It's been one of those days when focus is hard to find. I started my day by hearing my older son is coming to the Island to get married in July, so, while that is a glad note, it's also not been good for the thoughts about blogs and writing. This is the reality of the working writer - real life intrudes, and I think it worse than the real life intrusion of say such an event on an office worker, because fortunately, office workers leave the cubicle behind when they come home. Writers never really do, unless real life is being too darn pushy for its own good.
A discussion I was peripheral to a while back focussed on e-book covers. A lot of things came out of this which I think worth summarising. It was fairly plain that there was considerable sexual dimorphism in what people liked see on covers. To my unholy amusement I found covers with bare-chested well-muscled strong-jawed men were a biggy with a vast majority of the female respondents. I wondered what the reaction to the opposite gender equivalent would be, but for a change kept my yap shut. Still, it was plain that faces (and manly upper torsos) - which told little about the story were popular with the female respondents, whereas scenes/objects (and possibly female torsos) were more interesting to the males. Of course this is a generalisation, totally unscientific and very subjective and who gives a damn, but worth thinking about, as, after all, the purpose of the cover is to get a reader to look at the book. We are not selling covers.
A couple of other things that really did come out strongly were the need for text to be legible at thumbnail size, relatively simple if they're to carry visual impact at that size, and that print needs to be in stark-contrast colors and the covers really really do need a look of professionalism about them. Oh and information is important 'short story / short story collection /part of the Lanata series etc' is vital. I've decided that one of my future conditions for e-books is more control over my covers and getting them professionally laid out -- simply because I believe this is important.
But I don't believe it is MOST important. We're moving from a small highly controlled-stocking visual/tactile market with an intrinsically captive audience once they got there (the brick-and-mortar bookstore) to a vast - millions of times the size - totally free-for-all stocking market in which our view is so darn narrow... we may as well be blind, and there is no real tactile element at all, and where the audience can find ONE book without noticing another product. So where COVER and DISPLAY were the two absolute vital keys to brick-and-mortar bookstore success, we move to a situation where cover is a lot less likely to get your book noticed. Display is of course still vital but may be more tricky. I have a feeling that display in future is going to work (sadly) like display past - publishers will pay for prominence. However, the ordering of importance and therefore logically investment (by author and publisher) will change. In the Internet bookstore I rank them like this:
1)Name. Known names/brands/ series will be searched for. Your name and your title are your most valued properties.
2)Outside feed. If you have blogs/ facebook / twitter/ review sites feeding readers towards your book, it will be vital. Professional review sites may become more relevant than they are now.
3)Linkage. Both 'customers who bought X also bought Y' and linkage to type and ranking within type.
4)Searchable/matchable content (this one will move up as becomes better)
5)Publicity (this one could move up depending on expenditure. For example, spend enough and you make someone into a name, and generate outside feed)
7)Viewable/ sampleable content.
A book of course will need probably 6 and certainly 7 to convert 'look at' into BUY.
We're out of the sheltered, heavily controlled puddle and into a big wild ocean. Those who survive will have learn to work with the new waves and use their energy to lift them. Those who cling to rocks... will drown. The rocks may survive and surface at the next low tide, but authors who held on tight, won't be there. On the other hand there is a chance to grow into Leviathan out there, or at least to swim free.
Any other ideas on how to work with sea-change? To get yourself found in the marketplace of the blind?
Oh BTW - I have been following my books on the Amazon Author central - which gives bookscan numbers. DRAGON'S RING paperback - which came out on the un-enviable 28/12, data is a bit worrying. I think we can safely say DRAGON'S RING is simply not in - or in very very small numbers in most major chain stores across the US - it sold 171 copies in the last week (very poor numbers for a book just out), but only from 70% of the reporting areas. So if you happen to go into a store, and see it there, I'd love to know about it.
On the other hand SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS - apparently voted one of the worst covers in sf, continues to sell (if Amazon is to be believed on 5th reprint -presumeably VERY small runs) 35 copies the same week reporting period - not bad for a book that's been out since March. So you can't judge a book by its cover...