Reader Roundtables, Part I – the Covers
I can't remember when Sarah and I first conceived the Reader Roundtable idea, but we have had a great time conducting these little events, first at Romantic Times and then twice (by accident) at RomCon. One of the greatest things about having a blog is having constant reader interaction. It's one thing I like about twitter as well.
The reader roundtable was/is designed to bring that conversation from the internet to the physical plane. Now I am going to give you a summary of what went on so that you can extend the discussion in the virtual realm creating some kind of Escher painting. I know. It's freaky.
First up was the issue of covers. I always start with the covers because I feel like covers make such a big impact in buying decisions. Maybe I'm wrong, but even now, I can be drawn in or pushed away by a cover.
Berkley Art Director, Rita Frangie, provided us with layered covers. The point was to dissect the cover elements one by one. I loved this and frankly could have spent all day doing this with a hundred covers.
I didn't take a ton of notes on this part as it was in the second session but a couple of things came out of this (and this was echoed in the first RRtable we did):
Readers want elements of the story depicted on the cover. This means that the cover needs to tell something about the book. In the Madeline Hunter cover, the dress told us that the story was a historical and likely a Regency. In the Catherine Anderson cover, a reader said that it looked like it was a story set in a small town. In the Between Friends cover, the readers said it didn't tell you enough. For one, it looked like it was on a beach but the people weren't wearing beach clothes. The image of the cover was confusing and too vague. One person (Kristie J, I think) mentioned she liked Julie James' covers and the images showed kind of a flirty/fun story.
Another person mentioned that they liked Lavyrle Spencer's older covers but many said that they did not like scenery, but wanted people on the cover. Scenic covers signal something more mainstream. A couple of readers said that they didn't like stepback covers. The insides are often tawdry and they rip easily. I have some notation that says "manswear" but have no idea what that is about. Moving on.
There is a fierce debate between the headless covers and the covers with facial images. I'm a big headless cover person. My vision of what the characters look like never seem to match what is on the cover. At RomCon, a number of people stated their preference for some face on the cover and one reader, Jennifer, mentioned that she gravitated toward a book that had piercing eyes. The cover was Enemy Lover by Karin Harlow. One reason readers gave for liking faces were that the faces conveyed emotion. Another reader pointed out to me later that having the same model on all the covers ruined the fantasy. Can Nathan Kamp truly be in every romance story?
One reader pointed out later that if a book has a headless cover and the hero has long hair, then there should be hair around the neck and shoulders. (that would be kind of eerie).
Kristie J is tired of the man titty and the headless torsos. (but you can be tired of something like this?) Actually, I am not a big fan of the man titty either, but this is my exception which I suppose means that it is all about the execution.
One reader said that a single female on the cover indicated a heroine with a strong personality and she preferred softer heroines.
We then moved beyond images to text on the cover. The first group weren't privy to the slide presentation. The first group said that they liked cover quotes from authors because it served as an "If you like author A, you will like author B". The cover quote was like an author recommendation.
The second group said that the cover quote did nothing for them, particularly the cover quote on Between Friends because the quote was too generic and from an unknown entity. AKA who cares what Sun Sentinel thinks of the book. The PW quote on the Hunter cover carried more influence with the small group and, in part, had more personality.
Readers who spend a lot of time on blogs probably know that cover quotes can often be just a friend giving a quote for another friend. Authors, we rely on these cover quotes, so please be conscious of that when giving them out.
In keeping with the theme of readers wanting more plot elements on the cover was the tag line on the Madeline Hunter cover:
One the readers in the room had seen the tagline, they were more interested in the book. I think SonomaLass said that she loved marriage of convenience stories (me too!) and thus the tagline would have spoken to her.
One editor shared that taglines were hard because the marketing department wasn't equipped to write them and editors ended up writing them. Another editor mentioned that authors weren't as helpless as they made it out. Authors can definitely make suggestions for back cover copy or tag lines or even the cover images themselves.
One reader commented that she would like the cover quote to be moved to the back because the front was too cluttered. Looking at the Hunter v. the Leigh cover, I have to agree.
That's what I recall about the cover conversation. Tomorrow I will post about the content suggestions that came out of the reader roundtables. Would love to hear your thoughts on the covers. Do you agree or disagree with the points readers made in the roundtables? Are there particular elements that you like/don't like? Let's have a virtual roundtable.