Do You Judge a Book By Its Cover?

File:Old book bindings.jpg
Photo by Tom Murphy VII

You know that old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s an
old saying that makes sense because it’s something we typically do. We
DO judge books by their covers. Their covers and their titles.

I know I do. I may be an author, but I’m also a reader.

When I’m walking through a bookstore that’s exactly what I’m doing.
Cover after cover, title after title. I only pick up ones that grab me
or peak my interest. It doesn’t mean I’ll buy them, but they don’t even
stand a chance if the cover doesn’t work.

Obviously, I’m talking about books by authors I don’t know or haven’t
read before. If I know and love the author, I’ll buy the book whether I
like the cover or title at all. But I’m always on the lookout for a new
book and new authors and, with them, the covers and titles definitely
matter.

This issue often creates a challenge between authors and the
marketing folks in traditional publishing houses. When authors finish a
book, we’ve typically spent between 6 months and a year on it. For most
of that time we’ve been calling it something; often referred to as a “working
title.” It’s called that because the author’s title rarely survives the
marketing process (unless you’re a mega bestselling author. In which case,
you get to call all the shots). My books are selling well, but that’s not my situation.

I have 8 published novels on the
shelf now, 2 more due out in Sept and next April. Both have official covers and
titles already fixed. Of those 10 books, guess how many of my working
titles made it onto the actual books? Only 4. Six of my titles are not
mine. Some (won’t say which ones) I didn’t even like. I will tell you
which titles were mine: The Deepest Waters, Remembering Christmas, The Dance and What Follows After (the one due out next April).

As for my covers, I’ve liked all but 4 (won’t say which ones). My
biggest gripe is probably when we settle on a cover that, to me, seems
to have absolutely no tie-in to the book. I’ve actually gone back with a
couple of my books, after the cover was decided on, and added several paragraphs to the story so the
reader won’t be asking, “Now what in the world does that cover have to do with this book?”

The Promise - CoverI’m curious…how much do you judge a book by its cover and/or its
title? Does it matter much to you when considering a book by an author
you don’t know? Have you bought books with covers and/or titles you
didn’t find appealing? Do you have any pet peeves about covers and
titles?

While I’m asking questions, I’d like to get some feedback from you on
a couple of title matters. My 2nd book with Gary Smalley comes out in
September, called The Promise. I wanted to call the book The Broken Portrait.
That got nixed because the marketing folks thought it might be too negative.
I don’t think it is and, to me, it works much better for the story. Be honest,
would you consider buying a book called The Broken Portrait?

To my fellow published authors, do any of you struggle at all with this? Have any similar challenges? To everyone, can you think of any books you actually bought just because the cover and/or title were so good?

Okay, let me have it.

Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 8 novels,
including The Unfinished Gift,
Remembering Christmas
and The Dance. He’s won 3 Carol Awards and 2 Selah
Awards. Six of his books were named Top Picks by RT Reviews.
Two were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year.
Dan is a member of ACFW and
Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach
area where he and Cindi love to take long walks. To connect
with Dan or check out his books, go to: http://danwalshbooks.com. He also blogs weekly with fellow male fiction authors Jim Rubart and Harry Kraus at: http://3menwalkintoablog.com.

Can Men Write Fiction Women Want to Read?

Before I say anything more, I’d like to wish you a happy Fourth of
July! I imagine many who read this blog on a daily basis might be taking
a break to enjoy the holiday. Perhaps you’re getting ready to host a
crowd at a family barbecue or making plans to join a crowd somewhere
else.

If so, you’re probably not reading this today. If that’s so, hope you had a great day yesterday.

Over
the past several years, I’ve been interviewed on Novel Rocket several
times and have occasionally written articles about the writing craft.
Starting today, I guess you better get used to me. I’ve been invited to
be a monthly contributor.

Thought
I’d start off with something I’m curious about. The idea of men writing
fiction. What’s got me thinking about this is an honor I received last
week when ACFW announced the finalists for this year’s Carol Awards. I
was thrilled to find my name on that list for my 5th novel, The Discovery (best Historical Fiction category). I’ve won 3 Carols so far, but I’d happily welcome a fourth.

The
following day, Jerry Jenkins pointed out to me that I was the only male
author in the list of finalists. I didn’t know that. Read the list over
and, sure enough, Jerry was right.

