Friday, October 21, 2011
Cover power in children's books: anecdotal evidence
Never judge a book by its cover! However we know that a cover is very important as a marketing and sales tool.
We do not always get to check this scientifically, especially here in the Caribbean. With children’s books, I would say that it is even more unlikely because we are not doing research like this. So in many cases the reports are anecdotal. Having said this, I shall share ‘anecdotal’ with you.
Island Princess in Brooklyn, the cover: We saw various mock-ups of the cover. The cover was circulated and the Carlong staff loved it, couldn’t wait to read it. (Yes, some have read it and do indeed like it very much). The next anecdote came from the printery where we were told that everybody in the printery wanted to read it. Most unusual, I can tell you. We are not readers in this country.
Aha, you say, but these persons are adults. That is actually a good sign since they will be buying the books for children. In fact, a friend told me that when she asked how sales of the books were going, the shop assistant said that parents were buying the book for their children. I assure you that unless it’s a set book (prescribed literature text) shop assistants in bookstores ‘don’t follow children’s books’.
However, anecdotal evidence also indicates that children like the cover and want to read the book. Carlong used a peer-group to select the cover and they, I gather, chose the font. I’ve also met children from the target group, and was able to ascertain positive feelings/interest using qualitative research strategies. In addition, in a world of children’s books in bright pastel covers or the newer ‘dark’ ones (which many children do not like unless they are into that particular fad/series), this book stands out on the shelves in the bookshop from way across the room. I noticed that this week. I didn’t have to search for it as I usually have to do when looking for a book. (It’s the red coat!). Children, like adults, are attracted to the cover.
But what really prompted me to write this blog was that the publisher has sold a great number of these books in the first month after publication. I am totally impressed with the number, as are they, as there has been no launch yet, no major publicity. It’s a number twice what I sold at my last self-published book at its launch. And a launch, like any other point of sale, is where you sell most books at any one time (apart from getting a bulk order for a school/organization).
Why is this? you ask. We all know that there are all sorts of rules for producing artwork for a cover, and our publishers and artists bear these in mind when working. Equally, the title is taken into great consideration. And then into all of these rules of thumb come experience and knowledge of one’s people and their culture. Most important! So here is what I think.
The cover image: a girl with a cool attitude in a red coat in a foreign place, with snow. This promises all sorts of excitement, especially to island people like Jamaicans who firmly believe that they were destined to travel the world and ‘make it’ anywhere (and they often do). In actual fact, the image represents what Princess, the protagonist, thinks will happen to her if only some time in her future she could have the desired red coat; she sees herself gliding through a winter wonderland. Pure happiness! The fact that the girl is a little older than the target audience is not unusual in books for the 9-13 year age group. Girls enjoy reading about girls who are a little older than they are.
The title: It relates directly to the story. Princess is given the nick-name of ‘Island Princess’ at her new school, which first annoys her but, which she eventually comes to see as a sign of friendship. And since we abound in pet names, Princess, Cutie, Tiny, Precious, Sweetie, this becomes yet another point of relevance to our children’s lives.
As for Brooklyn! I was editing a textbook for the UK in which there was an exercise, part of which stated, ‘most people in Jamaica have family who live abroad or know someone who has family abroad’. The UK copyeditor suggested that I might prefer to say many as surely it couldn’t be most. I assured her that it was most. Perhaps more than any other territory in the West Indies/Caribbean, the people of Jamaica are linked to the USA by waves of migrations and family. (Some of my family migrated to the USA before I was born; others went in the seventies/eighties. And in the last ten years I’ve been a number of times, to visit friends/family – to Brooklyn! And there I met people from Barbados and Trinidad as well). Mothers (especially) leave children here, to work in the USA, hopefully to send for them and offer them a better life as a result (Princesses’ situation), and this relates to other Caribbean territories also. Jamaicans migrate; they visit, they want to visit, they plan to visit; and the place to go is New York, and the most important part of New York is Brooklyn!
Brooklyn is symbolic of the promised land; whether the streets flow with milk and honey or not, we are sure that we can make it there. This is a part of our children’s lives. The fact that Princess does not view it like this at all is an important aspect of this story. So Island Princess in Brooklyn is actually a title that evokes the promise, adventure and excitement of the future, while including the return to the security of family who went ahead of us. I think this is why this cover works for us. Here is a cover that depicts a foreign land, and yet it is about us. Of course, one might argue that Brooklyn is not ‘foreign’.
Right, so now we need to do a scientific study; but even scientific studies do not always capture what is in our hearts.