They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but here’s why I think you should …
We’ve all heard bookworms say they don’t care about the cover as long as the story is good but in the next breath they’ll say, ‘I bought it because I liked the cover!’
Truth is, we want to read a good story first and foremost, but readers ARE attracted to cool covers. So, let’s talk about why it’s important to have a great cover for your book:
1) Visual Hook
A good book cover acts as a shop window. After staring at an interesting shop window for a bit, I soon want to go inside and I don’t even need to knock! It’s the same for book covers. Why? Because, like shop windows, you think ‘This cover is so amazing; the book must be the good’ Simple, really!
Of course, we all know a good cover doesn’t necessarily mean a great book, but a good cover helps SEDUCE readers … just like it did with Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ll admit: it had a great cover and I was drawn to it, picking off the shelf even before I’d heard the hype. Then I read the first page and put it back down! But I did pick the book up. That’s what’s important here. You need to get the book into people’s hands before they can begin to read it.
TOP TIP: Hook the reader with a lush cover. If you don’t bait the line, how can you expect to catch any fish?
2) Amateur Book Cover = Amateur Writer
If the book cover is ugly then what does that say about the writing? Well, rightly or wrongly, just as an ‘amazing cover = amazing writing’, the opposite assumption is made. People will think that, if the author didn’t care enough to make sure the cover was amazing, then they probably didn’t take the same care when writing the novel. It’s a real shame when I see a writer has worked hard on their debut, for their book cover to fall down on such an important first impression.
TOP TIP: Show you’re a professional by using the best tools at your disposal, don’t settle for ‘that’ll do’ because it won’t.
The cover sets the tone for a reader. Get it wrong and miss your target audience. Who are you aiming this book at? If you put out a teen romance with a picture of a grandma knitting in a rocking chair on the cover, you will probably miss your target audience or any audience, for that matter. Okay, that’s simplifying the matter, but believe me – it’s easy to get wrong. The cover of Harry Potter was clearly aimed at children, yet I, and many others, read it as adults. By book five Bloomsbury were putting out two covers, one for adults and one for children, with the thought that adults could now read this magical children’s series in public without feeling silly. Great idea!
Here on the left is an example of an effective cover without the huge price tag. So pretty. The name says it all and the colours and minimalist background promises sophisticated and intriguing stories.
Shameless plug: my short story, London’s Crawling, is in this book. I love the cover. It does the job for all the stories included in the charity collection. I’m grateful to Bloodhound Books for choosing such a fab cover design.
TOP TIP: Remember who your target audience is. The Dark Minds cover sets the tone perfectly; readers instantly know what kind of stories they’re going to find inside.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie, mid-range writer or a famous bestseller like King and Rowling. You MUST put out the best cover possible! No matter what, famous authors always put out the most amazing book covers. Why do they bother? They could put out a blank book – white cover with their name on the front in black courier font – their fans would still buy it, right? So why don’t they put books out like that?
Because a) their brand helps people find their books quickly and b) people expect a swanky cover from them, if the cover quality drops they might think there’s something wrong with their favourite author and perhaps the writing quality has also dropped. Plus, don’t forget – authors should be always looking to hook new readers.
TOP TIP: Don’t let the quality of your book covers drop, ever! I’ve followed many writers’ careers and found consistency to be the key to longevity.
5) Branding and Titles
Branding is important. This is not just about genre, authors can swap and change, but branding your books in line with yourself as an author is part of the magic. Irrespective of genre, Stephen King stands out on the shelf, as does Dr. Seuss. You can clearly pick out these authors in a sea of books.
Stamp your book cover with your name and style, be bold but be careful about naming your masterpiece as well as yourself. JK Rowling branded her name as well as her books. I’m still wondering whether it’s a good idea to separate my darker novels from my lighter ones. Should I use Emma Pullar for my picture books and lighter YA novels and then E Pullar for my darker YA/NA stuff? I’m still not sure, but I do know that having a name like Gertrude Picklebottom might be a plus as a pseudonym for my children’s books and fantasy novels but probably not so for my sci-fi, horror and dystopian novels, one of which has been described as “Beckett-esque in its nihilism.”
