Jill Elizabeth posted this on May 21st, 2012
The Husband is constantly accusing me of being too easily distracted by shiny things. You know, those things that catch your eye and pull you away from the conversation or task at hand. I admit – I am highly susceptible to distractions. Highly. Susceptible. I have conversations that must be nearly impossible to follow if you don’t know me/how my mind works. I’ve have, on occasion, had to stop and track my own conversational connections backward, to try to figure out how I made my way to the place I ended up. (Incidentally, it’s very fun for me to do this, because I like to see how my brain connects things. It does not appear so fun for other people though – they mostly just shake their heads and/or look at me strangely.)
I can only imagine how frustrating it must be at times to try to talk to me – I really do have the most ridiculous tendency to wander off, intellectually and verbally. I like to think it’s a sign of a furiously working mind that can’t keep up with itself and constantly reaches out for more. But maybe it’s just a sign of a short attention span. Who knows. A friend once told me about a show, either BBC or PBS, that was all about the bizarre interconnectedness of things – I always meant to look it up, but never did. See what I mean? Either working too fast or not working at all. Sigh. Plus, nice tangent there, on TV, huh? Because you know that five seconds after I wrote that I had to go to Google and try to figure out what the show was…*
Anyway, I have a point here, and I’m getting to it now, promise.
So all this talking about distractability and the role of shiny things in attention-getting (and -keeping) got me to thinking about titles and covers – which are, basically, the shiny things about books. (Nice segue, eh? Admit it – you had no idea where I was going with this post, did you? Teehee.) Let me track this one back for you. I was at a celebratory post-dance-recital dinner with The Husband, The Step-Daughter, and The Step-Daughter’s Best Friend the other night and a random giggle-inducing event led The Husband to lean over and say “that’d be a great title for a story” about a particular phrase (which I won’t repeat because I agree with him and want to develop the story before I give the title away). That got my brain thinking about – in order – my own writing (truth be told, most things do these days), my farthest along Work in Progress (which has a great title that I think is perfectly shiny), my other Works in Progress that have good titles (there are a couple), my other Works in Progress that do NOT have good titles (there are an unfortunate lot of them), how hard it is to come up with a good title, books I love that have great titles, books I have that have great titles, books I love that have terrible titles, how awful it’d be to not have people read your book because of a terrible title, how good titles are occasionally paired with terrible covers, how terrible titles and terrible covers keep me from ever picking up a book, how many of those terribly-titled and terribly-covered books are actually very good and how I’ll never know because I’ve never picked them up… By the end, well, I had a post idea AND I was mentally exhausted.
If you’re a reader at all you know what I mean though. Titles and covers are key. Sure, the blurb is important too, as is the first sentence. Without a good blurb/first sentence, I won’t buy your book. But without a good title/cover, I won’t even pick it up to see if the blurb/first sentence have potential. What a tremendous amount of pressure and importance to place on something that is (a) probably only a handful of words long and (b) designed/crafted by someone who is not you (because most of the authors I know aren’t also artists – graphic or otherwise). But let’s face it – we live in a world of snap-decisions and judgments based on few words and even fewer pictures. A world, in short, of shiny things.
But how do you know what the right shiny thing is going to be for your book? Because the grab-factor of shiny things is a moving target – it depends on the state of the world, positioning in the store, current events, and the mood of the people shopping. Shiny things are why I will never love online books/bookstores as much as real books/bookstores. When everything is two-dimensional and flat on my computer screen, I lose the all-important (to me) element of tactility (a Jillism, meaning the tactile nature of things) – it’s harder for a book to grab my attention because all the icons are the same size, the same weight, the same depth. It’s also much more difficult to browse online. When I’m in a bookstore, I wander the aisles (always starting with new releases in the categories I like – bestsellers (to see what has been labeled such, not because those are what I usually buy), new to paperback, sci-fi, fiction, mystery in that order), my eyes skimming over all the titles/covers/spines until something catches my attention. Until, that is, the shiny thing pops. That’s harder to do online – and nowhere near as much fun. Scrolling is just not the same as trolling, you know?
I have no idea what I’d put on the cover of my favoritely-titled (yes, another Jillism – although seriously, shouldn’t “favoritely” be a real word??) WIP. I can’t take a word/theme/image and develop a graphic representation – if I could, I’d be an artist, not a writer (or not JUST a writer). I am not a visualizer – it’s not at all a strength of mine. I also can’t explain or quantify why some fonts, words, images capture my attention (i.e., why some things are shiny and others are not). And yes, I’m a dork, I’ve tried. So I’ll have to rely on the publisher (god-willing) and/or agent (ditto) to come up with ideas – and I’m sure they’ll have their own opinions based on market research, and I’m equally sure that market research won’t actually be any more of a guarantee of my cover’s shininess than my much-less-documented walking-through-the-aisles-paying-attention-to-what-I-pick-up method, because I’ve done market research in previous incarnations of my professional life and I know all too well what it entails (and what it’s limitations are).
Who knows, anyway. Maybe it’s all just serendipity… Maybe the connection between people and shiny things is purely random, experiential, in-the-moment-ness. It’s possible that’s the case with me, because I know I’ve passed by books on some visits to the bookstore and then picked them up on others – I must have, because I don’t always buy the newest books. It’s still interesting to think about what makes the shiny connection click though. Maybe if I can figure it out in the book cover/title context, I can figure it out in my conversational life too. Otherwise I run the risk of constantly losing myself (and others) every time I see something new.
*It was, in fact, called Connections – and it aired on BBC. There is also a quiz show – Only Connect – where you have to connect seemingly unrelated/random things. I would have cleaned up on that show. I always wanted to go on a game show – how cool would that be, to be able to use the random collection of facts sitting around in your head for something other than cocktail party conversation or marginalia? I used to think Jeopardy, but now I think this one would be much… UGH. See what I mean redux?!
**If you don’t get the movie reference, I’m happy to fill you in. If you do, well, you’re giggling already, so point made AND objective achieved.