I’m kinda used to
being in the minority by now (my first novel came out in 2009). It’s
readily apparent that far more women read and write fiction than men.
Surveys I’ve read suggest an 80/20 ratio. That feels about right when I
attend my monthly Word Weaver’s critique group and local ACFW chapter.
And I know whenever I attend a writing conference I never stand in line
at the restroom.

But events of this past week have got
me wondering if we might be dealing with a bigger problem than we see on
the surface. Could there be any underlying issues fueling this gender
gap?

Improving Our Chances

It stands to reason that if 80%
of the buying fiction audience are women, then a significant percentage
of women will need to “cross over” and buy books written by men, if the
men are ever going to make it financially as authors. This poses two
questions:

  1. Are male fiction authors writing the kind of books women want to read (and writing them well enough)?
  2. Do some women buyers struggle with a “prejudice” and only buy books written by other women?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this (especially the ladies).
Some have suggested my measure of success is largely due to the kind of
books I write, which are mostly love stories and family life dramas
(reviewers often compare me to Nicholas Sparks or Richard Paul Evans).
Typically, the kind of books women like to read.

But
I’ve experienced a good deal of prejudice, myself (if that’s the right
word). I’ve lost count of the emails I’ve received from women who tell
me they love my books now, but admit they avoided them on the shelf
until after a friend recommended me. This even happened with my current
book series, co-authored with Gary Smalley. When Gary was on the hunt to
find a fiction author to work with on this new series, my publisher
sent a box of books to his executive secretary to review. She later told
me, apologetically, that I was the only male author represented in the
box and, because of that, she read my books last.


Let’s Fix This

So ladies…do we have a problem here?
If so, how big is it? What can male fiction authors do to increase this
“crossover effect” (get you buying more of our books)? Is it our
covers? Our titles? The genre we’re writing in? Is it the writing
itself? If so, what’s the fix?

Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 8 novels,
including The Unfinished Gift,
Remembering Christmas
and The Dance.

He has won 3 Carol Awards and 2 Selah
Awards. Five of his books have received RT Reviews “Top Pick” rating.
Two were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year (2011 and 2012).
Dan is a member of ACFW and
Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach
area where he and Cindi love to take long walks on the beach. To connect
with Dan or check out his books, go to: http://danwalshbooks.com. He also blogs weekly with fellow male fiction authors Jim Rubart and Harry Kraus at: http://3menwalkintoablog.com.

