1/26/11

Judging for the Whitney Awards---part 2

Guest blog by Michele Paige Holmes, author of Counting Stars and All the Stars in Heaven. Michele blogs at My Paige. I saw Michele's post and thought you might find it very interesting. I did!


As promised, here is a little more information on the criteria I personally look for when judging for the romance category of the Whitney Awards. Be forwarned, this is likely to be a long post, as each of these subjects could be a blog---or three---by themselves. I'll do my best to give concise examples of each. Feel free to leave a comment if you disagree or have another opinion. Feel free to take a nap if I'm boring you.

But romance, for me, is a passionate subject.

As I mentioned previously, there are no specific guidelines given to judges of the Whitney Awards. First, to answer Stephanie Black's question about the process, what it comes down to is having a ranked list (from 1-20 in romance this year) of the books from best written to, well, the not best written. It would be more gentle, perhaps, to say favorite to least favorite, but the Whitney Awards are not about favorites---regarding authors, subject matter or anything else. Case in point being the general category last year. Jonathan Langford's book, No Going Back, dealt with a subject matter---a teen boy's struggle with same sex attraction---that I didn't particularly want to delve into. As a mother of a teenage boy, this pretty much sounded like one of my worst nightmares. Based on that, one would think that there was no way this book was going to be my "favorite" or anything close. I began reading, and I wasn't very far into the story before I found myself really caring about the main character and his plight. I'm happy to say I was one who voted it into finalist status. It was well-written and very deserving. And while I don't count it as one of my favorite books---the subject matter just isn't something I want to dwell on---it was definitely one of the best general fiction nominees last year.

I hope, in some small way, this reassures all whose books have been nominated. I believe the judges really do try their best to be fair, impartial, and accurate. Being a writer myself, I understand that to some extent we hold your heart in our hands. I want to treat it gently---but I also want it to get stronger!

One thing more about the process, and then I'll get to the details. The judge's ballot is different from the ballot that the academy receives. Judges are asked to compare every book to every other book in that category (as in, is book XYZ or book ABC more deserving of the Whitney Award?), so it is easiest to complete voting with a ranked list. Formulating that list is the difficult part. As I read, I don't make any permanent decisions about where I will rank each book (though I have a pretty good idea with some). I do take notes about each nominee and record these on index cards. Then, as I progress with my reading, I am able to arrange those cards in the order I feel they belong.

Here is a small sample---the good, bad, and ugly---of some of the notes I've made while reading the romance nominees this year.

intense, realistic voice
Knew the end from the beginning, with no surprises along the way
Though the main characters were well developed, the secondary characters were flat and that made the storyline unbelievable.
Telling, telling, telling---so frustrating, because this plot could have been awesome.
Beautiful writing, right on for the time period.
Great romantic angst and emotional build up.
laugh out loud funny
This was a romance?
Couldn't stand the guy . . . not buying that the protagonist could either.
Fantastic voice. Different and so fun.
So much head hopping, I am dizzy.


Okay, so some of those were pretty harsh. Blame it on my critique group. We're kinda brutal, but it's all in the name of improvement. And that's the whole point of this post. I want every single romance nominee to be amazing. I want my decision, as a judge, to be nearly impossible because there are so many great choices. And more than that, I just want more good romance reads out there!

Here, once again in my opinion, are the things that make a wonderful, unforgettable romance.

A story that grabs my attention and pulls me in---
The first time I attended my critique group, I'd just finished reading what I was sure had to be a brilliant chapter, when a member of our group said to me, "I don't know where your story begins, but it isn't here. Go home, throw this away, and start over." I remember swallowing a big lump of emotion and nodding like I understood what she meant. In reality, I had no clue, and it was quite a few months before the light bulb went on and I understood that my first chapter, while sweet and lovely and all that, was nothing that was ever going to capture a reader's attention---much less a publisher's. Readers these days are busy people. The only way I have time to read is when I choose to give up sleep. About once a week, I make that choice and begin a new book around 9 pm. If that book doesn't grab me in the first chapter, forget it. I need my sleep.

So what is it that pulls me in? Voice (whatever the heck that is, right? Good Grief by Lolly Winston is an example that comes to mind), a unique situation, or an immediate problem. The place a story needs to start is in the middle of the action. But don't tell me what's going on (as too many nominees did this year) show me. Set me squarely in a setting that pulls me from my room into the main character's world. Let me see her in motion, and quickly see the type of person she is. For some excellent examples---see the finalist list next week.

Characters I care about---
This one is critical. They all are, but if you don't have this one . . . your romance isn't going to get off the ground. In a female character (assuming here that most of your readers are female), readers want someone they can, on some level, identify and empathize with. I really didn't think I would like The Hunger Games (why would a forty-year-old mom want to read about teens killing each other? We have enough of that at our house already . . .), but in that very first chapter, I began to identify with Katniss, her love for her sister and her desire to provide for her family. When she traded places with her sister and put her own life in danger, I was hooked.

