The art and first impressions of selling a book
I am currently doing what I should have done long ago and actually focussing on the trawl for representation. I am wading through the agent websites and I am discovering how agents sell themselves, and how they promote the authors they represent.
And with a tell I have shown before, I only now begin to realise what I don’t know.
What has helped me realise this is the arrival of a GoodReads list of, “44 new novelists are making waves in the YA world”.
I don’t take the time often enough to actually observe the market I’ve been plucking books from the YA list at random, but I think after I’ve finished Wolf Hall/…The Bodies, I shall focus a little more on the contemporary YA scene. Just this brief review really makes me realise how important a good agent’s ‘feel’ for the market can be: how they present the raw material you submit; how the impact of three things: Cover, title and blurb will shape a books destiny.
So these 44 authors of the literary firmament (far above me, down here, yet to be repped, let alone published) have worked hard to produce their manuscripts and this is the modern shop window where their agents and editors, publishers and wholesalers have prepared a place for you to land: a place where I admittedly, do not often linger long enough.
But not this morning! This morning, I am among you! I see you all, bright starlings! Sing to me! Your work, as presented by the publishing industry and the modern salesperson. I begin to imagine how I might fit in amongst these little snippets, and wonder how I sharpen my own arrows – my query, my sample and synopsis – to plunge into the heart of an agent, skewering them with the exactitude and potential of my narrative flight.
(OK maybe the dead agent imagery’s needs work.)
The full list of authors and their works ( I salute and cheer you all) is here, but here’s my own personal reaction. How do the three work in combination? The cover, is the first attractor…
Rebel of the Sands appeals; If I Was Your Girl is very striking; A Shadow Bright and Burning has a nice palette; The Girl from Everywhere is typographically bold and does something interesting with scale; The Way I Used To Be is similarly bold with a great full bleed photo in the background; Girl in Pieces is equally bold, if very different; Same sort of space for A list of cages which I like more, the more I look at it; The Black Witch is a very clever illustration, although I’m not sure I trust it; in a similar vein to, ‘Rebel of the Sands’ is The Hazel Wood; The Astonishing Color of After is graphically lovely; and again, the palette of Girls of Paper and Fire drew my eye; We Hunt the Flame makes me nostalgic for the books of my childhood, and; Descendants of the Crane makes me want to know more. But my absolute favourite for its wit and style is Again, but Better, a fact perhaps related to its title, which is also one of my favourites.
So from that list of covers which drew me closer that I might read their titles, my initial reaction would be (a final “…” indicates me scrolling over to read the blurb):
Rebel of the Sands : ‘Hmm, OK; I’ll look because I like the cover…’
If I Was Your Girl : ‘This book and I will never be friends’
A Shadow Bright and Burning : ‘Ooh, no.’
The Girl from Everywhere : ‘Hmm; don’t like books with ‘Girl’ in the title, but that is a great cover…’
The Way I Used To Be : ‘I think I can guess what this’ll be like and it won’t be my cup of tea, but…’
Girl in Pieces : ‘Really wanted to like this but now I read it, its just screaming Manic Pixie Dream Girl’
A list of cages : ‘Great cover, strong title…’
The Black Witch : ‘Hmm. that’s a nice illustration detail, it implies things that might imply clevernesses and subtexts. The title isn’t great, but…’
The Hazel Wood : ‘Bit of a nothing title, but…’
The Astonishing Color of After: ‘Mmm, nice whooshy graphic cover, sort of disguises the title; what does it… Oh Christ no.’
Girls of Paper and Fire : ‘What is it with all these “Girl” titles!?…’
We Hunt the Flame : ‘Mmmh. Hunting and ‘fire’ feel a bit laboured…’
Descendants of the Crane : ‘Too much what I would have expected’
Again, but Better : ‘This looks like a book about funny time travel…’
Blurbs on GoodReads come in two parts: the instant preview and then a longer version, available via a ‘…more’ tag. Some of these I knew within those first few lines, others I needed more, and those I did read further generally didn’t convince me.
Rebel of the Sands
Short: Hmm… Long: too wordy, too much *does a finger sprinkle* mystery… mentions romantic passion and there’s a typo (even though it is super-minor).
