It’s that time of the year. Publishers start thinking about cover concepts 8-10 months out from publication. Though my second book of my FBI Trilogy was just released on Tuesday (FATAL SECRETS–an RT Book Review Top Pick!), and the next is still two months out, we’re talking about how to package my Seven Deadly Sins series.
Packaging is not easy. While there are lots of reasons why books sell (or not), packaging is certainly one of the most important.
What’s in a book “package?”
The obvious include the cover itself–arguably the most important part of the overall package–and the back cover copy (or inside flap for hardcovers.) The goal of the cover is for readers who don’t automatically buy your book because of your name to pick it up. It needs to intrigue them. The cover needs . . .
. . . to tell the reader what genre/type of story to expect. It sets the tone. This is the “same” part of the phrase “same but different.”
. . . to be visually interesting/eye-catching/intriguing . . . overall, attractive for the type of story inside. This is the “status quo.” No one intends to create an ugly cover, but there are often covers that seem to be blah or boring.
. . . to stand out as unique, not the same book you read last week. This is the “different” part of the phrase “same but different.” And the hardest to achieve. How do you create a totally unique cover while still positively conveying the type of story inside?
For my supernatural thriller series, I have two primary concerns. First, this isn’t a traditional paranormal romance, nor is it an urban fantasy. It’s a classic supernatural story–what some might have branded as “horror” in the past–but with a growing, multi-book relationship, an ensemble cast of characters, and an epic battle of good vs evil. If I was allowed to write a 1200 page novel ala Stephen King’s THE STAND, I could write this seven book series as one book (though certainly structured differently! They’d be battling the seven deadly sins simultaneously, building to an earth-shattering climax, rather than battling them individually book by book.) But each of these books will be about 450-500 pages and contain a complete story . . . while also continuing the multi-book story arc. So how do we convey this in the cover? I argued for a simple cover with a single focal point–an object that exposes the sin inside so that people would understand on a gut level, while also conveying that the book is paranormal. We’ll see what they do.
My second concern was how to show that this is a series with a returning cast of characters rather than what I traditionally write, which is a complete romantic suspense with an HEA. We’re going to have something like “Book One of the Seven Deadly Sins Series” or something similar as a tag line, which will hopefully help. But again, this is important information to convey to the reader and I want them to know what they are getting.
Titles are also important. Does the title tell you what the story is going to be? SUDDEN DEATH pretty much tells you that it’s a suspense novel, right?
One thing I learned early on is that, as far as publishers are concerned, titles don’t have to mean anything. They don’t have to reflect the story, or a cool plot twist. SUDDEN DEATH is fairly interchangeable with most suspense novels. It’s a great title (I picked it, so I’ll admit I’m pretty partial to it,) but it still is rather generic. THE HUNT was another of my own titles, and certainly reflects the story–the killer is “hunting” his prey in the Montana wilderness, and the heroine is “hunting” the killer. It has a dual meaning. KILLING FEAR, another of my own titles, has a double meaning as well. The heroine is fearful after walking in on her dead roommate in the dark six years before. She has to combat that fear–kill it–in order to survive by the end of the book. And it also relates to the villain who has no real emotions, including fear. CUTTING EDGE also has a double meaning, since the killer uses a knife and the first target is the scientist heading up a cutting edge technology company.
The titles for the first two Seven Deadly Sins books are: ORIGINAL SIN and CARNAL SIN. I am thrilled with the titles because they not only convey the sin involved (envy and lust respectively), but most people will have an instant, visceral reaction to the title. They will know what it means, they (hopefully) will be intrigued enough to pick it up.
ORIGINAL SIN works on multiple levels. One meaning of “original” is “first” and this is the first book in the series. “Original Sin” is when Adam and Eve fell from grace by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve was lured into sin by the serpent, who represents jealousy as it’s suggested by many theologians that the serpent was jealous of humans because God appeared to favor them over all other of His creations. Envy itself is the one sin that has no personal gratification–in lust, one has physical satisfaction; in greed, one gains wealth and means; in gluttony, one enjoys good food and drink. But envy seeks to deny the object of the envy something that the envious can not have himself. It’s the only sin that derives pleasure from the destruction of another person.
Envy is the primary reason that the villain releases the Seven Deadly Sins from Hell. She is envious of the youth and beauty of others; envious of power. She wants it for herself, but the only way to get it is to destroy.
So you can see why I was thrilled with ORIGINAL SIN as a title.
Our own Toni McGee Causey has had a major re-packaging of her Bobbie Faye series, and for the better.
First, I do LOVE her original title BOBBIE FAYE’S VERY (very, very, very) BAD DAY. It fits the book brilliantly and tells the reader what to expect–the story of Bobbie Faye’s bad day, and because of the parenthesis, you know that it’s going to be humorous. But as we’ve learned, titles don’t mean much of anything, right? They need to go with the packaging. And the packaging needs to tell the reader what to expect.
The packaging for Toni’s book was all wrong for the story. And worse, she was shelved in fiction. That’s the curse of death for any book not written by Jodi Picoult or Toni Morrison. But with the packaging, the book didn’t say “mystery” or “thriller” or “romantic suspense” though it had elements of all three, none fit it right. Frankly, it’s out-of-genre, it transcends being pigeon-holed in a category. It’s funny, irreverent, fast-paced, quirky, and original. It’s Stephanie Plum, with a gun, on speed.