That isn't to say that readers have to identify with everything in a character. Nor do we want a character to be perfect. This happens more often than not in romance, and it is very irksome. Female protagonists who are beautiful, slender, excellent cooks, good tempered, patient, kind, etc. aren't realistic. A character should be just that, someone with a unique set of qualities (and flaws) that make her human---like the rest of us. But a word of caution here, please don't create flaws in your character just to fill this requirement. This also happens far too often in romance, and readers see right through it. Instead, think hard about your protagonist's life, where she's come from and what experiences have molded her into the person she is.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the leading men in romance novels, often readers see more flaws than good. Word of warning: If the guy is a complete jerk at the beginning of the book and does something pretty unforgivable, or acts in a way that is immature, egotistical, promiscuous etc. then your reader is going to have a difficult time liking him. He'll have to change, and the reader will have to see that change (and the motivations behind it) in a believable, realistic way. If the guy is not likable or lovable, but the girl loves him anyway, the reader then loses respect for her too. So ask yourself, what is it about this guy that makes the main character love him? And does that tip the scales on any baggage he might be carrying?

A couple of things to watch for with male characters---It's all right for them to cry---once in a while, if something really drastic and awful happens. But when a guy cries, gets misty-eyed etc, all throughout the story, it's not believable or desirable. Yes, we want our men to have feelings. But we don't want them to be like us!
One other thing that the guys in my critique group have called me on a time or two---men don't over think/over analyze/over discuss stuff like women do. If you're in your guy's POV, make sure it is a guy's POV.

A believable plot--- (and I'm going to add here, an interesting plot, as well)
There are only so many romance plots out there, right? And they all keep getting recycled. To some extent this is true. And in some ways, I think the job of the romance writer is more difficult than that of those who write other genres. In a mystery or suspense novel, the reader keeps turning pages, trying to discover who did what, who is good, who is evil, what clues add up to solve the mystery etc. If it's a good suspense, often times all the threads don't tie up neatly until the last few pages. Readers are given thrills along the way and some real satisfaction for having stuck it out so long.

In a romance, boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, some difficult stuff happens, they overcome it, and they live happily ever after. As Jeff Savage would (and has) said, "bor-ing." But by definition, a romance must end with the two main characters in a committed relationship, so really, the reader knows from the get go what the ending will be. Why even bother reading a romance? Because the ways to get from A-Z are infinite. Because reading (recreating, if you're the writer) that wonderful, heady feeling of falling in love is so much fun!

What are a few ways to make that basic formula and those recycled plots believable and interesting?
-flip it around (using my own example here. In Counting Stars I based the plot loosely on a familiar rhyme---backwards. "the babies in the baby carriage, then comes marriage, last comes love")
-Consider more than one love interest (Jacob and Edward, anyone?) One of the books I think should be a finalist did this extremely well, and for much of the book, I really didn't know who the main character would end up with. What made this work is that both guys were viable choices. Sure, they weren't perfect, but there were some pretty good things going for each of them, and she had feelings for both---ahh, angst. LOVE IT!
-Assemble a good supporting cast. This really is important. I remember reading somewhere (probably in the Romance Writer's Report years ago) that every heroine needs a best friend to whom she can confide important feelings and events that move the plot forward. When a protagonist does not have this, then the reader is forced to rely on what is in the main character's head (not always bad, esp. if the book is in first person) and any action we see. Along with this, well-developed secondary characters give the story depth and make it much more believable. If the people and world around your main characters fall flat, then the story will too.

A believable love story that builds in a natural, realistic way---
Years ago, Jeff Savage taught me about a common writing mistake called, "unearned emotion." Basically, this is when a character is displaying emotion (in romance, it's usually crying) before the reader has seen the cause of that emotion or when the character really has no cause to behave that way. Even more bothersome to me than unearned emotion, is unearned intimacy. Romance is about love, not lust. But when characters are throwing themselves at each other in chapter two, it makes the reader wonder. Fortunately, we don't get much bodice ripping in the LDS market, but a passionate embrace and lengthy kiss that comes out of nowhere (as in, when the main characters have hardly spoken to each other for three chapters) is NOT believable. Worse than that, it cheats the reader of genuine, romantic tension and build up. Make us wait for that kiss, dang it. And then make it good.


Believable dialogue---this is the romance writer's greatest tool. Please make it real. Silly, flirty, and redundant conversations aren't how most people (or people we want to read about, anyway)speak to one another. Continuous fighting between characters makes a reader weary. Sure, they can start off on the wrong foot, but at some point fairly quickly in your story, that needs to change so the characters connect with each other.

Avoidance of head hopping/Point of View changes---Bless Angela Eschler for teaching me how important this is. When I turned in my first manuscript, it had several chapters with frequent POV changes. Angela (my most awesome editor at the time), said I had to fix them all. I pointed out that this is common in romance novels, and readers are smart and can easily follow POV changes. She pointed out that it was lazy writing. She was right. I was also right. Head hopping is sinfully common in the romance genre (where are all the editors, I say???), and yes, readers are generally smart enough to follow along. The problem is that it continuously pulls them out of the story. Our main job as writers is to pull the reader so thoroughly into our story that she forgets she is reading. This becomes impossible when the reader has to pay attention and is constantly jumping from one character's thoughts to the other.

I think romance writers often feel the need to show both points of view. We feel the reader needs to see both sides, right now. They don't. Josi Kilpack taught me that a scene should be placed in the POV of the character who has the most to lose. I've never gone wrong sticking with that advice. And it really is okay for the reader to wait until the next chapter to find out what the guy (or girl) is thinking.

An exercise I always do when I finish my first draft is to go back through the story and make a list, chapter by chapter, of whose point of view it is in. This helps me catch any head hopping I've done, and it also tells me if I've got the right balance in my story. Unless I'm writing in first person, I need to give a fair amount of time to the man in my story as well as the woman. A 2/3 (girl) to 1/3 (guy) to 1/2 and 1/2 ratio seems to work well.

