Thursday, July 09, 2009

What's in a Cover?

What I'm reading: Out of Sight, by Elmore Leonard

Lately, a lot of the books I've been reading have not only the author's name and title on the cover, but also a label telling the reader what kind of a book it is. I can see positives and negatives with this approach.

On the plus side:

If I've enjoyed a book about certain characters, it's nice to see that this is another book about Harry Bosch, or Elvis Cole, or part of a trilogy, or a set of connected books. A few days ago, Susan Wiggs posted her new cover on her blog. While the scene—or even the title wouldn't have appealed to me (I'm not big on holiday books about holidays I don't celebrate), the "Lakeshore Chronicles" on the cover would have made the sale, because I've read all the other Lakeshore books. (OK, Susan Wiggs' name would get me to buy the book, but that's not today's topic.)

I've seen books that say, "a novel" on the cover. Well, yeah. They're in the fiction section. Do I need to know that? Probably would have guessed without being told. But if the author writes both fiction and non-fiction, maybe that's a good marketing tool.

On the 'either-or' side:

Keep Reading...

If I'm browsing the book shelves, and I'm not familiar with an author or series, it can help me decide if I might like it. Maybe it says "fantasy" or "paranormal". I'd probably walk right by. So the label can kill a sale.

Personally, I think the labels are there simply to sell books. I've read books that were supposed to be 'romantic comedy' according to the cover, but in reading them, I failed to find the humor. Of course, that's a subjective thing. Just ask my husband.

If I haven't beaten the dead horse enough already, I prefer classic mystery structure to suspense. And again – different genres. Not right, not wrong, not better or worse. Different.

Mystery and Suspense have relatively "simple" definitions. In mystery, the reader follows the detective along to solve a puzzle, and is usually a step behind. In suspense, the reader is aware of what's going to happen, and is usually a step ahead of the protagonist. There's often blending, but a rule of thumb for me, is if you see anything the protagonist doesn't, it's suspense. It's knowing there's a bomb under the table, or seeing the villain planning, or committing the crime. Even if he's faceless, the reader is aware but the protagonist isn’t.

As I was learning these terms, another one cropped up. Thriller. Everything I heard indicated that a thriller was a suspense kicked up a few notches. The problem to be avoided was of massive proportions. Death and destruction of vast numbers of people. Entire nations. Global, perhaps.

A brief trip through Google yields the following definitions:

Thriller is a genre of fiction in which tough, resourceful, but essentially ordinary heroes are pitted against villains determined to destroy them, their country, or the stability of the free world. Part of the allure of thrillers comes from not only what their stories are about, but also how they are told. High stakes, non-stop action, plot twists that both surprise and excite, settings that are both vibrant and exotic, and an intense pace that never lets up until the adrenalin packed climax.

Thriller: Often, but not always, multi-national, high energy, involving major threats such as bio-terrorism, governmental crisis, nuclear weaponry, kidnappings, serial killers; often also high-tech.

Which leads to the minus side of labeling:

Using the above definitions of a thriller, I would shy away from books labeled 'thriller'. But what about the person who does want a thriller and picks up a book labeled as such that doesn't match the expectation? I would think they'd feel cheated. I know if I picked up a mystery and the crime was unsolved, or a romance without a relationship, I'd be upset.

I saw one of my books for sale on eBay (guess that means I've "made it" as an author!), billed as an "erotic thriller." Pity the poor buyer who's expecting both erotica and a crisis of far-reaching proportions. The seller justified the 'erotic' label because she also had books from Ellora's Cave for sale, and my book is from Cerridwen Press, which is an imprint of Ellora's Cave. Logical? Um … the reason it's NOT published by Ellora's Cave is that it's NOT erotic. Ah, well. It's also a mystery, not a suspense, much less a thriller.

This weekend, thriller authors are gathering for their annual conference. Do they all write "thrillers"? I don't think so. Not by the above definitions. But maybe the organization will be able to present a more concise definition of Thriller.

Don't forget - tomorrow is Friday, and I'm sharing another chapter in Detective Hussey's book. This one is a glimpse into the "down" side of police work.

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