Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hero Appeal

The last week or so we've been talking about heroes -- which ones are memorable, what you look for in a hero, what the traits of a hero are.

Margaret McDonagh
, who writes for Mills & Boon medicals, pointed out a salient characteristic that seems to sell books even though we authors generally have no control over it -- the cover.

In particular, the hero on it.

If you read the comments the other day, Mags wrote to tell me how lucky I was to have a Nathan Kamp cover.

And because I am out of the loop these days with regard to the cover art (this wasn't always the case, as my editors can tell you), I said, "Who?" And then I said, "Did he paint it?"

Mags said he did not. She said he was the gorgeous guy masquerading as Flynn.

I think he did a pretty good job. He certainly can be Flynn any time he wants as far as I'm concerned. I didn't have him in mind for Flynn because I didn't know he existed, but I must admit he makes it a very pick-up-able cover and I owe the artist big-time for that one.

I used to send in pictures -- scrap, they call it in the art department. But the truth is that doing so actually get some of the heroes I wanted on my covers.

But recently, fixated by a certain man in a towel, I haven't seen the point. They'd never get him!

Still, like the people who buy books because of the cover (yes, I've done it, too!), I like to know what my hero looks like. I like to have a man in mind to envision in the scenes I'm writing.

And I very much appreciate it when the artist comes up with someone who looks remotely like I pictured him.

For a while there I got the same man on lots of my covers. Nineteen of them, I think, at last count. Maybe twenty-three counting reprints. I don't recall right now.

I didn't complain. In fact, as often as possible, I asked for him. He was, to my mind, in almost every case, the perfect "McAllister hero."

And when he wasn't, I had another hero in reserve who fit the bill for all the rest. Between the two of them, I could cast almost every book -- providing myself with a tycoon or a cowboy or a ballplayer or a fireman or a photographer or a woodworker or almost anything I could think of.

It made life simple. It made me like the looks of my heroes. And it saved oodles of time doing the art sheets.

And whenever I got either of those guys, I was pleased. Sometimes more pleased than others, I admit, but only because some artists' renderings appealed more than others. Some were better artists, some caught more clearly the essence of the story.

I loved my first Dream Chasers cover. One of the later ones I quite liked, too. I was fond of MacKenzie's Baby and Call Up The Wind and Finn's Twins! They all caught both the hero and the feel of the book.

But sometimes, they don't even have to do that. The last really terrific cover I had -- before Flynn -- was The Inconvenient Bride.

Once I got over the Alp in the Bahamas and the fact that the book mostly took place in New York City, I embraced it as my own. Who cared that in the book the heroine had purple hair and the hero was a straight-arrow tycoon (well, mostly), it is my very own From Here To Eternity cover, it has great people on it, and even though the story mostly takes place in New York City, I'm delighted by it.

It feels right. And that's Dominic. Period.

I care that the people are right on the covers, that they fit the book even if the setting doesn't always get there. I like the mood to work and reflect the tone of the story. The Inconvenient Bride reflected the emotion between Dominic and Sierra.

And I think One-Night Love Child's artist caught the emotion between the hero and heroine. Mostly I think he caught the hero. I can look at it and say, "Yep, that's Flynn."

What about you -- readers and writers? Do you pick up books by the cover? Do you care? Do you put books down if you hate the cover?

Does the portrayal of the hero matter?

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Blogger Margaret McDonagh said...

I know you won't be surprised by my answer, knowing how obsessed I am with heroes, but YES, the portrayl of the hero - and heroine - on the cover does matter.

I am attracted by covers. A bad or disappointing cover would never stop me reading a book by an author whose work I love, but may put me off if it is someone I don't know of already. So many books, so little time, and so they are fighting for attention. I have, however, also found many authors new to me because the cover of a book caught my eye and I was drawn to explore further.

As a lifelong reader, my one real gripe is when the cover has no bearing on the book at all. I hate it when the characters are wrong - when even the hair colour isn't right, for instance.

As a writer, I've had disappointing artwork several times with magazine short stories, some of which has made me cringe. Since the joy of being published by M&B in Medicals, I've been very lucky with my covers - and only one has had the wrong hair colour. Conor, in A Doctor Worth Waiting For, had dark blond hair but his hair was black on the cover. The setting of the Scottish hills was just right, however.

I think we all have very personal and individual images in our heads of the characters we are reading about. Whenever I pick up a book and get involved in the lives of the characters, I form pictures of them in my mind - but probably very different ones from those the author experienced when writing it.

I do care. I think covers are vitally important in drawing readers to a book and the closer that cover comes to representing the feel, setting and, in particular, the lead characters of the book the better. It puts you in the right mood to embrace the story and people within and form your own images as you read.

It would be wonderful if we could influence our covers and choose the heroes, (and heroines), to illustrate best the images we had in mind, but we can only keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best that they mostly fit. And, at worst, don't mislead or put anyone off enough to put down the book.

Mags xx

30 January, 2008  
Blogger Cat Schield said...

Anne, your cover for One-Night Love Child is HOT! I can't wait to read what's inside.

While I would never buy a book based on a cover, I think the art sets the mood for the reader before she ever reads the first word. I have a significant TBR pile that I shuffle through when choosing something to read. If weighing between two books, I often pick the one with the cover I like better.

That being said, I was browsing the series rack at my local store (checking out the current Presents, of course) and spotted a Blaze cover that made me fan myself. The art work was gorgeous. The hero was gorgeous. I don't even know if there was a heroine on the cover. If I bought books based on covers, I would have bought that one without reading the back.