TOP TIP: Think hard about what you want to put across to readers. Self. Style. Story. Make sure your brand stands out.
You book’s cover is your shop window. An imaginative window display can mean the difference between customers walking straight by or walking onto the shop and even posting photos online of the gorgeous shop window for all their friends to see. It should be the same when presenting your books to potential readers.
PUT YOUR BEST COVER FORWARD!
I often read blogs where people have insisted ‘dystopia is dead’ or the dystopian trend has passed. This simply isn’t true. Dystopian stories have always been popular and The Hunger Games wasn’t the FIRST popular dystopian story and it won’t be the LAST.
I love dystopian tales because they’re a dirty mirror, and even when the dust is removed and the glass is polished, the mirror remains cracked and broken. These mirrors show us our most unattractive self. Beneath the makeup and the filters and the Botox (or whatever it is people use to make their appearance more appealing) are the spots and discolorations and unwanted hair sticking out from your chin and dark circles under your eyes and wrinkles and … Read dystopian stories and be confronted with the ugly truth. If you dare!
This is my own dystopian/Sci-fi novel’s LOGLINE:
In a dark, futuristic city, a young anti-heroin goes on a perilous mission to prevent herself from becoming a human incubator for her hover-chair bound masters.
Like many dystopian stories, my Sci-fi is about control and being forced to live a lie. It tackles a repressive, authoritarian government, a disgraceful class-system, injustice, racism, and interracial relationships and more. All the things that drive me crazy about our society… and then I made it much, much worse! It’s part of a duology and my agent is currently working on finding the right home for it.
In the meantime, here’s a rundown of some of my favourite dystopian stories so far. These authors inspired me to want to write similar tales. Are any of these your favourites?
1) DUNE by Frank Herbert: Dystopian Sci-fi with a splash or horror
Dune is the story of a futuristic interplanetary or interstellar society of noble houses who rule over different planets. The protagonist, Paul Atreides, is sent to the desert planet of Arrakis to manage the dangerous mining of “spice” melange, which is the most important substance in the universe. The story follows Paul as he navigates his way through the politics and religious aspects of the fighting houses, all of them wanting control. This dystopian universe is riddled with deceit, each house trying to out manoeuvre the other using all sorts of manipulation and trickery. Who do you trust? Not the Harkonens, that’s for sure! The atmosphere Herbert has created is like no other. I felt as if I was there, entangled in it all.
2) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Dystopian apocalyptic
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the 74th Hunger Games in place of her little sister, twelve-year-old Primrose. The girls live in district twelve, part of thirteen impoverished districts who are bound to serve the wealthy Capitol which make up the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, North America. As a punishment for the rebellion against the Capitol, in which district thirteen was destroyed, the names of one boy and one girl from each of the remaining districts are put into a lottery and once reaped (name drawn) the ‘tributes’ are forced to take part in The Hunger Games – a battle to the death in a booby-trapped area where there can only be one victor. The games are televised and used as a means to control the districts so they don’t try to rise up against the Capitol again. The Hunger Games is a lottery no one wants to enter.
3) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K Dick: Dystopian Sci-fi
Set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco. The Earth is in ruins, damaged by a global nuclear war. Animals are endangered or extinct from radiation poisoning and so owning an animal is a sign of status. Most people can’t afford a real animal and so some buy electric ones and pretend they are real. The protagonist, Rick Dekard is a county hunter who retires (kills) escaped Nexus-6 androids to fund his animal collecting obsession. Using a series of tests, Rick must first determine if the target subject is in an android or human. He must not make the mistake of killing a human. Androids shouldn’t feel empathy but some of them don’t know they’re androids. Can the test be wrong? The story asks us what it is to be human and if a machine can be mistaken for one of us, should it be exterminated? This book leaves you with more questions than it gives answers.
