What to Do?

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.)

Nix Example

Nix Example

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.

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13 Responses to “What to Do?”

  1. Alan Robson Says:

    I’m completely untypical here — but “branding” or cover art or whatever you want to call it is of no interest whatsoever to me. I’d be happy to have all my books bound in plain brown wrappers…

    I don’t have a very visual mind. When I look at a book on the shelf, I look first at the name of the author (so I suppose that really should be in a font that stands out). If the author is familiar to me, I check out the title. If it’s a title that is new to me, and I like the author then I will buy the book.

    If I don’t know the author but the title is intriguing then I’ll read the blurb. If the blurb holds my interest then again, I’ll buy the book.

    If the title and blurb are dull then I won’t buy the book.

    However, once I have taken the plunge, I do get very annoyed if the books making up a series have covers that don’t match each other because that makes the display on my bookshelves look lopsided.

    But apart from that small fetish, the cover, the artwork etc. don’t matter at all to me.

    My friends all think I’m weird — they care a lot about these things.

    But all I care about are the words on the page…


    -Alan

    • henrietta abeyta Says:

      Well Alan you’re free choose books your own way. But I’ll tell you in this 9 book saga by Barb and J. C. Hendee the photos explain the business of the primary characters more than the titles or summaries. The photos on the nine books of this Noble Dead Saga, it’s the book cover photos that help you see the facts like…… Here

      Chap is a wolf who’s one of the primary characters and he’s a true friend of Magiere’s. Chap’s indeed courageous to stay with hybrid characters and his calm face on each book of saga shows proof of this.

      The photos show Magiere herself is quite calm hybrid character compared to what she is, the photos make it clear she not wild, she’s calm enough to forget that she’s part vampire. plus the photos also make it much clearer she’s the top heroine through the whole Noble Dead Saga, Magiere’s the one learning enough to get rid of the worst problems.

      The photos help you realize this part vampire and part human heroine travels quite a distance, the photos on the three books of series two in this whole 9 book saga show you Magiere’s not nearly as done as the 6th book of the first series makes it sound, she still has a distance of climbing sailing and walking to do through some dark land.

      Chap is in middle of two characters on plenty of the 9 Noble Dead Saga books of prove you he’s a wolf who’d offer help even when it’s a scary rescue, he’s also close to Magiere in plenty of the book cover photos to know surely he’s quite willing to help Magiere get through difficulty no matter what they’re super busy hunting together. This fiction wolf Chap being on 9 book covers with some scary characters included on a few of them through the whole saga proves his real skillful self-control and his patience too, Chap faces you calmly on each book just like Blind Seer does in each book cover photo on dear Jane Lindskold’s good 6 book saga.

      This long saga by Barb and J. C. Hendee indeed has its sensible cooperation absolutely clearer thanks to the photos. The cooperation of the cast in this story would definitely be unclear / by several readers quite misunderstood without the book cover photos. Noble Dead Saga. This story has some characters that can easily make some readers flee with fear immediately only reading the titles of each book.

      See I’ve barely started looking at this long saga by Barb and J. C. Hendee, and look at how much I’ve already told you about two of the primary characters of the whole cast. (Just from photo help) Photos help feelings not just imagination!

      Jasmine Olson sharing more of her totally sincere opinion of how book cover photos can help some readers. I know this will be clear to dear Jane Lindskold herself, I consider her one of the easiest people of all.

  2. Peter Says:

    I’m with Alan on this one – it’s about the words between the covers, not the pretty design on them. Even more with ebooks – a lot of mine don’t even have covers (at least in the downloaded copy, I assume because of contractual issues with the art – the store may display the cover art, but the actual file often has a plain text “cover” with the title and author’s name.)

    As far as author branding goes, one thing I think is important (certainly I find it very useful when buying books) is visibility – making sure that when I go to (for example, could be any store) Amazon, type “Pipes of Orpheus” in the search box and hit the enter key it doesn’t come up with “no results found” or only used paper copies but also shows the electronic edition. I’ve run into this problem in the past when backlist books I know have been re-released in electronic form don’t show up in the search results – sometimes it’s because of tyops in the metadata, or minor changes (one edition used an author’s middle initial, another didn’t, that kind of thing).

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      Please tell me this was deliberate: “sometimes it’s because of tyops in the metadata”

      You don’t have to tell the truth, either 😉

  3. Louis Robinson Says:

    Hmmm…. covers. Odds are that the biggest effect they have for me is helping me find it a second time – I won’t remember author or title, but the cover rings the bell for me. If I actually read the book I’ll usually remember the title – but not the author, the first time out. It took ISFDB to help me remember William Temple, despite the fact that I’ve been looking for another copy of The Three Faces of Amara for 40+ years. Probably missed it at least twice through not knowing to look in the Ts, too. OTOH, for someone I read regularly, the name is the first thing I spot, and having a consistent look helps a lot with that. However, the fastest way to lose me is to assume I’ll buy anything with an authors name on it, regardless of whether I know what’s inside – IOW, the blurb is crucial, don’t replace it with 57 variations on ‘greatest thing I never actually read’. Better still, let me at some of the text. 3-5 chapters, at least.

