"Your" Book vs. Your Book

Saturday, July 30, 2011

That title confusing enough for you? Good, now let me explain.

I've gotten a few questions since my book deal notice went up, and most are simple, but this is a subject I'd rather do a full post on. It concerns things like titles and book covers that may or may not (<-- most likely) be under the author's control.

When you start writing a book, it's a solitary and often insular activity. The characters live inside a world you create (at least with fantasy or sci-fi), that - up to the point you get it on paper - only exists in your own mind. No one else can see what you see and no one else can know what you know. You have complete control.

Then you send your book out into the world.

Here's where things get tricky. The universe you've created? It still only exists inside your head. No matter how well you've described it, every set of new eyes that takes in your words is going to see something slightly different as your words are filtered through the reader's experiences. Just think how many times you've seen a novel-turned-film and thought the actor looked nothing like the picture in your head.

It happens. Intent isn't always synonymous with result, and while something may be completely obvious to you, you can't assume, as a writer, that what comes through on the page is what you meant to convey. And the same holds true for the person who designs your cover.

I can't tell you how many temper tantrums I've seen on various sites when authors discover that they can't control what goes on the cover of their book when it comes to title or cover art. They create mock covers (similar to what I've shown you here before), only with the expectation that those covers will be the final product, then they stamp their feet and scream that it's their book so they should get to decide what's on the front.

But, here's the secret: That book you wrote? It's not only yours anymore. If you sell it to a commercial publisher, then it's theirs, too. They have entire departments dedicated to marketing; they have experience in the market itself; they know what titles are being used for upcoming novels and they know that if yours sounds too similar it can hurt sales; they know how to craft a cover that will attract attention so a potential reader picks up the book and reads the back or skims the first pages. Most likely, you don't. And while your main focus may be to create a "perfect" image that conveys all the little nuances of your plot, the designer also has to focus on selling books, and that means a cover attractive to the market.

If it were up to me, I know exactly what I'd put on a book cover. It would be a perspective shot of my MC running toward the reader with her hand stretched out and her fingers dissolving to wind-blown particles of dust. The title would be Arclight, and the tagline would read : "There is the Light. There is the Dark. And no one survives the Fade."

But, at the same time, I'm excited to see how someone else interprets the book. What do they think it should be called? How do they see it? Because in the end, I didn't write it for only myself; I wrote a book because I wanted to share the story with others.

It's still your book, full of your words and characters and effort. You're a writer, so do your best with the parts you can control and don't sweat letting people who know more about design handle the parts that are their responsibility.

8 Chiming In:

Carrie Butler said...

"No matter how well you've described it, every set of new eyes that takes in your words is going to see something slightly different as your words are filtered through the reader's experiences."

That's a great way to put it, Josin. Great post! :)

Kelsey said...

Very good post. Thanks!

Kelsey
www.kelseysutton.blogspot.com

Emy Shin said...

This is such a great post. Thanks for writing it!

Jamie Manning said...

Truer words were never spoken. Once you put that story in your mind down on paper and decide to share it with others, it's not just yours anymore. And I hear you on titles. I had the PERFECT title for mine, but once I signed with a publisher, the title was the first thing to go...too close to another book already out. That was tough, but necessary. Some things you just have to say "goodbye" to.

Excellent post!

Stephsco said...

You summarized this eloquently. And I dig your cover and tagline idea. The publisher should at least try it out ;)

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Yeah, it's an important step for an author to accept that other people are going to have their hands on their book. I'm happy to be with a publisher who lets me have a lot of say on my covers - that's been a really great thing for me. Signing with someone whose covers/editing/marketing you admire in general is a good idea. :)

Garner Davis said...

I wonder if the tantrums result more from authors who describe characters in detail only to see a reader "ignoring" their expressed vision. Personally, I don't detail every aspect of my characters' appearance, so I don't expect any consensus to arise among readers. If, er, when my book gets published, I'll be interested to see how readers envision my characters.

Gennifer Albin said...

Ahh, yes, this becomes even clearer when edits start. I bet Arclight's cover will be fabulous and they'd be stupid to change the name, but it dies happen.

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