E-book cover issues, continued

I complained in an earlier post how Ray Bradbury’s e-books were, in my opinion, badly treated as far as covers went.

I’m a fan of Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series. His latest book (Skin Game) just came out, so I picked up a new Dresden book in Kindle format for the first time. At the same time, there was an Amazon deal for the first seven Kindle books for $1.99 each, and what the heck, I snapped those up too.

Just for fun, before checking out the new book I started re-reading the series from the beginning, purchasing the remainder of the books as I went (not $1.99 each, unfortunately).

As with Bradbury’s books, most of the Kindle books had no cover at the beginning at all, just the title text and author. This was disappointing, as the Dresden series has some really nice covers on their hardbacks.

Oddly, three of the books did have actual illustrated covers. Blood Rites and Cold Days had the hardcover illustrations. Summer Knight had an illustration (not the standard hardcover one), but it was about the size of a postage stamp on my screen. This is a common Kindle graphic formatting error, but with a cover illustration it’s one you almost have to work at to screw up during the Kindle publishing process.

Come on, publishers! Your e-book designs reflect on your authors as much as the hardcovers in the store windows.

(For an example of a publisher that seems to have really worked hard on their e-books, check out the Harry Potter series, which you can only buy directly at the Pottermore website.)


“Sticking the landing” on the ending

Allegiant, the latest book in the “Divergent” series by Veronica Roth, has been released this week. It’s the end of a popular trilogy. It’s riding right now at Number One on Amazon, and that’s all books, not just a specific category.

Please know that I have not yet read these books, so I have no opinions at all on this best-selling series. But what I did notice today was this:

Divergent Series Amazon Reviews


Hopefully as more reviews come in that picture will look a bit better, but it’s apparent a lot of fans were disappointed, and many of them in the reviews mention the ending.

When you have a successful series, the pressure is on for each book to “top” the last one, or at least match it. Naturally, this tends to make the last book a lot more important than the early ones. Particularly the ending of the last book, where the author really has to wrap up the whole story and then kick it right through the center of the goalposts (apologies for mixing sports metaphors).

Me, I’m old-fashioned. My personal prejudice is toward happy endings, which may not be award-winning or “artistic” nowadays, but are still a lot more fun to read than certain “realistic” or “sophisticated” endings I could name. I like endings where the loose ends are tied up, and your favorite characters come out on top with happy and interesting times ahead that you’d love to stick around and see. If the author kicks the ending smack between the uprights, the readers will wish there was another book, but still be satisfied with what they have. This isn’t always easy.

In my opinion, the epilogue to the Harry Potter series got the kick right up the center from sixty yards out. A writer can do a lot worse than winding up a long and amazing story with “all was well.”

J. K. Rowling and “Real Writing”

I just read that J. K. Rowling has been “outed” as the author of a new mystery novel that she had written under the pseudonym “Robert Galbraith.”  I haven’t read the book (or her other new one) so that’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge of the details, although she posted her own statement on it here.

What makes best-selling writers want to break free of their best-sellers?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a writer trying to stretch her writing legs by trying to write outside her “field of expertise,” i.e. the kind of writing that made her famous. But is this really essential to be a proper writer? If you keep writing what you’re really good at, and it sells to many happy readers, are you stagnating? Or are you going with your strengths? Who decides?

I see some writers succeed wildly in some particular genre, and then spend the rest of their lives somehow trying to break loose from it, as though there was something wrong with their early work and now they have to try to go beyond it to some lofty realm where “real writing” hangs out. Look at Arthur Conan Doyle, forever trying to get Sherlock Holmes out of the way so he could do serious writing. His premise seemed to be that Sherlock Holmes somehow wasn’t “real writing.” That premise, of course, is a steaming load of horse apples. The same goes for the Harry Potter series, which I have read, and is very well-done.

I’m sure critics have some influence here. Popular writing is often relegated to lower tiers in the realm of literary criticism, while the “real writing” gets the awards and the accolades (if not always the sales). Small wonder even writers raking in the numbers can get infected with the idea that they’re just “commercial” or “popular” writers, without the chops to do the “real writing” the critics will laud.

It’s not just writing, either. We’ve all seen those popular actors with a dozen Emmies for comedy trying to do Shakespeare or “serious” roles. Some of them manage. Many don’t, and I guess I think they’ve failed somewhere.

So if Rowling’s new books don’t do as well as some people think they should, will she consider it some sort of failure?

Why? To paraphrase Clarence the angel, no writer is a failure who has readers. Especially if they have millions of them.

It sounds like Rowling did this for a lark, a “liberating experience” as she put it. I hope so. Certainly she doesn’t have anything to prove.

J. K. Rowling wrote imaginative and well-plotted books with characters that made us care about them. She wrote books that had children flocking to read them, many who had never been enthusiastic readers before. She wrote books that had mobs in bookstores screaming like rock fans when the new ones were rolled out to the shelves. She wrote books that still have fans living happily in the world she invented.  She wrote books that sold millions of copies and earned her a billion dollars.

If that’s not “real writing,” what is?

Trapped in a world of their own making

From the Wall Street Journal: “How to Kill a Vampire (Series).”

The article details the tribulations of authors whose popular series and characters have taken over their careers. Then when they decide to wind a series up, they have to deal with legions of upset fans clamoring for more. The main example in the article is Charlaine Harris and her “Sookie Stackhouse” series.

I can imagine the unpublished authors out there shaking their heads: “Lord, please curse me with that problem!” Yeah, me too. It might be stifling to some writers to spend much of their career in one world with one set of characters (“prisoners of their own creations” as the article puts it, referring to Arthur Conan Doyle), but there are some positive angles to it, too.

In a long-running series your world-building work is largely behind you, but you can still add new places if you really want to. Your characters settle down in your mind, and in some cases practically write themselves. While many authors put their characters through “arcs” of personal growth and change (Harry Potter, Sookie Stackhouse), others write characters who are essentially unchanged through the whole series. Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is one example. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are the same through 46 books, and don’t even age noticeably between the 1930s and the 1970s.

There are other advantages, too, not least of which is that a long-running series builds a large, loyal audience that will reliably buy new books in the series, sometimes waiting in line to get them. This makes your publisher, your agent, movie producers, and your bank account very happy.

I still remember when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out. My family was in the line at the local Borders bookstore, along with hundreds of others. When the time came for the release, and carts of the books were rolled in, there were screams like you hear at rock concerts. Imagine writing a book that does that. Imagine writing books that make you a billionaire.

Best of luck to those authors trying to move on to different things and stretch themselves, but there are worse things than a prosperous, celebrated, and beloved writing legacy wrapped around one series of books.

Crowd waiting for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at Border’s

“Amulet” artist doing new Harry Potter covers

Kazu Kibuishi, creator of the Amulet, Copper, and Daisy Kutter graphic novels, will be doing cover art for a new set of paperback editions of the Harry Potter series.

Good choice!

If you haven’t already, check out the aforementioned graphic novels.  Kibuishi’s website, Bolt City Productions, has plenty of links to places you can find them.