A plot that moves forward instead of backward---Yes, you have to start your story in the action, but please don't flashback to everything before that! Flashbacks, like head hopping, are a writing sin. Especially when they are long, complicated, and frequent. There are better ways to weave important back story and information into your plot (remember that best friend?). Like head hopping, the big problem with flashbacks is that it pulls the reader from your story. Do that too many times, and she drops it permanently.

Instead, move your plot forward. Every single scene must do that. This is one I struggle with. I'm happy to let my characters linger longer. Reader's aren't. So while a chapter may show a relationship building, it also needs to have something about it that is propelling your plot toward the final crisis and conclusion.

An overall package the suspends disbelief and evokes emotion---
If you meet all of the above criteria, there's a good chance your story will suspend disbelief, but creating a story that evokes emotion can be even more difficult. At the Whitney Awards Banquet last year, when it was announced that Liz Adair's Counting the Cost won the award for best romance, I leaned over to my husband and whispered knowingly, "her book made people cry." I think books that make people feel succeed on a whole different level than books that simply entertain. That isn't to say you have to write a tear jerker romance to win a Whitney in this category. But if you're fortunate enough to have the voice, characters, plot, and romantic angst come together in a way that makes people laugh or cry, so much the better---for me as a reader! This is where writing really becomes an art form, and a practice in patience. Rewriting, editing, cutting dialogue and scenes, adding others in their place, really taking the time to play with words until they fit together magically is what being a writer is all about. Honoring those writers who have done that, is what the Whitney Awards are all about.

A sincere congratulations to each and every nominee this year. You wrote and published a book! What an amazing accomplishment. If you are a finalist, thank you for writing an outstanding book, for entertaining, inspiring, and moving the rest of us. As I said in my previous post, may we all continue to strive for excellence.

1/21/11

Judging for the Whitney Awards---part 1


Guest blog by Michele Paige Holmes, author of Counting Stars and All the Stars in Heaven. Michele blogs at My Paige. I saw Michele's post and thought you might find it very interesting. I did!


For the third year in a row I have the privilege of being a judge for the Whitney Awards. In 2008 I judged the romance category; last year I read for both the mystery and general categories (INSANE!), and this year I am happily back in familiar territory reading romance once again.

It is a privilege to be a judge for these awards. For me, being asked to judge means that someone, somewhere must think I know something about writing. I hope, that after over a decade at it, I do. To be certain, I'm still learning and growing as a writer myself, and during the years I've judged I have come across more than a book or two that was way out of my league (like last year's general fiction winner, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet).

Unfortunately, I've also come across books that have disappointed me---especially in the romance category. Romance has and probably always will get the bad rap as a genre of fluff and bodice ripping. This bothers me---a lot. I enjoy romance novels. I'm not embarassed to say I write them. After all, what could be better than writing about love, the greatest of human emotions? Writing those emotions, showing characters discovering love for the first time, working to keep that love, and overcoming obstacles to make it happen, is a wonderful thing. It's also not an easy thing to do and do well.

In a suspense or mystery novel, if the bad guy isn't all that bad (ie. truly, believably evil) and the plot is not mysterious enough to keep the reader guessing and turning pages, then things really don't work well. And most stories in this genre that don't work well, don't make it to press. The same principles apply to romance. If the characters are not loveable (to the reader and each other), and the relationship isn't shown growing (but the characters are suddenly thrown into a passionate embrace), then the story fails to be believable. And for the reader eagerly anticipating being swept away into an uplifting, romantic story, it is horribly disappointing. Unlike suspense, however, it seems there is more publisher leniency in the romance genre, and so we end up with fluff and bodice rippers. Both of which make me crazy :)

To that end, I've decided to do a couple of posts about what I personally look for in a book when judging for the Whitney Awards.

First, let me say that Whitney judges are not given a specific set of criteria to look for in a book. There are times I wish this were different, as I have judged contests with specific elements and point systems, and in many ways this makes the job of judging much easier. But because of the volume (entire books, and many of them!) that Whitney judges read and the limited time which they have to read them, the current system works best. It is not perfect---we're dealing with humans here---and it is very subjective. But I do believe those in the position of judges take their jobs seriously and work hard to treat all entries equally and fairly.

Second, I've been on the other side of contests enough---with both the Whitneys and local and national writing organizations---to know how it feels to have a beloved manuscript (or in the case of the Whitneys, a beloved book) in the hands of others to be judged. Quite honestly, it can be a terrifying, frustrating, heartbreaking experience. With all that in mind, I tread with care, hoping to shed positive light on the Whitney experience for all involved.

Here, in a nutshell, are the top five things I look for when judging the romance category. In a forthcoming post I'll talk more specifically about each of these.

  1. A story that grabs my attention and pulls me in.

  2. Characters I care about.

  3. A believable plot.

  4. A love story that builds in a natural, realistic way (see #3).

  5. Good writing---believable dialogue, avoidance of head hopping/POV changes, a plot that moves forward, not back (as in continuous flashbacks), and an overall package that suspends disbelief and evokes emotion (laughter or sadness---love them both).

While reading Whitney nominees this year, I've come across books that failed at many of these. Happily, I have also read others that hit every one right on. To those writers, I say a heartfelt thank you for making my job so enjoyable. It is my hope that as the Whitney Awards continue to grow, being a judge becomes more difficult, as more and more of the nominees will consistently meet the above criteria. The Whitneys are all about reaching for, achieving, and recognizing excellence. May all of us who write continue to strive for it.