What Matters Most to Readers, by Guest Blogger Dan Walsh


Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 7
novels, published by Revell and Guideposts, including The Unfinished Gift,
Remembering Christmas and
The Discovery
. For those who
haven’t read Dan’s books, reviewers often
compare them to Nicholas Sparks and
Richard Paul Evans. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and
CWG’s Word Weavers, Dan served as a pastor for 25 years and now writes
fulltime. He and his wife Cindi have been married 35 years and have 2 grown
children and 2 grandchildren. They live in Port Orange, FL where Dan is busy
researching and writing his next novel. You can follow him on Facebook or
Twitter, or read his blog and can connect to these on his website at www.danwalshbooks.com.
NR: To be entered in a drawing for a signed copy of The Discovery, leave a comments. U.S.
Residents only, please.
What
Matters Most to Readers
Recently, I was invited to teach a fiction track for newer
and mostly unpublished writers, who will be attending the CLASS Christian
Writer’s conference in New Mexico in early November. I’ll have three sessions
with these fine folks. As I thought about what topics to address I decided to
do a survey.
The goal of most people attending a fiction writers’
workshop is to learn how to write well enough to become published. To one day
hold that book in their hands (or see it appear on their Ebook screen). And I
suppose, to get paid for doing something you love is also a part of that dream.
The people who actually make that dream come true are…the readers themselves. You might think,
“No, they don’t hold the keys. Agents and editors do.” But readers are the
people agents and editors have in mind when they evaluate a manuscript,
deciding whether to say yes or to send out that dreaded rejection letter.
For them to stay in business, agents and editors have to
consider what they believe readers will like, what they will buy (this speaks
to the age-old tension between commerce and art). So they put themselves in the
“reader’s seat” when evaluating an author’s work. My most recent novel, The Discovery, is my sixth. Thankfully,
both my agent and editor at Revell are big fans now (and good friends). I have
completed two more novels and have contracts for five more.
But I’m just as eager now to “please” my readers as I was the
day I sent off that first manuscript for The
Unfinished Gift
in 2008. I want my existing readers to eagerly anticipate
my next book. I want them to like it so much they have to tell all their
friends. For me to “stay in business” my readership must continue to grow.
So when I write, I care about the things that matter most to
readers. And so does my agent and editor.
I had a general idea about all this, but thought a survey given
to avid fiction fans would clarify things and help me decide which three topics
to address when I teach this conference in November. To set things up, I gave
people a choice. I asked them to pick the “Three Things That Matter Most” to
them when reading a fiction novel, out of seven possible choices.
Here are the seven choices:
A) A Beginning That Grabs You
B) Characters You Care About
C) Realistic Dialogue
D) Setting (Time and Location of
the Story)
E) The Story Itself (plot)
F) Pace of the Story (is it a
page-turner)
G) A Satisfying Ending
Before you read the results for the Top 3, why not take a
moment and pick your top three? Which of these things matter most to you when
you read a novel? I’d love to hear from you even if your choices differ from my
findings (this isn’t a scientific survey, after all).
I’ll give you the answers but, before I do, I want to
mention that the top answer was almost unanimous. It was the first choice for
the overwhelming majority but in everyone’s Top 3. Know which one it is?
B) – Characters You
Care About.
Does that surprise anyone? Even fans of thriller/suspense
novels mentioned this as being the most important. They want action, yes, lots
of tension, and a fast-paced story. But even they want to spend time with
characters they care about.
So who took the 2nd and 3rd place
honors? These two also made a strong showing in everyone’s response (quite a
distance between these and what came in 4th place).
Second was: A) – A Beginning That Grabs You. And third was:
G) – A Satisfying Ending.
Surprised?
This doesn’t mean the other four components of a novel don’t
matter, just that these three matter most.
So, that’s what I’ll be teaching my class come November. I offer these results
here to encourage you to consider what to pay the most attention to in your writing.
It seems readers mostly want a beginning that grabs them,
characters they care about and a satisfying ending.
Oh…one more thing. And I found this interesting. I had
expected “F” to show up in the Top 3, but it didn’t. Oddly enough, it came in
dead last (got only 7% of the votes). I was shocked. But my advice would be not
to ignore “F” in your writing.
I’d asked one more question in my survey: “What Things Cause
You to Put Down a Book You’ve Started?” I gave them 6 choices. “Pace was Too
Slow” was the overwhelming TOP answer to that 2nd question,
garnering 83% of the votes.
So…what do you care about most in the books you read,
especially the ones you just have to tell your friends about? And…are these the
things you mostly focus on as you write?
Other Info for this
Article
: Link to the CLASS Christian Writer’s Conference: http://www.classeminars.org/page.php?pageid=10
The Discovery

An Engrossing Story of Family Secrets and a Love for the
Ages
When aspiring writer Michael Warner inherits his
grandfather’s venerable Charleston estate, he settles in to write his first
novel. But within the confines of the stately home, he discovers an unpublished
manuscript that his grandfather, a literary giant whose novels sold in the
millions, has kept hidden from everyone—but which he clearly intended Michael
to find. As he delves deep into the exciting tale about spies and sabotage,
Michael discovers something that has the power to change not only his future
but his past as well.
Laced with suspense and intrigue, The Discovery is a
richly woven novel that explores the incredible sacrifices that must be made to
forge the love of a lifetime. Author Dan Walsh delivers yet another unique and
heartfelt story that will stick with you long after you’ve turned the last
page.

