Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover…Or Maybe Do

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is one of those sayings that seems really profound.

And when it comes to people, I have to agree. You can’t tell what someone is like just by looking at them.

But when it comes to books, a lot of time and energy is spent making sure the cover not only catches your eye, but tells you what you’re about to read.

When you’re browsing books (on a shelf or online) it’s the cover’s job to make you want to see what the book is about (and hopefully buy/borrow it).

Different types of books have different styles of covers, and a mis-match can prove to be a real let-down for a reader.

Case in point, I’m going through a Cozy Mystery phase right now with my audiobook selections (ah, summer). Most Cozy Mystery covers are cartoony and colourful – verging on cutesy – with loopy script, and often punny titles, reflecting the lighter nature of the stories.

So, when the cutesy, cartoony, pun-titled audiobook I picked up last week turned out to be more of a Legal Thriller, I was quick to nope out.

The book is probably perfectly decent, but it wasn’t what I thought I was picking up, and definitely wasn’t what I wanted to read right then.

It makes me sad, because the book may never find its audience: other Cozy Mystery readers like me may well put it down, while the readers of Legal Thrillers are unlikely to even pick it up.

And while that may seem a good reason to go back to our adage, I simply don’t have time to read the blurbs of every book I’m considering (I do read some, if I’m not certain they’ll be my kind of book) and I rely on the covers to steer me in the right direction.

(For the record, most traditionally published writers have little to no input on their covers, while – as I recently learned at a conference – the marketing department has an enormous amount of influence in cover decisions.)

So, what about you? Do you judge books by their covers? Has that choice ever let you down? Let me know in the comments.

How Close is Too Close?

There’s no such thing as coincidence.

Except, perhaps when it comes to book ideas.

There’s a commonly held idea that there are only 7 plots available for stories, and they just keep getting reused (hence why The Lion King bears an uncanny resemblance to Hamlet – minus the lions, of course).

But what happens when your book idea has more than just a few commonalities with an existing work? (One you’d never read, or even heard of, before writing.)

I mean, obviously, if you wrote a book a bout a young orphan named Mary Blotter who discovers she’s a wizard and goes off to train at a magical school named Pigzits and battles the evil wizard Coldemort, you’re going to have issues.

But what if the similarities aren’t quite as close?

I mentioned last week that the closest comp title I can find for my Adult Urban Fantasy WiP is Julie Kenner’s Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series. I wasn’t even aware the books existed when I wrote my first draft (though now I found them, I’m really enjoying them).

Except, the more I read, the more coincidences I find.

Like, that our main characters have both been out of their supernatural professions for 15 years, both have a young teen and toddler, and both have to hide their supernatural activities from a disapproving husband, resulting in marital strife.

There are lots of differences, of course. My main character is a witch (well, mage), not a demon hunter, and my books don’t have a religious basis (unlike Kenner’s, where the MC works for the Vatican), although both characters have a friend/helper who is a priest/minister.

Also, my MC’s teen is her step-daughter, creating a different dynamic between them than Kenner’s MC who is the birth mom (although her kids have two different fathers).

I don’t want to be seen as copying Kenner, and yet I’m not sure if I can change any of the similarities due to their importance to the plot.


I already scrapped a MG fairy tale retelling because (despite Googling my plot before writing) I discovered an existing book (by E.D. Baker, queen of fairy tale retellings, no less) with the exact same storyline (Sleeping Beauty has a younger sister who didn’t get affected by the spell, and is actually the one who saves her sister). We even gave our King and Queen the same names!

So, what do you think? Do I need to make some changes to create more differences between the two? Or will the world survive two somewhat similar books (I mean, the world survived having two movies about ants come out the same year. And two about penguins. And two about fish/sharks.)

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


Paranormal vs Urban Fantasy

Don’t worry, this isn’t a post pitting the two genres against each other in an attempt to make you pick your favorite.

Rather, it’s an attempt to figure out exactly what it is I’m writing, and how it fits into the existing book market.

As you may have noticed, a large chunk of the 86 books I’ve read/listened to this year have fallen into these categories – and yet, I’m still not completely certain I know how to tell which books are which.

And it seems like I’m not the only one.

For instance, Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson series is often classified as Paranormal Romance, despite it not following a typical romance plotline and the author herself stating it’s not a romance (although the books do contain rather graphic sex scenes, which may be enough to earn the category title).

On the other hand, Julie Kenner’s Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series (which is the closest comp I can find for my WiP) is also classified as a Paranormal Romance, despite having nothing racier than a kiss (and a small romantic triangle sub-plot).

According to this Writer’s Digest post the five required components for an Urban Fantasy are: a city setting essential to the plot, magic, mystery, a 1st-person POV with a quirky character, and sex appeal.

All of which my WiP has.

On the other hand, it feels like any book that has those components and has anything even remotely feminine about it (like, say, a main character who is a mom) gets moved into paranormal romance regardless of whether it actually belongs there.

(For the record, I have nothing against Paranormal Romance, but I feel like misclassifying books only leads to disappointment for readers, which often turns into bad reviews/poor sales for authors.)

For the most part, this categorization doesn’t affect me right now. Ideally, once the book is finished, I’ll query it as an Urban Fantasy, and if an agent accepts it and wants to sub it as a Paranormal Romance, well, we can cross that bridge then.


The one part of my book the genre does affect is the title. Right now, my working title definitely comes off as more “chick-lit-y” (I really hate this term, but, let’s face it, it’s the thing most likely to get it pushed into a romance category despite a decided lack of romance plot – Urban Fantasy titles tend to be strong, shorter titles like: Storm Front, Dead Witch Walking, Scourged, or Frost-Bitten, while “Paranormal Romance” books end up with quirkier, punny names like: Undead Single Moms Club, The Trouble with Twelfth Grave, and Carpe Demon).

That said, titles change all the time, so this decision probably won’t ruin my chance of landing an agent with the book – but I also want to make sure my book’s title accurately reflects its content.

What do you think are the main differences between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal/Paranormal Romance? Is there something that defines the genre to you? Let me know in the comments.


June Check-In

Well, the calendar says it’s June, even if Mother Nature seems to disagree (seriously, I had to wear gloves on Monday), so that means it’s time for another update!

I’m not exactly sure what all I did in May, to be honest, (and not just because I’m writing this while fighting a headache).

I kept working on revising my Adult Urban Fantasy, although thanks to deleting more than I wrote, I’m even farther away from my desired word count than I was a month ago. Go, me!

However, while preparing the first chapter and synopsis for my new critique circle, I was reminded how much I love my story and my characters, so at least I’m in a good mental place with it.

That said, I’ll probably put that novel on a temporary hold this month, as I tackle the revisions on my MG Fantasy that came out of my conference critique.

I also agreed to take on a bit more responsibility in my role as Ottawa Coordinator for SCBWI (I’m now in charge of organizing critique groups for our region, and it’s looking like I will the be the sole Coordinator for Ottawa-area after my partner steps down at the end of this month).

June is shaping up to be ridiculously busy between my daughter’s birthday and appointments, so we’ll see how much work gets done. My goal is to get my MG revised before the kids finish school and I revert to being a Full-Time Mom for the summer.

And, of course, I listened to a bunch of audiobooks.

May Reading Stats:

  • Adult Urban Fantasy/Paranormal (18)

May Total: 18

Year-to-Date: 86 (+22 Re-reads)