We’re coming up on that time of year when we madly Google listicles for gift ideas. You’re probably here because you know a writer and you just can’t figure out what to get them for Christmas or their birthday. There are tons of books on writing that you could buy them, sure, but how do you know before reading them which books are actually helpful?
Here are five ideas for writerly Christmas gifts that are NOT books on writing or fancy notebooks (like they probably have dozens of).
The New Rules of Marketing and PR
This is the best marketing book out there. It’s a must-read for anyone trying to establish themselves as a brand online. David Meerman Scott has put out several editions of this book because the web is a quickly-changing environment. He teaches readers how to promote themselves by creating content and engaging in meaningful discussion. His method is a great start for any aspiring author looking to built an audience online.
This weekend I attended a convention in Atlanta, Georgia where I met a bunch of really great authors. One book that I saw from across the room caught my attention because I remembered seeing its cover months ago in an independent publishing group on Facebook, and I knew I liked it. Imagine my surprise when I told the author that I had seen it, only to find out that the book was not yet out and the cover had only just been revealed. Awkward.
And I’m not going to share that cover with you because I think it would be rude, but I definitely want to warn aspiring authors to beware the dangers of using stock on their covers. You see, when two covers have the same base photo, it can be very confusing for readers. Some companies capitalize on confusion. The world of animated features is full of these: Disney is used to vultures pushing low-quality, rushed rip-offs to the Redbox to confuse parents children and get rentals for their terrible, cheap movie.
You know they say…
You can’t judge a book by its cover.
That’s usually true, but we do anyway. I think that a good cover can attract a reader, but the real impact is a bad cover. As shallow as I feel admitting this, I won’t buy an indie book with a hot mess cover. Too many fonts? Obvious photoshop filter over a licensed photo of a supermodel? Just too dang much going on? Sorry. My 99¢ isn’t worth much, but my reading time is valuable.
M.R. Merrick blogged about covers today (I write this a few days before posting to keep ahead of my busy life) and it got me thinking. What do I love about some covers? What are my favorites? Here are five I love (4 indies, 1 from the Big 5) and what I love about them.
Exiled by M.R. Merrick
One of the reasons I first picked up Exiled was its cover. This image caught my attention with its limited palette and the beautiful, stark tree that takes center. The fonts are well chosen, one grungy, bold title and then a simple, classic font for the author credit. There are no characters on this cover, just elements. We see a tree with fire and water. We know from the presence of these elements in a field that their appearance is likely supernatural. Old, awesome-sauce trees like that usually have some mysticism around them. This is just a clean, simple cover that gives us an idea about the themes without giving anything away. It’s perfect for the book and it lured money out of my wallet. It did exactly what it was designed to do.
Looking For Alaska by John Green
John Green hates the candle. I love it. To me, the candle, which is subtle in dark purple on black, is a hidden symbol. The original design was meant to resemble cigarette smoke, which is certainly a prominent element in the book. As a stark black cover with curling smoke, I’m reminded of the simple, symbolic covers of books like The Catcher in the Rye. That classic book certainly influenced Green.
Now, apparently the publisher was afraid to put cigarette smoke on a YA novel’s cover, so they put a candle under it. That’s pretty silly, as cigarette smoke on the cover is probably the least of concerns for the reactionary-censor-moms. What I like about the candle, is that– at first glance– it is cigarette smoke. Then the candle reveals itself. The candle is a symbol. The candle snuffed out stands for death. Death is a central theme of this book.
So John Green may hate the candle, but I like it. It’s like a great work of art, where things reveal themselves as you look at it.
Jenny Pox by JL Bryan
Phat Puppy Art did the cover for JL Bryan’s Jenny Pox. The cover is simple: a girl, some birds, a tagline and a title. The title itself serves the book so well. What this cover does is set a somber mood that is made surreal by the presence of birds. Jenny’s loneliness oozes from this cover. It’s a beautiful cover for a beautiful book.
Edit May 1, 2013: Dude, those are paper cranes!
Fairyland by JL Bryan
The original Songs of Magic covers were alright. They featured some cute art, but the new photographic covers by Phat Puppy Art are awesome. Specifically I like the cover for book four, Fairyland. What do I love? The light. The color. The composition. The mood. The titles. The simplicity. I love an awful lot about this cover.
We still see Aoide’s pink hair, but the wash of gold light gives a feeling of peace, beauty, and otherness that the fairy world should have. It was worth whatever JL Bryan paid to redo the covers. This cover sells this book. It’s awesome.
Vs. Reality by Blake Northcott
I finish off with an awesome self-made cover by Blake Northcott. This cover was made from a few stock photos, but it does everything it needs to with style and flare. The open mouth, tongue hanging out is provocative. The labeled, electric-blue pills conjure images of silicon valley pharmaceuticals. The powers written on them invoke images of superheros. The clean-then-crumbling font tells us that this is not our father’s superhero book. It’s minimal on text, simple-yet-provocative on image, and full of bright colors that pop off the page. Best of all, it doesn’t look like any other book cover out there. It’s a brilliant original.