Guest Blogger ~ Dan Walsh

Dan Walsh is the author of The Unfinished Gift and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. His newest novel, The Homecoming, (Revell) has just been released on June 1st. Both books received 4.5 Stars from Romantic Times. Best-selling author Colleen Coble called The Homecoming, “One of the most delightful and touching love stories I’ve ever read.” Dan is also a pastor and lives with his family in the Daytona Beach area, where he’s busy researching and writing his fourth novel. Visit Dan at his website, read his blog, or follow him on Twitter.
Getting Into Character
I haven’t been a seven-year-old boy for 46 years. I’ve never been a woman. I’ve never been a bitter, angry old man (although there is still time for this to happen). I’ve never been an Italian grandmother. I’ve never been a black man, who’s whole life has been oppressed by poverty and racism. But in my debut novel, The Unfinished Gift (Revell, September 09) I had to become all these people.
In the just-released sequel, The Homecoming, I had to become two more people I’ve never been. The same woman in book one, but now a woman in love (really, a first for me). And a B-17 pilot who flies through deadly German skies, whose plane is shot down, who saves his entire crew and becomes a national hero (those who know me would say I’ve got a better chance of becoming a woman in love than filling these shoes). Even worse, after accomplishing all this, our hero returns home to find the love of his life has died in a tragic accident. Thankfully, the love of my life is sitting by my side as I write this, and has been for 33 years.
To me, writing novels is way cooler than being an actor. Look at all the parts we get to play.
Some of the most fulfilling and encouraging feedback I’ve received about my books goes right to this issue. I love it when people say things like: “You made me feel everything that little boy was feeling.” Or, “Your characters are so real. It’s like I could see everything through their eyes.” All of the best books unveiling the secrets of getting published say it’s essential to create characters readers will care about and believe in.
For me, the best way to accomplish this doesn’t begin with my pen, but in my mind. I start by doing something actors have been doing for ages, called “getting into character.” Before I write a scene, I spend a good deal of time just thinking about it, daydreaming really. I imagine the scene as it plays out in my mind, see where the characters are standing, look around and see what they see. Soon they begin to talk about the situation I’ve put them in. I let them talk. I listen. Since I write historical fiction, it’s almost like traveling back in time for me, peering at the scene as an invisible observer.
At some point, I know which character’s POV would tell this scene best. I replay the whole scene again from his or her perspective. But now I move from invisible observer and jump inside that character’s head. What are they thinking, seeing, feeling? I begin to think, see and feel the same things. The dialog begins. I feel the sting of a harsh remark, the relief of a danger passed, the warmth of a loving glance.

I keep my laptop nearby. When I get to this level of clarity, I begin to write. I describe all these things. Sometimes, the pictures are so strong, I am just a scribe taking dictation, the words flying faster than I can type. Other times, I must pause and search carefully for just the right phrase to faithfully represent what I’ve seen or heard.

I love it when this happens.
To me, it’s one of the most rewarding things about being a writer. As I get further into the book, it becomes increasingly easier to “get into character.” Because now I know them. A new plot point is introduced. I know how my characters’ will react. They are almost real now. The dialog comes naturally and normally, flowing within the bounds of their personalities.
Some of the best things that have happened in my books have been complete surprises to me. They come from moments like these, where I’ve simply let the characters say and do what they must. After I’ve captured their ideas and written them down, I feel almost compelled to thank them.
But really, the One I thank most for all these things is God. The Bible says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Our imagination is one of those marvelous gifts. And so is the gift to be able to write down what our imaginations create so that others can share our experience.
Now obviously, I’m describing the creative side of the writing process. My books don’t flow out of this process perfectly formed. Like everyone else, after these creative surges the other side of my brain must engage. I edit, refine, rewrite. Wait a little while, and do it again. I listen to my lovely wife’s input and wonderful editor’s suggestions, and rewrite some more.
By and by, the book is ready for print.
If you’d like to study this idea in more depth, I’d encourage you to check out a book I became aware of as I researched this article, written by Brandilyn Collins. It’s called “Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors.”
If you haven’t tried this method for creating realistic, relevant characters you’re in for a treat. If you’ve been doing this awhile, share some of your stories with us. I’d love to hear some of the roles you’ve played, especially those most unlike the real you.
No sooner is Shawn Collins home from the fighting in Europe than he is called upon to serve his country in another way–as a speaker on the war bond tour. While other men might jump at the chance to travel around the country with attractive Hollywood starlets, Shawn just wants to stay home with his son Patrick and his aging father, and grieve the loss of his wife in private.
When Shawn taps Katherine Townsend to be Patrick’s nanny while he’s on the road, he has no idea how this decision will impact his life. Could it be the key to his future happiness and the mending of his heart? Or will the war once again threaten his chances for a new start?
Dan Walsh does not disappoint in this tender story of family ties and the healing of a broken heart.