Make a fast start…

In my blog post “The End Game,” I discussed what back material should be at the end of an author’s books. While Big Five authors in their arrogance mostly ignore this, indie authors and authors published by indie publishers (small presses) shouldn’t. I was imagining a reader who had just finished a book, a complete entree, but still wanted some dessert.

The front material is more likely to get the reader to read the book, so it’s more important in that sense. It represents the appetizer. Here are the key elements:

Title. Too many authors don’t spend enough time creating their title. Here’s a list of titles that have recently turned me off: Darker, Artemis, Restless Hearts, Lizzie Borden Zombie Hunter, Good Girl Gone, and Leaving Earth. If the title doesn’t work for an author’s readers, the book has one strike against it. S/he should come up with something that catches the reader’s attention and won’t find annoying. In the latter category are titles too close to the title of a successful book.

I’ve seen so many books with titles that have “…Girl…” in them, trying to mimic Girl with the Dragon Tatoo and Gone Girl (the quality of the first book is far superior to the latter one, by the way), that I cringe when I see such a title. But only one of the titles I’ve listed made me cringe in that sense. Some are ambivalent, fluffy, and/or do absolutely nothing to grab my attention.

The best title is like a short blurb of the book. Rather than use any of my own titles as examples—not all good, by the way—let me give some famous examples. Crichton’s Jurassic Park immediately said to me that the story is about dinosaurs that are in an amusement park, but I’ll confess that I assumed the park was in the past where rich time travelers went to gawk and play. Baldacci’s Absolute Power told me right up front that the book was about some VIP abusing his power to do bad things. That it was POTUS was a surprise, though (probably not so much today).

Cover. Abstract covers are sometimes OK, but I don’t like abstract art and prefer ones that, like the title, tell me something about the book. For example, I just finished a reprint of Chad Oliver’s classic sci-fi tale The Winds of Time. The title is bad enough, although it contains “Time,” an important theme in the book, but the original book couldn’t have had this awful cover. It looks like a still taken from some 50s B-movie with iconic bug-eyed ETs from abduction accounts. Terrible, especially considering the ETs in this book are just ordinary men, not something some conspiracy theorists would have in Area 51.  Rampant anthropomorphism if you will, but not bug-eyed ETs.

Many romance books tend to have busty women in loose bodices and muscular guys with naked torsos on their covers. I’m almost embarrassed to have my books’ covers appearing among these (I fear guilty by association in the minds of serious readers). I should point out that bad covers can be found in Big Five books as well as books by indie authors and indie publishers (small presses). In particular, I didn’t like any of them featured in the NY Times’ best book covers of 2017.

Above all, the book’s cover art should be original and not generic. It shouldn’t be too busy. The title shouldn’t be in crazy or mixed fonts and readily legible, and the author’s name should be less prominent than the title, even if the author is some famous mare or stallion in the Big Five’s stables—I don’t care about James Patterson one iota, for example, but I might care about what the content of the book he’s written.

Front material. The title and author go on the cover and the first page that contains text. That page is followed by copyright information and something like “This book is a work of fiction…bla-bla.” Library of Congress info should also be listed here too, if applicable. Some authors list their other books on the next page, but that should be end material. Next comes a dedication page if the author wants to make one, but s/he shouldn’t confuse that with acknowledgments in the back material.

I sometimes include pages listing the characters and in one case I included a map.  The list of characters is helpful to a reader when the book has a lot. I’d list them in order of appearance. Big epics could also have a timeline when the events cover a long period of time—I included one in The Chaos Chronicles Trilogy Collection because those three novels cover several centuries of human beings’ future history in near-Earth space. Anything that makes the reader’s reading easier and more rewarding is fair game, I suppose—the author shouldn’t get carried away, though.

Between the front and back material, the reader will find the fiction novel. Here s/he can find most anything because many authors like to experiment. But the front material is the appetizer and the back material the dessert to that main entree, so they’re an integral part of the meal, at least for many diners.


Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format at Amazon and Smashwords and the latter’s affiliate retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo). It’s available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it). See the review and interview at Feathered Quill.

In libris libertas!

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