The Girl from Everywhere
Short, not sure about this… Long: wasn’t looking too hopeful, but when it did finally get to the part where it laid out what happens, I was sold.
The Way I Used To Be
Short: This is very much a ‘sold’ book – blurb opens with lots reasons why I should be reading it… Long: the narrative blurb seems repetitive and shallow. I’m sure this is an important and useful book, but it is not for me.
A List of Cages
Short: American high schools/colleges all seem a bit done to death as a setting and I don’t know what an ‘elective’ is (I deduce from the rest that it’s an extra study area? A choice?)… Long: and then it mentions how the hero is struggling with ADHD and I’m out.
The Black Witch
Short: I don’t like books that mention prophesies. It’s too much of a ‘Because PLOT’ device… Long: I got as far as ‘Vertax’ and stopped reading.
The Hazel Wood
Short: I don’t feel this. The premise seems hackneyed and too generic for my taste… Long: No. Not for me.
Girls of Paper and Fire
Short: Reads well – the concept of the paper girls looks like it might be interesting…Long: but having read it all, I’m just not willing to defend the Cover/Title combination to the cynics.
We Hunt the Flame
Short: The words ‘cursed forest’ make my eye twitch…Long: too many adjectives and too many by-the-numbers plot points.
Again, but Better
Short: I was feeling good about this, until , ‘ romance…what’s that?’ happened…Long: Oh, how can I have misunderstood you so badly, beautiful cover and good title?
So, despite having ‘Girl’ in the title, the only one of these I’m still holding is, “The Girl from Everywhere’. So now I ignore my initial reactions to the cover, and go on titles and choose a few more to scroll through:
Stalking Jack the Ripper
I have a bit of a problem with the Ripper industry: it’s the archetypal ‘pretty dead girl’ you get at the start of every TV crime series and it’s all a bit done to death: why doesn’t someone examine… then I see this is about someone hunting him, and now I look closer and see the woman in the bodice is holding a knife…
Blurb is very salesy and I’m almost put off by the decision to lead with ‘James Patterson’s latest publishing project’, but I grit my teeth and like what the story is about. A good start… Long: more teeth gritting over the forbidden secret life, but said life does sound pretty interesting. If I was going to use a nerdy analogy, I’d say I wasn’t sure on the CSS, but the HTML and the <content> look good.
The Crown’s Game
The cover really doesn’t work for me, and the title is only OK, but as soon as I start to read this, I’m hooked: the character names, the detail of the magic described, the political intrigue. Yep. Not even gonna read the long, just “Putin” it straight in the basket.
The Hate U Give
Investigated this one because I’ve heard it mentioned a lot. Really don’t like the title or the cover, but what I read actually interests me and I wonder if I’m missing something and maybe my first reactions are wrong. And I read the long blurb after the sales recommendation it opens with and I think I should read this and it will be very important. Basket.
I initially passed this over because of the blunt red, yellow, blue colour splashes, but now I look closer, I like the graphic and the title is strong…
But then the blurb opens with a proverb and I’m out.
To Kill A Kingdom
The detail of the cover isn’t bad actually; the octopus with daggers looks like there might be intrigue (I like intrigue)… short: Seventeen hearts in a box, I like it… Long: wait, what? Humans are bad? So it’s not allegorical or magical?
No, it’s outright fantasy; that’s an actual tentacle holding an actual dagger. ‘Sirenkind’? Oh, no then. (A brief lesson in the perils of skim-reading and the decision not to capitalise ‘siren’ in the first line.)
Final Call for flight to fancy
OK, so the undisclosed hurry is set in an airport WHSmiths, and I’m leaving with The Girl From Everywhere, The Crown’s Game and The Hate U Give to read on a hastily sketched beach.
In reality, we’re heading off to the Loire for a week towards the end of August, where I intend to immerse myself in short morning bicycle rides to get bread and wine and afternoon flops into the pool. Mostly though, I will be neck deep in volumes one and two of Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy. (I’ve already started WH, and it is hypnotising). After that though: new YA, here I come!