1/14/11

Random Writing Tip: Epiphany

There is no such word as "epithany"—nor is it "epifany," nor "epuphany," nor any of several other imaginative spellings I've seen in manuscripts (and on blogs and Facebook) lately.

Epiphany—as it's most commonly used in stories and among writers—is when a character experiences a sudden moment of perception, insight or revelation of deeper meaning or direction.

An author might have an epiphany about a character or plot line.

A character might have an epiphany about the meaning of his/her life.

In the case of a character, it should be rare. Limit yourself to one per book.

1/13/11

Contest Point System Explained

I was wondering about what you said about judging the Publisher's Choice of story: "Publisher's Choice winners will be judged on a variety of criteria, according to a point system." Would you be willing to explain this point system?

Sure. This was referring to the recent Christmas story contest. Those who enter get a doc file with their points and comments in the various areas. (I've sent some out already; still working on others.)



  • Submitted Correctly: 1 = Yes; 0 = No

  • Title: 2 = Great; 1 = Good; 0 = Change

  • Word Count Limit: 1 = 3,000 or less; 0 = Over

  • Length Appropriate for Story: 1 = Yes; 0 = No

  • Grammar Mistakes: 2 = Few; 1 = More; 0 = Too Many

  • Spelling/Typos: 2 = Few; 1 = More; 0 = Too Many

  • Adverb/Adjective/Cliché: 2 = Few; 1 = More; 0 = Too Many

  • Show, Not Tell: 2 = Great; 1 = Good; 0 = Needs Work

  • POV: 2 = Great; 1 = Good; 0 = Needs Work

  • Dialog: 2 = Great; 1 = Good; 0 = Needs Work

  • Dialog Tags: 2 = Great; 1 = Good; 0 = Needs Work

  • Characterization: 2 = Great; 1 = Good; 0 = Needs Work

  • Setting/Sense of Place: 2 = Great; 1 = Good; 0 = Needs Work

  • Appeals to Senses: 2 = Great; 1 = Good; 0 = Needs Work

  • Hook: 2 = Great; 1 = Good; 0 = Needs Work

  • Plot/Arc: 2 = Great; 1 = Good; 0 = Needs Work

  • Overall Structure: 2 = Great; 1 = Good; 0 = Needs Work

  • Christmas Theme/Message: 1 = Yes; 0 = No

  • Original/Unique: 2 = Surprised Me; 1 = Familiar but Good; 0 = Read it Before

  • Miscellaneous: 2 = Great; 1 = Good; 0 = Needs Work

  • Personal Enjoyment: 2 = Loved; 1 = Liked; 0 = Try Again Next Year

Total Score Possible: 38

Generally, a story has to get 30 or more before I consider it publication ready.

Adding Links to Reviews on LDS Fiction

A little self-congratulation here:

If you want more views and info on LDS fiction, Andrew Hall is starting a new feature on his Dawning of a Brighter Day blog. He will be doing "a weekly column covering the world of Mormon literature"—and linking to the book pages on my LDS Fiction blog. He will also post links to reviews for the books in the comments section on my blog. That way, you'll have easy access to reviews of books that sound interesting to you.

Cool!

Thanks, Andrew!

1/12/11

Will Trade Ad Space for Books

Is your book on the 2010 Whitney nominee list? If it is, I want to make a proposal—a win/win trade, of sorts.

As much as I'd love to, I can't afford to purchase every book that makes the Whitney list.

Yes, I have a library. Yes, it has lots and lots of books.

No, they do not have all of the Whitney nominees, and probably will not have all of the Whitney finalists. (They didn't last year.)

Even if they do have them, I can't always get my hands on a copy in a timely manner. Today I put 20 Whitney nominees that I think will most likely be finalists on hold at my library. I was number 12+ on the list for almost all of them. The chances of them coming through in time are minimal.

So my proposal is this. If you are on the list and you have your book in e-book format* I would love to read it. If you send me a FREE copy of your book so that I can read it without going crazy hunting it down, I will, in exchange for that FREE e-copy of your book:
  • give you a FREE 30 day ad on my sidebar under the "Sponsored by...Books!" heading (value: $25)

  • read your entire book

  • if I like it, I will vote for it on my Whitney ballot (okay, if I like it, I'll vote for it whether or not you send me a copy)
And what if you're not a Whitney nominee right now, but you have a book coming out in 2011? Same offer. Send me your book in one of the standard e-book formats* and I'll give you a free 30 day ad.**

If you want to take me up on this offer, please send me an e-mail with the e-book as an attachment. I will let you know I've received it and when your ad will go up.

Thanks so much!


*I can read all standard e-book formats—pdf, epub, pdb, azw, lrf; I can also convert a Word (.doc or .docx) file. Do not send your original manuscript file. Send the publication file.


**2011 book ads will start after the 2010 Whitney winners are announced and will be limited to 10 ads on display at any given time. Ad placement will be first come, first displayed.

1/11/11

Subjectivity and Fairness

Having concluded the 2010 Best Cover Contest, I want to talk a little bit about subjectivity and fairness. A few comments expressed disappointment that certain covers had been selected and others neglected, disbelief that some covers got as many votes as they did, and even a few inferences that maybe the voting was rigged.

