The Influence of Book Covers

The commonly heard expression “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is a metaphor, usually applied to people, that speaks to the judgments we make about individuals when we first meet or encounter them. We form broad brush opinions based upon their looks or actions in the moment without really knowing anything about them. We judge worth or value by outward appearance alone. However, if/when we really get to know that person, our preconceived notions may prove completely different from that which we imagined. But does the metaphor apply or hold true when we actually describe book covers?

Whether shopping online or at a bookstore, the first thing that is likely to draw our attention – before reading a synopsis or excerpt – is the book cover. We may have already narrowed our search for a good read by first looking for books written by specific authors or content that aligns with our reading preferences (romance, mystery, biography, war, history, etc.,) but the visual imagery on the jacket has an immediate impact on whether we pick up the book to examine it further.

Sometimes the image has little or no bearing on content. The design is simply a marketing tactic to make the book stand out amidst the multitude of available titles. Only the author and the publisher can decide whether this approach is appropriate, however, as a reader and a writer I believe there should be a connection between appearance and content.

Below are images of the jacket covers to my two books:

 

Silver Taps, my first book, is a personal memoir that pays homage to my father, a career Army officer, who served in World War  II, Korea, and Vietnam. The image of the folded American flag and wooden box depicting a soldier saluting the fallen was taken from an actual photo taken during his memorial service.

Palo Duromy most recent book, is a novel about westward expansion focusing on the Plains Indian wars at the turn of the 19th century. Central to the Indians way of life was the buffalo. It numbered in the millions before the herds were decimated as the result of deliberate U.S. government policy designed to force the tribes into subjugation and onto reservations. The image’s backdrop is a photo of Palo Duro Canyon that I took while doing research into this last stronghold of the Plains Indians, onto which is superimposed an artist’s conception of a buffalo hunt.

For anyone who has read either book, I’d appreciate your feedback on whether you think the images are representative of content. Even if you haven’t read them but you’re reading this blog, what are your thoughts on book jackets and their impact on book sales? Do they matter? Should they relate to content or characters in a book? Do they influence consumers? Whether you are an avid reader, a published author, or an aspiring writer your comments are important.

 

Thoughts on Father’s Day

Father’s Day in the United States was celebrated this past Sunday, June 18th. At the time I was recuperating from major surgery and missed the opportunity to express my thoughts on the holiday. However, as there is no universal date observed worldwide (expressions of gratitude occur on different dates in different countries,) I still wanted to weigh-in with a few comments.

The genesis of the modern holiday in the U.S. dates to the early 1900’s, though an official Presidential Proclamation declaring the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day wasn’t issued until 1966, and it would be 1972 before President Richard Nixon conferred permanence on that calendar day for our national celebration.

Expressions of appreciation for the influence of fathers in the lives of their children take many forms. For the living, it is common practice for dads to receive gift cards, flowers, men’s clothing items, or cologne. For the deceased, a more solemn observance might include a gravesite visitation or even posting a favorite photo along with a cherished memory on social media.

For many, the full impact of their dad’s influence on their character, personality, likes and dislikes, activities, associations and professions is not fully realized nor acknowledged until after he has passed away.

It is difficult coming to grips with the loss when it happens. My dad died 31 July, 2006 yet it would take me years to understand our relationship and finally put down my thoughts and pay tribute to the man who remains my hero to this day. In 2015 I published Silver Taps, a very personal memoir that honestly looks at the bonds between father and son and the expectations of each in the context of love, friendship, and respect. I sincerely hope that I honored his memory.

All sons, at some time in their lives, strive to please their fathers and intrinsically wonder whether they’ve met their expectations. Similarly, all dads wonder what impact they’ve had on their children and what their worth is as a father.Few of us ever get an answer to these questions. As a son, I never felt that I was the person my father wanted me to be. I was never the star athlete, I never rose to prominence in the Corps at A&M or during my military career, and I failed in my first marriage. As a father, I know that I should have done better by my children. I was often gone on deployment or getting reassigned at critical junctures in their lives. I could have been more sympathetic to their concerns and more flexible in my response. But these are afterthoughts, so perhaps this is a dilemma best left alone. No matter the generation, parents always expect more from and want more for their children. Because we do, we find faults in them and in ourselves. – excerpt from Silver Taps.

