Interestingly titled article at Kill Zone Blog: My Cynical View of Titles and Covers
I imagine the author of this post, John Gilstrap, is going to argue that the title and cover have zero purpose other than to sell the book. I expect that is basically true, though having a cover you like to look at is a plus. I turn physical books with nice covers front-out on my shelves so that I can appreciate the cover whenever I pass the shelves. But sure, let’s see what Gilstrap has to say:
Okay, to summarize, people decide to buy a book in four steps:
a) Know to look for it (which is the kicker, as Gilstrap observes). Then
b) Instant attraction; eg, the cover
c) Plot description
d) First pages, and finally the reader decides whether or not to buy the book.
Sure, the above steps seem perfectly reasonable. Personally, I care less about the plot description, as a rule, and much more about the first pages. In fact, my essential decision to buy a book goes like this:
a) Know to look for it, generally because someone here recommends it, but occasionally because I see a reference to it somewhere else. It’s actually relatively rare these days that I look at a book unless it’s by an author I already know OR someone here recommends it. Because my TBR pile is so enormous, I’m relatively unlikely to visit the blogs of people who review books. I used to do that a lot more and in the unlikely event that I ran low on stuff to read, I’d go back to those blogs to find out about books I might like. Every now and then, someone will say exactly the right thing on Twitter to get me to click over to Amazon and take a good look at the book.
d) First pages.
Given a recommendation from someone whose taste matches mine pretty well, neither the cover nor the plot description matters a whit. This is true even though I enjoy a nice cover as much as the next person. Sometimes the plot description does matter. That is the case if I see something on Twitter that brings a book to my notice. More often, unless something about the plot description REALLY turns me off, I’m happy to try a sample. Once the sample is on my Kindle, I’ll try it eventually. Thus, first pages are by far the most important thing after I first hear about the book.
Back to Gilstrap’s cynical view of covers and titles …
The covers and titles needn’t have much to do with the actual plot of the book. They work together to accomplish their jobs in a glance, and then they are forgotten. They work in tandem to convince a potential reader to take a chance, and if you, as the writer, do your job to entertain, no one will notice.
Yes, I think that is true. Particularly for ebooks, where the cover is not something you see very often or (on my Kindle) in color. I agree that it just does not matter all that much if the cover is faithful to the verbal descriptions within the book, partly because every reader is going to have their own internal image of the characters and figures and scenery and everything.
Having said that … it’s kind of nice when the cover (and, I guess, title) match the story to some reasonable degree. Not crucial. But nice.
The second book in my Jonathan Grave series is Hostage Zero. It’s the title that broke the series out, and the phrase means nothing. None of the hostages are numbered, and none of them launch a plague, as in “patient zero”. It just sounded cool, and that’s why we went with it.
I do think that’s a bit cynical, and a bit funny too. I don’t think it would have occurred to me to call a book “Hostage Zero” unless the story somehow used the phrase in a way reminiscent of “Patient Zero.” But yes, it’s a good-sounding title. I can see why people might click on the book and read the back cover copy.
The comments on the post are interesting. I notice one commenter agrees with me that almost nothing matters but a recommendation from the right source.