Thursday, December 5, 2013

Cover Change-O. Will it Help the Book in Paperback? And Some Contrary Publishers Keep Their Iconic Jackets and Yet Improve Their Fortunes the Second Time Around. What's That About?

Today we were having a chat in the store about books changing cover treatments when going into paperback. I had noticed Victor LaValle's The Devil in Silver (Spiegel and Grau) and said to Jason, "now we are making it clearer that this is a horror novel." The all-type jacket in the cloth edition was hedging its bets.  You like literary fiction? Maybe I'm your book.

Whatever the jacket, Jason is a big fan. Allow me to reprint his recommendation: "Pepper is sent to a mental institution when he lets his temper go one night and fights with the wrong guys. The cops dump him into a situation where the patients are under fear of the devil, who visits them late in the night. With the staff unwilling to do anything about it, and possibly complicit, the patients have to band together to take down the devil. But, should they? Victor LaValle presents an isolated world where not everything is what it appears to be. The Devil in Silver is a spooky and wonderful book that looks at how hiding from our problems doesn't make them go away."

Sharon gave me a copy of Kimberly McCreight's Reconstructing Amelia (Harper Perennial). Argue if you wish, but it's my contention that the publisher was going with a Gillian Flynn look for the hardcover, but veered towards Jodi Picoult for the paperback. The publisher writes "Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is shocked when her daughter's exclusive Brooklyn private school calls to tell her that Amelia--her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old--has been caught cheating. But when Kate arrives at Grace Hall, she's blindsided by far more devastating news: Amelia is dead. Despondent, she's jumped from the school's roof. At least that's what Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. It's what she believes, too, until she gets the anonymous text: Amelia didn't jump." So what would you do to get the most folks. Or would you go in a Tana French direction--that was another comparison.

I'm pretty sure Sharon read this and liked it, but alas, I think my hard drive died between backups and her rec is not longer in my files. And of course I could be wrong about the whole thing. Talk about faulty reconstruction.

One doesn't normally see as dramatic changes in nonfiction, with the possible exception of narrative nonfiction, those books that read like a novel and for most readers, slot into the same usage of escapism, book club, and so forth. But there's been quite a change up for Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,  Lawrence Wright, a staff writer at The New Yorker

Says the publisher: "We go inside their specialized cosmology and language. We learn about the church’s legal attacks on the IRS, its vindictive treatment of critics, and its phenomenal wealth. We see the church court celebrities such as Tom Cruise while consigning its clergy to hard labor under billion-year contracts. Through it all, Wright asks what fundamentally comprises a religion, and if Scientology in fact merits this Constitutionally-protected label."

Maybe because of all the book's laurels, such as the National Book Award Finalist, rave reviews from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and more, that there was a greater push to get the book on the paperback bestseller lists. The nice thing about that is if you pop on the list, there's a very good chance you will seemingly never leave. That's been the case for a favorite of mine, Susannah Cahalan's Brain on Fire (Simon and Schuster, formerly Free Press) and they only changed the cover a bit, from a red accent to a dark-horse pick of yellow. But it's been on the paperback list for 17 weeks just the same.

My rec for the book in hardcover, which was also the Indie Next Pick quote.  "A young reporter’s near-death experience started with what seemed to be a bedbug bite, followed by an out-of-character migraine. Cahalan forgot a pitch meeting. She snooped on her boyfriend’s email. Beloved newspaper clippings were tossed. Garbage piled up in her apartment. And then the seizures began. This compelling story of one woman’s descent into madness and the equally horrifying journey of her family to get suitable help works both as a great literary memoir and a well-reported medical mystery. You might say the result is Girl, Interrupted with a dash of The Hot Zone and a sprinkling of The Exorcist!"

This might be an indication that cover changes are a bit overblown as a marketing solution to making the book work. Another book that had virtually no cover change from cloth to paper and nonetheless had a paperback breakout is Tara Conklin's The House Girl (William Morrow). The book was a #1 Indie Next pick in hardcover, featuring this quote from Beverly Bauer of Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin: “Lina, a young, ambitious New York attorney in 2004, never knew her mother. Josephine, a young house slave in 1852, never knew her child. More than a century apart, their lives connect in unexpected ways."Bauer goes on to note that both of the protagonists might be "the house girl."

Is that a very slightly different tone of green? I can't even tell. But it's about as identical as I've ever seen a hardcover to paperback jacket be. Not even a typeface change!

Morrow breaks every rule here. The stuck with the cameo-style silhouette jacket made popular with Little Bee, when Simon and Schuster even dumped the image for the paperback of Gold, which by the way, still didn't pop the book. They kept a green jacket, even though publishers continually dump green for another color in paperback, most recently Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk and Davy Rothbart's My Heart is an Idiot, which kept the hardcover jacket, but changed out the background cover from green to a striking purple. And sure enough, I picked up the book and I heard an "I'm so tired of that jacket style." Honestly, how many have their been? Surely not as many as the woman with the cut off head or the pair of shoes.

Allow me just one more book where they decided to keep a controversial cover and it paid off.It's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (Picador). Jason said to me, I didn't keep my copy of the book because I didn't like the jacket, and you know what? I was rather surprised as well. For one thing, it was a type hardcover and art directors almost always add an image, unless of course the book is an enormous bestseller, like The Art of Fielding or Where'd You Go, Bernadette? (both Back Bay).

Also an Indie Next pick in hardcover, Andrea Aquino at Bookshop Santa Cruz wrote "Booksellers and book lovers alike will adore charming Mr. Penumbra and his towering stacks of mysterious, code-filled tomes, as well as the array of eccentric old men that make up the store's late-night clientele." I do like that they kept the tactile elements of the cover on the paperback and the free prequel.*

OK, it's not identical, as you have to write "national bestseller" on the paperback. That's almost required. As if someone would not pick it up otherwise. 

*Addendum. Our rep Anne reminded me that the jacket for Mr. Penumbra glows in the dark!

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