Friday, 13 November 2009


By Richard Jay Parker

Allison and Busby have just sent me the electric blue cover for the paperback of STOP ME. You can see it here. I’m very pleased with it because it feels like the paperback will be a different entity to the orange, large cover, trade edition.

This brings me back to last week’s discussion re covers and their importance. As a lot of you agreed, covers certainly aren’t the be all and end all when it comes to purchasing a novel. Covers are only part of the equation. If you’re an established writer I think they become less important because people are responding to a name rather than a catchy image. As a new writer though you need something on the front of the book that will take a curious reader to the next level.

It’s then down to that synopsis on the back. If the story doesn’t appeal or doesn’t raise its shoulders above similar fare then I think even the most discerning reader may pass.

The whole book buying process is amorphous, however. What about word-of-mouth for instance? I have a shelf full of great books with lacklustre covers that I bought because of a recommendation. Similarly there are a lot of books with great covers that stink. Thankfully, it’s the contents of the book itself that are the real test of a book’s durability. Celebrity books aside that is – see last Friday’s blog.

I know many writers are alarmed about file sharing - new e readers robbing authors of valuable income. But people have always passed on books they’ve enjoyed to friends, family and neighbours. And if that second person then enjoys the book it’s likely they’ll purchase another one – a book they wouldn’t have entertained if the first party hadn’t handed it on.

Of course, files are different to physical books and the ease in which this is done will be incomparable. However, people have only so much time to read and with greater numbers of books racking up in their memory does that friend sharing an ephemeral file rather than something as tactile as a book really have the same impact?

It all remains to be seen but one thing is definite – after a certain point, the process by which a book becomes popular is out of the hands of publishers and authors. If it has a great cover, some nice blurb and a good position in Waterstones it’s a good start but after that it’s down to whether the readers respond to the contents. And, as cogs of the publishing machine, it seems we should all be concentrating on getting that right.

1 comment:

  1. I have bought a lot of books by authors that I didn't know because I was drawn to their covers. In the 70's, I bought Elmore Leonard's "Valdez is Coming." I hadn't read many westerns, but I was on the road and desperate and there weren't a lot of choices at the truck stop. I thought it was a beautifully written book and read everything else of his I could find. In the 80's, after our play closed in New York, & I was about to drive back to California, Bob Feldman, the sax player in the show, gave me a book called "Coming Through Slaughter" by Michael Ondaatje. -Take this with you- he said, -i think you'll like it-. He had seen it on a sidewalk bookstand and because the cover showed a picture of a man playing a cornet, he had bought it, read it and liked it. I remember being awake all night in a motel room somewhere because I couldn't stop reading it. The next year Ondaatji was giving a reading in New York. By then I had read "The Collected Works of Billy the Kid" and all of his poetry that I could find. Bob Feldman and Jim Nue, another playwight, and I, all went to St. Marks to hear him read from his book, "Running In the Family." We talked to him after the reading and Jim asked him how he came to write about outlaws & jazz musicians. He said that as a kid he had been fascinated by the American West and with New Orleans jazz. Jim and I were then rehearsing our western and Bob was a jazz musician so we all had a wonderful time talking together. If Bob hadn't bought that book, only because of the cover, I wouldn't have known Michael Ondaatji's work then, and I wouldn't have had the great pleasure of meeting him.