Sometimes You Just Wonder
So the other day I came across a catalog of upcoming books put out by a distribution house. On the surface there isn’t much to see other than to get a feel for books that are going to be released soon and if you have a store then this is pretty important info. For me though, the interesting stuff lay beyond the dates. It is the other info that blew my mind.
Can I just say that there are a lot of horribly titled books out there? Now, I am sure the titles meant something to the writers, I hope they did at least, so it is not necessarily fair to judge but I will anyway. For me, the title is a natural part of the process and many times the title comes first for a story. I work from that and the vague concept. With the books I go with what feels right or fits the concept. I am not going to say that the titles are wins for everyone but for me they work, and they work because they capture the heart of the book. Man though, some of the books that come out either sound embarrassing (along the lines of Gunrunner Book Three – Adventure of the Gunboat Captain) or ridiculous (say How to Get Rich and Stay Pretty Forever In Four Minutes a Day). You just shake your head and want to ask the people behind the books what possessed them to come up with that stuff.
I am sure that is not the ‘correct’ name but you get what I am saying when I tell you that I am thinking of the text that goes on the back of a book (or inside flap if it is a hardcover) to describe what you are about to read. For me this is the most important part of the package. You can have a jankie cover, a lame title, but man, if you blow the back description then you are doomed. This is where you get to pitch the book and sum it up to pull people in. In other words this is where you cast your spell on the reader. I can say this about my books, well, the ones I had complete control over – the back description is spot on. I may not capture every nuance but you know what you are getting into and you know what you are signing up for before you dive in. It is ridiculous to read some of the descriptions out there though. When Logan Blake signed up for the bomb squad he had no idea the real danger would come from the unlikely romance he would strike up with his partner, a fiery red-head with a nuclear heart. And people write that stuff. Worse yet, people BUY that stuff. We like what we like, and I know I am not the Dean of Taste here but jeepers, can we try a little harder next time?
I love art, I paint, I draw, but I would never go around and act like I am some great artist. I do what I do, and I love that, but it is what it is. Having said that, I really like the covers I have done. From the three that I drew to the most recent that I photographed I love all. All three could look cleaner, more professional, and more polished but they are exactly what I wanted as they are. They capture the feeling I wanted them to capture. They are what they are and I like that. Wow though, go look at some book covers. Most fantasy covers are overdone and comical, bios and self help books tend to show the smarmy author or the subject in an awkward photo, and the rest are hit and miss that dance between ridiculous to nonsensical. Few seem to have much thought and art put into them. The cover should be a collaboration between the author and an artist and should capture the spirit of the book or the theme. Heck, just an evocative cover is something that seems so often to be lacking. Again, it feels like there is a bullpen of artists that are given the book and a synopsis and they come up with a few ideas and the higher ups pick the most salable or economical. Wonderful way to package an artform, eh?
Is it any wonder that the publishing market is in flux when you see that writers I have never heard of are getting their books printed in quantities of ten thousand? Now that isn’t a lot, relatively speaking, when you look at some of the heavy hitters where they print up hundreds of thousands of copies. There is a reason that books are pricey and that is one reason – waste. If you cannot guarantee those sales then why not print them on demand? Or figure a way to have POD (print on demand) kiosks at stores to get them to customers there and then but without the back stock. It just seems silly. I am a no one in the big picture but have been at this for twenty years and have sold maybe a couple hundred books in my years. I have given out FAR more to be sure. But it is funny that me being self published is supposed to be so shameful yet there is no waste on my side. I order books if I need them and the company prints books to order. It makes sense. This is coming from someone who 1. wants super neat collectible books and 2. wants stuff immediately – I do get that side of it. Why not make special books all, well, special. And if you are a newcomer then you get the paperback treatment. If it sells well then we will re-release it with something new and as a hardcover. We do not need to have this much overstock. Same goes for movies and everything else. Fill demand and produce a little over it but have the ability to fill increased demand either on the fly or quickly. And as consumers maybe we need to learn to delay gratification for a minute.
Now, none of this means I am right but that as a writer, again, for twenty years now, I do have an outlook on all of it. Sadly, being ‘self published’ (which, might I add has changed drastically from the DIY days of putting ‘zines together or getting a book printed for yourself at the local print shop) I am seen as the bastard child of the established system but the thing is this – the system is changing. And it will continue to change. We will wind up in the middle where established writers and talents are put out in traditional ways and people like me will get e-book contracts or POD contracts and we will go book to book. Not great necessarily for me but better than being ignored for not already being born a known commodity. It is lonely being a pioneer but there is solace in knowing that eventually everyone else will be joining you a lot sooner than you think.