4) Lord of the Flies by William Golding: Dystopian Spec-fic
LOTF is considered Spec-fic but I’ve included it because, for me, it is truly a dystopian nightmare! A group of boys marooned on an uninhabited island try to govern themselves with disastrous results. Ralph is the voice of reason while the bully, Jack, wants to do things his way. The boys become separated into two groups, trying to figure out how to survive until they’re rescued, one group become predators, while the others are the prey. Poor, sweet, diplomat ‘piggy’ never stood a chance. He had the conch (it was agreed that whoever held the couch was allowed to speak) but the others still wouldn’t listen. This is such a simple premise and the way the characters react in their new environment encourages us to question our own drives and instincts
5) Divergent by Veronica Roth: Dystopian apocalyptic
Beatrice “Tris” Prior lives with her family in a post-apocalyptic Chicago. In this society citizens have been split into five factions and a person’s strongest personality trait will determine whether they are Abnegation (The Selfless); Dauntless (The Brave); Erudite (The Intelligent); Amity (The Peaceful); Candor (The Honest) and also Factionless, which are the homeless. Unfortunately, when Tris is old enough to be tested she is found to be Divergent which means she has more than one dominant trait. She conceals this as it is undesirable and instead chooses Dauntless as her faction. While settling into her new home (or rather being put through rigorous tests to make sure she is in fact worthy to be Dauntless) Tris uncovers a plot, a bid for control of the masses. I love the idea of being sorted into your strongest personality trait and living with other like-minded people but as Tris finds out, humans cannot be boxed and labelled and that’s one of the biggest issues we face as a society.
6) Battle Royale by Koushun Takami: Dystopian futuristic
Battle Royale was created after an uprising of the people, much the same as The Hunger Games yet BR was written before it. What’s different is an entire class is chosen at random and the teenagers are pitched against their friends until only one remains. The battle is televised and to make sure the teens fight to the death, the metal collar around their neck (attached while the teens were unconscious after being gassed on the school bus) will explode after three days. The collars also pinpoint their position and the teens are given a map so they can keep out of danger zones which change daily. If caught in one, the collar explodes. If they try to take the collar off… you guessed it. BANG! My favourite thing about this story is the ‘pot luck’ backpacks. If you’re lucky you get an axe, not so lucky, a dustbin lid!
7) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Dystopian futuristic
Ray Bradbury presents a future America where books are outlawed. The protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman and his job is not to put out fires but to start them. Firemen burn any books or personal libraries they find. Guy meets a young girl in his neighbourhood who seems different, she doesn’t see the world like everyone else does; he soon starts to question society and steals books instead of burning them. Suddenly he’s awake, eyes wide open; he can see things as they really are and he doesn’t like what he sees. Fahrenheit 451 is a masterpiece. I devoured it in one sitting.
8) Matched by Ally Condie: Dystopian futuristic
Seventeen-year-old Cassia Reyes lives in a strictly controlled society where life-partners are chosen for you. Usually the ‘match’ lives in another town but strangely Cassia is matched with her best friend, Xander. When she insets the information card she’s been given about her match a different boy’s face flashes up on the screen – an outcast at her school. Cassia’s world starts to unravel as she discovers her society isn’t all it seems. Personally, I find the extent of the control in Cassia’s world extremely scary and being matched with a stranger even scarier!
9) The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K Dick: Dystopian alternative history
Germany and Japan won the war and took over the U.S. This world is set up so carefully that it almost feels real. Like in some parallel universe this actually happened and Phillip K Dick went there and wrote down his findings! The plot is centralized around antique dealer who exposes a corporation supplying counterfeit antiques and blackmails them into giving him money to start his jewellery business. It’s thought provoking because I’m not sure the world Phillip K Dick painted is much different to the U.S. of today.
10) The Running Man by Stephen King: Dystopian futuristic
Another story in the same vein as The Hunger Games but also written before it. In the year 2025, the economy is in ruins, America has become a totalitarian dystopia and violence around the world is increasing. Ben Richards can’t find work and is impoverish with a sick daughter and a wife turning tricks to make ends meet. Desperate, he enlists in a violent gameshow called The Running Man. Ben, along with other contestants, are chased down by hunters (hitmen) trained to kill. Ben earns money the longer he stays alive and even more if he kills a hunter, with a grand prize of a billion dollars for anyone who lasts thirty days. Desperate times call for desperate measures and with reality TV on the rise I wonder how long it will be before we see this type of brutal entertainment!
