Then I volunteered to run the book stall at an upcoming elementary school fair. Let me tell you, I have brand new respect for catalog copy, book cover art, and the people who are able to look at these mere crumbs of information and make an informed decision. I spent many hours of my week staring at a publisher's catalog, trying to guess which unfamiliar books my kids' schoolmates' parents would want to buy. I can only hope I made good choices.
And OH MY GOD every aphorism you've ever been told about how your book will be perceived by others is true. Here's what I (think I) learned:
- Catalog Copy Counts. It's a pity that when it finally comes time for an author to review her catalog copy, she's read her own book so many times that she can no longer objectively tell you what the book is about. (Or is that just me?) Because it really is true that your bookseller may give herself 8 seconds to determine whether or not your book will be interesting to her customers. So make sure your catalog copy does not start like this: "TITLE is a heartwarming tale of friendship, change, and personal growth." A description which tells me how the book is supposed to make me feel, without telling me what the book is about, is a waste. I got a quick case of eye glaze in the face of these oh-so-general descriptors. Lead with the premise, and do it quick. Once I feel "grounded" in your story, I'll be more open to hearing about how beautiful the writing is, or how touching I'll find the outcome.
- They Might Have to Judge a Book By Its Cover. In my ordering this week, I found myself heavily biased by covers. If they looked the least bit cartoonish or clunky or homemade, my eye jumped to one of the book's neighbors instead. If that sounds harsh, remember how little information a bookseller has when ordering your book. Many authors don't have a lot of pull when it comes to cover selection, and publishers are pretty darn good at getting it right. But if you ever have the nagging feeling that the tone of your cover does not match the tone of your book, speak up.
- More is More. That two page spread I discounted? It's a dream come true. The publisher does it to make sure booksellers see that "hey, this book is new!" But the effect is substantial. Catalogs are, by their very definition, crammed with books. Extra real estate--whether it be a quarter page instead of a tiny column, or two pages instead of one, only increases the odds that the glazed eyeballs responsible for reading the catalog will get an extra nanosecond to focus on your book. During my week of catalog shopping, every new book at the front of the booklet got double and triple looks from me, simply because there was more material there to look see--a longer description, an excerpt, an author bio.
Studying catalogs to make book buying decisions was harder than I thought it would be, but also a heck of a lot of fun. I could get used to this.