Sunday, January 16, 2011

What Sells A Book?

It may surprise you, but no one knows. That may be the biggest secret in publishing. Well, not anymore because I just told you. Anyway, editors, publishers, executive editors, agents and the gurus in the marketing department don't have a clue what compels readers to buy a book.

Is it the cover? That's the starting point, an attractive, eye-catching cover will, editors and art directors hope, prompt readers to pick the book up in Barnes & Noble and Borders.

That's why once upon a time, hand selling was so important. At Waldenbooks (which is no more, alas) leading the customer to the section and placing the book in his or her hand was the #1 duty of every clerk. I know because I used to work at Waldenbooks. Best job I ever had -- I loved it! 'Course I spent most of my paycheck on books.

I told you in my "Favorite Books" post how awful the original covers were for The Patriot and Aftershock. To prove I'm not exaggerating I'm showing them to you above. As the old saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words.

In fairness to publishers, and Harlequin in particular with all their category lines, the art department has to crank out a lot of covers every month. That's a ton of work. Every cover can't be a masterpiece, and Harlequin did give me two splendid covers, for Second Sight and Nightwing.

I pulled the covers of The Patriot and Aftershock off the Internet so they're on the small side. If you look closely at the cover of The Patriot you'll see that my name is misspelled, Lynne Michaels instead of Lynn Michaels. This is the only book that Lynne with an e Michaels ever wrote. If readers sailed into Waldenbooks or Barnes & Noble in 1992 and asked if The Patriot by Lynn Michaels was in stock they were told no. The editorial department at Temptation felt so bad about the screw up that they sent me flowers.

When I received the cover flat for The Patriot I called my editor and said, "I'm pretty sure I never said in the book that Quade (the hero) has ears like jugs."

At the next RWA National Conference, Harlequin gifted me with a 24 x 18 poster of The Patriot mounted on foam board. They shouldn't have, really, but I schlepped it home and stood in on the floor against the bookcases in my office. Every time my husband Michael walked by he turned the poster face to the wall. He called it the Ugly Man cover.

Print published authors have no control over covers. We get what we get, and we're stuck with it. That's one thing I love about e-books. I get to create the cover.

It took me a while to figure out what the Harlequin art department was going for with the cover of Aftershock. Here's a sentence from the back cover blurb: "Rockie Wexler's father had created a device that would predict earthquakes. Unfortunately, it could also cause them, and now both Dr. Addison Wexler and the machine had disappeared."

I think all the rocks and cracks in the background are supposed to represent earthquake fissures. I think. What's your guess?

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