Sunday, February 18, 2018


“You can’t judge a book by its cover.’

Oh, really? Have you scanned the covers of the “romance” novels that populate the best-seller lists, particularly those devoted to self-published eBooks.

Unless you are suffering from a terminal case of macular degeneration, a book cover showing a long-haired, muscular young man ripping the clothes off a sultry and bosomy woman should give you a pretty good idea of the prose you will find within. 

In case you are still in doubt, try these titles on for size: The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife; Marcus Wilding: Duke of Pleasure; How to Catch a Wild Viscount; The Desperate Love of a Lord; The Earl’s Desire, and Dukes for Dummies.

OK, I made that last one up, but you get the idea.  The “Bodice Rippers”, as these actual purple-prosed books are called, are hugely popular, both in print and online. In addition to the catchy titles (did earls, lords, dukes and “wild” viscounts really get that much action? – it would certainly explain why England lost India), many of the covers are works of art and could be hung in, say, the lounge of a local Holiday Inn.

The world is awash in books, and except for those (print or otherwise) which are heavily advertised or promoted, or whose innate quality generates enough word of mouth to insure success, most need a lot of help to get noticed. Thus, their authors strive for unique covers and catchy titles.

I know I strive. And I’m constantly tinkering with my sales model. I write thrillers and mysteries, and my early covers and titles were probably too dark. The cover art featured lots of weapons, and I used the word “blood” too often in the titles, which probably convinced people I was trying to cash in on the vampire craze in publishing. (Not that I wouldn’t have loved to.)

The blood and weapons are mostly gone, at least on the outside.  Handsome men and women (bodices intact!) now dominate my cover art, on the assumption that more readers might be attracted to them – rather than a stiletto dripping blobs of gore (yes, that was an old cover; go figure). 

Even though all the inspired titles have apparently been taken by romance novelists (see above), I enjoy coming up with my own. And I have learned a few tricks. It seems that any book that has the word “Conspiracy” in its title often sells better than its peers. I’ve only used it once. In my other books I’ve been hampered by the fact that you can’t use the word if there isn’t an actual conspiracy involved in the plot.

Unless your desire is to write that one great novel that will be remembered forever and result in having many high schools named after you, you should think about giving your books a chance of success by learning what readers like – both on the inside and outside of those books.

I don’t mean to imply that an author should tailor his or her work to fit a fad, or to squeak it into a genre it doesn’t belong. In the end, it’s quality and integrity that counts. We shouldn’t sell out, just to make a few extra bucks.

Well, enough for now. I have to finish my latest thriller, The Bodice Rippers Conspiracy.   

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