Do Big Publisher’s Troll Deviantart Too?

Aside

I was looking at the various international covers for Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly, when I spied something familiar on the Australian cover. 

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I recognized the model instantly as faestock, of deviantart (and probably other places) fame.

 

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My question…do the graphic designers behind big publishing companies troll deviantart for cheap and creative stock just like me? My world has been turned upside down.

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When a Book Has Lot of Covers

And most do, thanks to overseas distribution and additional editions. UK, US, US 2nd Printing, UK second printing, etc. As someone interested in book covers and designs they’re an interesting thing to consider. 

 

Here’s Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, and several editions:

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Guess which book I’m currently reading.

Across these covers you see different approaches to marketing the book – to teens, to adults, as a standalone, as a series. This interview talks about the book’s rebranding from a more adult focused book (1st cover on the left) to a young adult one (3rd green one).

My copy is the green cover, and honestly it’s my favorite….despite my not being of YA age (what is YA age?). However, I agree that it doesn’t exactly match the contents of the book. You might expect a love triangle, teenagers, and teenager problems where this book is geared towards different themes. But I was delighted that after I picked it up, I read the description and it actually sounded interesting. The cover grabbed me, and where the description to something more typically YA (a Matched, a Hush Hush) might have had me putting that book back on the shelf, this one I bought. 

 

I like the original cover, but to me it’s more ambiguous. Initially to me it read ancient – Greek or Roman – despite the fact that it’s just a picture of a woman in a cape. I like the second cover from the left perhaps more in theory than execution. The purple one, fourth from the left, is an internet favorite (based on the mass amount of research I put into this) but to me it looks a bit busy. And the other two are fine but don’t grab me. The last one especially wouldn’t have intrigued me to see what the book is about. 

 

We judge books by their covers. Even if it’s the same content underneath. Which cover is your favorite?

Book Cover Chaos – Introducing Themed Book Series Covers

Ha yeah. I have no better title. I’m sorry. I spent many minutes thinking of a way to describe what I was thinking of, but to no avail. I’m open to suggestions.

Basically this is where I look at book series that establish their own unique book cover template. It’s logos and branding, fonts and color and it’s a great way for me to waste time. Let’s do this.

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We have all seen these covers a million times by now and we can all recognize them as Hunger Gamsean in origin

The Hunger Games Series – Suzanne Collins

Soviet era fonts! Well, the books are about a dystopic wasteland. Graphic design! Colors from the German flag! It just SCREAMS “I am a serious book about serious things.” Lots of birds! Captured by circles! Symbolism??????????

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Have dress will travel.

The Selection Series – Kiera Cass

The glorious Big Poofy Dress trend. Don’t you want to eat each one of these covers? Like pick it up and take a big bite out of them? I do. Alas, these are books, not cupcakes. False advertising, very rude. Also, mirrors.

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She’s all about smooshing her face into nature.

Delirium Series – Lauren Oliver

Step 1 – find a mopey looking girl with brown eyes and suitably pouty lips. Step 2 – surround her with picturesque plant life. Step 3 – Color coordinate title and author text appropriately. Well done! Guaranteed 100,000,000,000 sold.

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Look at all of that.

Hush, Hush Series – Becca Fitzpatrick

First off, black and white is how you tell people your book is serious business. It’s dramatic, ok???? Not silly, dramatic and filled with intrigue. Add in some model types standing or falling or otherwise posing dramatically and some feathers and your book will be the single most serious book about angels or love triangles or teenagers or whatnot ever.

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For being ‘Gone’ their are plenty of people around to populate these book titles.

Gone Series – Michael Grant

All you need are 12 to 84 charming, runway ready youngsters in some generic ensembles instructed to look seriously into the distance, dramatic lighting and the color saturation bar in photoshop set to full blast to recreate these lovely coves.

See you next week! What are your favorite book series covers?

The Price of a Book – Why Does $20 Feel Expensive for a Book but not a Shirt?

I was recently at a used book store. A delightful used book store, I should amend, with a Norwegian Forest cat on duty and a charming selection of familiar and off the beaten path titles. I plopped myself down in front of the YA selection and came away with two books – Poison Study (late to the game on this one – it came out in 2006!) and Dreams and Shadows (The cover is pretty and featured a blurb that likened it to The Magicians, a favorite among my favorite books) – for the princely sums of $6 and $13.

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Pretty covers, amirite? They worked. I caved. I purchased them. …at a used bookstore, but it’s the thought that counts.

