Friday, January 4, 2008

Colleen Gleason's Cover Epiphany

Welcome Colleen Gleason to Title Magic as this week's featured guest blogger.

Colleen is the author of the highly acclaimed Gardella Vampire Chronicles, a series about a female vampire hunter living during Regency England (yes, a Buffy in the time of Jane Austen)...and the three men who love her.

J. R. Ward called her first book,
The Rest Falls Away, "Sexy, sophisticated, surprising!" and The Chicago Tribune described Rises the Night as "deliciously dark and delightfully entertaining."

The third volume in the series about Victoria Gardella Grantworth,
The Bleeding Dusk, will be released in February, and has received a Top Pick from Romantic Times (one of our favorite magazines).

So if you haven't yet had the chance to read about Victoria's adventures--and form your own opinion about which hero she should end up with--you still have time before
The Bleeding Dusk hits the shelves.

In the mean time, thanks to Colleen for sharing her Cover Epiphany with us!

Thank you Holli, Trish, and everyone else that I don't know personally! Congratulations to you all for such an amazing achievement and good luck to all of the Finalists for the rest of the contest...and in all of your publishing endeavors.

I'm delighted to be here to share my experience with the whole cover-design process--something I'm sure you'll all be dealing with soon.

I wrote nine books before selling to a major New York publisher, and worked with a reputable, well-known agent for more than two years before she called to tell me that NAL wanted to buy the first two books in my historical vampire slayer series.

It was a dream come true—something I’d strived for off and on for more than a decade—and the culmination of lots of hard work.

But the fun—and education—was just beginning. I got the phone call in September 2005, and my book, The Rest Falls Away, was released on January 2, 2007. Fifteen months later!

I did a lot during those fifteen months, including writing the second book, but one of the most interesting things that happened during that time is the epiphany I had in relation to book covers.

As an author, I have a certain idea of what I think the cover of my book should look like, based on personal preference and the type of book it is.

Colleen’s Personal Criteria for Her Book Cover(s):

* The design should be eye-catching
* The characters should be depicted accurately
* The scene portrayed should actually have occurred in the book
* It shouldn’t be cliché, and I’m personally not fond of clinch covers (especially since my books aren’t strictly romance)
* I’m not crazy about cartoon covers either

I couldn’t, of course, give this list to my editor; and even if I had, she wouldn’t have passed it on to the art/marketing department. Besides, NAL’s Signet Eclipse line has, in my opinion, some of the best covers I’ve ever seen.

Thus, I was blessed (and I do mean blessed) with a fabulous cover for The Rest Falls Away. I really couldn’t have asked for anything fresher, more unique or more eye-catching. It fit all of my criteria, and then some.

So…I was very excited to see what NAL was going to do with the second cover in the Gardella Vampire Chronicles series. The book Rises the Night was released last June, and it’s a continuation of the story of Victoria Gardella Grantworth, who learns that she is the next in a long family line of vampire hunters.

And here’s where I really began to understand book covers.

When I got the cover for Rises the Night, I wasn’t nearly as crazy about it as I was for cover of The Rest Falls Away. Oh, it’s very striking and beautiful in its own way, but there were things about it that weren’t “right”—in my naïve, inexperienced opinion.

First, there was a man with a bare chest on the front cover. (I’m not fond of covers with clinches, as I mentioned above…nor am I particularly fond of bare chests on them either.) (Not that this bare chest wasn’t lovely to look at…it is! It definitely is!)

Secondly, the man depicted, who was supposed to be Max—a prominent character in the series—looked too young, and his hair was wrong, and the expression on his face wasn’t quite right. Yadda yadda yadda.

Plus the cover has a sort of manga look to it, which, although it’s different, I did realize isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

As you can imagine, I was a little disappointed. After all, based on my criteria, despite the bold color and that fabulous stake he’s holding, it just didn’t fit.

And that was when I had my Cover Epiphany.

That was when I realized that I was only the author of the book (and I don’t mean “only” in a derogatory sense). Although I have a background in art and design, and I also spent eighteen years in sales and marketing, I’m not an expert in this area. I’m really not. I can write the book, I know who the characters are and what’s going to happen and boy, can I put words on paper…but as for positioning it and marketing it on a global basis…my experience is limited.

Once I recognized that, I relaxed.

The art and marketing personnel at NAL do this for a living. The sales reps and my editor and my publisher all know much better than I do what makes a cover pop off the shelves, draw attention, and what sets it apart.

And isn’t that, ultimately, what we want? The absolutely most important thing a cover needs to do is to draw attention. It needs to make the person pick it up.