30 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Mags, thanks for your thoughtful comments about covers. I agree that they matter, and it's always rewarding to have a cover reflects the book you've spent months working on and sweating blood and tears over. To say it doesn't -- or just 'any clinch' will do is really unfair. Fortunately the art dept doesn't often do that. When they do seem to, it's almost as if they've dropped the ball. I daresay it's not intentional, but it does make you -- as the writer -- grit your teeth.

30 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Yes, I think it's HOT, too! And it does capture the emotion of the book on one level. That's a great plus. Nathan K is a pretty good plus, too! I'm always grateful for good covers because they are a real blessing. They may make readers pick up a book who wouldn't otherwise. But what I have to hope for then is that they'll like what they read and will come back for more even when the cover isn't quite as terrific as this one.

ps: I guess I'll have a look at the recent crop of Blaze covers and see if I can guess which one piqued your interest!

30 January, 2008  
Blogger lidia said...

Would you believe that when it comes to HPs I barely look at the covers? Instead, I buy them first by author (my auto-buy authors), and then by the back cover copy.

When it comes to other books, I'll look at the covers, but still really on the back cover copy and/or the blurbs on the first page to decide whether or not to buy the book.

30 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Lidia, I wonder if that's because you have an idea of what you're going to get from your auto-buy authors in the line and then rely on blurbs for the others, realizing that covers really may not convey the essence of the story.

Sometimes, as an American, I feel as if they miss the boat on the blurb, that it works for the UK audience but misses some of the hot buttons that would appeal to an American audience. I give the blurb the last glance, even after the cover because I know from my experience with my own books that they tend to go for 'buttons' that they think will promote a sale that may or may not really reflect the essence of the book.

Can't say that I blame them, but I'm not always sure they are right. And I worry that if I feel the book is misrepresented, won't readers feel the same way if they don't think it 'lives up' to the promise of the blurb. And then again, I think sometimes the blurb may drive readers away because they can't see past it to the story within.

It's a conundrum, that's for sure.

30 January, 2008  
Blogger Madeline said...

Anne, The cover art on a book does influence me somewhat but, I buy a book based on a few things. I always buy my favorite authors books even if I don't like the cover art. The back blurb has a lot of influence on my decision to buy a book if it's a new to me author. The cover art is secondary in most of my choices. I also buy books based on recommendations from friends. Thank you for your recommendations. I've never been disappointed.

The only thing I dislike about cover art, is when the cover doesn't match the characters description. I think a lot of readers have this same complaint. I think that Harlequin does a good job with their covers but, I've seen covers from other publishers that completely turned me off. If I didn't like the author, I probably wouldn't have bought the book.

I guess it really depends on the person who is buying the book. Good covers will usually grab your attention but, good authors are what really sells the books.


31 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

I think you're right, Mads. It is a good book -- and a good author -- that really makes a sale, or at least a 'return' sale.

But I must admit, it's always nice when you get a cover that makes you smile instead of cringe. I'd say I've had more of the former than the latter, which is a good thing!

31 January, 2008  
Blogger Annie West said...

Anne, interesting discussion. And one that's coincidentally been on my mind as I've been wondering about my next cover.

I've been very lucky so far in getting covers that I like which represent the story in some way. And usually very hot heroes which make me think of the character I wrote! (G)

However, I can't remember ever buying a book because of the pic on the front. I go for the back blurb most often, after the author name. (How interesting to read your take on those). But there's no denying a great cover will make me pick up a book to check it out.

I still love your Santorini one on board the yacht (sorry, mental blank about the title here as I type and I'm too lazy to get up and hunt down the book in another room). You're current one is a beauty too.

Hm, like you I have no idea who the models are, though I have noticed when I've had the same guy model for my hero.

Sometimes it's not, I think, about the look of the hero or heroine on the cover but the sense of anticipation or emotion - of an important moment frozen - that catches my attention.


31 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Glad you've liked your covers, Annie. I have some I've absolutely loved -- and some not. I just try to forget the bad ones (and eventually they fade a bit).

I am more concerned about the blurbs because I know the tendency is to try to hit the buttons of the readers. And since I so rarely feel like I deliver on those 'buttons' within Presents, giving my own sort of story rather than the ones that seem 'tried and true,' I am always leery of disappointing someone who wants 'tried and true.' But honestly, there's not much I can do about it beyond trying to write the best book I can and hope they like it anyway if they bought it because of the blurb!

Glad you liked the cover on the Santorini Bride. They didn't look at all like my people, so I was indifferent. It was a nice cover, but didn't resonate with me. Flynn resonates!

31 January, 2008  
Blogger lidia said...

Anne you are right about the blurbs in that many times they are misleading and really "truthful."

I have certain "hot buttons" certain types of story lines/plots that I like to avoid. Many times I am mislead by the blurbs and then end up being rather upset for spending precious time as well as money on something that I would not have purchased if I knew the truth from the beginning.

02 February, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Hi Lidia,
I feel the same way you do, which is why I don't often read the blurbs. To be honest, I mostly read the blurb to find out the characters' names and the setting. Then if they seem okay (and I'm picky about names) then I will read a part of the book while standing in the store. Sometimes I read the beginning -- and sometimes I read the last page. I don't want to waste my time if someone isn't going to give me a satisfying ending. And, in romance, let's face it, we KNOW how it's going to end. It's the getting there that's the story. So reading the ending doesn't spoil anything, but it does give you a good sense of the tone and the author's voice. That's a better indicator for me about whether or not I'll like the story than whatever buttons they are trying to push.

I want to spend time with characters I will care about and with an author whose world view I find interesting and whose voice I like listening to. That's where I spend my money.

02 February, 2008  

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