My dad was shocked. “$13 for a book?? Is it made of gold?” My dad is a book lover too, and not adverse to paying bank for hard to find or rare books. But I had to agree, $13 for paperback feels on the edge of ridiculous. I expect paperbacks to be $9.99 at their highest, with $5.99 being an acceptable price. I often won’t even consider a hardback, because a) I happen to just prefer paperbacks and b) with list prices between $15.95 and $24.95, not even counting crazily priced literary fiction that can be up to $34.99, I simply cannot pay that much for a book.

Of course, when you break these list prices down between the publisher’s cut, the distributor, DRM and the the author. The author’s cut is usually 10-15%, and that could even be considered generous. So in order to make money, the price remains pretty high. Even if this makes sense, paying more than $15 for one books still feels like highway robbery.

So I purchased my books, paying the $20 and feeling somewhat cheated, when I realized that I was wearing a shirt I’s bought at Forever21 for $22.80. Two book for the price of one poor quality sweatshop-made blouse, I shouldn’t feel cheated. This was the written word! The worlds a book could and would transport me to during the years of my owning it are surely worth the cover price. In fact, $20 for a book?? That seems downright cheap for the escapism and entertainment I’m getting! A book should DEFINITELY be worth more than my cheap shirt.

But do I believe this? Yes…in theory….but in practice? Absolutely not. If your average book was $20+, even for a paperback and with the requisite automatic 30% off book distributors give, I would buy maaaany fewer books. I already buy most of my books via thrift stores, where book prices top out around $1.75 and ebooks, where even $2.99 can feel steep. Even though my brain knows that thinking paying $25 for a dress that I’ll wear twice is a bargain is illogical, it doesn’t mean I’ll suddenly become a person who’ll pay $29.95 for a hardback.

Thoughts?

Titles Tropes – Verbed

Single word titles are timeless, uncomplicated and to the point. Somehow, within the confines of one word titles trends exist. One of these is especially popular in YA, Verbed.

A small selection, I assure you.

A small selection, I assure you. Click for larger view.

Verbed is where you take any random word and add –ed. Maybe it makes sense, a la Haunted or Twisted. Maybe it mostly doesn’t – see Amped and Starkissed (definitely both words, but what does it mean to be ‘amped’?? I’m guessing like pumped up? I’m learning).

The Verbed title wants to answer the question, “what’s up with this story?” “Oh, it’s Scarred. Or Twisted. Haunted.” What have you. It’s straight up, direct and tries to lend that straight up directness to the rest of the story. Want to be edgy? In the know? Verbed is right for you. But act fast, interesting words to add -ed to are running out. All the cool words have been taken and we’re left with scraps. Hmm, “Scrapped?” The -ed adds gravitas, people.

Introducing: Title Tropes!

I am going to run a little series here about Title Tropes – AKA, common themes in book titles. This is mostly an excuse for me to procrastinate, like my upcoming series on book covers, but it’s fun so I’m doing it anyway.

Book titles, coupled with book covers, are the biggest first impression a book can give you. Bigger than the blurb, sales numbers, or praise by some famous author on the cover. Like book covers, we associate different things with different kinds of titles. Let’s perform an experiment. A book called “The Crimson Falcon’s Agenda” calls up a lot of associations.

You'll find out how much I enjoy making book covers. More so than writing books, actually.

You’ll find out how much I enjoy making book covers. More so than writing books, actually.

On which book cover does the title seem most at home? I attempted to throw in a few different genres here, Literary fiction, Mystery/Thriller, YA, “Contemporary” fiction, and stereotypical Chick Lit. I designed these covers to match stereotypes of their genre’s – Ive got the author’s name bigger than the title of the book for my mystery/thriller, a Pretty Dress on my YA, handwritten text and pastel graphics for my chick lit. (I love making book covers and I love these covers even though they have nothing to do with what I write.

Maybe you can technically justify that any kind of book can have any kind of name – it’s the plot and writing that count! Design means nothing! – but I have been distracted by odd title choices in the past. It’s peril if a reader can’t recognize what kind of book yours is when they first see it.

The faux title “The Crimson Falcon’s Agenda” is in itself just a trope, an example of the popular “The (adjective) (noun)’s (noun)” that you see often in mystery/thriller. Tropes and trends are everywhere and one you see two or three titles with similar structure you start to build associations. So the fourth time you see that familiar structure, you will have a precreated set of expectations for that book. As a writer, this is the kind of thing that can screw you over or be used to your advantage. Think critically not only about how much you personally like the title, but what people reading it for the first time might think about it.

So Title Tropes is going to be where I assemble tropes and trends I see in book titles. It’s going to be fun, I promise.

