Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Marketing a Book Is Like Making a Bomb That You Hope Will Explode Joy and Confetti

...but that same bomb might instead explode anger and accusations and other messy words that start with "a" assumptions.

Bombs are delicate business. That is why I avoid them. Books on the other hand, I can't seem to stay away from. I've never been attracted to bad boys, but I guess writing books fills that void in my life.

Anyway, this is all a bunch of brain scatter while I try and work out the cover launch for Ellen Oh's debut PROPHECY. You see, I've followed Ellen's blog for years and I feel a little protective of her, though I've never met her. And I'm really really excited to read her book!

Let's check out her cover:

First things first: The cover doesn't feature a (white) girl in a pretty dress. HUZZAH! I'm not sure I'm in love with the tagline, but whatever. (omg a GIRL is going to save us all!? We're doomed...OR ARE WE = sarcasm).

The cover definitely has a High Fantasy feel to the design, which also explains the lack of girl in pretty dress (the girl in dress design telegraphs a more paranormal/ urban fantasy story). So, that's all to the good, and I do appreciate the smoky dragon. Who doesn't love dragons?

It's interesting to me that they seem to be downplaying the fact that the story is set in a fantastical ancient Korea. Has this become the way to market non European-centric books? We have to trick people into not realizing it until it's "too late?" 

Keep in mind that many people are responsible for writing and designing this stuff—not the author. The author only writes the book. The author may have some say in the cover, but usually not much. Yet the author often takes the brunt of the praise or outrage when readers decide they love or do not approve of a cover/copy.

Of course that's mostly because the author is the one with her face beside the book and her name on the cover. You'd have to dig pretty hard to find out which publishing people were responsible for the cover/copy, and the average person doesn't necessarily have  knowledge of how publishing works. So, the author is held responsible.

Knowing that, let's check out the plot summary:

The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms . . . is a girl with yellow eyes.

Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope. . . .

Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.

Intrigue and mystery, ancient lore and action-packed fantasy come together in this heart-stopping first book in a trilogy.

So. People are already drawing parallels between this book and Kristin Cashore's Graceling. It's interesting to me that because the plot summary says absolutely nothing about ancient Korea, the similarities between the two books seem even greater, when in fact, I'm guessing the mythology and culture in Oh's book is going to be totally different from Cashore's.

(Besides the fact that the graceling concept, which doesn't seem to feature in Oh's world at all, wasn't even unique to Cashore. For example the same idea was a huge part of Orson Scott Card's The Tales of Alvin Maker Series! Remember what Neil Gaiman said: “Genre fiction, as Terry Pratchett has pointed out, is a stew. You take stuff out of the pot, you put stuff back. The stew bubbles on.”)

But getting back to marketing, it's a delicate balance, isn't it?  As a marketing person you don't want to set people off who may not think they want to read about fantastical ancient Korea, and at the same time you want to attract an audience that you know will like a book about a female warrior. Enter: fans of Cashore's novel. So it makes sense that the marketing people would think to themselves, "Let's highlight the similarities between the two and attract Cashore's readers to this new and different series because they're sure to like it!!"

Alas, it's not that simple. Because now the marketing people have downplayed what makes Oh's book unique. And in the process, they've already started collecting some less than positive accusations on GoodReads. Check out some of the comments already popping up on PROPHECY'S GoodReads page:

"Who else thinks this is a copycat of Graceling? I'm pretty sure Prophecy can be rewritten like this (bolded = Graceling copied, underlined = substituted with Graceling aspects)..."

"Is it just me, or does this sound... slightly like Graceling by Kristin Cashore?"

"In the first part of the blurb, it sounded very much like Graceling by Kristin Cashore. But then again, there is no evil shaman in Graceling, right?"

Remember: These people HAVE NOT READ the book. It doesn't come out until January 2013! They are just making assumptions based on the information given to them, which was selected by marketing people in an effort to sell the book. That's what the cover/copy is for. Sales. It's not to perfectly and accurately represent the book. It's just to get it out of the store and into readers' hands. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is...let's try not to judge a book by its cover and cover copy, hmm? And try not to blame the author if you don't like the cover/copy. The author only has control over the words INSIDE the book.

I'm not suggesting we all stop criticizing covers and discussing cover copy. It's not only important (for example, speaking out against whitewashing covers), it's also a hell of a lot of fun. But let's try not to cry wolf about a book that won't come out for half a year and let's all try hardest of all not to blame the author for the things on the outside of her book, because like I said, all she controls is the inside, and that's what we should hold her accountable for: The story.

End of story.

As my dad would say, "Capisce?" 

Edit Thursday, June 21: I was just reading Ellen Oh's post where she interviewed her cover designers (read it here), and they pointed out that they used a font that would appeal to both boys and girls. Interesting point. I do agree that the cover is gender neutral. It doesn't scream, "This is a fantasy book for and about girls!!" And of course it shouldn't because it's a story about one girl and many other characters including a prince. Anyway, there are so many layers to a book cover! 

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