 

The Promise

This past week millions of the faithful all over the world celebrated the holiest period in the Christian calendar – Easter week – Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem followed by his betrayal, trial, execution, and resurrection.

This earthly existence will end for all of us; sometimes tragically or unexpectedly, and inexorably as we age and progress towards completing the circle that began at birth. Christ’s victory over sin and death opened the door to eternal life and should have erased our fear of the grave. Yet we tenaciously cling to this life and many either reject Him as the Son of God or question whether an afterlife truly exists.

My book Silver Taps is a personal memoir that examines death in the aftermath of my Dad’s passing. It looks at our indifference when we confront death in the abstract and our profound grief when it occurs to someone we love, and it asks why faith consoles, comforts, and gives hope to some but only results in anger and unanswered questions in others.

It was written to elicit thought by my children and grandchildren. Hopefully, it also evokes thoughts and reactions from my readers.

Ironically, we marvel at the miracle of birth. We embrace life with all its ups and downs, triumphs, and tragedies. It is only death, the last leg of the this circle that we both fear and mourn. We fear the unknown. What lies beyond? Anything? Or is this the sum of our existence? We mourn because in embracing life we formed tangible bonds and attachments and feelings that in death are no longer present. The dead are still there in our hearts and minds. But we can no longer see them, hear them, reach out to them, touch them, and feel them. We wish we could. We wish with all our hearts that it was possible. That is why we have faith. In faith there is hope of reunification with everyone that we ever loved who’ve preceded us in death. That is the promise. – excerpt from Silver Taps.

 

Preferences & Promotions

How we choose to read a book is determined by our own personal likes and dislikes. I tend to be “traditional” in the sense that I prefer a hardbound copy of a book. I like the weight, texture and even the smell of a book, the ability to mark a passage so I can go back to it later, its durability, and its place within the collection of titles that I own.

There are pros and cons to every format; hardcover, paperback, e-book, or audio book. In addition to the reasons cited above, I prefer hardcover books for their stand alone utility (no electronic devices are required.) The same can be said for paperbacks, with the added advantages of lower cost and less cumbersome packaging.

However, as this blog proves, we live in a digital age where computers, tablets and smart phones provide instantaneous access to the latest releases; there is no requirement to go to a bookstore to buy a copy or wait on its delivery from some retail outlet. Downloading an e-book is quick, certainly more economical than a physical copy, fonts and print sizes even lighting can be adjusted, switching between titles is easy, and, should your Kindle, Nook, or iPhone need replacement, your book collection is backed up and stored in the “cloud.”

Perhaps the fastest growing medium is the audio book. Seasoned narrators bring stories to life and all the “reader” need do is listen. Technological advances have unquestionably changed behaviors, and many consumers would much rather allow someone else to interpret the written word for them. Additionally, audio books open up the literary world to those with vision impairment, learning, or other physical disabilities who otherwise have limited access to the art form.

My two books, Silver Taps and Palo Duroare currently available  in hardcover and e-book formats, with the latter soon to be released as a paperback. Additionally, I’m initiating a limited promotion via Amazon and Barnes & Noble to make the e-book version available at a reduced cost. Beginning April 15th it will be on sale for $6.99 (the regular retail price is $9.99). The promotion will run for two weeks.

What are your preferences regarding format? Do you prefer a book in hand, availability via electronic media, or listening to a recording? Do author promotions influence your decision to make a purchase? Retailers and book publishers collect data of this type, but it’s also important for the writer to receive direct feedback because of it’s potential impact on future releases.

So, what are your thoughts? Send me your comments. They most certainly will be appreciated and factored into publishing decisions for my next book!

 

Book Promotions

One of the promotional tools available to authors to market their books is a book signing, either to targeted audiences or the public at large. Sometimes these events are accompanied by readings of selected passages followed by question and answer sessions. At others they involve greeting potential buyers as they visit libraries or book stores where the author has received approval to display and sell his or her latest work. In the latter, the encounters with book enthusiasts may elicit brief discussions but no formal presentation.

Signings may involve nothing more than affixing a signature to the title page or book jacket or, at the discretion of the buyer, may include a short message or dedication personalized with the recipient’s name. In either scenario, the buyer weighs the potential benefit of owning a signed copy of any given work should it later become a best seller or the author gain literary recognition. And sometimes, it’s just nice to own a copy with the author’s signature.

