Friday, September 26, 2008

Death and the Lit Chick

G. M. Malliet worked as a journalist and copywriter for national and international news publications and public broadcasters. Winner of the Malice Domestic Grant (Death of a Cozy Writer) and the Romance Writers of America's Stiletto Award, Malliet attended Oxford University and holds a graduate degree from the University of Cambridge.She and her husband live in Virginia. For a description of Death and the Lit Chick, see http://gmmalliet.com/

Several years ago, my husband and I belonged to a neighborhood book club. It lasted only about two years, then the group dissolved: attrition, conflicting and busy schedules, and all the rest made it too difficult to meet. What was slightly unusual about this club was that it was comprised of three men and three women. I don't have statistics to back this up, but I imagine most book clubs are female only or predominantly female.

What was also unusual was that, about eighteen months into our monthly meetings, we realized we had read only books by male authors. I don't remember the books now, except for Peace Like a River (lovely writing) and some god-awful attempt at imitating the Travis McGee books. My point is: We may have come a long way, baby, but somehow, without even realizing it, the women had gone along with choosing the more muscular books they thought the men might like, rather than making the men struggle through something like Sex and the City. I guess we knew they would flat-out refuse and that would be the end of that.

This is a pathetic confession to have to make; to this day I can't believe we women behaved like this, without even realizing we were doing so. The whole episode has been in my mind now that the ramp-up to my second novel in the St. Just mystery series has begun. A key--nay, a crucial--part of this ramp-up is the unveiling of the book cover, which, rightly or wrongly, can raise or sink a book. The first book was called Death of a Cozy Writer, and it was beautifully illustrated, I thought, by a fountain pen dripping blood (trust me, it sounds awful but it looks great). The second book is called Death and the Lit Chick, the cover for which appears above.

My first reaction on seeing this cover was that I loved it--I thought it was clever and impactful, looking like the spilled contents of a woman's purse (although it did portray many items not mentioned in the plot--a subject many authors over the centuries have ranted about so there's no need for me to repeat the rantings here). But my husband took one look and declared that no man would be caught dead buying that book unless it came supplied with a brown paper wrapper.

Worriedly, I reported the findings of my two-person survey to my editor, fearing I was going to lose the male audience that I knew existed for the first book. The second book was in the identical, traditional British mystery vein (there is nothing chick litty about the plot). But would I lose the men forever with this one? She told me that my audience would largely be female, anyway, and female was the target audience.

Is this true? I hate to lose the guys over a cover. Perhaps Death and the Lit Chick can be a litmus test, the way my book club was. If challenged, will "real men" buy a girly looking pink-and-red book with lipstick on the cover?

We shall see come April.

G.M. Malliet
http://gmmalliet.com/

13 comments:

  1. Not only does my Hubby agree with your Hubby, but I agree. I have two sons and I know they'd never pick up a book without a manly or sexy cover.

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  2. I;m back. I do choose books if not by author first, then the cover attacts me. Afte that I reaad the back cover blurb. At this point, I pretty much have decided whether to by the book or not.

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  3. Hi, Pat. What do you yourself think about this cover? What was your gut reaction? Would you be enticed to pick it up for a closer look?

    We'll take it as a given that men will run screaming for cover at the sight of it. No pun intended. ;-)

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  4. I do expect a cover to give some indication of what's inside. That's why I gravitate to Hard Case Crime, which may support the stereotype of men versus women. However, the cover isn't all. I'll read a book I know to be a good read regardless of the cover--cozies as well as hardboiled. I like the cover of Death of a Cozy Writer because the pen leaking blood indicates that there's a mystery inside. Nothing on the cover of Death of a Lit Chick indicates mystery. Even the title could mean death by accident or natural causes. If there was a bullet hole in the rose-colored glasses, I would pick it up in a heartbeat.

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  5. Hey Gin!

    It's beautiful. It's glamorous. I mean, do we worry about how the cover of say, Vanity Fair magazine looks? Vogue?

    I agree about the man thing. The first cover of Prime Time (which I love) was a significantly woman-only deal. And I did worry about that. Then I got an email from a male reader who actually said he couldnt believe his weekend was "hijacked" by a book that looked like that.

    (We'll soon see what the cover of the new version looks like...)

    Me? Oh, yes, I would definitely pick it up. Its the Desperate Housewives/Project Runway/Lipstick Jungle look.

    Plus, it's wry. It's appealing. It picks up the theme from your first book. Congratulations.

    (Hi Stilettos!)

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  6. Malliet's first book was an absolute page turner, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm sure the second book will be as exciting. But, the cover for book two is a little strange. Not too many guys I know will be carrying this around. The first cover was brilliant.

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  7. I love this new cover! But I hate to say I agree with your hubby (because I WANT times to have changed) but I can't imagine a man reading this on the subway. I DID see a man reading a romance novel ONCE in all the years I have ridden it and I was impressed with his sense of self. LOL

    On the other hand, they might very very well read their wives copy in the safe environment of their home.

    And another sad truth is that not enough men seem to be willing to even try cozies/traditionals.

    Cultural stereotyping, its a bitch!

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  8. Terri - I love the image of your devil-may-care subway rider with his romance novel.

    Maybe he was looking for tips on how to woo his lady love? In which case, a romance novel might not be the best place to start...

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  9. G.M. - Personally, I love Mark's idea above about a bullet hole in the rose-colored glasses! Very cool!

    The sad truth is, most men will not pick up a book with a girly cover, but that doesn't mean they won't buy it on-line and have it shipped to them if they enjoy the author. My third book, Thugs and Kisses (pink and black), is not a cover or title most men would pick up, yet I get a surprisingly large number of men who tell me they bought and read it.

    BTW - I'm LOVING Death of a Cozy Writer!

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  10. It's true...something like 80% of all readers are women. We could get into the whole, male "I only read non-fiction" malarky here, but staying on message - I think a really girly cover is going to turn off most of the other 20%. I'm struggling with a similar issue right now. The last version of the cover of my second book looked like an old Mrs. Pollifax cover...silly, wacky. I hated it. I sometimes think art directors are forced onto one of two tracks - pink, whimsical typeface, preferably with cats, or red/black/gray there must be a serial killer noir. What about all the books in between? Someone's got to come up with a word to replace the dreaded "cozy." Maybe that would help.

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  11. Women seem to read just about anything, whatever the cover. Men, however, seem to be a different story. My husband would not buy that cover. He would, however, read it if I bought it and told him it was good. He'll read most anything, but I don't know that he'd stuff it in his briefcase for a trip.

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  12. I just finished Death of a Lit Chick and loved it, but I'm not sure I would have picked it up if I'd seen it at the bookstore (I pre-ordered it months ago because I'd loved Death of a Cozy Writer). The cover is beautiful, but does look chick-lit-ish (if that's a word) and not like a mystery.

    However, a fantastic follow-up to Death of a Cozy Writer.

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  13. "allisonmariecat" - Thanks so much for this nice comment!

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