seemed like the equivalent of scaling one of the higher Himalayan mountains; a mind-boggling feat that was best not contemplated. Just one step at a time. A slow journey for me with so many distractions if not setbacks. But no excuses, because no one asked me to do this. So if I failed it was only me to be disappointed.
To extend the mountain analogy (perhaps to excess): I mostly seemed to be wading through low clouds and finding myself lost. But occasionally they would clear to reveal a landscape that while unfamiliar had features I could pick out, which combined to be something meaningful. Then finally reaching what seemed like the top but under a misty haze, though still seeing way below and feeling I could go no farther. Still, the happy relief of a load removed and a kind of jadedness from struggling my way through the difficult bits (of which there were many) impaired any perception of reality. So it’s better leaving time to recover before coming back down. Before attempting that second draft.
It’s not uncommon to write a third or fourth draft. Somehow details are missed, inconsistencies. (Funny how glaringly obvious errors have escaped my attention even after 3-4 read-throughs!) I’ve been accused of writing disjointed chapters, so am careful now to keep everything tied into as tight a narrative as the story allows. But there’s always the chance of some fundamental flaw which makes that impossible. Too early to tell. This is still the time to have – faith. Meanwhile: take a break of at least a month, maybe another project, and then face the sobering reality of how this latest novel fails.
See my published work at: adriankyte.com
The one big advantage of self publishing is having total control of your final output. No editor to ‘kill your darlings’ – drawing metaphorical red pen lines through your precious finely crafted text. Yes surely the reader has the time and patience to read that digression so integral to your protagonist, their back-story.
While the self publishing route can seem like a recipe for an unrestrained and undisciplined (and unchecked) writing sprawl, it represents creative freedom. I’m surprised what is allowed to remain in the books from big-name publishers of big-name authors – those with past acclaim. One rule for them? The difference is that they have garnered the trust of readers who know the book is worth sticking with through all the flabby parts. Not that I’d claim to be a great editor. Certainly self-editing has been a problem. It’s never easy to see the wood for the trees when it concerns your own novel.
It always seems as if traditional publishers/agents are looking for the next big thing that is similar to the last, but fresh. They state what they prefer, mentioning particular authors. So somehow you should be like them and yet original, as if there this finely tuned skill known only to writers of a certain talent. That can feel dispiriting. Even if you admire said author, hold them up as an ideal, what you produce can only ever be a sub-version of theirs. Yet to claim “I am an original, and I aspire to no one,” can just seem like arrogance.
If, from those gate-keepers, examples of their ideal fiction is only meant as a guide then perhaps they should state that. Or maybe they should be more open-minded to the possibility that the next big talent may come out of left-field, and surprise everyone.
Been writing blogs on this theme for four years so not sure how many more there will be, if any.
Thanks for reading.
I’m owning up to my biggest fear: Rejection. Not just any rejection, but from someone whose response would matter more to me than anyone. A certain literary agent.
Rejection is not unfamiliar to me now, having plunged into the dispiriting reality of the querying/submission process. So I’ve decided to take the safe option and not submit my work to this person. I’m sure some would say that’s a wise choice given previous failures. It’s surely dangerous to conflate a personal (I’m reluctant to use the word romantic here as that would seem to be getting carried away) preference about a person with an objective regard for how suitable they’d be to work with. But especially when only based on a photo and a short description of the type of fiction she likes. Is it even better for them to publish a picture, one professionally taken, no doubt? Images are so powerful, especially the human face. It’s difficult not to read character into a portrait photo, believing to be uncovering some essence – some truth. And sometimes we are led to do so. Pictures are deceiving, Photoshop and its ilk the creators of illusions manipulating our most innate judgements.
Anyway. If there truly is something sublime about this person, then to be rejected by her (even if it is only for a work of fiction) feels more personal. It will hurt!
Of course such a reaction is not rational. They say develop a thick skin, or you’ll never succeed. After all, it is not actually me that is being rejected. But a lot of it comes down to these two questions: How much is your work is representative of who you are? And: How important are the preferences of the person that can hold the key to you success – and potentially happiness?
These questions are difficult to answer and can maybe be explored in a future post. But suffice to say, even when you thought you’ve avoided autobiography, it somehow creeps in under the radar. The work is never a thing in isolation.
