They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But we do.
A perfect case in point . . . decades ago during my romance author days, I was doing a book signing in a bookstore. A young girl about 18 or 19 walked up to the counter and asked the salesclerk for a copy of The Last of the Mohicans.
The clerk promptly returned with the classic in hand, a pale purple cover featuring a couple of Indians in artful silhouette. “Oh no!” the girl exclaimed. “I want the one with Daniel Day Lewis on the cover!” (The movie of the same name and starring said actor, was playing in the theaters. Clearly to exploit renewed interest in Cooper’s immortal tale, some clever publisher had come up with a paperback release shrewdly featuring a scene from the movie on its cover.)
When the clerk explained they had sold out of the sexy-running-through-the-woods-long-hair-flying version, the girl declined the proffered copy. “That’s not the one I want,” she said. “But it’s the same book,” the clerk explained. It didn’t matter. She didn’t want it. True story.
BTW, it used to frustrate the hell out of me in those days that I (as the effing author!) had absolutely no say-so about the 3 things that sell a book: 1) the title 2) the cover 3) the back blurb. (FYI, the editor chooses the title and writes the back cover description; and the cover itself is chosen by committee in the art department after the artist submits several options.)
Here’s another true story: By far, my best selling historical romance was a medieval entitled A KNIGHT’s DESIRE. I’d like to think the reason it sold 125,000 copies was because it was a really good story. (I’d like to. But I can’t.) Truth is, my sales had nothing to do with the content and everything to do with the cover—which featured a really erotic positioning of hero and heroine. (At first glance it appears he is doing her from behind.) The distributors, who unloaded each month’s new titles and put them on the bookstore shelves, were all men. Need I say more? They freakin’ loved that cover! And because they did, they put it front and center. (The Walden Books rep told me so himself.) If you are interested, the Kindle version is available on Amazon. It has a slightly different cover now, but it’s essentially the same book as the one I published in 1991, but with a few editing and content improvements.
So, back to book covers, titles and descriptions. Last month when I decided to self-publish my humor memoir/online dating story, I was thrilled with the opportunity to control the aspects that garner sales. The problem was I didn’t know what the hell I was doing! I not only forgot the most important commandment in marketing (sex sells), I made a point of denying it, focusing instead upon what I deemed to be staid respectability. Guess what? Big surprise! The book didn’t sell but a handful of copies. (Wink: A Single at Sixty’s Odyssey to Life, Love & Online Dating is still available in ebook format on Amazon because I can’t undo it. I signed an exclusive arrangement with Amazon Kindle to carry it for 90 days.) But I pulled the paperback version and went back to the proverbial drawing board with the guidance of several friends who were brutally honest. “The cover is boring,” said one. Another was a bit more diplomatic. “I like the art deco feel, but it doesn’t really reflect you, your writing style or your personality. And it doesn’t reflect the story at all.” A third hated the title and the description both. “Stress the sex and sass,” she said. “That’s what makes it such a fun read.”
If nothing else, this blog has shown me that my readers don’t shy away from candid subjects or sex. (Who would have thought the subject of vibrators would fly?) So to the curious, the voyeurs, my followers and viewers (who now number over 2100 in 70 countries), here is the official reveal of I STILL WANT FIREWORKS:
On the one year anniversary of her divorce, former romance writer Judith Hill signs up on a well-known dating site. Now an international flight attendant (with a penchant for dating young, dark, long-haired and exotic), she decides to hedge her innate skepticism with a purposeful plan. As a non-fiction endeavor, why not chronicle her experiences into a humor/how-to memoir geared to other women similarly starting over?
There are two problems with her plan: technology and the reality of virtual reality dating. When last she dated, a “web site” was where a spider named Charlotte did her thing in a barn for a rat! But worse for a self-avowed techno-idiot, is the world she discovers. Like Alice tumbling down the rabbit-hole, she finds a strange reality with a twisted “Build a Bear Workshop” for adults mentality. Superficiality rules, and with the cloak of anonymity emboldening even the the most timid, the lines of propriety blur quickly. Normal patterns of human behavior and traditional social mores don’t just fade. They disappear! (Can you say “dick pic” and “cock shot?”) Before she realizes it, jamada (as Judith is now known by her user ID), falls victim to the mindset, abandoning her common sense, sexual boundaries—and even her own compassion.
Initially serious about finding love and determined to keep to “type”—ala her last relationship—a 38-year-old Turkish restaurant owner who took her for a midnight swim in a Swiss lake for their first date (ah! the perks of international flying!), Judith dutifully creates her wishlist. Indeed, her first online experience, with a rather handsome and (conveniently) widowed Italian engineer in his 40s, appears to perfectly fit her bill—until phone conversations revealed an extreme religious leaning. Undeterred, she moves on to a gorgeous 42-year-old Israeli lawyer, who after a month disappeared. Suddenly, just like that . . . Poof! The online store of long and dark-haired exotic men in the greater Philadelphia area runs out of stock. And jamada is reduced to boring, boorish, gross and old (as in claiming 60, but looking 70). Clearly the 37-year-old Tunisian concierge who asked her out in a Munich hotel lobby does not have a slighter older brother or cousin in Philly on Match.com! Then, on the night of her dreaded 60th birthday, as she’s sitting on the patio of a local Irish bar sneaking a cigarette, the cosmos delivers an unexpected birthday present. A broad-shouldered, blond (!) and short-haired (!) mechanic enters and sparks fly . . .
Written in an intimate girlfriend to girlfriend style, with chapter titles like “The Penis Does the Picking” “Goldilocks vs. the Pea Princess” and “Talk Dirty to Me,” I Still Want Fireworks is a candid look at life, love and online dating written by a woman who knows she is old enough to know better– and doesn’t care. From discourses about wisdom and wrinkles, celibacy vs settling and “want” as opposed to “need,” to forays with texting and sexting total strangers, to speed dating, blind dates and bar hook ups, Judith holds nothing back. Fans of her blog are well acquainted with her unique mix of sex and sass wrapped in humor and bona fide research. While her followers have called her “raw, down to earth” and “amazingly funny,” Judith prefers “irreverent and relevant.” (Remember . . . this the woman who wrote a treatise on vibrators.) I Still Want Fireworks delivers on all accounts.