Pick it up.

Because once someone has picked it up, or seen the cover image somewhere and wanted to find out more…we’ve taken the first step toward that all-important sale.

And these are facts:
  • Covers with bare-chested men sell really well
  • Covers with dark-haired men on the cover sell really well
  • Covers with bold colors sell really well
Also, manga was becoming so popular, especially with the younger edge of my target market, that having a cover with a bit of that feel to it could only help in catching the attention of those fans.

Thus, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter so much whether the cover accurately portrays the book, characters, or events within…it’s most important that the cover attract attention and give the potential buyer a feel for what the book is about.

After all, how many times have you picked up a book (because of its cover) and, after reading the book, stared at the cover and said, “But that didn’t happen in the book!” or “Well, I don’t think he looks like so-and-so!”?

I know I don’t. If I like the book, I like the book, and the cover has little to do with it once I’ve made the purchase decision. But the cover has a whole lot to do with whether I pick it up in the first place!

And that, my dear readers, is what I learned in my Cover Epiphany: as the author, I expect the cover to show exactly what’s going on in the book, what the characters look like, and what happens.

But it doesn’t have to. All it has to do is get someone to pick up the book. The rest of it—whether the book holds their attention, whether the characters are well-drawn and the plot tight and interesting—is up to me.

And shortly after that Epiphany, I received the cover for my third book, The Bleeding Dusk (coming February 2008). And, in short, it left me completely breathless. It’s gorgeous, yes?

So…What kind of cover makes you pick up a book?

You can find out more about Colleen's books at her Web site, or visit her blog, which she updates regularly.


Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Your covers are breathtaking and I do want to pick them up! (pause while I check how much of my Amazon gift certs I have left from Christmas--ooo, just enough!)

I find I'm drawn to what you mentioned: bold colors, hunky dark-haired man, bare chest--but once I pick it up, a solid blurb will make me buy it. And yours are excellent!

Thank you so much for sharing so *when* I get published I'll have a better idea of what to expect!

Amanda Ashby said...

Here, here for NAL art department. I cried when I first got my cover from them, and I still look at it every single day and grin!!!

As far as covers go, I'm drawn to bright colors and great font. Though I must admit that half-naked men do it for me as well!!!! And now I'm off to add your books to my ever growing Amazon wishlist!!!

Colleen Gleason said...

Anitra, thanks so much for your kind words...and Amanda too! I hope you enjoy the books if you get to them.

The cover for my fourth book (Aug 08) has another gorgeous set of abs...and is even better than Rises the Night. And I was thrilled to find out that it was from a photo shoot, not a computer generated that guy is out there somewhere.... :-)

Mona Risk said...

Yes, Colleen, the cover of The Bleeding Dusk is absolutely gorgeous. I agree with you: a cover greatly affects the sales of a book. I feel lucky that my first book, TO LOVE A HERO has a gorgeous cover, a romantic kiss, an exotic Russian setting and bold blue colors. That was the second trial. The first one they sent me left me devastated. Although it had the bare-chested man, it wasn't representing my story at all. They were good enough to change it.

Colleen Gleason said...

Ooh, Mona, it is a beautiful cover! And I love how it indicates the unusual setting.

Very nice, and congrats on its imminent release! I'm sure you're over the top excited--as well you should be. Congrats!

Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Colleen, I have to admit the first cover left me breathless the first time I saw in RT. And like you expressed the second cover is beautiful in its own way. But, that third cover is soooo much more breathless. And your title! I adore that title with the cover when I, again, saw it in RT.
Honestly, on occasion, I will buy a book just because of its cover, even knowing I won't care for the story. However, what gets me to pick up a book is often the title. I guess I'm a title junky. Then what really sells me on a book is, if once I've drooled over the cover, and I've read the blurb and it's piqued my interest, I'll check out a page, or they used to have long excerpts. Honestly, if I didn't know the author, it would be the excerpt or page I read that sold me.
Thank you for sharing, it's been invaluable. And I have cover-envy!

Helen Scott Taylor said...

I haven't given book covers much thought until now. First priority is selling a story! When I page through RT it is always the historical covers that make me want to get straight onto Amazon and order the books. Your covers beautifully combine the historical and the paranormal--my two favorite genres. I'm off to order the first of your stories from Amazon!

Many thanks for a facinating blog.

Trish Milburn said...

Well, you know I love these books, Colleen, and the covers just make the experience of reading them that much more enjoyable. I love the one for The Bleeding Dusk. Absolutely stunning. Can't wait to read it! Go, Max! :)