by August Wainwright on June 15, 2013
As I’ve talked about here before, the cover of a book has huge implications for how that book is perceived. It is probably the single most important aspect when marketing a book to a potential reader.
Readers are swayed by book covers, now more than ever. Head over to Amazon or Kobo or B&N, search through any category, and you’ll notice just how many of those little covers are jammed onto every single page.
What’s interesting is that, for at least some (if not most) traditionally published books, the cover of the book is different for US and UK audiences. Are the audiences so different that a completely different design is warranted?
I honestly can’t answer that – and what’s brilliant is that the publishers themselves probably can’t answer it either.
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the recent books that have been released with different book covers on different sides of the pond, and see which ones we like better…
The covers on the left are from the US; covers on the right are from the UK.
Dan Brown’s Inferno – I actually think both of these covers are pretty damn good. It’s hard to get a good look at all of the little intricacies of the US version (left) without seeing it in person, but if you have, it fits Brown’s puzzle/code/mystery theme perfectly. That being said, I personally prefer the UK version. I don’t love the gold “Inferno” mark, but everything else is great. The mood set by the UK cover is so much more mysterious and haunting. I find it to be more striking. Also, I think the UK version would do better online as a thumbnail.
For me, this one goes to: UK
Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Now this is interesting because of how similar each version is. For online stores, I’d say the UK version is a little better. But overall, the “cleanliness” of the US version is the one that immediately catches my eye. It’s brighter overall, and having “BERNADETTE” be the large text at the bottom seems smart.
Shalom Auslander’s Hope: A Tragedy – When I first saw these two next to each other, my eye was drawn towards that damn rooster. Why? I have no idea. I’m a fan of chickens apparently. But the US version is better in almost every way. The green background is much more striking (and simple) than its UK counterpart. And it’s way more interesting. Having “Hope: A Tragedy” crossed out is just double ballsy. Plus, your book is good, I get it; all the papers love it, great. Don’t plaster that crap on the front of your cover – I don’t care what the Spectator thinks.
Better in every way (sorry chicken): US
Ellen Ullman’s By Blood – Damn. These are both incredibly awesome book covers. I’d be ecstatic with either one if my cover designer shot me a “What do you think of this?” email. The US version is ridiculously well done – did you notice the way the circles sort of weave their way between the title and author names? That’s really good. If you’re judging for online use, I would have to give the nod to the UK version by just a little. White backgrounds tend to blend into the page online, whereas you can’t get much more bold than black and red. This one is tough, and I’m tempted to call it a tie, but from a purely design perspective, I’d rather have the US version. Personal choice here.
Winner: US (by an absurdly slim margin)
Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist – Wow, again, two amazing covers. How sad is it that there are so many great books written by great writers that don’t sell because of crap covers, while other books are graced with two fantastic covers? Life’s not fair, is it? Anyways, The scene and simplicity of the US version is extremely well executed. The font treatments are great, the sort of “vintagey” look helps with the feel, and I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’m going to get before I ever read the first word.
All that being said, the UK version is AMAZING. Why is this book cover not plastered everywhere? I will admit that I don’t know of Amanda Coplin, and I’ve never heard of the Orchardist; honestly, it’s probably not my exact type of book. But seeing the UK version of the cover makes me want to buy it immediately. I’m opening an extra browser window right now to find out more about it. That is what a great cover can do for a book.
The little apple “O” in the title is great. The UK version is even simpler in layout than the US version and the imagery is haunting, enticing, striking, please stop me…
I’d also be interested to find out how the frayed edges looks online. I have to think it would do wonders for helping the book stand out against all its rectangular competition. (Might have to steal that idea).