I want to address the last one first. There is always the possibility in any contest like this that people will vote multiple times, using various computers. Or that a publisher will have everyone in their company go vote for their books. Or that the mother or best friend of someone involved will call all their friends and relatives and threaten to disown them if they don't vote in a particular way. I have no control over that and I can't stop it from happening, so we assume good faith and a certain level of integrity here.

As far as I can tell, no one cheated, nor did they apply undue pressure on voters.

What is more likely, however, is that some people just help spread the word about the contest a little better than others, and the natural result is that they encouraged people with similar tastes to come vote. That's just the way of it. The winners won fair and square within the guidelines of the contest—to subjectively select the most appealing covers.

Subjectivity is a fascinating subject. Subjective refers to "relating to the mind of the thinking subject [the person] and not the nature of the object being considered."* It's a matter of personal taste and preference.

I have this compelling interest to know why someone chooses one thing and someone else chooses another thing. Often it's based upon completely intangible and indiscernible preferences, rarely upon the instrinsic value or structure of that thing. I find it fascinating that people voted on book covers based upon whether or not they liked trains, or had a fear of drowning, or preferred the color blue. I happen to have had a passion for mermaids since I was in fifth grade, which may have had as much to do with why I chose The Forbidden Sea as my favorite as did the enchanting illustration.

Such is the case with subjectivity—and again, I say the winners won fair and square.

Subjectivity is also one of the reasons why some manuscripts are accepted and others rejected. Yes, there are certain levels of quality in writing that can be measured objectively—grammar, format, plot line, timing, characterization, etc. But even those can be influenced by individual preferences and idiosyncrasies.

As for whether or not a story is "good"—there's as much subjectivity involved in that evaluation as there was in our book cover contest. Pay attention to the feedback you get from readers. If they all say the same thing, it's more than subjective. Fix whatever it is and try again. But don't let a few rejections cause you to give up on your dreams of writing. Keep submitting until you find a subjective match!

*Dictionary.com

1/10/11

Book Cover Awards

Got a few emails stating confusion over the award images and who gets them for their blogs. I realized that not only did I not do a good job of explaining, but also that they weren't even all available for grabbing here.

Sorry. The winners are listed immediately below the image they can use. Some covers received multiple awards. Use any or all of the ones you're eligible for.

The Forbidden Sea by Sheila A. Nielson
Publisher: Scholastic



Sun Tunnels and Secrets by Carole Thayne Warburton
Publisher: Walnut Springs



Growing Up Gracie by Maggie Fechner
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Genre: General/Women's

The Widower's Wife by Prudence Bice
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Genre: Historical

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: Middle Grade

Deadline by Clair M. Poulson
Publisher: Covenant
Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Imprints by Rachel Ann Nunes
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Genre: Romance

Mr. Monster (UK Cover) by Dan Wells
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
Genre: Speculative

Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre: Young Adult

The Forbidden Sea by Sheila A. Nielson
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy




Sun Tunnels and Secrets by Carole Thayne Warburton
Publisher: Walnut Springs
Genre: General/Women's

The Widower's Wife by Prudence Bice
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Genre: Historical

Choke by Obert Skye
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Genre: Middle Grade

The Overton Window by Glenn Beck
Publisher: Threshold Editions
Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Imprints by Rachel Ann Nunes
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Genre: Romance

Queen in Exile by Donna Hatch
Publisher: Walnut Springs
Category: Speculative

Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre: Young Adult

Matched by Ally Condie
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Genre: YA Fantasy



Congrats to all the winners!

And thank you to everyone who voted.

2010 Best Book Cover

And the winner is—as voted by LDS Publisher blog readers:

Sun Tunnels and Secrets by Carole Thayne Warburton
Publisher: Walnut Springs
Category: General/Women's


My favorite cover of 2010 was:

The Forbidden Sea by Sheila A. Nielson
Publisher: Scholastic

The image doesn't quite do it justice but that illustration is gorgeous, compelling, inviting and perfect for Nielson's target reader—girls 12+. I also like the font choice.

Both of you can copy the image of the gold trophy in the sidebar and post it on your blogs. Please link back to this post.

I'll be going back to the genre posts and commenting what I liked about each book cover and which I chose as the genre category winners.

1/7/11

2010 Best Cover Finalists

The winners in each of the genre categories are now going head-to-head for the 2010 Best Cover of the Year Award!

(If you want to see how the voting breaks down, click on the poll in each genre post and it should take you to a page showing the percentages.

Although I originally said I'd add my favorites to this list, I decided to only list the ones that won the votes. Only two of my favorites actually made the cut. When the voting is all done, I'll post comments on each of the genres, stating what I liked and why.

So, without further ado, here they are (in alphabetical order by title):


Choke by Obert Skye
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Category: Middle Grade



Imprints by Rachel Ann Nunes
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Category: Romance



Matched by Ally Condie
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Category: YA Fantasy



The Overton Window by Glenn Beck
Publisher: Threshold Editions
Category: Mystery/Suspense



Queen in Exile by Donna Hatch
Publisher: Walnut Springs
Category: Speculative



Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison
Publisher: Razorbill
Category: Young Adult



Sun Tunnels and Secrets by Carole Thayne Warburton
Publisher: Walnut Springs
Category: General/Women's



The Widower's Wife by Prudence Bice
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Category: Historical

In this poll, you may vote for two. Vote through midnight, Sunday, January 9th. I'll post the winner on Monday.




1/3/11

2010 Book Cover Contest


Welcome to the Second Annual Book Cover Contest!

(See First Annual Book Cover Contest HERE.)