Book Design is Completely Underappreciated – AKA, I Only Notice it When it’s Bad

I recently read to book called something like “The Land of Starbeams and Moonlight” (not actual title btw). The flowery title was accompanied by a dark cover of a woman lying on the ground in a Pretty Dress. At this point the Pretty Dress cover is familiar to anyone who reads YA, and, intrigued, I bought it.

Turns out the title had nothing to do with the book or its story. The lady in the pretty dress didn’t at all resemble the protagonist, who, as a citizen of authoritarian dystopia with problems supporting its population, would unlikely find herself lounging about in evening wear. As such, I instantly forgot the name of the book and when I went to google it midway through reading it, I had to go and look up the title. I had literally no idea what it was called. Seeing the cover again, I was again surprised – it was basically like seeing it for the first time I recognized it so little.

Obviously, these are bad things. You want the title and cover to grab your readers but you also want them to remember them once they buy the book. I picked up this book expecting one thing and getting another – in my case, I was mostly ok with it, but in another who knows. It shook my confidence in the book, and I read the rest of it feeling more like an editor or reviewer rather than someone just reading for pleasure.

Reading and Reading A Lot ~ AKA Keeping A List Helps

I started keeping a list of all the books I read at the beginning of January 2012. I included the book, the author, the year, a paragraph or so of my opinion of the book, and a star rating. I quickly found this to be a fun task (I love sharing my opinion, even with my self) if not one I’m consistent at (There’s a block of summer 2012 books that I still haven’t contributed my opinion towards).

I did this originally because while at college I felt like I read a lot less and not as well. There wasn’t a real reason for it, I had plenty of free time, but the change of scene affected my reading habits and I wanted a motivator to end it. The list has solved this, since starting it I typically read about 4 to 5 books a month – not a hugely impressive number I guess, but still more than one book a week.

I’d recommend doing this to anyone who enjoys not only reading, but thinking about books and writing and reading. I like approaching each book I read as required reading for the class of my life. I put more thought into the structural elements of each book and look at everything I read as not mere entertainment, but a valuable way to spend time. I always felt that way about books, but recording it makes it feel even more valid.

Mythbusters provides some handy advice.

Mythbusters provides some handy advice.

One interesting side effect of my listing is I see my reading trends better. I’ll go a few months reading largely Pride and Prejudice sequels (my equivalent of the beach read) or rereading familiar books and I’ll seek out something new to shake it up. Reading a brand new book, especially a good one, feels great after a string of very familiar narratives.

The most complicated part of this listing is the star rating. While my opinions of the books don’t really change, my feelings towards the star ratings do. My ratings are a mix between objective success – aka, good spelling and grammar, well plotted, original characters, etc – and my own personal opinion – aka, I liked it even though it’s terrible. There are books on my list that aren’t bad and that I may even recommend but that have 1 and a half star ratings because they didn’t make me think of anything interesting.

Making me think of interesting things – that’s the goal, at least for me. Some books make me think and I give them that credit even though it’s really my mind doing the work, not the book. Some books, whether they’re good, bad or repellent, compel and leave me with satisfying and new thoughts (*cough* The Magicians). Some books I merely devour without thought (*cough* The Hunger Games) and am left only with a shrug. This is what I weigh when I rank books.

For the first time ever, this past month (February) I completed not a single book. I attribute this to my annual midterm coma, and to the fact that I’m trying to make my way through several eye roll inducing books (*cough* Allegiant). But I feel shame. It’s March 11th and I still haven’t finished anything. I’ve been reading a lot, I swear; it’s just been a big jumble of stuff instead of one book.

What do you think? How much to you read, and are you satisfied with it?

Writing Music, Or A Lack Thereof

Writing music is an eternal question. Sometimes all I want to do is close Chrome, open iTunes, fill myself up with music and write.

However, what typically happens about ten minutes after this is that I realize my mind is being clogged up and I rip out the earbuds and discover how blissful silence is. But inevitably, the next time I go to write I find myself back in iTunes, carefully constructing a playlist of the perfect ambient tracks believing that this time I’ll actually listen to the whole thing.

I cant listen to music while I write. It distracts me. Not just the words, because I normally go for trance or ambient music – 7+ minutes of instrumental synth – so as to leave my mind uncluttered. I think the reason is that I listen to music primarily as writing inspiration. Basically, I don’t have inspirational writing music, I have inspirational plotting music.

More or less all the time I spend listening to music – walking to class, home, driving – is spent plotting. I don’t like just listening to music to fill up space, if music I like is on I’m thinking about character and mood. I think it’s this that has made me unable to listen to music while writing.

What about you? What are your perfect writing songs or artists? Do you listen to music while writing at all?