Sylvia Day’s Entwined with You – Uggh, can we call this one a tie and crown them both losers? Look, I don’t read Sylvia Day, BUT I have absolutely nothing against it, the genre, or those who read her stuff. None – I swear. What irritates me here is what I talked about in the article ‘Your Cover is Killing Your Book‘; you should strive for a cover that is somewhat genre-specific, while avoiding genre-cliche. And right now, there are countless covers that look just like Sylvia Day and E.L. James. They don’t stand out, they don’t make me want to look twice, let alone read the damn book. But obviously I’m not the target audience. And they seem to be doing just fine without my opinion… so… yea…
Winner: US (because one version has to win and it’s better executed)
Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth – Ok. These are better. Only a little better, but still better. It’s interesting because I would have thought the US version would have been the more contrasty black and white, and the UK version would have been the subdued vintage version. Neither cover is spectacular, but I think the UK version gives me a little more insight into what the book is about, what with the case file/folder and the man in the shadows. Unfortunately, I don’t find the UK version very appealing. It doesn’t really look like a book cover; more like a poster you’d see at a state courthouse with a blurb like “stalking is bad for everyone – just say no”.
Winner: US (solely because of aesthetics)
Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her – Two very difference approaches and two very different covers. And, because of it, I get two distinct feelings about what this book is going to be like based on the covers. This is a perfect example of how the cover of a book can set the mood for a potential reader before they read a single page. Even though the US version uses a heart graphic, the UK version is the one that resembles a romance novel more. This is just my opinion, but I would guess that the UK version is marketed specifically at women, where the US version is marketed more gender neutral. I prefer the US version with it’s contrasting colors, interesting graphic and minimal font treatment.
G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen – Both covers are pretty amazing, with lots of intricate details. The US version is a hands-down winner for me, with a more focused idea and better executed elements. The colors are more vibrant, the font treatments are very well done, and the patterns are excellent. Doing this cover round-up, I’ve realized that UK versions of book covers seem to be much more likely to use blurbs all over them. I think the blurb greatly reduces the quality of the cover. I can’t imagine that anybody cares all that much about these blurbs, and if it absolutely must be on there, the US version of Alif shows how it can be added without becoming a dominating element.
Louise Erdrich’s The Round House – Again, two amazing book covers. My eye goes to the UK version first, with its beautiful artwork and bold colors. I can’t really point out a single thing wrong in the UK version. It has great atmosphere, sets a mood for the reader, uses solid design elements and treats the fonts well. I wouldn’t change a single thing. The problem is, I don’t know if I’d change anything about the US version either. I honestly think the UK version is better, but there’s just something about the US version… I don’t know what it is… wait… are those…
Are those pieces of bacon on the cover? That’s what it is – I can’t stop looking at the US version because it makes me think of bacon.
Winner: US (because bacon is an underutilized design element)
There are countless other examples where publishers have used different covers for US vs UK books. What’s worth pointing out is that after going through 10 different examples, I (a US citizen) preferred the US versions on 8 out of the 10 books; maybe publishers have a better grasp on their customers than I would have thought. Or maybe the designers are just more in-tune with the consumers. Not sure, but I think it’s an interesting observation.
I’m sure you’ll probably disagree with a few of my choices, and that’s great, so which ones did you like more? US or UK? Leave a comment below – and feel free to drop links to other great examples of US vs UK book covers.
by August Wainwright on June 11, 2013
If I was feeling like a particularly mean spirited a-hole right now, I would head over to Twitter, take a nice little screenshot, and paste my feed into this article. I would tell you to look at the twitter-ers listed, and notice the pattern of every single tweet. Then, I would say, “THE END”.
Or, I could head over to my G+ page, let the mouse meander its way up to the notifications section, take another screenshot, and let you digest the numerous unsolicited notifications, invites, and blog posts that I must be “dying” to read.
But at this very moment, I’m not feeling all that mean spirited (I won’t promise to feel the same way by the end of this article). So instead of calling out the authors that continually and religiously employ the “BUY MY FREAKIN’ BOOK RIGHT NOW” technique, I thought it would be better to have a discussion about what NOT to do with social media.
In general, I do my best to stay away from absolutes. But when it comes to utilizing social media, I have only one definitive rule, and it’s very simple:
DON’T Sell on Social Media
Seriously. Don’t do it. Ever.
I know some people might not entirely agree with that, so let me clarify a little. Social media sites are for connecting with people and sharing. And it’s for enhancing those connections; enhancing the “idea” of what you represent.
Social sites like Facebook and Twitter and G+ are called “social” for a reason – because that’s what you’re supposed to be when you’re using them.