So, I hope I will not be left that one difficult dilemma. I hope another agent will accept my submission. Otherwise I may end up plumbing the depths of that vast murky ocean of self publishing, and never be discovered. Okay, that negative view is a grim exaggeration for effect. Personally when looking for a book online, traditional or self-pubbed is not something i even notice. To stretch a metaphor, maybe that murky ocean is finally clearing to reveal its treasures.
Revised version of a previous post.
My author website: http://www.adriankyte.com/
Surely it’s the time most writers dread: those weeks (and sometimes months) waiting for a reply from an agent. After analyzing the odds, the percentage of submissions rejected, I defy any writer not to be worried. Or to not feel despondent when the rejection does come.
Personally I’d reject most of what I see, not just from debut authors but a lot of professional writers. But then I’d make a bad literary agent: too quick to judge, not being open to something that seems unconnected with my life on any easily accessible level. In particular, science fiction (which, actually, I mostly read) can seem forbidding initially. And, perhaps like most readers, I also rely too much on reviews and reputation. The challenge these days is finding something new and special among the sheer welter of books.
Now that my own work is out there to be assessed by those who are still thought of as the gatekeepers to the literary world, I’m wondering if what i’ve submitted is going to be judged so hurriedly. It would be interesting to know the exact process of each agent: how much is determined by that first page, chapter or synopsis – where I feel I’ve already failed (see Synopsis Hell).
After my last book Time Over had been rejected a few times, I did some rewriting then self published. How tempting it is these days to just give up on the traditional route. Because rejections are troubling if not painful; you read into each word, wondering what s/he truly felt behind the polite or diplomatic language. Well, I guess I have more of that to look forward to in the near future.
…that precious manuscript to an agent is probably the most delayed action in every writer’s life. At least once you’ve had the experience of rejection. You never feel adequately prepared, remembering – in my case – more than one example when I sent an MS off to an agent only to later bitterly regret it. Oh, no wonder they rejected it, it was inevitable, I think to myself with typical 20/20 hindsight. And yet at the time my novel seemed perfectly honed, that covering letter just right. But if only I’d given it a bit more time. So won’t be rushing to send it off now, whether post or email.
Not that rejection could definitely have been avoided. I might be fooling myself into thinking the work had commercial potential if only I’d got the presentation right – the pitch, or made that change to the first page and chapter. Fact is, there are always things you think could have been done better, but you have to eventually move on to the next one. Science fiction is especially tricky when you’re pitching it through a synopsis; it can seem to get bogged down in fantastical-seeming detail which requires too many words to explain why in fact it’s not so fantastical.
I don’t think any author can really know what will meet with wider approval. Even those who are supposed to be objective about these things can often get it wrong. And usually their default judgment is negative.
Here’s an extract from a Guardian interview with this year’s Booker winner Marlon James, who had one novel rejected 78 times.
“No! No,” he says, shaking his head, as if it is the question that is mystifying. “This is why I tell students when they ask for advice, if you’re a writer, you have to believe in yourself.” He bangs accompaniment to the last three words with his hand on the table. “Because if you’re a writer, you’re going to come across that moment where you’re the only one who does.” He sounds freshly disappointed when he adds: “And I failed that test.”
The best way to put readers off your novel is to write a scene-by-scene synopsis. Or so it can feel. Prose is replaced by dry description. It’s like looking at an image of your most precious one rendered as an x-ray skeleton; the bare bones revealing nothing of what made them special.
Yes, I’m in the midst of writing a synopsis for a potential literary agent … and not managing it very well … and feeling that because of it i will fail, facing a winter of rejections. I don’t know if this is a common feeling. But it’s when the doubt creeps in – going over the whole thing again and finding yet more careless errors.
The main problem: how do you compress 100,000+ words into less than a thousand? Whole scenes have to be omitted. Which ones? This is where it’s so easy to become lost; not able to see the wood for the trees. The funny thing is, writing a blurb-style teaser précis hasn’t been a problem – you give an impression, set up the tension (must stop rhyming now). But by the same token that can build false expectations in much the way advertising often does.
I’m certainly not expecting much sympathy from anyone in the publishing industry. They’d probably tell me: “If you can’t manage to sum up your novel in less than a thousand words then maybe there is something wrong with the book itself.”