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Monday, November 1, 2021

A Tale of Two Book Covers (Part 2)

Sometimes you just can’t mess with a book cover. I mean, strictly speaking, yes, of course you can. You can always mess with a book cover, and the racks of used book stores are filled with horrid examples to prove the point. But this particular book cover…

This is the very expensive original artwork that Amazing Stories commissioned artist Phil Foglio to produce for the original magazine appearance of my story, “Jimi Plays Dead,” back in that wonderful but short-lived and terribly misguided period when Amazing was trying to ascend to the next level by becoming a full-sized “slick” magazine comparable to OMNI, complete with full-color interior illustrations throughout. I was given to understand that while the result was an absolutely beautiful magazine, newsstand sales never lived up to expectations, and TSR lost a sizable pile of money doing it.

Still, I do love this illo, to the extent that when the opportunity came up to buy the original art I did, and now have it hanging in my office. I particularly liked the clever way Phil worked his signature into the face of the amp and made it look like the old Peavey logo—except of course that Jimi Hendrix would (pardon the expression) never have been caught dead using a Peavey amp. He preferred Marshall amps, at least onstage.

Note: At the time I bought the original art, I of course also negotiated an agreement with Phil to use his art for a book cover. Remember, just because you own a physical piece of art, that does not necessarily mean you have the rights to use it for publication.  

So if we can’t mess with the cover art, what’s the next thing we can do to improve the presentation of the book on Amazon? Remember, for most people, their first look at this book is going to be a thumbnail, about the size of an S&H green stamp; a vaguely purplish and greenish blob, with a splash of white and red. So maybe the place to start is with the typography, to make the title bigger and clearer—and maybe I will do that, but not right now. Instead, let’s put this thumbnail in context.

There, this gives us a clearer idea of how people will first see this book: in the context of one of Amazon’s push-sell bars, either “Books in this series” or “People also bought” or something like that. And at this point I’m really wishing I’d taken a pile of screen captures before I began this exercise, to show you just how dull the original appearance was. All it showed was the cover thumbnail—even smaller, you’ll notice, as some of the real estate is occupied by the Kindle Unlimited banner—the title; the author’s name; the customer ratings—and there are only two of them, so there’s not much I can do about that right now—and the price.

Immediately, what jumps out is that the title is just a title, not a teaser. So the first thing I did was added a subtitle. What was simply Jimi Plays Dead is now, Jimi Plays Dead: Two Stories About Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll.  Immediately, the title is more engaging. Even truncated to the 40 characters Amazon allows in a thumbnail title, you learn more of what this book is about, and perhaps become slightly more interested in clicking the link. (Though that “2 customer ratings” remains a problem. We’ll have to work on that. But not now.)

Assuming you click the link, then, what do you see next?


Oh, that. And this is the point where I really wish I’d saved a “before” screen capture, because at this point the prospective reader sees the title, the subtitle, the ratings, a bit of pricing information, and just the top four lines of the book description—and let me tell you, the original book description was dull. It was just one gray monolithic block of text talking writer-to-writer about the conceptualzzzzzz…

Excuse me, I dozed off for a moment there. 

So I switched on my marketing persona, took a really hard look at that description, and thought: “Amazon is giving me about 4,000 characters in which to get people interested in this book and close the deal. They’re also giving me a rudimentary HTML editor. So what can I do with that?”

Well, first off, I’d better lead off with an opening that gets people engaged enough to click the “Read more” link and read the rest of the description. Then, I’d better tell them who the author is and why they should want to read this book. And then: Sales 101. Close the deal. Ask them to make the commitment to buy—and then shut up, stand back, and let them make their decision.

Putting the pieces together, then, I wrote this:

Remember 45 r.p.m. records? Remember how when you bought one, it was like rolling the dice? Sure, the "A" side was always the hit single you wanted, but the "B" side... who knew?

Here now for your entertainment are two stories by award-winning science fiction writer Bruce Bethke, packaged back-to-back together in a special "hit single" ebook. The "A" side is Jimi Plays Dead, Bethke's much-loved and Nebula-nominated story of the obsessed guitarist who will do anything to sound just exactly like Jimi Hendrix.

The "B" side, though—here's where you're taking a chance. Buck Turner and The Spud from Space is Bethke's published but forgotten tale of airports, garage bands, kids with dreams of making it big, and an alien who comes to Earth seeking intelligent life, but through an unfortunate miscalculation makes the mistake of landing near Hollywood. It is also, according to Bethke, who spent a decade in the music industry before he switched to writing fiction, at least partially absolutely true in places.

So the "A" side, Jimi Plays Dead: guaranteed smash hit, you'll love it. But the "B" side, Buck Turner and The Spud from Space: is it brilliant? Is it daft? Is it just begging to be optioned and turned into a low-budget movie?

Read it now and find out!



Mr. Naron said...

The font is my only problem. We used to use something like it in the electrical sign business. Always a pain. But that's just me.

Arisia said...

I'm experiencing double deja vu here. First, I was sure I'd already read your article titled A Tale of Two Book Covers, but it kept coming back to my inbox. Second, I worried I'd missed a typo ten years ago.

Reading things more carefully, I am now reassured on both counts. I am looking forward to the next installment of A Tale of Two Book Covers, and I can point out for your adjustment the two typos in the rewritten book description of Jimi Plays Dead, which are:

1. makes the mistake landing near Hollywood - missing word "of"

2. It is also, according to Bethke, who spent a decade in the music industry before he switched to writing fiction, is at least partially absolutely true in places. - redundant word "is"

~brb said...

Arisia, thanks as always for your sharp-eyed proofreading. Typos fixed!