In closing, I would have to say … the statement above taken from The Running Man movie is pretty messed up! It’s almost 2017 and all of these things ARE happening. Eek!
So ... it's been over four years since I started learning how to write novels and although I have one novel finished to a high standard and an agent getting it under as many publishers noses as humanly possible, there's still no book deal in sight. Sigh.
I join the ranks of many frustrated writers, I know. But here's the thing. I can't sit around and wait. Waiting never helps so I'm going to make some changes to the way I do things in 2016. I'm going to get my stuff out to readers any way I can.
Beta readers tell me they love my stories. My agent loves them. I love them. I need to get my stories into the hands of more people who will enjoy them too. I can no longer sit around hoping a traditional publisher will give me a nice shiny book deal. If nothing has arrived by the end of this year, then I will bring it to you myself.
Watch this space!
Disclaimer: I am a natural storyteller not an English teacher.
You've heard of method actors, right? So is there such a thing as a method author?
I think there might be.
Writers need to be able to put themselves in their protagonist's shoes and most do this successfully. We are all human and all know how it feels to be happy, sad, angry etc but unlike actors who sometimes have to pretend the backdrop is there when it isn't, we have to set the scene and really feel our surroundings. Smell, taste, touch, sound ... sight. I could not remember the last of the five senses! Embarrassing. Shh… don't tell anyone.
That just shows how much emphasis I put on sight. My mind is able to conjure up the most magnificent visions, better than anything I can see in the real world. That's why I love books! Every reader will read my books differently and that is pure magic to me.
Whilst writing magic realism, I wanted my protagonist’s experiences to feel real, especially because it's fantasy. I want the reader (you) to imagine what magic rushing through your body feels like, how a magic addict might suffer and what it would be like to use magical instruments. I want you to feel the power, the fear, the anxiety of having dangerous magics at your fingertips. Like The Never Ending Story, I want you to feel like you're part of the story.
Here is why I think I might be a bit of a method author.
Parts of my stories I can experience, I psychically do. I went to Eastwell Manor (a source of inspiration) and investigated. I even spent the night there - it is spooky at night.
I also did smaller things. In one scene, my protagonist slams into the ground from a height. No, I didn't jump off a cliff. I'm crazy but not that crazy! I went into the garden and allowed my body to drop onto the grass. I smelt the dirt, saw the ants scurrying around and felt the prickly blades press into my cheek. I then went back to my desk and wrote the sentence. That is what I think a 'method author' would do.
Another time I wanted her to feel cold, like ice running down her back. So I did that. I noted the change in my skin, my heart rate and generally my body's reaction to the cold. It helped me to write what she was experiencing with a bit more depth.
As long as it isn't dangerous or going to hurt someone else in any way, I try to experience as much as I can to make my stories breathe.
Let me ask you this: Have you ever read a work of fiction where you felt sure the person who wrote it had actually experienced what the protagonist was going through? Maybe you can see the difference in the writing between those who have experienced and those who are faking it?
What about you? Are you a method author? Do you sit around for weeks not washing and stinking up the place because you are writing about someone trapped in the wilderness? Maybe you went to work with someone to get a feel for their job so you can write your story about an accountant turned psychopath? Maybe you are writing about a little dog and go around eating off people's dinner plates and pooping on your neighbour’s lawn. Note: I did not do this when I wrote Curly from Shirley. Eating someone else's dinner is rude.
I'd love your thoughts.
Disclaimer: I am a natural storyteller, not an English teacher.
Go get a fan base before anyone has even read your book.
I know what you are thinking. That is crazy! You're right, it doesn't really make sense. How can you build a fan base without a product to sell?
Well this is what might be expected of you if you want to land a contract with any of the big publishers.
