Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Looks & books (continuing from Meghan & Alvina)

The editor's age doesn't matter to me -- though I do NOTICE it. I remember being absolutely amazed when I read Alvina's comments on my ms. -- and wondering how someone so young could be so wise.

I don't think the author's age and appearance matter either (except maybe in YA??) and that's why it irritates me so much that the marketing dept. – and people determining the size of advances – think they do! Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I think the author’s attractiveness matters to them a lot, and The Guardian
(thanks, Pooja, for pointing out this article) agrees.

When do looks matter? On a book’s cover – not the author’s picture, but the front cover. Fuse8 has had a few articles recently about good books with bad covers, and librarians confirmed the cover’s importance. One said “We didn’t buy this, because of the cover.”

I also think how you look matters to kids when you go on school visits – but children and adults have pretty different ideas of what's attractive. VERY few adults, okay, none --would call me well-dressed; but sometimes children I don’t know come up to me on the street and compliment me on my clothes or accessories. When I do school visits, the kids usually say things like,
"I like your outfit"
or, sounding impressed,
“Are those TATOOS?” (they weren’t)
"Cool jacket" -- the same jacket of which a boyfriend had said: "If you're wearing that, I'm not going." Sort of like the scene in ABOUT A BOY when the kid is thinking, "At least Mom looked really cool" and Hugh Grant is thinking "She was wearing some kind of weird yetti outfit ...." The word yetti may not be what he said, just what it sounded like to me; I have no idea what it means, but it was no compliment.

One more reason to be glad Blow Out the Moon is positioned as a kid’s book, even though it’s really just as much for grown-ups.
--Libby (and the pattern is from a scan of a kid-approved sock)


alvinaling said...

Hey, I think MANY adults would call you well-dressed! I always love your clothes, the bright colors.

I'll add that it's very rare that the author's appearance will come up in our acquisitions meetings. The publicity department does consider it a plus, but as someone commented on one of the other posts, it's more about how well the author carries themselves, speaks in public, in interviews, etc. that matters.

Grace Lin said...

hmm, I've been thinking about these issues for a while now...I think as a multicultural author it is a plus to be of the culture you are writing about--which makes the author photo a plus. It probably isn't fair, but if I see a book about a specific culture and turn to the author picture and see that the person is of that heritage, I immediately think "they know what they're talking about..." I suppose that is my own bias that I should probably overcome because there are plenty of authors that transcend the photograph. For example, Anne Sibley O'Brien did the Hong Kil Dong book, she lived a lifetime in Korea and knows more Korean than I will ever know Chinese. So there you go, bad Grace!

But all this talk makes me want to get my teeth whitened and take new author photos (with flattering lighting). Where are those Crest Whitestrips?

Elaine Magliaro said...

Oh, Lord!

If a book of my poetry ever gets published, I may just have to get my jowls lifted--and the rest of me sucked, tucked, and botoxed before having my picture taken for a book jacket. I'm nearly 60.

After spending over thirty years as a teacher at the elementary level and over four years at the college level, though, I do feel much more confident about my ability to speak in public than I do about my appearance.

Anna Alter said...

I think and hope, like Alvina says, that its really your level of confidence and speaking ability that matters when it comes to promotion, more than actual physical appearance. Thats not to say people aren't subconsciously affected by the one someone looks, of course they are. But it seems like people will respond to a good speaker regardless...

This is fresh on my mind as last night I went to see Lois Lowry, Phyllis Naylor, and Natalie Babbitt speak about their work. The three of them are up in years, I think at least two are in their 70's (not to say that they are not hot ladies, they certainly are)... but the audience was hanging on their every word and thrilled to be there, and they are certainly not young uns (though they did have the air of youth about them).

Anonymous said...

I used to be a teacher (of teens), so I got a lot of input (unasked) about my lack of fashion -- but mostly it's all in the face. You don't have to be beautiful, imo, you simply have to have life in your face (a warm smile, happy eyes, things like that) and kids will flock to you. It's always worked for me ;)

Libby Koponen said...

Thanks -- and 2readornot2read: I absolutely agree about kids -- "life in your face" is the perfect way to put it.

coe booth said...

I didn't realize how important book covers were until yesterday when an author friend told me that her book's cover has to be redesigned in a hurry because Barnes & Noble didn't like it (and weren't going to order many copies!)

I don't know. Maybe they know which covers will attract readers and which won't. But I do wonder how that kind of thing is determined. Is there a focus group or something?

Anna Alter said...


Alvina will have more information about this, but I've heard that B&N story before... the big chains have SO much power. If they boo a cover they have the clout to get it changed. What is frustrating is that its such a subjective thing... those book buying execs are going on their personal opinion and often have no art or design training at all!

alvinaling said...

