What I learned asking for opinions at my local library


Getting opinions on book covers and blurbs made for an interesting insightful week.

The First Step

I spent last week getting opinions on the four covers I’d shortlisted for Settle Down Now. There were three versions of the blurb too. I asked most people I ran into–family as it turned out, three of whom are regular Romance readers and whom had never read any of my work before. I was fun and interesting, with my thirteen-year old niece, who prefers fantasy, providing some remarkable insights. With only two respondents on my blog (thanks again Carrie and Sue) and four others on FB, I thought I needed more data to make an informed decision. So, I decided to take a deep breath and ask the patrons at my local library for their opinions too. It was a daunting experiment for me, but one which I found most useful.

The Second Step

I printed out a B&W sheet with the three blurbs and four covers. I approached the librarians and other staff. This was easier than it sounds for two reasons:
1. I’ve recently started volunteering at the library
2. Our librarians and staff are a friendly helpful bunch. No disapproving grim-faced dragon-ladies here 😀

Here’s what the sheet looked like:

blurb opinion b

The Third Step

With gaining confidence, I took a deep breath and approached women who looked like they might be interested in Settle Down Now ie. Romance/Chick-Lit/Suspense readers and who looked like they had some time to browse.
After asking politely for a minute or two of their time and introducing myself, I described the colors of the covers and let them decide which appealed to them the most. This generally took something like two minutes. If they had more time and didn’t mind, I asked for their opinion on the blurbs too.
I spoke to over twenty people in the library and found it highly rewarding despite being initially confused by the range of preferences.

Step Four–The Results

First I looked at the preferences of my family gleaned over the Easter weekend. Of the six opinions, three were for H, two for E and one (I was extremely surprised by this) for G. Of the blurbs, three for B, two for C and one for A. I thought I could detect a trend here, but wanted it confirmed; and so the library.

blurb opinion bThe library results really surprised me. There were twenty-three people who gave me their time and responses (thank you!) and four people had two preferences, both of which I counted.
The final breakdown is as follows (all opinions over the week):
Blurb A (the longest): 7
Blurb B (shortest): 14
Blurb C: 6
Cover E: 12
Cover F: 5
Cover G: 12
Cover H: 9
The biggest surprise for me was the popularity of Cover G!

Read on for a further analysis:

The blurbs:

The shortest proved the most popular with most people. Mellissa and Angela (who had sat at the same table and appeared to be in their twenties) both agreed that this blurb has just enough to keep they guessing and wanting read more. The others, they said, gave away too much. I also noticed that mothers with young children and people who had the air of liking to getting a lot done also preferred B. Librarians, without a doubt, and more introverted seeming people preferred A. People who seemed more laid-back preferred C.

My Conclusions:
The biggest thing I learned about the blurbs was that I currently stink at writing blurbs for my readers (no surprise). So many, many thanks, Lana for your attempts to set me right 😀
On the other hand, I excel at writing blurbs for librarians. Pity my book won’t be available in print.
There is the middle road, which I am most comfortable with. This however, might lose me half my potential readers.

The Covers:

E and G had equally strong responses, both over a wide, diverse group in terms of age, culture and (assumed) life-style.

m_Settle Down Now 10

E appealed to most of those who actually had other romance titles in their hands. This group had the most respondents who said, without prompting, that they were interested in the book and wanted to know about my work. E also, as my astute young niece pointed out, would appeal to male readers ‘because of the figure of the woman on it’. Whether her reasoning is right or not, the only male respondent did indeed go with this cover 😀

 

 

 

m_Settle Down Now 7 b
G was loved by most librarians and some people who told me they would buy any book with purple hues. Zandele (a busy multitasker) loved it because she got a sense of lots of interesting things happening simultaneously in the book. She was spot on there, and I felt quite chuffed that my design had conveyed the very message I’d wanted to. Of the four people who had more than one preference, three of them had chosen G. If I was having a print-run this would have been the cover without a doubt.

 

 

m_Settle Down Now 6 b        m_Settle Down Now 8 b

F was most popular with non-South Africans and stylish professionally-minded women who don’t necessarily read romances. I think it has a very NY feel to it, and perhaps for a less localized story, would work very well.
While more popular than F, H is also not the first choice for romance readers. This cover, I think says adventure more than romance. So, I feel, it appealed to readers, similar to the F-group, who might not always seek out romance titles and are open to more genres.

My Conclusions:
G is a dark horse; one I’d included more out of fun that a belief that it would appeal to any. But it does–and to as wide and diverse a group of readers as I could hope to have. But, I feel strongly that this cover would do best in print. On the screen, lying next to dramatic and traditional covers, and belonging to a little known author, it might not fare so well–just yet.
I’m ambivalent to F. It was the forerunner of H. It has more international appeal, but I fear, might result in readers seeking a more NY-feel and settings. It might engender expectations that Settle Down Now might not deliver. So this is a risk too.
I love H. It is my personal favorite. It has all the authentic elements from the story: the Durban skyline, the correct ketch/boat, the six hearts up in the air and a one of my favorite colors. But it also suffers from the same drawbacks as F in terms of being risky on the epub lists.
I like E. It is a traditional romance cover. While Settle Down Now has other strong elements in it, the romance threads are most dominant. The possibility of not meeting reader expectations is much lower. And for a little known author looking to reach the most number of readers, this seems the best choice–especially with romance being such a huge market.

The final cover choice lies with me, so I have to think as a publisher for this phase of my book’s life. So, I’ll be going with E.

On a personal note:

I’m very grateful to everyone for their time, kindness and encouragement. It was such a great experience to talk to readers about my books in person. It was great too, to have readers complement my cover designs, all of which I’ve produced myself. This experience has given me much to consider and taught me much about my abilities as a writer/graphic artist and where my strengths and weaknesses lie.
Best of all was meeting lovers of books, supporters of little known writers, and enthusiastic future readers, including the little girl who prefers wizards to witches and the older mother and daughter with such different tastes.

Have you discovered anything interesting from your local community about your writing and artwork?

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