Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Rose By Any Other Name?

Synchronicity in action: For some reason I started thinking this morning about book titles, and cover art, and how important they are, or aren't, to a book's success. I made my daily blog rounds, and when I checked out Faster Than Kudzu, I found that one of the things Joshilyn is talking about is the importance of title and cover art. Key Twilight Zone music, please. Her conclusion? Title and cover art are vitally important. My conclusion? Title and cover art are vitally important when you are a freshly-published, downy, new author who doesn't yet have a fan base, but become less and less important the better known you become. Let's take the Harry Potter phenomenon, for example. There is no doubt in my mind that at this point J. K. Rowling could announce that book 7 in the series will be called "Harry Potter and the Mutant Nosehair" and the book would still be a runaway bestseller before it was even written. People around the world would pre-order online. People would line up to buy the book from their favorite bookstore at midnight the day it's released. Websites and bulletin boards and chat rooms would spring up overnight speculating on such vital topics as "Who has the mutant nosehair?"..."Why did it mutate?"..."What does it do?"..."And does it, ferpetesake, have any effect on Harry's love life??" Admittedly very few books have the fan base of the Harry Potter books. But there are lots of authors who have a dedicated following, and those fans wouldn't think twice about what the cover looks like or what the title is. Someone on Johnny's side of the family --- a sort of cousin-in-law --- is a HUGE fan of Stephen King. She buys every single thing he has published and I feel certain that if he wrote a book called "Stephen King's Guide To Reading The Phone Book", she would buy it without even reading the description. Me, I gave up on Stephen King the day I finished the last page of "Pet Semetary" and threw it across the room in disgust. However I am a HUGE fan of Dean Koontz. I love his characters. The good guys are people I'd love to know in real life and the bad guys are so bad that I'm glad they live only in his head instead of next door to me. And I love his use of language. Mr. Koontz loves words, and it shows. I have a pretty good vocabulary and it's a rare fiction writer who sends me to the dictionary to look up a word, but he does it in almost every book. So I can say in all seriousness that if I saw that Dean Koontz had written a book called "Princess Sunshine and the Fluffy Bunny", I would buy it. Immediately. In hardback. No questions asked. However, once I opened it and began to read, I would expect it to be a distinctly Dean Koontz-ish sort of story. I would expect to discover that Princess Sunshine's full name is Princess Sunshine McPherson and that she is a mild-mannered bookshop owner with a quirky sense of humor, who was born in a commune to parents who did a few too many drugs before choosing her name, and that she now lives a quiet, ordinary life (trying to ignore jokes about her name) until circumstances thrust her into an extraordinary situation. I would expect to find that the Fluffy Bunny is actually a bloodthirsty, telepathic alien, disguised as a harmless earth rabbit in order to carry out a scheme to conquer the earth and that Princess is the only person who knows the truth and is trying to stay alive and out of a mental institution while she fights Fluffy Bunny's nefarious plan. Or maybe Fluffy Bunny is the code name of a sociopathic assassin who is out to kill Princess because she saw something she shouldn't have seen, and now she's on the run for her life. If, instead, I opened the book and found that Princess Sunshine was actually a princess named Sunshine and that Fluffy Bunny was actually a long-haired rabbit, I would be horribly disillusioned and for the NEXT book, the title would matter and I'd carefully read and consider the synopsis before plunking down any cash. I'd love to see some well-known authors test this theory, deliberately giving their books oddball names to see if they still sell. Mary Higgins Clark could write one called "Beer Barrel Polka" (in keeping with so many of her books being named for song titles or lyrics). Danielle Steel could write one called "The Secrets of Quantum Mechanics". Dan Brown could write "The Violet Lace Valentine". Of course, if my hypothesis is wrong, I don't supposed they'd appreciate losing sales because of my suggestion. And if an author is still relatively unknown, well....let's just say that if "Princess Sunshine and the Fluffy Bunny" was written by someone named Joe Smith, it better have a wonderful synposis, good cover art, amazing reviews, and glowing recommendations from trusted friends. Because although a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, sometimes a rose really needs to be called a rose...or else needs to hire a great PR person.