It’s a saying we learn as children: Don’t judge a book by its cover. It means, of course, that it’s not what’s on the outside that counts, and we should look within to discover the true meaning and worth of an object or a person. It’s an excellent lesson, made more memorable because of the catchy phrase we associate with it.
As we apply that to sage advice to many things, though, do we follow it literally? Most of us do exactly the opposite when it comes to actual books.
A book’s cover can tell us many things: the genre, the age group that is the target audience, and even how professionally the book has been produced. Take these two anthologies for example: Once Upon a Time: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales for All Ages, and Day of the Dark: Stories of Eclipse.
Certainly the titles and subtitles give us some clue as to genre and target audience, which is good since not every communication about a book comes with a cover image. But, as another old adage reminds us, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” so the cover design has a greater impact than the title on our first impressions of a book. The two book covers for these anthologies are:
These two covers elicit very different first impressions. The former (Once Upon a Time) is colorful, magical, and a bit whimsical. The font has a fairy tale feel. One would not have any qualms about picking it up and handing it to a child to leaf through. It invites children and adults into a world of imagination.
The latter cover (Day of the Dark) is mysterious, and bit foreboding. Looking at this cover, you would not expect it to be the reminiscences of people who have viewed an actual eclipse, despite its title. No—this cover tells us these stories are apt to be a bit darker. The color and font used for the subtitle, Stories of Eclipse, reinforces that impression. This book doesn’t reach out to a children’s audience the way the castle and happy dragon do on Once Upon a Time.
The same is true for books within the same genre. My new mystery, Death in Glenville Falls, has a cover that should tell you something about what might lie behind it:
The colors are warm and inviting, and the scene charming. There’s even a cat. This idyllic scene might make you think of Jan Karon’s Mitford series. But there is clearly a sinister element afoot, for what foul force would result in the stabbed book in the foreground? This cover tells you that there is a mystery inside, but it falls within the traditional/cozy side of the genre. It might keep you up at night because you want to keep reading, but it probably won’t give you nightmares.
On the other hand, my friend Geoffrey Mehl has a book, Nine Lives, that also falls within the mystery genre. With a title like that, it could be the story of the cat on the cover of my mystery, but his cover looks like this:
The sinister element is certainly there—silhouettes of people holding guns—but none of the reassuring, small-town charm balances it. Instead, we see computer code streaming behind them. This is clearly an edgier, suspense novel—and probably one having to do with computer data.
The same can be true, even for books with similar titles—only the cover tells us whether it’s one we’ll want to pick up and read more about or not. Take, for example, the books The Vampire’s Prisoner and Vampire King. Both titles suggest a powerful vampire is at work within the pages of the novel, but the covers give very different impressions. Look at:
The two offer very different kinds of chills.
Selecting a cover is often solely left to the discretion of the publisher, but for independent or hybrid publishers, authors have more control over how their books will look. It’s important to bear in mind that the cover image and cover design are truly the potential reader’s first impression of your work. If the cover looks amateurish, the assumption will be that the contents are, too. If, however, your cover grabs the readers’ curiosity, they are more apt to pick up the book, turn it over, and read more about it. If the back cover copy confirms what the cover promises, they might then turn to read the first page. And if they like what they see there, you might well have made a sale.
And all because they have judged your book by its cover.
Carol L. Wright is a former book editor, domestic relations attorney, and adjunct professor. She is the author of articles and one book on law-related subjects. Now focused on fiction, she has several short stories in literary journals and award-winning anthologies. Death in Glenville Falls is her first novel.
She is a founding member of the Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC, is a life member of both Sisters in Crime and the Jane Austen Society of North America, and a member of SinC Guppies, PennWriters, and the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.
Raised in Massachusetts, she is married to her college sweetheart. They now live in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania with their rescue dog, Mr. Darcy, and a clowder of cats—including one named Dickens.
On my bookshelves are a lifetime of beloved books, mine and those of our three sons, all now adults. I’ve always loved books. I grew up in a little Amish town in Ohio, with no library, or bookstore. We did however have the bookmobile. By the age of eight the librarians knew me, knew that I would read however many books I checked out, and would often put aside books they thought I would enjoy to bring on their next trip into town with the bookmobile.
And my father read to us when we were young. Tornado warnings were fun because my father would take us down into the basement with our favorite books and read until the coast was clear. I don’t remember ever being afraid.