I've divided the covers into eight genres, each genre with its own post page. Yes, last year there were seven genres but, like the Whitney Awards, this year I split YA into regular YA and YA Fantasy. There were just too many to share the category—and really, the YA Fantasy has an unfair advantage.

I've picked my top five favorite covers for each genre and posted them in alphabetical order.

Covers were picked based on how attractive I thought they were, and how well they communicated the feeling of the genre and the title. It had nothing to do with what is actually inside the book.

My personal tastes lean toward a cleaner look. I don't like cluttered or fuzzy images. I like all styles—photographic, artistic, and clip art. I don't care how big the title and/or author name is but it has to blend well with the image and not detract from it. I really like clever use of fonts—a dated font is usually going to nix a cover for me.

We could argue the artistic merits and complexities of these covers till the cows come home, but let's don't, because basically, choosing a book by its cover is an emotional response to the visual imagery and it's going to be different for everyone.

So, here are the basic guidelines:
  • Pick your favorite COVER, not your favorite book or author.

  • Vote using the VIZU polls at the end of each genre category post. You may vote for one book cover in each genre.

  • Please leave comments stating why you liked a particular cover, or not. Be subjective—why/how did it grab you? How did it make you feel?

  • You may point out that I obviously have no taste because I missed THE best cover in the genre—and tell us in the comments which covers you may think were unfairly overlooked. (Just be nice and don't call me names).

  • You may send all your friends over to vote, but please tell them to vote for the most visually appealing cover, and not for your book because you're friends.

  • You may vote through midnight Thursday, January 6, 2011.

  • On Friday, January 7, I'll post the winners from each genre—both Readers Choice (your vote) and Publishers Choice (my vote).

  • After the genre winners are posted, we'll vote over the weekend for the overall winner—chosen from the genre winners.

  • On Monday, January 10th, I'll post the overall winner—both Readers Choice (your vote) and Publishers Choice (my vote).

*If your book cover is one of these genre finalists, feel free to grab the silver image at the top of this post as an award to put on your blog or website. Please link back to this site so your site visitors will know what the award is all about.

2010 General/Women's Book Covers

Band of Sisters by Annette Lyon
Publisher: Covenant

LDSP comment: Band of Sisters is a definitely a book for women. I thought the image of the women's stacking fists communicated that very well. I also liked the color. I didn't care so much for the title in a box, right there in the middle of the image, but I did like the scroll work around it.


Growing Up Gracie by Maggie Fechner
Publisher: Cedar Fort

LDSP comment: I loved everything about this cover. It would definitely have me picking it up from the bookstore shelf and flipping it over to read the back. I like the image, that it takes up the entire cover and that the truck is off center. I like the fonts used for the title and the author's name. I like their placement on the cover and that they don't detract from the image. I even like the scrollery at the very top and the "a novel" in the middle. This book is my choice in this genre.


Leaning Into the Curves by Nancy Anderson & Carroll Hofeling Morris
Publisher: Deseret Book

LDSP comment: This is what I call LDS Chick Lit. I think the cover did a very good job of communicating that. I loved everything about this cover, too—the colors, the image placement, the fonts, the little flower in the top left and bottom right. It didn't bother me one bit that the legs are a little too shapely for a "mature" woman. This is my second place choice—and I really debated a long time between Leaning Into the Curves and Growing Up Gracie.



My Gift to You by Lori Nawyn
Publisher: Covenant

LDSP comment: I chose this as one of my genre finalists because of its simplicity. I like the lacy background. I like the blues. While the title and the cover match, I'm not sure I would have chosen that title myself. I might have gone with something a little catchier.



Sun Tunnels and Secrets by Carole Thayne Warburton
Publisher: Walnut Springs

LDSP comment: Of all the categories, this one had the fewest covers to choose from. I chose Sun Tunnels and Secrets because of the cool image of the tunnels. I agree with some of the comments that the cover is a little dated and, other than that image, doesn't do much more to invite me to pick it up. I have to admit, this was an add in because I wanted five books in each category, and I'm surprised that it won the Reader's Choice for both the genre and the overall.


2010 Historical Cover Finalists

Escape to Zion by Jean Holbrook Mathews
Publisher: Covenant

LDSP comment: I liked the old-fashioned feel of this cover. I especially liked the image at the top. I would have done more with that. I didn't much care for the bottom image or the title banner that cuts the cover in half. But overall, it was enough to catch my eye and find a place in the contest.



Finding Rose by Stephanie Humphreys
Publisher: Walnut Springs

LDSP comment: Finding Rose is a lovely cover. I like the girl. Sometimes in photos like this, the model is wearing too much make-up. This one is a tad heavy on the mascara and her eyebrows are plucked a little too modernly, but I can live with that. In real life, the pink on the cover stands out a bit more, making it even prettier. I like the faded edges, the title fonts and the scroll work.



The Sheen on the Silk by Anne Perry
Publisher: Ballantine Books

LDSP comment: The thing I like most about this cover is the vivid colors. You don't see that a lot on historical covers—and I love it. For that reason alone, it got a place in the finalists. Overall, it didn't win my vote because I think it's too busy, the author's name is too big, and the title is sort of wimpy and lost in the design.


The Water Is Wide by Marianne Monson
Publisher: Deseret Book

LDSP comment: At first glance, this isn't a very eye-catching cover, but the more I looked at it, the more I liked it. The muted colors fit the genre category (I know I just said that the vibrant colors got the nod in the previous cover. What can I say? I'm fickle!) I like the compass at the top, the background moire pattern and how it sort of splashes up into the darker color at the top. I even like the boat. And I love the font chosen for the title.