Besides increasing readership, such signings can also be used to support specific organizations. As a proud graduate of Texas A&M University my writing has allowed me to give back to my alma mater in coordination with organizations that support fellow Aggies. The Texas Aggie Corps of Cadets Association graciously allowed me to participate in their annual “Rally to the Guidons” that brings together former Corps members to relive their days as a cadet, and the San Antonio A&M Club also hosted me at one of their weekly luncheons when Silver Taps was released.

Similar promotions are underway to promote Palo Duro. Though I don’t have exact dates yet, when I do, I’ll be posting them here and I hope to see you at one of these future functions.

Sixth Leading Cause of Death

When I began this blog a little over a month ago it was with the intent to promote readership of my books and initiate a dialogue on their subject matter. To date I have focused my posts on my historical novel Palo Duro. However, in keeping with the theme that “Life is History,” I found myself reflecting on the passage of over 100 years since Dr. Alois Alzheimer first described the symptoms of cognitive impairment and brain damage, now a recognized disease that bears his name.

There is still no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Today’s drugs mask symptoms but do not treat its underlying cause nor delay its progression. Citing a 2016 World Health Organization (WHO) report some 44 million people currently are affected by the disease. That number is projected to rise to 135 million by the year 2050.

My father was afflicted with Alzheimer’s and my earlier book (a personal memoir)  delves not only into our relationship,  but the terrible effects of dementia and my family’s efforts to understand and cope with his mental deterioration and eventual death.

Alzheimer’s is such an insidious disease. I believe the worst aspect for the individual with the disease, at least at first, is knowing what is happening and being unable to do anything about it. I know the worst aspect for anyone that takes on the responsibility of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, is the certainty that currently there is no cure and no matter what you do the disease is fatal. Drugs and therapy may slow the disease’s progression, but memory will fade  and eventually even family members and friends will become distant and often total strangers. In time the disease will render the individual totally unable to do anything for themselves. The body becomes a shell, and the mind a quagmire of jumbled images and information that if processed at all only results in confusion, anger and despair. – excerpt from Silver Taps.

I encourage anyone with a family member or friend with Alzheimer’s disease to advocate for further research leading to a cure. Even if you are fortunate to not be personally affected at the moment, should the WHO’s projections hold, it is highly likely that you will be sometime in the not too distant future.

 

 

Opening Dialogue

It is rather daunting launching a blog, especially if you’ve never written one before. How do you introduce yourself or your topic? Where do you start?

In 2014 I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer resulting in treatment often referred to as the trifecta by cancer patients – chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Needless to say it was a life altering experience that required a reassessment of careers. For twenty-four years I’d worn the uniform of the U.S. Army, for another five I’d been a management director of a computer software company, and following the events on 9/11 I’d served as an independent contractor providing counterintelligence support worldwide. All of these jobs, if not demanding a 24/7 commitment, did require an energy that I no longer possessed. Nonetheless, sitting idle while undergoing treatment was not an option, so to maintain my sanity I turned to writing.

My first book, “Silver Taps,” was published in 2015 by Outskirts Press. It is a personal memoir; a tribute to my alma mater Texas A&M University, and an exploration of my relationship with my father, a veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. Its positive reception and the enjoyment I found in writing led to my second effort, “Palo Duro,” a historical novel focused on the Indian Wars in the Southern Plains at the end of the nineteenth century. It has just recently been released by Page Publishing.

The two books may seem worlds apart, yet both are connected by the love and respect I had for my father and the love he passed on to me for history and the Old West. Certainly history is not everyone’s cup of tea. Facts, dates, events, and historical figures in and of themselves can be dry sterile material; yet the historical fiction genre allows the writer latitude in bringing a particular historical period and the people involved to life. Similarly, the western may not hold the public’s attention as it once did in cinema or published media, yet it remains a window into our past, the expansion of our borders east to west, and the rugged individualism and entrepreneurship that forged a nation.

Both my books are currently available through retail and digital distributors (OutskirtsPress.com, PagePublishing.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon).

As we continue this conversation, I look forward to your feedback, questions, comments, and reviews on either or both.