Friday, August 21, 2009

Misleading Book Covers

Recently there was a hot controversy about the cover of Justine Larbalestier’s new release, Liar, because the image of the person on the cover didn’t match the way the viewpoint character was described in the book.
Her U.S. publisher, Bloomsbury, ended up changing the cover, delaying the release of the book.
How important are book covers to the success of a book?
I would say, very important, for teen books especially. When I speak at schools and libraries, I talk about the process of cover selection and design and show various versions of my book covers. When I ask teens, “Do you judge a book by the cover?” the answer is um, yes.
Watch a teen browsing in a bookstore some time. The book cover is what persuades—or dissuades—a teen to pick it up. Then they’ll look at the flap copy, maybe read the first page, and flip through to see how dense it is.
Because covers are very important at the point of sale, this has sometimes lead to misleading covers. For example, you don’t want a cover that says “pompous, boring and wordy” or “totally incoherent” even if the book inside matches that description.
Have you ever felt betrayed by a book that doesn’t keep the promise that the cover made? Here’s a possible example. BTW, this book was not written by Dan Brown.

John Green makes a strong argument that misleading covers are a bad long-term sales strategy. The idea is not just to sell to the largest audience, but to sell to the right audience that will like the book and sell it through word of mouth.
The Demon King is out in the Netherlands. The Dutch cover is very cool—but it doesn’t really match the book.

The book contains no dragons, no sailing ships, no cool wizard staff like this. The cover does promise fantasy. Oh, yeah—the title is different, too. The Dutch title means, “Black Magic.” I’ve been getting fan mail from the Netherlands, and nobody’s complained about it, though somebody did write and ask why the title is “Black Magic” in the Netherlands, and “The Demon King” in the U.S. Answer: I don’t know.
Next post: more on covers

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The War of the Flowers

Recently, I blogged on the topic of my new, laid-back approach to dealing with garden pests.

There is one major exception to this tolerant view—the Japanese beetle.

My feud with this voracious plant assassin goes back to the year I first planted roses. My roses looked beautiful until about the Fourth of July, when the mature beetles erupted out of the ground. I’d walk out to the garden to find my flowers covered in beetles. They seemed to have a knack for picking out the most beautiful buds, the loveliest flowers in full-blown glory—and ruining them.

Not only that, those beetles were copulating on my roses, they were coupling up and having sex while they chomped my flowers to bits. They emitted pheromones, calling their comrades to join the fun. Talk about your multi-tasking. Meanwhile, their devilspawn offspring lurked under the turf, grazing on the roots of my grass.

I tried those Japanese beetle traps, and my neighbors thanked me, because they drew all the beetles to MY yard. I crawled around my yard with a teaspoon, seeding it with milky spore to kill the grubs. With no apparent effect. Apparently you have to also convince all your less-obsessive neighbors to crawl around on their lawns, too. Or offer to do the crawling for them.

I tried systemic insect controls, even though I don’t like using pesticides in my garden. The beetles treated it like a condiment. I looked up “Japanese beetle controls” online. Nematodes were described as providing “marginal” control, and the extension service bulletin noted that milky spore “may not be effective in Ohio and Kentucky.” Nobody promised me a beetle-free future.

Anyway, it was fun looking at the pictures of nematodes invading the bodies of Japanese beetle grubs and parasitic fly maggots boring their way into the thoraxes of the adults.

Or consider our friend, the Japanese wasp tiphia vernalis. “The female wasp digs into the soil, paralyzes a beetle grub by stinging, and then deposits an egg on the grub. When the egg hatches, the emerging wasp larva consumes the grub.” HAHAHAHAHA!

I’m not usually like this.

Now that I work at home, I’ve resorted to a marginally effective but completely organic and simple approach. When I take writing breaks, I walk out to the garden, pick off the beetles, and drop them into a jar of soapy water. I don’t know what it is about soapy water that kills them, but it’s fast-acting, whereas a beetle can swim around in a jar of plain water for a couple of days. (Trust me on this.)