Imagine for a second that it’s a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in late spring. It’s a perfect 75 degrees out and the wind is just barely blowing. You’re on your way over to the nearby park for a community bbq. Everyone from the neighborhood is going to be there. You get there and the food is great and the drinks are cold. You couldn’t ask for more. Naturally, people start breaking off into individual conversations. You bounce from one little group to another, laughing and smiling as you go. Occasionally, you circle back to the coolers and pop a Michelob Ultra (because you know it’s almost beach season and you have to watch those calories), but you’re always able to find another cozy conversation. In a word, you’re being SOCIAL.
Then, that dreadful d-bag “Don” shows up. “Don” is that guy that thinks he doesn’t have to “play by the rules”. He does whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and fails to recognize that the rules weren’t set up by some evil overlord… no, they were set up by his peers, who he constantly irritates. “Don” is louder than everyone else. He only talks about himself. He photo-bombs and convo-bombs at every opportunity. Everyone knows he’s there because he sure as hell won’t let you forget it.
And while “Don” is having a good ol time, everyone else is thinking:
“Who invited this asshole?”
If you spam your book over and over and over again, then welcome to the party “Don”.
Now, I’m not saying that if you release a book, and you have 20,000 facebook fans, that you don’t drop an update to let your fans know your new book is out.
That’s completely fine. Nobody will ever judge you for that. And the less you send out those updates to your followers, the more that it will come off like an exclusive thing for only them – which is good.
What you don’t want to do is what I see every single day on all the social media sites:
“I just published my book. Please buy and review it here.” – NO
“Isn’t this the best book ever? Read it now here.” – NO
“My new book is out. Please retweet and share the link.” – NO
“My book has 8 five-star ratings. Read it now” – NO
Rinse and repeat, again and again.
Look, even if your book is the best ever, and even if I would have read, reviewed, retweeted, and shared it before, when you spam the living shit out of me hoping to force me into something, you can count me out as a reader. And here’s the thing – I’m not just going to not read this book, I’m going to remember you and not read any of your books. Ever.
Because when you take the “Buy my freakin’ book right now” approach, you’re nothing more than a bad used car salesman. You’re the guy who runs up and follows me around the department store to get that commission when I buy that sweet pair of jorts.
I despise that person. And here’s a little tip that’s only a secret to the person who employs the same tactics – everyone despises you too.
The truth is, people buy books for many different reasons. Anyone who tells you that they can guarantee you a sale if you do “X-Y-Z” is more than likely lying to you. However, there are obviously a few things that can help tip the odds in your favor:
– Write a really good book
– Have a really really good cover
– Write other really good books
– Be nice to readers and, especially, to other writers; offer to give instead of always asking to receive
– Get lots of reviews, aka “enticing the herd”
There are plenty of other things you can do too. But take notice of the fact that spamming social media sites all day is nowhere to be found on that list.
If you’re ever enticed to employ this ludicrous tactic, maybe you should stop and ask yourself this question: When was the last time you purchased a book because you saw a promotional tweet about it?
Or better still: When was the last time you clicked on a Facebook ad? What about a banner ad, on a social media or any other site?
Lastly: When was the last time you saw someone “screaming” for you to do anything online where you sat back and said, “You know what, the fact that I’ve seen that same ad 10 times today really makes me want to give that maniac my money”?
Think about. You don’t want to be “Don”.
What do you think is something that is an absolute “don’t ever do it” on social media? Are there some acceptable practices on Facebook that don’t translate to Twitter? Let me know your thoughts – leave a quick comment below.
by August Wainwright on June 7, 2013
The night sky burned a bright red-orange as flickering embers floated above the dark tree line. Aiden Clery ran towards the glow in the sky, forgetting the fire in his lungs, focusing on the flames that lay ahead. Deep within his seared and black thoughts was what he knew to be the truth, what he fought not to acknowledge; that he was running towards death, towards destruction, and towards the inevitability that, with every step, his grip on goodness would loosen more and more, until there was nothing left for him to grasp.
by August Wainwright on May 25, 2013
A young boy with an awful bowl-shaped haircut is hanging out with his older brother – or maybe it’s his delinquent cousin or the cool uncle that is always saying, “Just don’t tell your mom I let you do that…” – it doesn’t matter, any one of them will do for this story.
