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The Cover is Only Cosmetic–Honest It Is

I was reading comments on a forum the other day. Someone asked about hiring an editor to edit his book and was that really necessary. And if it was necessary, where could he find a good, inexpensive editor? The comments rapidly shifted from making the contents of the book as highly polished and professional as possible to “hire a good cover artist,” “a great cover will sell your book,” and “you need an eye-popping cover!”

Okay, an excellent cover is a plus. A lousy cover will turn off most potential buyers. I know that. No argument.  But guess what will turn off all your buyers? Lousy content. Sloppy writing. Cardboard characters who don’t act like any human beings who ever lived. Stilted dialogue. Bad spelling. Typographical errors. Wack-a-doodle punctuation.

Go to Amazon. Read a few book reviews. Any reviews. Any genre. Any writer. How many will say, “This book was full of bad grammar and spelling mistakes. 1 star!” Short answer: Lots. How many will say, “What a great cover! I didn’t even mind that the writer couldn’t tell a semi-colon from a hole in the ground!” Go ahead. Find one.

It’s true that I’m a freelance copy-editor. I don’t make much money at it. I’m not looking to make much money at it. I’m more interested, honestly, in helping indie writers improve their writing than in being able to light fires with hundred dollar bills. Or even one dollar bills.

But, seriously, sometimes I wonder if some indies are ever going to “get” it. It’s not the flash. It’s not the paint job. It’s the content. It’s the actual work that matters. The words. The sentences.

You can paint up a jalopy. You can re-chrome everything. You can tart that sucker up till it shines like a second sun even on a cloudy day.  But if it doesn’t have an engine, it won’t run.

A book is exactly the same. You can slap a brilliant cover on sloppy work and it’s still sloppy work. And your readers will recognize that it’s sloppy work and will “reward” you accordingly.

To E-book or Not to E-book?

I love books. I love paperback books. I love hardcover books. And I love e-books. I adore my Kindle. Each one has advantages. Each one has disadvantages.

Physical, dead-tree books use, well, dead trees and that’s a resource that can be expensive. Publishers are also using considerably less rag in their paper these days and that’s why even those $29.95 hardcover books look ratty and yellow after only a few years. Some of those hardcover books are (hello, Stephen King’s “Under the Dome,” I am talking to you) so physically enormous, so heavy, so unwieldy that a disabled person such as, say, myself has quite a bit of difficulty dealing with it. I finally gave up on “Under the Dome,” in fact, and gave it to a stronger-armed friend. Thankfully, she gave me the book in a Kindle version. Win/win.

Likewise, I love George R.R. Martin’s books about Westeros, the ones HBO has made into an excellent series, “The Game of Thrones.” Also giant books, even in paperback format. I bought them for the Kindle. I doubt I could have handled them in any other format.

Another pro-e-book argument: If you are sick and it’s 4 AM and you want something new to read, well, if you are a devotee of the physical-book-only, you’re stuck. If you’ve got a Kindle and an internet connection, however, you’re good to go. You can find, buy, and download something new in minutes. Heck, if you’re lucky, you might even land on a free book. Win/win/win.

Do I really need to mention that I can walk around with 3,500 or so (theoretically at least) books in this one little device? My Kindle makes packing for a trip enormously simpler. And lighter. I used to have to pack an entire small (okay, medium) suitcase with books. Now I take the Kindle. I can carry thousands (again, theoretically) in my shoulder bag. Wow. What a concept!

From the perspective of the author, too, there are advantages. Upload your e-book and then discover (ack!) a glaring, horrible spelling error. Go in, find the file, fix it. If, on the other hand, your book is a print book, well, you’re up That Infamous Creek till the next printing (if there is one) when changes can be made.

Ah, but making notes in the margins is ever so much easier with actual, physical, paper books. There is a note-making function on the Kindle, but it’s awkward for me. I don’t use it. Maybe other people find it usable, but I don’t. And this is my blog and my opinion.

Also if you’re trying to refresh your memory on, say, page 450 about something that happened somewhere around page 100, it’s so much easier with paper pages. You can fan through them and look for something familiar, a word, an event. Something. It’s much more difficult with an e-reader. Not impossible, but more difficult. Yes, there’s a search function on the Kindle (the only e-reader with which I’m familiar, honestly), but if the only words of the passage you’re trying to find are common ones, you’ll come up with 700 locations and that’s just not terribly useful.

Is the e-reader going to be the Death of the “Real” Book? Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know. I do know that over the weekend I bought three hardcover books from a bargain shelf at a bookstore, two new hardcover books from Amazon, and four e-books. Am I a typical reader? Probably not. There are people who don’t buy that many books in a year. And that, my friends, is a rant for another day.

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