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Monday, May 23, 2011

Ripping Your Book and Shredding Your Cover

This is the tale of two covers, of my fear of self-published work, of loss, of love, but ultimately of finding a great author by a long and confusing route.

FACT 1: I love Lindsay Buroker's writing style and her books. I am over-the-moon excited about the new book coming out later this year. I think she's a super person, and I'm still picking on her. She gave me permission, so if this sounds snarky, understand it's written with love and you should all go buy her books Right Now!

*waits for you to finish buying*


All right.

This tragic tale starts with the Kindle App on my smartphone, a really bad experience with a few self-published novels, and a fear of getting burned again.

I'd just finished a ho-hum book and I was perusing the Kindle "You Might Like..." list for a new title when a cover didn't load.

Usually, a cover sells a book for me. If I see naked bodies, I tend to skip. If I see spaceships and explosions, I'm already reaching for my wallet. Rippling pectorals sell (of course!), but they won't always sell to me. The other thing that doesn't sell is a cover that looks like it was cooked up in the basement by your teenage brother.

I read the first three sentences of the blurb for ENCRYPTED -the book with the unseen cover - and downloaded the sample.

WHAT LINDSAY DID RIGHT: She had good sample chapters. Three whole chapters that hooked me into the story.

WHAT I SAW: When I read I have three things I look for. 1) Character 2) Setting 3) Voice or Tone - I stumbled over the character names, but I liked the setting, and I liked the Voice. The FMC was a cute semi-awkward prodigy who fit the Ugly Duckling Outcast archeotype to a T. She was someone I could relate to, and someone I was willing to read about.

I bought the book.

The cover showed up.

Like I said, I adore Lindsay, but I really don't get what the guy is doing here. He doesn't look anything like I pictured any of the male characters. I can guess who he's meant to be, but what's with the expression? Weird.

Then I read the blurb... I won't put it here because it ruins the story. I wish I could have scrubbed the blurb from my mind!

Three-quarters of the book is spent with the FMC trying to figure out the true identity of Prisoner Number Five. Why read the book if the major source of tension is taken away before you buy?

WHAT LINDSAY DID WRONG: The cover needs a touch up. In fact, last time we chatted she was already looking for an artist. Her later books (FLASH GOLD and ICE CRACKER II) have much better cover art. The second bungle here is the blurb. It gives too much of the book away and if I'd read it in full and see the cover I never would have bought the book.

BUT IT'S A REALLY GOOD BOOK: ENCRYPTED is exactly the sort of sweet romance I love to read. The FMC, Tikaya, is kidnapped by an enemy nation and falls in love with the enigmatic Prisoner Number Five. There is treason, deception, funny lines, and plenty of explosions. It's a perfect fantasy/steampunk novel.

SO I BOUGHT BOOK 2: And the cover was quite pretty.

And I read the first two pages and screamed, "What was that???"

I'd read those pages before. The horrible, awful. no-good, very-bad, impossible-to-pronounce-might-be-a-girl name in a confusing winter setting where nothing was happening.

This was not new reading. This was, "I already threw you against a wall!" reading.

So I checked the cover again and lo, and behold, the older cover shimmered into existence on my Kindle.

More to the point, I'd already downloaded the sample chapters onto my Kindle three times. I liked the blurb, but the cover and opening pages had three strikes against it. I couldn't even pronounce the main character's name (still can't - I call her Am). I couldn't picture the setting from the cover or the first page. And I wasn't sold on the Voice or Tone.

I bought the book anyway.

I'd liked ENCRYPTED. I like Lindsay's style. I was willing to give her another shot.

And, you know what?


Clever characters, intriguing situations, scary monsters, and a complex villain. This isn't just a good book, it's a book I wind up thinking about while I'm running at the gym. I stop to reread this book on a bad day because I love the world Lindsay created.

It's so good I hunted her down and demanded answers about the ending question. And she promised me the answer is coming in Book 2. I bought all the short stories that go with EMPEROR'S EDGE just so I could glean a clue or two.

SO WHAT WENT WRONG?: The original cover for EMPEROR'S EDGE screams SELF-PUBLISHED in big, blinking, neon letters. I've read self-pub books with beautiful sample chapters that fall apart on chapter five. They have a special name: CONTEST BOOK.

Too many of the self-pubbed slush out there isn't ready for prime time. I cringe when I see the reviews that say, "Pretty good if you ignore the grammar and spelling errors. Five stars!"

It doesn't matter if you are self-published, you never want to look like you threw your book together in five minutes or less. Always make the cover professional. Always make the copy inside professional.

I don't care if you are selling the book for 99 cents. If you're selling you owe it to yourself to make the book good.

Personally, I think the new cover is beautiful. It works well for the story. But even more important, the work inside the cover is professional.

Lindsay didn't cut corners. She didn't rush to self-pub to make millions overnight, or because every agent on the face of the planet told her she should never write again. Steampunk is still stumbling into mainstream acceptance. It's not a huge genre, and it's not widely published by traditional or Indie presses.

In this case, I think Lindsay's work is good enough that she could have been picked up by a traditional publisher if that's what she wanted, but I see her reasons for going the self-pub route.

CONCLUSION: I love this series. I'm anxiously awaiting the new book. I hope Lindsay keeps writing. And I've learned not to judge a book by its cover!

-- You can find Lindsay at her blog E-Book Endeavors and on Twitter as @GoblinWriter --


  1. Okay, you've sold me on both the books and the general themes of the post.

  2. Yay! I accomplished something good!

    I always worry that reviews will come across sounding too negative. #worryworryworry

  3. As writers, we can control so little of what the world thinks of our work that it's a shame to allow two of the things we CAN control to slip through our fingers: cover art and proper editing.

    I like the fact that you broke down your reaction and your thinking here. It's an important aspect of self publishing that too many writers think is out of their reach, when in fact it's affordable and necessary.

    Enough with the soap box. Great post!

  4. Well, I guess I'm doing something right if someone is passionate enough about my stories to write this much!

    Amaranthe is pronounced just like the grain (am ah ranthe). I guess I've been on a gluten-free diet (eating all the strange alternative stuff :P) for too long because I thought that was a familiar word. I picked it, of course, for the Greek meaning (unwithering). Random writer dorkiness. ;)

    Thanks for the write-up. Take care!