Last week, I handed Jim a copy of the expanded manuscript of a novel I wrote on-spec, and then turned my mind to other projects. One of these involved climbing up into the crawlspace over our library and moving boxes around until I found the copy-edited manuscripts of a couple of my earlier novels.
(Many thanks to Cale Mims who sacrificed part of his day off, got scruffy dirty, and helped me move boxes up and down and down and up so I could get to the boxes at the very back.)
In any case, the project I mentioned a few weeks ago is underway – getting some of my early novels released as e-books.
(By the way, I still have a few copies of some of these available in the original mass market paperbacks. Chad Merkley scored the last one of Pipes of Orpheus. Consider taking advantage of these while I still have them, either for yourself or as unique holiday gifts. Unlike sports and movie stars, I don’t charge extra for signing and personalization. Take a look at my website bookstore at www.janelindskold.com. If you don’t see what you’re hoping to find, feel free to query. I may be able to work with you.)
Preparing the manuscripts is only part of the job and the one I feel most equipped to do. The one that I’d love to solicit your input on is the importance of cover art, branding, and other elements of the general “package.” On and off over the years, we’ve chatted about cover art, so many of you know that I find the whole question of what goes into the visual presentation fascinating.
However, fascination doesn’t mean I consider myself an expert. It’s more along the lines of “I know what I like when I see it.”
Anyhow, it’s been suggested to me that while I’m at it, I should consider “branding” my work. What’s “branding,” you may ask? (I did.)
Branding has a lot of different meanings, but the one that applies here is that of designing a visual presentation that simultaneously serves two purposes. The first is presenting the work in a fashion that will convince the reader to at least take a look at the book. The second is sending the message “This is by that writer you like.”
A good example of effective branding has been used by the publishers of Mercedes Lackey. Whatever she’s writing, the same font is used for her name and the book title.
Another good example is when many years ago Roger Zelazny’s work was re-released with covers that played off the same theme: black background, “mandala” art, with the cover dominated overall by the author’s name and the book’s title is white.
Branding is very common for series. It signals the reader “Here’s another book in that series you liked.” The challenge with branding for an author’s work – especially when that author (like me) writes all sorts of different types of stories, even within the same genres – is finding an approach that can encompass a wide variety of types of stories.
It’s been very interesting to see the different approaches. One that caught my eye was a relatively recent re-release of Agatha Christie’s work that used her signature for the author’s name, and a relatively simple font for the title. The cover art was also minimal.
Cover art and font can be very important. I can think of at least two authors I discovered because the cover art made me pause and pick up the book. One of these was Tamora Pierce’s “Protector of the Small” series.
The other was Garth Nix’s “Old Kingdom” series. I remember that one in particular because the cover of Sabriel literally made me stop in mid-step on my way down an aisle in the library and take a closer look. When I picked up the book, I remembered that my friend Rowan Derrick had raved about this series. But, even without that, I might have tried them anyhow.
Recently, Nix restarted the series, first with the release of the prequel Clariel. Then, this October, with Goldenhand, which carries the story that ended with Abhorsen forward. When I bought Clariel, I was disappointed to see that the package had changed. The same font was used, although in a slightly more cursive mode, but gone were the iconic depictions of the characters. They’re dramatic covers, certainly, but would they have stopped me in mid-stride?
No. In fact, to me, these are covers that are selling an established series to the established fans of the series. If you know the “Old Kingdom” series (previously called “the Abhorsen trilogy”), then you know the enigmatic markings that dominate the covers are charter marks, the basis for the mysterious magic used by those who do not practice dangerous “free magic.” If you don’t, they’re just doodles. The tiny band of illustration at the bottom did nothing for me.
What is cool is how Garth Nix’s name has been turned into a sort of icon in a box, perfectly suited for a wax seal or branding iron. I really like how it looks!
So what to do? I’d like to come up with an interesting and provocative way to present my novels, works that range from science fiction to fantasy, and are all over the place within those two diverse genres.
Is author branding something that you find appealing? What sort of branding approaches have worked for you? Which haven’t? Have any turned you off?
I’d love to hear! Your answers will help me make some major decisions in the months to come.