My oldest son also loved books. He was reading by age four and loved our library time almost as much as I did. Taking away video games was never much of a punishment because he was happier reading a book anyway. Not just comic books or graphic novels, he read mythology, religion, science fiction and classic literature. I think his favorite authors in high school were Ambrose Bierce and Edgar Allen Poe.
Reading didn’t come as easily for our middle son. When he wasn’t progressing in school, we eventually decided to home school both him, and his younger brother. I wasn’t a teacher, but I knew that reading opened so many doors in life…and that not reading kept doors firmly shut. I scoured the library and bookstores for books that might motivate my eight-year-old son. Eventually, I stumbled on the Star Wars Junior Jedi Series, and caught middle son’s interest. Each day we sat on the sofa, he’d read the first sentence on the page…which he seemed to find torturous, and I’d read the rest of the page. As he progressed he read the first sentence of every paragraph, and eventually we took turns reading paragraphs. It made me happy when he finally began looking forward to our reading time.
One day, he came into the kitchen while I was cooking dinner, a book in his hand and asked. “Mom, what’s this word.”
Startled I looked at him and the book and asked “What are you doing?”
His expression told me what a ridiculous question I’d asked. “I’m reading, if I wait for you I’ll never find out what happens!” He answered, and I knew he was a reader. I hugged him, told him the word, and sat down to cry happy…relieved tears.
The other day I was sorting through years of schoolwork that I’d kept for proof of the work the boys and I had done during our homeschooling years. I came across a book report by my youngest son. The book was Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard, and we’d checked it out of the library. The last sentence youngest son wrote was “I didn’t want the book to be over.” It was the first novel that he’d ever read. I remember reading that report for the first time and knowing that all three of my sons would be lifelong readers. I tried to buy a copy of the book but it was no longer in print. It was nowhere to be found. I was ready to commit the most heinous of crimes, and tell the library that I’d lost the book and pay their fines.
This was in 1998. We didn’t have the internet yet (or so I thought) because I thought the internet was a betrayal of the library. Oldest son was in high school, he got onto his video game system, accessed Amazon and asked them to search for the book. Within a week they’d found the book, I’d made my first internet purchase, and my son had saved me from life in the ‘Big House’.
I can’t imagine a life without books. Library books, print books, ebooks, there are never enough, although my husband, and friends and family who have helped us move may disagree. And although my sons’ bookshelves are filled with Brandon Sanderson, Tolkien, Ambrose Bierce, and Terry Brooks, and mine are filled with Phillipa Greggory, Sarah Dunant, Rebecca Forster, Erika Robuk (and so very many more) I’m so glad that we share a passion for reading and books.
What’s on your bookshelves? And who shares your love of books and reading? What are you reading right now?
In the shade.
It’s been a hot beginning to summer here in SoCal. Perfect time to write . . . or maybe not. It’s hard to think when you’ve got a cold pack on your head, but it’s even harder when you’re writing about Christmas.
Oh, is it. I keep forgetting to put a coat on my heroine or remind her not to forget her gloves. One good thing. The year I’m writing about — 1943 — there was little if any snow in my heroine’s part of the world. Pennsylvania Dutch country. But it was cold. 17 degrees at night. So I fill her up with hot soup — and thank God, coffee wasn’t rationed as much by ’43, but there’ s no hot cocoa. Chocolate went to the servicemen in the form of a D Ration bar — chocolate and filled with vitamins.
The best part about writing this story about a second chance at love via time travel is the love scenes.
Plenty of hot kisses to go around.
So the morale of my little tale is: whether you’re writing about summer or winter, make sure the love scenes are hot!!
Speaking of hot, reenacting the Civil War during the summer months can raise the temps, too, especially if you’re thrust back in time to the Battle of Antietam in 1862.
Like my heroine in LOVE ME FOREVER.
Love Me Forever is a big family saga with lots of angst and sexy heroes…if you like Civil War time travel, two wild, feisty heroines and the men they love, it’s on sale through today, July 11th, for 99 cents!
I’ve worked on this book for a long time…in between other books, always hearing no publisher wants a Civil War book, but I didn’t want to give up on my two feisty heroines and the military men they love…a story that spotlights the women of the Civil War.
I didn’t give up and Love Me Forever was selected as a Kindle Scout Winner!
Family is the theme of LOVE ME FOREVER. Two very different women, Liberty Jordan and Pauletta Sue Buckingham, with different ideas are thrown together in a mad, crazy scheme of spying, lost love, and passionate desire for what they can’t have.