    As Jim Baen always said, the purpose of the cover is to sell the book by getting buyers to look at it long enough to decide to plonk down their beer money on it. Branding is part of that, but only part, since it will, unless you do something really eye catching, only pull in those who already know you. A good, strong design for your name that can fit into many cover styles seems to me to be your best bet as a general brand. Where you have titles that are related by characters or milieu, a base design for them wouldn’t hurt, but only for series does it become important to use common-element covers. Any new Athanor book should clearly fit with Changer & Changer’s Daughter, although you’ve made the current covers so coyote-centric that it would be difficult to fit anything that doesn’t have them as the main characters into the sequence. In the same way, new Artemis or Breaking the Wall books should match the existing pattern – to the extent you can do that without stepping on toes, of course. As I said, the overall cover pattern is what will ring the bell, at least for people who respond the way I do. Triggering recognition will be a big help in getting people to stop while scrolling a list of 12000 titles [which is how long today’s Coming Soon list in the Kindle Store is], even if they don’t realise immediately what they’re seeing. None the less, that cover pattern has to be something that will _also_ intrigue the person who doesn’t know Jane Lindskold, and if having a strong cover for _that_ book means tossing the brand, go with it – the people who know you will probably find it anyway.

    Another thought that has occurred to me is that if you think any of the original covers are particularly apt, see if you can track down the artist. As a rule they still own the image, and would likely be happy to pick up another fee for letting you reuse it.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Most of my Avon covers are very inappropriate, so I’d actually enjoy making a change. If you look at my website you can see some of them. One reviewer “shouted out” to the universe as to why Jane Lindskold kept getting these “fluffy bunny” covers, when I wasn’t writing fluffy books…

      I will admit to sharing the sentiment.

  4. Scot Noel Says:

    As owner of a company that does branding for businesses and their websites, I applaud you for understanding this concept (apparently better than your publishers). A big yes to everything you’ve said. My only comment is that you have to be really behind whatever branding you come up with. To work, branding is (close to) forever. Get tired of it a year later and decide to redo it and you’re starting all over. So take is slow and seriously. Final comment – for me cover art is VERY important. It can easily sell the book for me, especially if I don’t know the author. I still clearly remember the cover art of books I read when young, even the very first novel I ever read. Looking forward to what you come up with!

    • janelindskold Says:

      Hi Scot — Thanks for the feedback. I may run some of my ideas by you and Jane. I wish I could afford to hire CME! Having worked with you folks way back on CHRONOMASTER, I know we’d have some creative chats.

  5. henrietta abeyta Says:

    OKAY PEOPLE, without the photos on the book covers I’d feel like I was in the middle of nowhere, I don’t like when the binding doesn’t show the summary either. Books with blank binding I refuse unless I’ve read the story at least once.

    I can handle heroic characters but I can’t handle plain scary tales. I like having clues of what sort of place I’m entering. Series with cover art is fine that’s what helps me know if I’m going further on the same piece of land somehow. I don’t read romantic I repeatedly read fantasy.

    The art on your enjoyable Firekeeper saga Jane Lindskold, the cover art is what gave me clues of what I was joining them to do, and the maps are what helped me with distance and location, I was quite happy that your Firekeeper saga books showed all three. Heroism I discover from the summaries of each, Blind Seer’s gentleness I discovered thanks to the pictures.

    You want your book to sort of be introduced, or with people like me that’s when they’re chosen quicker. The cover art can sometimes help the books give more accurate description of the characters. I mean like your lucky Firekeeper saga the majority might see Blind Seers wild, however the photos prove he’s Firekeeper’s true friend, or with how well I know wolves myself that was my positive result. It’s the cover art that makes it clear Blind Seer’s not being sneaky at all.

    So don’t only complain on this page people. Think more about what you’d like your readers to have the most accurate clue of while they grab the book.

    Place
    Character
    Type of adventure
    or a clear mixture of all three????????????

    Like the 6 Wolves of the Beyond books by Kathryn Lasky the cover art is what shows you what the wolf pup Faolan is currently up to and where he currently is. But the 6 books themselves are what explain why, while reading the chapters.

    Jasmine Olson trying to help you see you actually have more choice than you’re told.

  6. henrietta abeyta Says:

    What I’m likely to remember depends on how much I enjoyed the books

    With author Kathryn Lasky’s series Wolves of the Beyond it’s the wolf pup Faolan I easily memorized, mostly thanks to how much emotional support his story gave and still gives me.

    With Spell Fall it’s the title I remember since I find it a fun fantasy trip.

    With the Firekeeper saga it’s you that I remember Jane Lindskold.

    Once in a while the cover art helps me remember the book while it’s just at the library and not at my house yet.

    Jasmine Olson sharing her book memory explanation.

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