I look at novels differently now, now that I have invested in writing them myself. I have a hard time going into a bookstore and simply wandering. I end up looking for friend's books, or friends of friend's books. I move them around for better placement, I judge the covers of new releases, I read spines to judge the publishers. I snoop through the acknowledgements to see who writers thank, or don't thank.
I judge books by their covers. In fact, I now overly judge books by their covers, because all I've learned about marketing and writing tells me that the cover is just as important for sales as is the content (this can be disputed in another post.)
I was intrigued; to say the least, on a recent trip a bookstore, when I came across this:
The first, The House Girl by Tara Conklin (William Morrow, 2013), is described as "an unforgettable story of love, history, and a search for justice, set in modern day New York and 1852 Virginia."
The second, A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee (Random House, 2013), is considered by Jennifer Egan to be "a rare thing: a genuine literary thriller. Eerily suspenseful and packed with dramatic event, it also offers a trenchant, hilarious portrait of our collective longing for authenticity in these overmediated times."
The third, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri (Riverhead, 2013), tells the story of twin sisters growing up in the 1980s in Tehran who are split up, eventually living very different, yet parallel lives.
All three are set in different eras and locations, printed by different publishers, and were released in the past three months. They share one glaring similarity: strangely similar covers.
My first reaction was to seek out their commonalities besides the covers. As it turns out, all three are agreed to be literary fiction, but the similarities stop there. My second question was whether the similar covers hurt or helped their book sales. My third puzzle was if it mattered at all. This is Tara Conklin's debut. Did she wonder about her cover opitons? Did the publishers, themselves, have any idea they were each releasing similar artwork at the same time as their competitors? Did booksellers group these covers together, or purposely set them apart?
As I considered the challenges these three novels face with similar jackets, I came across this:
Same title, same month and year of release, both considered literary fiction by two very different well-established and respected authors, Jill McCorkle (Algonquin) and Kate Atkinson (Reagan Arthur Books).
I suppose all this means is that authors can only control what they can control, and that is the words they put on the page. Covers are chosen by the publishing house's marketing team and the author has very little say so. An author's title is their decision primarily, but who's to say another author may pick the same title, at the same time?
As for me, I can only hope that the similarity in jacket design for these three books increases the visibility for all of them. In fact, I discovered the fabulous Tobias Wolff many years ago by looking for the novel Boy's Life, by Robert R. McCammon, a book referred to me by a friend. Instead I found This Boy's Life, Wolff's memoir. That find opened me up to a whole new world of writers I wouldn't have found on my own.
As for Life After Life, I hope both authors gain new audiences by sharing the same title. Reading isn't a competitive sport. The more people read, then all authors win, right? So here's to all authors writing the best book you can, and here's to all readers reading the best books you can find.