Thursday, October 24, 2019

Judging a book by its cover.

"What draws you in, as a reader?"

By Catriona

I'm here instead of Jim today because it's publication week for STRANGERS AT THE GATE. And, quite shamelessly, I'm going to use this question to show off everything I love about the book (that I'm not responsible for), and then just a tiny wee bit of the opening (that I am).

Whether we admit it or nor, and despite the homily, don't we all respond to the jacket first of all? I know I do. And I love love love the US jacket of the new book:

I'd wear the colours; the background and foreground image are a perfect distillation of the setting and the opening of the story; that quarter turn of the head is right on the cusp between "What was that?" and "Should I really walk away?" . . . My God, cover designers are clever.

For me, after the cover comes the title. Some of my favourites are Witches on the Road Tonight, Enduring Love, Started Early, Took My Dog, and Donna Andrews' We'll Always Have Parrots. That makes me laugh every time I think of it.  I'm rubbish at thinking up titles of my own, mind you. Thank you once again, April Osborn, for this one!

Do you read the quotes and review excerpts on the covers of books? I do. And that helps a bit when it comes to asking famous, busy, scary authors if they'll read my book and say something nice if they like what they find.  How I hate writing that email. My second worst job ever was cleaning pub toilets. My worst was being a university lecturer. I'd rather do either for the day than ever write "Dear Harlan" again*.

But when it works . . . oh, when it works! Here's a quote I got yesterday (14th Oct):

'I love McPherson's books - the clear and effortless prose, the entirely credible characters, and the wonderfully twisty plots - and Strangers at the Gate is one of her best.' ANN CLEEVES
Wow, right?  

The trade press has been kind. Kirkus called the book "another unsettling and cleverly-plotted winner, and called me "enormously talented". Publishers Weekly mentioned Daphne du Maurier. I'll take all of that and call it a resounding win.

The next thing I, my editor, the sales, marketing and publicity people have to get right is a tag line. Now, I've got to admit that my boxobooks hasn't turned up yet and I can't remember what tag line we went for in the end. It might be "They know the truth. They're coming for you." On the other hand, it might be "Where do you turn when everyone's a stranger and you can't believe what your own eyes see?" It might even be "For the best possible reason, she made the worst decision of her life." In any case, someone's having a bad day. And the reader knows exactly which bit of the mystery fiction forest we're tramping through.

If the tag line (whatever it is) does what tag lines are meant to, our eyes should next be drawn to the teaser synopsis AKA cover blurb (in the UK, although confusingly enough "blurb" means "quote" in the US). I have a hand in this. Sometimes I take first swing and my editors polish it. Sometimes one of them sends me a rough draft and I, with the other editor, do the polishing, but between us, eventually, we get two of the hardest paragraphs of writing anywhere in or on the whole damn 100K word novel beaten into submission.  This time we came up with:

"Finnie Doyle and Paddy Lamb are leaving city life behind them and moving to the little town of Simmerton. Paddy's been made partner at the law firm in town, and Finnie has snagged a job as a church deacon. Their rented cottage is quaint; their new colleagues are charming; they can't believe their luck.

But witnessing the bloody aftermath of a brutal murder changes everything. They've each been keeping secrets, and they both know their precious new start won't survive a scandal. Together, for the best of reasons, they make the worst decision of their lives.

And that's only the beginning. The deep, deep valley where Simmerton sits is unlike anywhere Finn and Paddy have been before. They are not the only ones hiding in its shadows and very soon they've lost control of the game they decided to play..."

That's it. With any luck the jacket image, title, quotes, reviews, tagline and synopsis will work together to make someone open the book and read the first page:

"Looking back, it's tempting to say I knew from the start, as soon as Paddy said the word for the first time. I can nearly convince myself I shivered at the sound of it. Simmerton."

I hope so. Sending a poor defenceless wee book out into the big world is always a tense moment. (But at least I'm not a university professor any more. Yay!)

*Other scary, busy famous authors are available.


7 Criminal Minds said...

Congratulations on your new book, Catriona - I love the cover too and the storyline is intriguing. I look forward to giving it a read soon.

Brenda Chapman said...

The above comment is from me, Brenda, not Criminal Minds.

catriona said...

Thank you, Brenda.

Terry said...

Oh, boy, another one goes to the top of my TBR pile. Can't wait!

Finta said...

I’m almost done with it, falling asleep at three ayem this morning. I’ll be finished and reviewing on amazon by tonight. What a grand and twisty plot! Thinking I’ll go back and reread The Day She Died next. You know that’s one of my favorite feathered books ever. Love from your fav stalker. Ann

Kristopher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristopher said...

Not only did all that work this time, but that moment when you get to that incredible first line is the very point at which there is absolutely no turning back.

(Fixed a typo)

Susan C Shea said...

One of the things that always amazes me about you as a writer is that you are Janus-faced: scary, dark books alternating with comic or cozy.This one sounds like it will make me sleep with the lights on!

James W. Ziskin said...

I’m so there! Can’t wait to get my copy signed in Dallas. Ooh. I just shivered at the sound of that. “Dallas.”

CONGRATS, Catriona!