He’s with one of the seedier characters in his juvenile life when they put on a record. And the boy hears something he’s never heard before, a sound that leaps into his ears and destroys everything he knows. It could be Jimi Hendrix, or a young Eric Clapton during the Cream years, or Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Jimmy Paige on Zeppelin IV; once he hears it, though, a whole new world is set before him, one that he’ll never come back from.
The boy starts saving his paltry allowance every week, and gets a job as a paperboy; he later adds mowing yards and washing cars to his busy schedule. Weeks go by, but, eventually, he reaches his goal.
Early one morning, he rolls out of bed on one of those humid summer days where you walk outside at seven in the morning and you’re already sweating and your shirt sticks to your skin. He pulls his five-speed from out of the garage and pedals the fifteen minutes down to the music shop.
The boy walks into the store, the little bell above the door jingling when he enters, and sets down the $80 he’s saved for the used Gibson guitar hanging behind the counter. He throws the six-string over his shoulder and turns toward home, a sixty-watt smile on his face the entire way.
Over the next few years, the boy goes from a fumbling beginner, to a still fumbling “amateur”. He practices everyday after school and eventually becomes a full-fledged amateur guitar player (dropping the fumbling part). His hair gets longer and he meets a kid who swears he’s the next Neil Peart.
And then a magical thing happens: the two boys form a band. At first it’s just the two of them, but they’ll later recruit a few other deviants to join them. They play in “Neil’s” garage three times a week (to the horror of the Watson’s and Garrison’s, the neighbors on either side). They experiment and try new things – most don’t work, and the others are even worse. The lineup changes; they lose members to college and girls and drugs and other, more important, hobbies. But our guitar player keeps at it – he refuses to give up.
He grows up and his “Jimmy Paige – Neal Peart” garage band evolves into a full on cover band. They call themselves “Led Rush” and they make the rounds at all the local bars and pubs and clubs – anywhere that will let them play to a crowd.
Years go by like this, our guitar aficionado is now married and has a young daughter. But, still, he never gives up. Every time doubt slips into his mind, he reminds himself that even the Rolling Stones were a cover band (that’s actually a true fact; they put out three albums of covers before releasing any original material). He never stops adding new tricks and skills to his toolbox.
Then, one day, something clicks. He’s sitting in front of the fire while his wife reads a book next to him. He sips on a cold beer after a long day at work and a drop of wet condensation drips down onto his pants. He relaxes and lets his mind shut down and, suddenly, he hears himself playing. It’s not him playing Jimi or Jimmy; it’s him playing his own music.
After a long journey of learning a craft, our young guitar player has finally found his voice. He writes his own music – the stuff he wants to hear that no one else has ever done.
Only time will tell if he’ll be a star or one of the thousands of players who never “make it”. But he doesn’t think about that; he works hard, and then he works harder, knowing the entire time, after all these years he’s finally found what he’s been looking for.
This is the story of a guitar player.
It’s also my story. Because I’m a cover band author.
Right now, I’m focused on my Remy Moreau series, in which all of the books are re-imaginings of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories from Arthur Conan Doyle. Much in the same way that Ray Bradbury has said many times that his mechanical hound in Fahrenheit 451 is based upon Doyle’s hound of the Baskervilles, I take cues from those Doyle mystery tales.
And just like so many other writers, I’m searching for my voice. Yea, I know I’m probably looking in the wrong spot. I know I probably shouldn’t be “looking” at all, that I’d be much better served to sit at home in front of a fire and let the metaphorical condensation drip down on me. But being stagnant sucks, so I search.
In my search, I lean on those I admire, those I think sound “right” in my head. I borrow from their worlds because they are the worlds I dream of; I steal some of their innermost thoughts because they are my thoughts too.
Style and dialogue and themes and symbols and characters and choice of words – I try on what works for others and see how it fits on me. Some of it sticks; most doesn’t. So I keep trying.
I look at those authors who start in the fan-fic arena, those who write in worlds and with characters that are well-established, and I don’t see thieves – I see writers working on their skill-sets. A perfect example is someone like Jason Gurley who’s Greatfall series of successful books occupy the world of Hugh Howey’s WOOL. The stories are great by themselves, but they also draw attention to Gurley’s original works. I have no doubt that Gurley is a better writer after having completed his “cover” series.