The Widower's Wife by Prudence Bice
Publisher: Cedar Fort

LDSP comment: I really, really like this cover and it's my winner in this category. It's got a lot going on without being too busy for me. The placement of the title and the "A Novel" is perfect. I love the font choices and that cameo inserted for the 'O'. The train, the letter and the seal place us squarely in the appropriate time period. Everything about it works for me.


2010 Middle Grade Cover Finalists

LDSP comment: I have to say that I really like all the covers I picked in this category. REALLY LIKED.

Publisher: Scholastic Press

LDSP comment: I love that giant robot thing. I love that we only see it from waist down. That is so awesome! It loses a few points for me because the two characters get lost in the awesomeness of the robot legs. Also, while I like the placement of the word Alcatraz, the rest of the title feels cluttery to me. Also, the author's name just sort of hangs there at the bottom. Not sure what I'd have done differently, just giving my opinion on what is.



Choke by Obert Skye
Publisher: Shadow Mountain

LDSP comment: Love this cover. Love the image. Love the fonts. Love the placement of elements. The only thing I'd do differently is make the title stand out a bit more—which it does if you see the book in person—but still, it gets a little lost for me.


The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby
Publisher: Scholastic Press

LDSP comment: My favorite cover in this genre category! I LOVE that robot guy. (Hmmm, yes, I guess I have a thing for robot guys.) I love that his chest opens up to reveal clockworks and the title/author. I like that we see the kids looking in. One glance and we know this is a Middle Grade fantasy. Yep! Winner. The one thing I'd change is the font choice for the title. I'd go with something a little more substantial.

I like the UK version even better. If I'd seen it before the contest, it would have been here instead.



The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little
Publisher: Scholastic Press

LDSP comment: A very nice cover. Love the title font and placement. Love the image. Love everything about it. It just didn't grab me quite as much as Clockwork Three or ...


Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile

LDSP comment: My second choice! And a very close second. I would definitely have grabbed up this book when I was a middle-grader. I love the font, the color, the placement of elements, the feeling of a secret magical hideaway. Love it!



2010 Mystery Suspense Cover Finalists

Blink of an Eye by Gregg Luke
Publisher: Covenant

LDSP comment: I haven't read this book yet but it's on my To Read Very Soon list because of this cover. Isn't it just sort of creepy awesome? You zero right in on that eyeball and everything else is secondary. Including the title, which lost points for me. Author's name is good as a visual element for size and placement. However, I might have switched the Title and Author elements—making the title big and the author's name curve up the side. Or maybe not. What do you think?


Dangerous Connections by Julie Coulter Bellon
Publisher: Covenant

LDSP comment: I chose this one because of the gradient colors , the water drops, and that image in the center. My first thought was, "What the heck is that?" Then I realized, oh. Biochemical warfare. Awesome! Once again, the image here does not do the cover justice. The colors in real life are more eye-catching. I like the white author name, size and placement. I'm not as thrilled with the font choice of the title. Even though it's the kind of type you'd see on army boxes, it still seems...odd. Maybe it's more the size, color and placement that is off for me, rather than the font. Opinions?


Deadline by Clair M. Poulson
Publisher: Covenant

LDSP comment: Genre winner for me. Havent' read it. Have no idea if the cover is a good representation of what's inside but I love that cover! Every. Single. Thing. It just screams suspense novel to me. Love the newspaper, the blood, the title color, the big bold author name. I will definitely pick it up and give it a look!


No Place to Hide by Kristoffer Neff
Publisher: Granite

LDSP comment: This one gets the "ooo! creepy..." my award. From the title up, it works for me. Those eyes behind the boys are just awesomely evil. *shiver* However, I find that my eyes never really make it to that bottom third of the cover. Wasted space.


The Overton Window by Glenn Beck
Publisher: Threshold Editions

LDSP comment: Political Thriller. You'd know that from the cover, even if it didn't say "A Thriller" under the title. I have no idea what the Statue of Liberty is holding in her left hand, but the cover makes me want to find out. I like the blue. I like the placement of elements. And I really like those birds. (Visions of Hitchcock, anyone?)



2010 Romance Cover Finalists

LDSP comment: This is a really good category to speak to the subjectiveness of covers. Jennie thinks some of them look fluffy and like they're written for children. I couldn't disagree more.

I love the whimsical nature of some of these covers. They let you know right away that the book is what I call a "Paul McCartney Romance" (music; lyrics)—a fun, light read.

So, who's right? Me or Jennie? Both of us! That's the point.

It was hard for me to pick a favorite from these covers because I love every single one of them, for various reasons. They all deserve notice and recognition!


The Broken Road by Shannon Guymon
Publisher: Cedar Fort

LDSP comment: I love the whimsy of this cover. I think it's the best cover of all Shannon Guymon's books, by far. I love the image, the loneliness of the empty bench and the road/town that stretches out behind it; I love the sweet and gentle colors; I love the fonts chosen for both title and author name; I love the placement of elements. Even the "A Novel" doesn't distract for me. Yes, I just love this cover!


