Squawk Radio

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Christina Dodd Un-Covers the Truth

I recently received an email that said, "I get embarrassed when reading books with graphic ‘Fabio-ish’ covers with half naked people displayed. Please give your books more of the ‘Oprah Book Club’ style covers - please!"

I haven’t written her back. I don’t know what to say. The truth is — authors have little to say about the covers that go on their books. And there’s a chance that that’s a good thing, because authors are notorious at not knowing what’s going to work on the market. We understand words really well. What appeals visually is a whole different can of worms.

For instance — the first time I saw the cover for IN MY WILDEST DREAMS, I cried. I thought it was awful — bland, boring, the kind of cover that could kill my career. Well, guess what? It was my first New York Times bestseller, stayed on the charts for four weeks and topped out at seven.

Now, I will admit, it’s a good book (she said modestly), my re-telling of the Cinderella-like Sabrina story, and every reader loves it (I’m steeped in modesty). But when I saw the book on the shelves, I realized I was wrong. What looked bland on my kitchen table proved to be a great cover on the racks. It “popped.” When so many books coming out each month, it turns out that’s what works. “Pop.” A color and a style that catches the eye.

Authors are also looking for covers that clearly attract the right audience. The cover for THE PRINCE KIDNAPS A BRIDE clearly proclaims it’s a historical romance — the pastel color is feminine, the painting is softly impressionistic, her hair style is old-fashioned, and the ruffles are, um, ruffly. The cover for TROUBLE IN HIGH HEELS clearly proclaims it’s a contemporary romantic suspense — the color is bold, the photography is stark, the shoes are modern and sexy, and the spill of jewels suggests intrigue.

Sometimes a publishing company creates a cover that, um, doesn’t exactly fit the book. For instance, THE GREATEST LOVER IN ALL ENGLAND is being re-released and given its first new look since 1994. Now, GREATEST LOVER is an Elizabethan — think “Shakespeare in Love.” It’s a beautiful cover — but does this say Elizabethan to you?

Some readers truly do want an “Oprah Book Club” style cover — unfortunately, that’s false advertising. Romance is never included in the Oprah Book Club, and the readers who would pick up a book with that cover would be highly indignant to discover a romance inside, and the romance readers who would enjoy the story would never pick it up. On the other hand, how many readers who would like romance never pick one up because, like my reader, they would be embarrassed to read books with half-naked people on the cover?

So tell us what attracts you to a cover. Be honest. We don’t want your politically correct answer. We want to know what catches your eye when you peruse the book racks, what you’d rather die than buy, and whether picking up a book with a cover that give you the wrong impression drives you to shriek and throw it against the wall.
Christina Dodd, 1:34 AM