Monthly Archives: May 2010

Helpful Articles on Book Covers

Laura Resnick has a terrific series of five articles on book covers on her website under “A Book By Its Cover.” Considering the significant impact a good or bad cover can have on book sales in stores (especially if the reader doesn’t know who you are), it’s well worth the time to read these.   Here’s her summary of what the articles cover:

I: Cover Karma
How does a book’s cover affect sales, and consequently a writer’s career? Why are some books (and some writers) uniquely blessed or cursed? What did a publisher do right (or wrong) with regard to a given cover? How do publishers ensure success (or stumble into disaster) when planning a book’s cover?

II:  Green Books Don’t Sell
Yesterday’s conventional wisdom becomes today’s common misconceptions as art directors from New York’s major publishing houses explain the step-by-step process of giving a book a cover.

III:  But I Wrote the Damn Thing!
If author input were actively desired in the cover process, somebody would have mentioned it by now. Nonetheless, there are constructive, productive, and useful ways for an author to contribute to the cover process; there are also contractual ways to gain influence over this process.

IV: Steal This Cover!
Next to word of mouth, the cover is the single most important means by which an author reaches new readers. Find out how this has led to increasingly ruthless and volatile competition among publishers, and why people who don’t even read often have more influence over a book’s cover than the author, the editor, the cover artist, or the art director.

V:  Worth A Thousand Words
A profile of three illustrators: sf/f cover artist Michael Whelan, winner of many Hugo, Howard, and Chesley Awards; romance cover artist Pino, with over 1,500 covers to his credit; and Janny Wurts, a bestselling sf/f novelist who is also an award-winning cover artist.


The title says it all.  GREAT WRITERS ON THE ART OF FICTION:  FROM MARK TWAIN TO JOYCE CAROL OATES  is a book I’ve wished existed for several years now.  Imagine my joy when I discovered that James Daley had edited together a collection of essays by famous 19th & 20th century writers from North America and Great Britain.  I consider the book a major bargain at a cover price of only $8.95 from Dover Publications.

The list of writers in the book reads like a who’s who:  Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Kate Chopin, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, Willa Cather, Sinclair Lewis, Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, Eudora Welty, Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Carver, Wallace Stegner, John Irving, Joyce Carol Oates, and Margaret Atwood.

This is not a “how to” book on writing.  It’s more a broad survey about what famous writers in North America and Great Britain have thought about the art of writing over the last two hundred years.  The essays vary from simple advice to new writers, to complex analyses of style.   So each reader will find that a different set of essays appeal most to him or her.  There is something here for everyone–no matter where they are in their journey as a writer.

For me on my first reading of the book, Sinclair Lewis’ “How I Wrote A Novel On The Train And Beside The Kitchen Sink” was the one that spoke strongest to me this time.   I am glad I purchased this book so that I can reread this essay at my leisure.    I’ll share a sample, but I encourage reading the entire essay to savor Lewis’ acerbic commentary.

…”I think my present life is intolerably dull, and I do want to write.”

“Very well then, I’ll tell you the trick.  You have to do only one thing: Make black marks on white paper.  That little detail of writing is one that is neglected by almost all the aspirants I meet.”

He–and especially she–is horribly disappointed by my cynicism.  He–and often she–finds nothing interesting in making marks on paper.  What he, she, it, they, and sometimes W and Y, want to do is to sit dreaming purple visions, and have them automatically appear: (1) on a manuscript; (2) on a check from the editor.  So he, and the rest of the pronouns, usually finds the same clever excuse:

“But I simply can’t seem to find the time…”

Mr. Lewis then goes on, in a blunt manner, to demonstrate the inherent weakness of this excuse.  As far as he’s concerned, one needs only 1 hour day of writing, six days a week, to get started as a writer.   And if one can’t get an hour, then seize whatever is available, even if it’s only 15 minutes a day.    For the writer who writes 15 minutes a day, gets far ahead of the wanna-be writer who does zero.