Blog, tweet, Facebook, WattPad, fan pages, website, juggle life, my kids, (not literally of course for all you mad people who now have a picture in your head of me throwing around my three small children!) relationship with my husband, supporting him at work, cleaning the house, bills/school stuff etc etc and oh yeah, don't forget to write the book! Then re-write, edit and polish it. Phew! I feel tired just writing that.
Writers are having to be sales people, personalities, admins on fan pages, marketing experts and the list goes on. This seems to be because the industry is in a bit of a mess for lack of a better word. People are self-publishing some really great books but many are publishing poorly executed, badly edited and just plain boring stories. With this wide range to choose from and a lot of it free you can see why agents and publishers are finding it difficult to take a chance on any new author. A couple of underperforming titles and that could be the end of their business!
When asked by a major publisher to put my work up on Wattpad I politely declined. After almost three years of practise, (mostly teaching myself what I did not learn at school) I was reluctant to put work up that wasn't edited, even though I knew readers would understand. I love WattPad, it's a great place for young writers to get feedback on their work and I would have loved to share a few chapters but at this stage, I want to try and do things traditionally. I haven't given up hope.
Writing was never and will never be about money, for me. I need money so I can feed my family. I've never had much of it and I don't mind if I never do. When people enjoy reading and are excited about a book that you have written and they love your writing, it is the most magical feeling in the world. I live to make people happy, including myself and I really hope my novels will give people joy as they have done for me.
Thank you to all those that have already supported me. You are amazing. I support new authors wherever I can. There are so many wonderful writers out there just waiting for their chance to fly and take their readers soaring through the clouds with them.
Disclaimer: I am a natural storyteller not an English teacher.
Why write a completely original or unique novel because the ideas you are really passionate about have already been developed?
Well, you shouldn't. You should write whatever you want.
I have original ideas but I also like to draw from mythology and my experiences. My stories come from my thoughts and my thoughts can only be mine, and so you will always find things about my stories that you might not have read before but I say 'might not' because (sadly) we can't read every book in the world and so it is entirely possible for another writer to have had similar ideas to mine and this means you will find familiar themes/characters/plots in every book you read, that doesn't mean I shouldn't write about them though, right?
My favourite authors have a huge impact on what I like to write. I read their books because I love their ideas and writing style and so my stories will naturally take a similar tone. I love fantasy, dystopian, horror and sci-fi and that is reflected in what I write. Should I not write what I want because others have written about these themes before me?
I hear things like "not ground-breakingly original" Well, is anything that original these days? Most bestsellers aren't totally original. How could they be? Should Suzanne Collins not have written 'The Hunger Games' because it was almost identical to Battle Royale? No way! How about Harry Potter? 'The Worst Witch' was the same theme, what if someone had told J K Rowling, 'Nah, we already have books like that out there, we don't need this one as well.
The idea that Harry Potter might not have existed is just ...
Having said that, writers must always be mindful about plagiarism. It's clear when a story has been copied almost word for word and that's not cool. What also isn't cool, is writers being afraid to write what they love for fear of the critics. YA and children's book critics often annoy me because they say things like "It's been done before." Yes, it might have but the children and young adults reading it haven't been that age before and they may not have read books created in 1965! They want something new, something written by a writer who isn't dead, something written for their generation and their generation only! Why should they have to put up with our cast offs? They should be given a choice of classics and new reading material. Language and technology and morality is ever changing and with new readers comes new challenges and new ideas or the best old ideas with a new twist.
Readers call the shots and I just hope they will fall in love with my worlds and enjoy wandering through them and being a part of them as much as I do. So, writers, write what you love and readers, read what you love. Don't settle for anything less.
This is where I write.
You can't see Narnia at the moment because as everyone knows, it's not always there.
Emma Pullar is a bestselling and award-winning writer of dark fiction and children's books.
She supports Bang2write, The London Screenwriters' Festival, and Into the Script.
Follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaStoryteller or Instagram @emmapullar_storyteller or fb Emma Pullar.
You also find her on Linkedin.