I’ve been thinking a bit lately about cover quotes, and want to open the question to all of you. Do you think cover quotes matter? Do they influence your buying decision?
You see, I have very mixed feelings about cover quotes, especially those that come from other authors.
1. As a reader, I’m cynical about author cover quotes:
• There are some famous authors who quote for so many authors and so many books that it’s hard to believe that they have time left over to write their own books. It’s also hard to believe that they like such a diversity of books. Do they even read all of them? When you start to see similar phrasing in their quotes, you have to wonder. If the author hasn’t read the book, what’s the value of her quote?
• There’s also the word games of using quotes. I noticed this first with movie reviews – I’d read an unflattering review, then see that a pullout quote from the very same review was being used to promote the movie. Consider this review quote: “If not for the sketchy characterization and contrived plot, BigTimeMove could be one of the best movies of the year.” And the pullout quote from that review could be “BigTimeMovie…one of the best movies of the year!!!” or “Famous Reviewer calls BigTimeMovie one of the best movies of the year!!!” The words are all in the review, in that order, but the editing changes the meaning. Whenever I see … I wonder what was removed.
• This last issue probably comes from seeing a bit of the inside of publishing and recognizing the connections. It’s amazing how often the quoting author is either writing for the same house as the author of the book in question, or is represented by the same agent or agency. I never thought of this until I chatted with an author acquaintance who was changing her representation because she was fed up with the unwritten agency expectation that she would quote for a certain number of books a month, all of which were represented by the agency. Imagine that. She said it gobbled up too much time, and I can believe it. She worried that the agency was more focussed on promoting everyone in the list than building her career, which seems a fair concern. It’s also easy to see patterns of friendships in review quotes – i.e. famous authors who quote for their less famous buddies – or even writing chapter connections – i.e. famous authors who quote for the less famous members of their RWA chapter. Geography is a big clue there.
Does that make the review quotes worthless? No. They might be genuine, but it makes me suspicious of their merit. As a result of all of this, I never buy a book on the basis of a cover quote. (Although I will buy one just because I like the cover. We all have our superficial rationalizations, don’t we?)
2. From the author side, I have a different perspective. There are many people in publishing who like to see cover quotes, because there is a belief that readers are triggered to buy by them. A cover quote from a NYT-bestselling author can gain a debut author a better initial sell-in, because the buyers at the bookstores believe that readers will respond to the power of the quote.
The idea behind this logic is that my quote on the cover, for example, assures all Claire Delacroix readers and fans that they will enjoy the book in question and that they aren’t taking a risk in spending their $6 or $8 on the book. But that also means that I’m going to be very, very careful about giving a quote. These are my readers! They trust me and I’m not going to take that lightly. My suspicion is that my reader, if disappointed in a book I endorsed, will blame ME for deceiving her about spending her money. And I think that’s a fair thing to do. I would feel exactly the same way.
The upshot of this is that I quote for very few books.
There is an expectation that if an author agrees to read a book manuscript that she will (of course!) quote for it. Part of this is that editors and authors and agents always love the book they’re collecting quotes for, and they can’t imagine that anyone else won’t love it – especially if the debut author particularly admires the work of the author whose quote has been requested. This means that declining to quote – or being idealistic about quoting only for books you genuinely like – makes for a very awkward situation.
I developed a policy that I would only quote for people whose work I already knew – always with the understanding that if I didn’t like the work I was offered, I’d decline to quote. Since I don’t read everything (who on earth can?) I also have a corollary policy that I will spontaneously offer a quote if I read a book and love it. This seemed pretty workable, but hit a snag recently.
So, I’m wondering whether I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, or whether my idealism is way out of step. What do you think about cover quotes? Do they matter to you? Do they affect your buying decision? Do you expect the quoting author to be principled in endorsing only the books that she really does like? Or are you a cynical shopper (like me) who puts more weight on the cover design than anything else?
Tell me what you think.