We have a jacket committee that makes the final decisions regarding covers. The designers will work on concepts that they run by the editors first before bringing them to this committee to get feedback. Every cover of every book is brought to the committee at least twice, usually more--at concept and/or sketch, and final art stage. The committee includes the Sales Director, Marketing Direcotr, Editorial Director, Creative Director, Designer and Editor of the book, and Publisher.

As for the bookstores, as Anna says, it's just the one buyer who is making a judgement call. Although I don't think it matters that they don't have art or design training, because the average consumer doesn't, either. The have vast experience seeing what covers sell and what covers don't sell in their stores. But it's frustrating that one individual has so much sway.

I'm fine letting Sales and Marketing make decisions regarding the cover, because I do think that the cover is first and foremost a marketing and sales tool. But it's hard when everyone has a different vision or opinion and keep changing their minds, and frustrating for everyone and the designer in particular when a cover that everyone in-house loves isn't liked by the buyers.

Anna Alter said...

I totally agree that the jacket is a marketing tool of sorts and that people with experience in marketing should have input. I mean whatever helps the book to get in people's hands!

I guess I'm just not so fond of the idea of book buyers at large chain stores doing this, there is just too much left to personal taste there... and I do think some art training would help... no the consumer might not have it either but the idea is to be visually innovative, not merely create something that sells, no?

Also, a book store is not the only place a book is sold, and for some of us, many more copies may be sold to schools and libraries, a whole different market. I wonder if librarians ever have the same veto power as B&N?

Anonymous said...

I LOVE reading about the topic of book covers. May I make that my vote for cupcakes?

How about a discussion of favorite bookcovers? Picture books? Chapter books? YA?

My favorite picture book covers: Waffle by Chris Raschka or John Coltrane's Giant Steps also by Chris Raschka. Favorite chapter book covers: Uncertain. Do you have suggestions? Favorite Young Adult Covers: Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. I mean how could you resist this as a teen?

Okay. I admit it. I am partial to Ann Bobco's design or anyone she supervises.

Let the games begin. C'mon list your favorites.


alvinaling said...

Great idea, Katherine. Maybe we can make this a question of the week.

The cover of MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS by Lisa Yee is one of my all-time faves--and not just the cover, but the whole design package, down to the case. And although I haven't read it yet, and am not sure how kid-friendly it is, I also personally love the cover of FISH by L.S. Matthews. And I'm biased, but I love the YEAR OF THE DOG and CHOWDER covers.

Elaine Magliaro said...

Speaking of book covers--that's how I came to know the work of Grace Lin. It was my first year working as our school librarian after spending more than 30 years teaching. I was in my favorite children's book shop when the colorful front cover of RED IS A DRAGON caught my eye. I picked up the book and looked through it. I was dazzled by Grace's use of color and patterns. I fell in love with her art. I bought the book for my school library. Then checked in the catalog to see if we had any other books by Grace. We didn't. I ordered all of her other books.

Later, I met her at an exhibition of her original picture book art.
We talked. She came to BU to speak to the students in my children's literature course. I helped out with the Robert's Snow campaign. She made coconut ice for me. I cooked her mushroom pierogies. And so on...
Over the past few years we have become good friends. And to think that a book cover brought two people together as friends. Kind of amazing, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Alvina, I love your cover picks and Elaine, your story.

I think covers are so important. Really the most significant marketing tool available to most of us.

Alvina, any other insider insights into the process? I have been reading recently about the influence of Walmart and Target in bookselling (Eek!) Will they be included in the evaluation?

I recently went to an author event featuring Jim LaMarche. He showed us several cover designs for his new book. The staff at S&S was steering to a mass market look. Made me sad. It was only reinforced by the lead article in PW this week. So few persons shopping in bookstores. Most Americans buy their books in other venues.

Any additional thoughts or insights on covers?


alvinaling said...

Well, we're a trade publisher, so for us it's the chains who have the most influence. I should add that it is rare that we change a cover because one of the chains dislikes it (although it did happen to me twice in one season)--usually it's the final straw to a cover that isn't necessary loved by everyone in-house, too.

We have occasionally created special products for Target/COSTCO that we knew would also sell into the trade, though--these markets have special requests in terms of format and price (lower price point, prefer smaller or vertical trim sizes). But for them it's format that makes more of a difference than cover design. It was in part to reach these markets that we started a new novelty/licensing imprint.

What was Jim LaMarche's new book? Did it have a holiday theme? Sometimes those type of books do need to have a certain look or price-point in order to make it onto holiday tables, which is key.

Elaine, I loved your story, too!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Alvina,

Exactly. A holiday title. Bear's First Christmas or something like that. The illustrations were charming. Jim LaMarche paints very fine bears (remember A Story for Bear). He hand rendered some lovely typography for the cover of the new book but the redesigns were much more pedestrian in MHO.

Has it been studied with focus groups? How does sales and marketing determine which covers will cause a customer to pick up a book?


Linda S. Wingerter said...

Libby, you are the best dressed children's book person I know because you wear glitter, and it looks excellent on you, I might add.