But, still, people will say you’re imitating because you aren’t good enough to be original; they’ll call you a hack, a pirate, or even worse, the dreaded and horrific copycat. *that hurts down deep*
But the “copying” is what gets you to the point where you know the difference between good and bad; between good and great. It’s where you learn what absolutely works and what absolutely doesn’t. It’s the foundation of everything to come. Without it, how would you ever know the rules.
It’s the job of the cover band to learn the rules, and the job of the artist to learn when to break them.
This is what is missed by so many critics. There’s a huge difference from honing your craft and attempting to be the second-best version of someone else.
In the search for your own true voice as a writer, you will weave in the voices of other authors; it is inevitable. I believe the quickest way to learn the craft of being a good writer is to consume and emulate the writing of others. Learn what makes a good story first, then go try to find the thing that makes your voice yours, what makes it unique, your own personal fingerprint on the literary world.
And just like the cover band who will have to deal with the revolt that will surely come when they begin to play original material, so too will the writer who steps out with his own voice for the first time.
But you’ll also find that you have true fans, people who value you as the artist, not just the product you put out.
The search for your true voice is something every writer, every artist for that matter, MUST go through. I could attempt to describe why, but I would ultimately fall short of the words of Chuck Wendig:
Every author decides to go on a grand adventure one day, and that grand adventure is to find her voice. She leaves the comfort of her own wordsmithy and she traipses through many fictional worlds written by many writers and along the way she pokes through their writings to see if her voice is in there somewhere. She takes what she reads and she mimics their voices, taking little pieces of other authors with her in her mind and on the page.
Is her voice cynical? Optimistic? Short and curt, or long and breezy? She doesn’t know and so she reads and she writes and she lives life in an effort to find out.
This adventure takes as long as it takes, but one day the author tires of it and she comes home, empty-handed, still uncertain what her voice looks like or sounds like.
And there, at home, she discovers her voice is waiting. In fact, it’s been there all along.
Your voice is how you write when you’re not trying to find your voice. Your voice is the way you write, the way you talk. Your voice is who you are, what you believe, what themes you knowingly and unknowingly embrace. Your voice is you. Search for it and you won’t find it. Stop looking and it’ll find you.
Well said, sir.
So what do you think about cover band authors? Are you one yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so drop a comment below.
by August Wainwright on May 19, 2013
My 1st book, A Study in Sin, has just gone live over at Amazon. So far, the feedback from readers of the hundred or so ARC copies that went out has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve loved talking with everyone who sent emails about what they liked and what they thought of the book.
The experience to this point has been amazing and I look forward to hearing more from readers and getting those first few reviews.
For those who don’t know about ‘A Study in Sin’ or the lead character, Remy Moreau, you can check out the post 5 Things You Didn’t Know About A Study in Sin to learn a little more about the book. Here’s a brief description of what the story is about:
Jacob Watts broke his neck in Afghanistan. Now he’s in D.C. with no job, a therapist, an uncontrollable tick in his arm, and PTSD. And he can’t pay his rent.
His new, and monetarily necessary roommate, Remy Moreau, isn’t helping either. Cold and detached, she might be a savant – but she’s also socially inept, has absolutely no boundaries, and is possibly dealing drugs out of their apartment. When the two come in contact with a stiff and blood-covered body in Capitol Row, the ambiguous Remy Moreau will lead him on an obsessive-compulsive hunt in pursuit of a tormented killer.
Can Remy, with Watts in tow, catch a murderer before he strikes again? And what are Remy’s real intentions with Watts? Is she even capable of anything resembling real human emotion?
So that’s what you can expect in the first installment of the Remy Moreau series. And, seeing as how the best promotion an author can do is to write a good book… and then write another… I can tell tell you now that you won’t have to wait long for Volume 2 in the series. It should hit “shelves” in 3-4 weeks.
For those who have asked, A Study in Sin is being released on Amazon today, and will follow on the other sites in a few days time. The book will be available at B&N, Kobo, and Apple.
I can’t thank readers enough for the support I’ve received. If you have any questions or just want to drop me a line, don’t hesitate to email or leave a comment below.