Cross My Heart by Julie Wright
Publisher: Covenant

LDSP comment: Another bench book. As I said in the comments trail, I debated between The Broken Road and this book for a long time because they had a similar feel and they both had benches. But in the end, I just could not decide which one to not include. I love the colors in this cover. I love the fanciful tree limbs. I'm not a big fan of putting titles in boxes or clouds, so that is the one thing I would have done differently. I might also change the font used for the author's name. It's old and it doesn't go well with the title font. But that said, I still love this cover.


Imprints by Rachel Ann Nunes
Publisher: Shadow Mountain

LDSP comment: After extended deliberation in this category, I finally went with this cover as my favorite—but there were issues. I wouldn't have chosen it as winner in this category if they hadn't thrown in that couple at the bottom. That was necessary to say "romance" as opposed to chick lit or paranormal. I didn't care for the font choice used for the title, or its size and placement in relation to the author's name.

So with those issues, why did I pick this as a winner? Because this cover was so intriguing to me that it would have grabbed me no matter which genre it was in! It's so ethereal and complex. I like the locket and the eye, and their placement relative to each other. I love the colors and the swooshes. I just could not make myself look away—and that's why it won my vote.



Luck of the Draw by Rachael Renee Anderson
Publisher: Cedar Fort

LDSP comment: Again, I like everything about this cover. The playfulness, the colors, the big-eyed girls, the placement of elements. I even like the laundry in the background, even though I have no idea what it has to do with the story. A-plus!


Meg's Melody by Kaylee Baldwin
Publisher: Cedar Fort

LDSP comment: Normally, I do not like these more realistic, photographic covers with people on them. They interfere with my imagining of the character—and sometimes they are so not how the character is described in the story. I haven't read this book yet, so I'm not biased against it. I like the lacy overlay, the colors, the font choices for the title. And that photo says it all, doesn't it? Given the genre, we know what this story is going to be about.


The Rogue Shop by Michael Knudsen
Publisher: Cedar Fort

LDSP comment: If Imprints didn't grab me so forcefully every time I looked at it, this would have been my winner. I love this cover. The tux, the colors, the skyline at the bottom, the fonts, placement, everything. This is one really well put together cover! Kudos!



(Yes, I know this genre has six finalists. I couldn't decide. Deal with it.)




2010 Speculative Cover Finalists

Mr. Monster (UK Cover) by Dan Wells
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group

LDSP comment: Winner! Winner! Winner! I loved this cover the moment I laid eyes on it early this year, and I still love this cover. The colors. The ripped paper. The eyes. Yep! This is probably my second favorite all-time cover for 2010. And yep, it's totally and completely subjective. I can't even explain why I like it so much, I just do!


Mr. Monster (US Cover) by Dan Wells
Publisher: TOR

LDSP comment: If I'd never seen the UK version of this cover, this would have been my winner in this category. I've talked with Dan Wells (in my daytime, alter-ego persona) and he likes this cover better. There are really cool aspects to this cover, like his name on the knife. And the one little drop of blood. But still...I like UK better. Sorry, Dan.


Queen in Exile by Donna Hatch
Publisher: Walnut Springs

LDSP comment: If this were a medieval romance, it would have never made finalist for me. The girl on the cover is too modern looking. But since it's speculative, I'm letting that slide. She really is quite lovely. I like the title fontage and placement as an element. The castle in the background is almost too much, too busy. But overall, I like it.


Song of the Dragon by Tracy Hickman
Publisher: DAW

LDSP comment: Hickman covers have never been my favorites. They are generally too busy and the illustration too complicated for my tastes. But I really like this one. It's simpler and cleaner, with my eye making a smooth transition from top to bottom, instead of leaping around all over the place. Hope his future covers are more like this one.


A Tapestry of Spells by Lynn Kurland
Publisher: Berkley Trade


LDSP comment: This is a more traditional epic fantasy cover. I like the colors. I'm really into blue this year. I like the placement of the image. It grabbed my attention right away so much that I didn't even really need to read the author name or title—but I did eventually notice them. I really like the font they've used in this series.


2010 YA Cover Finalists (Non-Fantasy)

The Hoarders by Jean Stringham
Publisher: Cedar Fort

LDSP comment: I like this cover! I'm not sure that it's the best for catching the attention of the YA reader, but it certainly caught mine. The only thing I didn't like was the author's name. Too small and too hard to read.


Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison
Publisher: Razorbill

LDSP comment: A great cover—and winner for me! I think it would have great appeal to YA girls. I love that cautious, tenuous connection between the two hands, so fragile as is young love. I like the blurred snow effect. I love the title fonts and placement and the author's name across the bottom. Even the little teaser in the top right is perfect. I repeat: Great cover!


Taming the Wind by Michelle Thompson
Publisher: Cedar Fort

LDSP comment: Another captivating cover that will really appeal to the target reader. That face with the hair blowing across it is great. Good placement of elements, good title font. I like the wilderness at the bottom. Very intriguing and on my To Read list based on cover alone.


Tombs of Terror by T Lynn Adams
Publisher: Cedar Fort

LDSP comment: I like this cover. I'm not sure about the level of appeal for teen boys but I like it. I especially like the colors and the title as graphic image. I also like the way it draws your eye into the center and right down that tunnel.


Wolves, Boys, & Other Things That Might Kill Me by Kristen Chandler
Publisher: Viking Juvenile

LDSP comment: This was a cover that grew on me. I always liked that blue background and the title as a graphic element. I liked the upside down wolf. But I wasn't sure about the way it was put together. The one thing I really didn't like was the girl. Her image is still my least favorite element of the cover, but the more I come back to this cover, the more it intrigues me.