The Benefit of Judging a Book by its Cover

Wrapping up our reading of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I wanted to expound on the point I made in the group post earlier in the month. That cover! As mentioned in that post, Miss Peregrine’s was first pitched as a picture book to be filled with the wonderful photos found throughout the narrative. Also mentioned in that post was how so many readers commented on how drawn in they were by the photos. I have to admit, they got me too. This is one of those books that does a remarkable job of combining an image with a title in a way that absolutely reaches out and grabs the reader by the collar. It is that cover and the title that attracted many to the book. I will admit, I thought the book started a little slow, but there was no way I was going to quit reading–not with the promise of a school of people with wondrous abilities. The reader’s patience is rewarded when we are introduced to Emma, Olive, Millard, and the others (and not much of a spoiler alert, they get their own photos as well). I found this to be a great example for our writer friends as evidenced by comments on Amazon and Goodreads as well as my own experience: While you can’t always judge a book by its cover, some times it’s not so bad if you can. The actual quote of not judging a book by its cover can be dated back to the mid-19th century. Books during that time were somewhat limited by the printing capabilities at the time, and their covers were often abstract designs or simplistic representations of the story inside. In contrast, today’s books take full advantage of full-color printing and computer-generated artwork. Even if the actual book resembles those of long ago (cardboard covered by thin cloth or leather), the book jackets can be amazing. And regardless of the cover, the title can always be amazing. I know it may sound simplistic, but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children nails both of these in the most amazing manner. Some of the books I picked up at our recent Friends of the Library sail, I did so mostly because of the name and/or title: Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson. I thought the title was catchy and combined with the cover offered what I hope to be a witty and humorous journey.              ... read more

What’s so Peculiar? Nailing the “Novel Idea”

Recently, I had the misfortune to discover that my completed work-in-progress had some startling similarities to a recently released novel. Further digging proved that the similarities ended at the logline, but it was enough for me to put the project on hold. I threw up my hands, and for a few weeks, I allowed myself to feel greatly uninspired. Then, one day, I’m walking past my five-year-old’s stack of library books. He loves the shelf that features the bizarre and unusual, and when I looked at the cover of one, I almost fell over, a new idea struck me so fast. This time, I scoured Amazon, Goodreads, and the AR reading list for similar titles. At the end of it, I had a pretty big grin. My idea looked to be somewhat unique. But that begs the question: What exactly is a “fresh idea”? We see rehashed movies all the time, and we’ve come to expect regurgitations of our favorites. But editors in the book world, while wanting something intriguing and marketable, are always looking for something a little different. But what’s different? Well, here are a few ideas. Using a gimmick. No, this is not a dirty word. It’s great to be inspired by something—a prop, or a photo—when writing a book. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a perfect example of this. Ransom Riggs built his tale around his collection of creepy pictures. And that’s pretty intriguing by itself, much less the visual marketability. A fresh character in a novel world. Harry Potter has a lightening scar and discovers the incredible world of witchcraft and wizardry. Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen is a quiet huntress forced into a bizarre technological gladiator ring to fight for her life. Hazel and Gus from The Fault in our Stars (John Green) are kids with cancer, navigating the strange world of hospitals and unhappy endings. All three of these successful books and series might have had plots that shared similarities with other stories, but through expert world building and deep character development, they became something so much more. An imaginative retelling. A Court of Thorn & Roses (Sarah J. Maas) is a luscious fae-inspired retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Tiger Lily by (Jodi Lynn Anderson) takes a fresh look at the tale of Peter Pan. Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater) is like National Velvet or Seabiscuit, with an incredibly dark twist. Don’t lean too heavily on an idea that’s been there... read more

The Unusual Situation

As writers, we are often told to begin at the critical moment and to begin with action. I know from my own experience that this can be confusing. I’ve started right in the middle of a magnificent (my thoughts alone) car chase or fight scene. Readers weren’t introduced to the characters so they couldn’t relate and no one was hooked by the action. An unusual situation helps the writer start at the right time, in action, while introducing an appealing character.   Recently, I read 10 Ways to Hook Your Reader (And Reel Them in for Good) by Ann Garvin The first three on her list included beginning at a pivotal moment, an unusual situation, and adding an intriguing character. I had just read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and I thought to myself, that is a great example of an unusual situation.  That unusual situation sparked my curiosity and as I read, I met the main character. Now that situation was not the main inciting event. In fact, it was rather mundane, yet unfamiliar. Still, it was a great way to introduce the main character.   Jacob’s construction of a 1/10,000-scale replica of the Empire State Building from boxes of adult diapers was the unusual situation. Jacob purposely used the wrong brand to be displayed and wasted lots of time. Then he gets a phone call about his grandfather being in trouble.  So, what do readers learn about the character in this scene? We learned that he is actually a spoiled brat trying to get fired. But, he also cares deeply for his grandfather and is willing to drop everything to go to him, unlike his other family members. He’s not everyone’s favorite guy, but Jacob is definitely intriguing.       In Andrew Smith’s Winger, the unusual situation is the main character having his head dipped in a toilet. I’m pretty sure, Smith gets empathy right away with this. No one deserves that, do they? I read to find out. As the MC’s head is in the toilet, we learn that he works hard to try not to have this happen, he’s hopeful, has a sense of humor, and is also kind of weak. The reason he is scrawny happens to be the fact that he is a fourteen-year-old in a junior class. He’s really smart. Interesting. Holly Black’s Doll Bones opens with Zach playing dolls with his friends Poppy and Alice. They’re not... read more

 What Hooked Me?—Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Jess: An Unusual Situation An unusual situation is key to introducing an intriguing character while also beginning with action. The  unusual situation is not the main event that changes the main character’s world. It is often ordinary, yet surprising. It sparks curiosity and I think Ransom Riggs utilized an unusual situation well. Jacob builds a 1/10,000-scale replica of the Empire State Building from boxes of adult diapers; the wrong brand. It’s a perfect way to show through action, who the main character is. Jacob is a spoiled brat who is trying to get fired, yet he cares deeply for his grandfather. No one else in the family seems to get grandpa, but him and he goes to great lengths because of this love. He’s a flawed character that shows moral strength through love and loyalty. I was hooked as a reader and a kindred spirit of my own grandmother. John: A Promise of Wonder Many of those who have read and commented on the book on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites have stated that what immediately drew them to the book were the pictures. This idea makes sense since the book was first pitched as a picture book and only turned into a novel after the encouragement of the editor. And while I’ll admit the cover pulled me in, it was just as much the title, and this serves as an example of how a book sometimes can benefit from being judged by its cover. The first third of the book only hints at the magic that is to come–no school, no peculiar children–just a mention of a monster, some family intrigue, and, of course, some really cool photos. Now, because we know that those photos have to do with a school, and we know the school has a magical mystique to it, we continue to read in earnest in order to uncover the mystery. Riggs talent lies in his ability to hold us off, so to speak, and keep us interested until we can get to the payoff that the cover promised. Megan: Unique abilities, and metaphorical tie-ins Well, okay, that’s two things. But I think what really attracted me to this story was the idea of our perception of unique abilities, and how they would be accepted in society. Miss Peregrine shelters a group of very talented and jaw-dropping individuals. At first you might say that this would be boring for these children, living a sheltered life.... read more