Thursday, January 26, 2006
Comments on Comments
I’m following up on some questions from yesterday. First, Karen, thank you for your kind comments about Web of Lies. Great to hear you read it twice.
Lori had this question on manuscript length:
What about us writers who write Big Fat Historicals? Before I wrote them, I read them, and am still inclined to pick up a book 500-1000 pages long over one that's 200 or 300 pages long. As a reader, I revel in the complexity of world-building (I don't mean fantasy, but historical world building). Do you see a market for l-o-n-g historicals in CBA?
Well, 500 pages and up is kinda long, but in general, historicals are longer than suspense novels. (Fantasy and sci-fi novels are longer too, due to that world-building aspect.) I’d say 100K to 120K words is considered pretty normal for a historical.
Acceptable page length is often directly related to the author. An established author can get away with writing what is considered a longer book for his/her genre than a new author. Longer books are more expensive to publish. More signatures (16 pages each) and more cost to ship. Plus they take up more shelf space. And in a cost-competitive world, the publisher can’t just raise the price of a book by a dollar or two to cover the cost of these extra pages. So, if you’re writing a novel, do remember that its page length figures into the projected bottom line when a publishing house is considering it. Doesn’t mean you write a one-signature book, of course. It’s equally important that the reader feels he’s getting adequate hours of entertainment for his money.
Now for the book cover comments.
So interesting that it was the ABA outlets that nixed the snake [for Violet Dawn’s cover]. I didn't even know they would see the cover before it was all ready for the shelves. Learn something every day. Add to my learning--ABA stores are as much "gatekeepers" as CBA stores.
I need to clarify. It wasn’t ABA store owners who said they didn’t like the cover. These folks, indeed, don’t see a cover in its tweaking stages. It was Zondervan’s own sales employees to service those ABA accounts. The sales and marketing folks at a publishing house often see a cover in its initial stages so they can comment on whether they think it’ll help sell the book. These folks know what their constituents like.
Now why would these ABA'ers want the snake gone??? It's a suspense book after all.
Although my books do cross the gender line, the majority of my readers are women (since the protagonists are women). The ABA sales people felt that women would be turned off by the snake.
Here’s the interesting thing. If you look at ABA suspense covers from the likes of Dean Koontz, Mary Higgins Clark or James Patterson, you’ll see that they’re not spooky. They have a suspenseful element to them, but nothing like spiders or snakes or skulls.
It’s an interesting phenomenon that Christian suspense has gone the more graphic cover route than the ABA. Now that CBA publishers and authors are reaching more ABA readers, we apparently have to scale back so we won’t offend their sensibilities.
From Johnny Dangerous:
I had no say at all in my book covers. Since a cover is a marketing tool above all, the marketing people made all decisions. I liked the first book's cover (The Throne of Tara, Crossway) and disliked the second book's cover very much (Relics, Thomas Nelson) since it looked like a romance novel. The German translations' covers were much better. When the first book went out of print I had it re-issued via iuniverse, and they asked me for cover suggestions. It turned out fine.
It varies house to house whether or not an author will have a say in his/her book covers. In all of my fiction with Zondervan, I’ve had a lot of say. First, months ahead of time the artist asks me about my ideas for the cover. What are aspects of the story that should be conveyed through the artwork? In time the artist comes up with around two to five ideas for the cover and presents them to the marketing folks at Z. The choices are usually whittled down, and I’ll be sent two or three. Usually. Last time they whittled Violet Dawn down to one choice before sending it to me for my reaction. Once I see the choices I can ask for tweaks. “I like this aspect on A cover, and this on B cover—can we combine them?” Etc. (It helps that I have a background in designing marketing materials.) The covers are then tweaked, sometimes twice, and then to final. The difference with Violet Dawn is that we had a final—until the ABA sales folks saw it. For some reason they were shown the cover late in the process. They were so strong in their opinion, apparently, that the snake simply had to go, and that was that. The result is a cover that Zondervan and I still like very much. In fact, the marketing person says she likes it better this way.
By the way, Web of Lies (just released) contains the beginning of Violet Dawn at the back. You’ll see a prologue and first chapter. Ahem. Let’s just say this changed a bit in the rewrite, but all in all, you’ll get the picture. And if you were wondering why the snake was placed on the cover in the first place—you’ll wonder no more.