Does this cover tell you that?
Great title, poor packaging. What’s with the crustacean on the cover? And this is what just KILLS me. I stayed up ALL THE EFFING NIGHT READING THIS BOOK BECAUSE I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN!!! Does that cover tell you that this is an unputdownable book?
Now, publishers may be a little slow on the uptake sometimes, but they’re not stupid. And they knew they had an incredibly talented writer in Toni. As book three in the Bobbie Faye series was nearing press time, they decided to reissue the first two books in mass market–with new covers, new titles, new packaging. All to gear up for the third brand-spanking-new book that will be out this August.
So VERY BOBBIE FAYE became CHARMED AND DANGEROUS. A slightly more generic title, but it does exactly what it’s supposed to: it intrigues you. It’s witty and a pun, implying humor as well as suspense (going along with the next two titles, GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE GUNS and WHEN A MAN LOVES A WEAPON–and I’ll admit, the third title, and the third cover, is my absolute favorite.) This is NOT easy to do, especially with a title, but this time all three are winners. And there’s a tag line that rocks as well: “Love down South just got a whole lot deadlier.”
So how do you package such titles?
Just. Like. This.
Okay, I’m back. What, you didn’t know I was gone for the last two hours? Well . . . I pulled out my copy of BOBBIE FAYE, the one that’s being reissued on Tuesday June 2, to find a short little scene to give you a taste of Toni’s voice. Well, yep, though I’ve read this book (twice) I got sucked in. This scene . . . no, this one! . . . oh, no, I have to put in THIS scene, it’s perfect. Lo and behold, I’ve re-read most of the book. Finally, I just had to pick something or this post wouldn’t be up in time.
In a nutshell, Bobbie Faye is being chased by the police for (not) robbing a bank, bad guys, and sordid others as she tries to save her stupid-ass brother Roy who got himself kidnapped. She herself kidnapped Trevor, who became her getaway car after the not-quite-a-bank-robbery robbery. They’ve already had some tense moments, and have, oh, two minutes of downtime here in the shed of a gunrunner.
She looked down at the gun again, remembering what the hell she needed Trevor for, and cursed under her breath. She couldn’t ditch him just yet and get away from all those muscles and the abs and the crinkly eyes, holy geez. She had to focus until they safely found the geeky boys and the tiara.
He turned at that moment and saw her sitting on a crate, staring at him. “You okay?” he asked, squatting on his heels, bringing himself blue-crystal-eye level to her, looking sincerely worried.
“Yeah, I’m just having a little girl-time here, rethinking my choice in nail color,” she snapped, and instead of snapping back, he grinned. He fucking grinned at her, that big-cat-stalking-its-prey-sort of grin, making her very very nervous.
“Cut it out.” He only grinned bigger. “I thought we had an agreement going here. You hate all women, I hate you.”
“I think I’m making an exception in your case.”
“Well I’m not.”
He looked her up and down, and her skin flamed hot, and his smile grew more wicked.
“Oh, I think you are.”
She started to retort as he turned away, but there was an internal war going on, with Lust (which had not been out to play in a long, long time) beating the hell out of Common Sense, and she could feel certain body parts placing bets. She opted for ignoring him because she didn’t think “nuh uh” was a very convincing comeback.
Trevor opened the doorway a crack and watched a moment until he was satisfied it was clear to leave. They eased down the pier toward the boats tied at the end when the first scowling guard came out of the house. Bobbie Faye knew they were in plain sight, but the guy acted as if he didn’t see them, which was just phenomenally odd. As she was contemplating this, a second man walked around the corner of the house and the first guy seemed to be trying to wave away a mosquito or something. Or maybe he was trying to indicate they should get moving.
“Sonofabitch,” Trevor muttered. “Head for the white boat at the end.”
“You mean the Triton 5220?” she asked, which surprised him enough for him to turn to her with a blank, shocked expression. “What? Girls can know boats.”
He didn’t get a chance to answer. Bobbie Faye thought she heard a firecracker pop then bam, something hit the pier not far behind them, and they both looked in the direction of the house in time to see the two guards running in their direction, the second one definitely sporting a gun.
Bobbie Faye was pretty sure that if she’d read her horoscope that morning, it would have said something like, “Today the universe hates you. A lot. A whole freaking Grand Canyon lot of hate. Stay in bed. Better yet, dig a hole, hide.”
She hauled ass down the pier with Trevor right behind her. They passed a glassed-in Peg-Board set up where all the keys to the boats were stored, and Bobbie Faye jumped into the boat as Trevor slammed the butt of his SIG Sauer against the glass, shattering it, all the while trying to hide his frame behind the skinny wooden stand as the running guards shot at them.
“They’re not labeled,” he shouted, and then turned to her, shocked again when the engine revved. She’d hot-wired it.
“What is the deal with you being pokey? Get in!”
Want to read this book? Good! So do I . . . again. So I’m going to sign off and curl up with a damn good book. And one of you will get a FREE copy of the original, collectable, BOBBIE FAYE . . . all you have to do is comment by midnight tonight, Thursday, and the winner will be posted at 12:01 (ish) PST in the comment section by moi. You’ll get the book early next week, before everyone else 🙂 . . . And if you don’t win the collectable copy, you can always order the new and improved packaging wrapped around the same fantastic book for yourself at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or an Indie.