The men they love.
Do they get their men?
Well, it is a romance, but it’s also a wild dramatic journey based on actual events in the Civil War. Liberty and Pauletta Sue will make you cheer, then cry, then hold your breath when it looks like all is lost…
Ends at midnight!
After being sleepless in SoCal all weekend, I checked before I powered down tonight and there she is! Excited that I did it right and fulfilled all the requirements.
It wasn’t easy to enter – writing the book was only the beginning. Formatting it and also doing a print version, getting them linked, right keywords, did both covers myself. Crazy, but I’m just happy to have a chance.
****UPDATED**** Saturday May 20, 2017
That was the deadline looming for the Kindle Storyteller UK 2017 contest (see below for the scoop). I was almost finished with editing, formatting, etc. CRYSTAL GIRL, a prom queen wannabe sells her soul to the devil to get thin, watching the clock. You have to upload a print book as well as an e-book. Formatting an e-book I can do.
The print book.
Well, let’s say I used up a pot of coffee stressing on that one. However, I’m pleased to say that Amazon has made it exceptionally doable for authors to turn their e-books into print. Kudos to them. It takes some studying, a few trial runs, but I did it.
So . . . I uploaded everything before the deadline. I’m all set, right?
No. My entry isn’t there.
At least I can’t find it.
So I emailed Amazon support and they’re helping me figure out what’s happening. So, that’s my update. I did what I set out to do and that in itself is a win. But I’m hoping, really hoping, that my book will show up in the contest. It may take a few days to show up, but I know in my heart I’ve done everything I can.
I love to wish on the stars.
Big ones, little twinkling ones. I’ve always been the type to jump headfirst into a challenge and then wonder later how I’m going to do it. Like the time I was a freshman in high school and I was a newbie on the Speech and Debate Team. The team was entered in a big speech contest over the weekend where each contestant performed a piece in front of judges.
At the last minute, somebody dropped out. I raised my hand and said, “Yeah, I’ll go!” Eyebrows raised. Throats cleared. Obviously, I was not their first choice. Far from it. But I wanted it so bad, the teacher must have seen the stars in my eyes. I was so eager to get out into the world and try out my wings. They had no one else, so I went. This was a Thursday. I needed my speech ready by Saturday.
Too green to know everybody thought I’d freeze up.
Hey, I was fourteen.
By Saturday, I had the speech down. Kinda. Not perfect. But okay, I couldn’t back out now. I’ll never forget the snickers, the whispers when I got up in front of the judges and jumped into my speech. It was a speech about life and its many roads and the choices you make. A bit too mature for me, but what the heck, I forged ahead like I was on a mission to Mars.
Then reality set in. I forgot a line . . . then two. I stopped, grinned like a puppet with its strings cut. Now what?
Thank God I have a bit of blarney in me. I filled in with personal anecdotes about roads my family took. Literally. I talked about our wild adventures living in different places from coast to coast. No one breathed. Or made nasty comments. They just listened.
When I was done, I left the room as fast as my ballet flats could take me. Went to the girls’ restroom and cried.
I messed up.
Or did I?
I don’t believe I did. Even now as I write this, I never forgot the feeling of taking that risk and getting through it even if I wasn’t successful. Just putting myself out there made me grow up.
And in case you’re wondering, here’s how I scored: 4 judges = 2 third places; 1 honorable mention; and 1 second place.
Not bad for a kid at her first speech contest.
So, why am I telling you this?
Because I’m wishing on the stars again. This time it’s the Amazon Kindle Storyteller contest. (Get all the info HERE). A writing contest and the deadline is fast approaching. I have to wrap up my YA Novel entry asap.
God help me, I’ve seen the sun come up the past few days. Did you know the birds start chirping outside my window at 4:30 a.m.?
I’ll fill you in more later about my story with updates here. Post the cover, etc. It’s called CRYSTAL GIRL and it’s the story of a prom queen wannabe who sells her soul to the devil to get thin.
So that’s it for now.
But you know what’s funny to me? I don’t feel any different than I did at fourteen when I jumped into the speech contest and did the best I could. I love the challenge and I trust the storyteller in me to accomplish my goal.
I hope I never lose that feeling.
And I hope I never run out of stars . . .
High school can be such a pain, remember? I do.
Here’s a very short story I wrote about that first kiss.
You can find me on social media at:
Once upon a Story blog
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B001IU2P8G