All Any Book Needs is a Potter Cover

I just woke from a nightmare, my first in ages.

I was rushing to get ready for a job I don’t have. A nameless person was pushing me: Hurry up, hurry up! I wanted to upload my latest book, so I did. Suddenly I was all smiles. I went to the nonexistent office, happy as a cat tangling very expensive mohair yarn (this had to have come from AJ, since we talked yarns recently) and realized with a sick feeling in my stomach I’d forgotten to add a cover. Horrors! This was the Worst Thing That Ever Happened. When I got home, I went online to delete the book until I could fix it and saw the site had slapped Harry Potter on the cover. Not only that, it had sold the most copies in one day of any self-published book EVER. 

I woke up in one hell of a bad mood because it had taken misrepresenting my work as a Potter tome to achieve bestseller status.

Every author dreams of hitting the big time, of having the latest breakthrough novel that readers gush over. We all want to have the talk shows clamoring for our witty presence, because what else can we be but insanely awesome on camera (never mind that we will sing only in the shower and claim dark corners at parties)? We want Hollywood begging to hand us millions to make the movie.

But the truth is, most of us make almost nothing. We sit hunched over our laptops in a pool of lamp light, creating our worlds and populating them with people that only live in our heads, and hope we’ll connect with even a handful of readers. 

Why do we do it? Hell if I know, but we continue churning out stories that make our eyes sparkle with glee and cause our breath to catch in our throats. We continue giving up sleep and a social life for the rare privilege of playing the game of pretend in public. Getting paid, for most of us, is icing on the cake, and having a novel hit big? Unheard of!

We hope for that, we long for it, we–um, I–dream about it at night. But in the cold harsh light of dawn, we know it will likely never happen. Because here’s the thing most writers share like a dirty secret: we don’t think we have the talent. We never think we’re good enough. We live in perpetual fear we’re about to be revealed as impostors.

That showed up in the nightmare, too. I remember distinctly the terror I experienced when I saw the bogus Potter cover on my book and thought of the readers opening to the first page only to discover they’d been hoodwinked! This was no Potter book (interpretation: bestselling, enthralling, amazingly written). This was a piece of crap and, by association, so was the writer.

The thing we writers have to remember is one person’s crap is another person’s favorite novel. A few months ago, I caught an old movie on Netflix called Rich and Famous. It starred Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset (and in a tiny role, Meg Ryan as Bergen’s daughter). Bergen and Bisset were best friends, and both of them were writers. Bergen wrote big trashy sex-laced books that everyone loved and they made her rich. Bisset wrote small literary novels that required she open a vein to underscore every word in blood, and she was blocked.

The movie’s a hoot and I recommend you catch it if you have a couple hours to spare, but the point is, these women wrote two very different things and experienced completely different reactions to their writing, yet both achieved acclaim of some sort.

In other words, write what you must and stop worrying about how it will be received. You’re not an impostor, you’re a writer. And if you have to slap a Potter cover on the book to get people’s attention, well… consider it. ;/

About Theo Fenraven

Theo Fenraven lives in St Paul, MN, where it is really cold most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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21 Responses to All Any Book Needs is a Potter Cover

  1. AJ Rose says:

    Dude, I’m afraid of mohair. I don’t care how soft it is. What if I fuck up? That shit can’t even be frogged.

    I think perhaps I’ll just write the stories that come to me, do my best by them cover and promo-wise, put ‘em out there, and move on to the next. Maybe people will like them, or maybe they’ll say the MC was ‘too stupid to live’ (that’s in an actual review of one of mine, though she found enough good stuff not to trash it), but I have to write them regardless.

    A writer we know doesn’t even look at her reviews. She won’t see anything, bad or good, about her work. While I would love to adopt that stance–because doesn’t it have just the right balance of give-a-fuck?–I can’t. I’m too curious. I have to know. And truthfully, I learn from the bad ones and am buoyed by the good ones.

    Will I make money? Meh, possibly, but probably not a whole lot. I would love to write for a living. But in this day and age, with ebooks flooding the market and the competition worse than a bunch of bridesmaids vying to catch the bouquet, I don’t know that my name will get noticed. I still have to write. It’s a part of who I am.

    • I stopped checking reviews at Goodreads. I’m starting to believe the people that run that place enjoy the snark. They don’t encourage it but they let it happen. I’ve known more than one writer who was forced to tears over things said on that site.

      I know myself. Tough as nails on the outside but a marshmallow inside. Words can hurt, and badly.

      But I check professional review sites and pay attention to what they say. I’m always looking for ways to improve.

    • I’ve frogged silk/mohair blends before. It’s not easy, I was crocheting lace, but it can be done. Then again, I’ve always been oddly skilled at undoing knots.

  2. AJ Rose says:

    Stephanie calls ripping back (unknitting) as frogging because you rip it, rip it. If that’s the true reason they call it frogging, I’m not responsible for the bad pun.

  3. Bestselling, enthralling, sure, but (don’t hit) I wouldn’t call the HP series amazingly written. If anything, they’re proof that if you have a good story with heart, you can squeak by not being the most amazing writer ever.

    Writing is just strange, because while you’re wracked with self-doubt, you’re also offering your works to the public. I think it’s a lot like looking in a mirror, where what you see is not what others see. I think I have a great character, someone else is like, she’s too stupid to live! On the other hand, while I may not feel like my voice is anything unique, I’ve had people describe my writing as “literary and naturalistic.”

    • I agree the HP series is not the best written, but it was done in a style that appealed to kids and adults, which was an accomplishment in itself. And christ knows, she got rich as hell from it.

      That’s a good description of your style. :) Mine has been described as visual and spare/lean/clean. Which is on the mark, as well.

  4. Lindsaysf says:

    I have a friend who had a best seller – fame, fortune, visibility and all that. She said she was terrified. Everyone suddenly wanted something from her. She’s close to completing another book she’s pretty sure will be a best seller too. And a bit worried about that.

    • Oh to have those problems. ;/

      How does someone know they have a bestseller? I mean, if it was that easy to tell, wouldn’t we all be writing those books?

      • AJ Rose says:

        I would imagine if she made it onto a bestseller list, one of the mainstream ones that cover the ‘whole’ industry, she’s a bestselling author. /sarcasm *waits for the pillow to the face*

      • So maybe she’s simply writing the first bestseller again…?

        Yes, that was snotty. Apologies to the unknown author. But unless that’s exactly what you’re doing, how can you know it’ll be a bestseller? Serious question!

      • AJ Rose says:

        Maybe they know that because of their first success, people will buy their second on name recognition alone. It happened to Audrey Niffinegger. I was suckered into that hot mess. LOVED The Time Traveler’s Wife. HATED WITH THE ANGRY BUZZ OF A PLAGUE OF LOCUSTS Her Fearful Symmetry. There’s $25 and two days’ reading I will never get back.

      • Possibly. I’ve never been anywhere near the bestseller lists, so I have no idea. I think I’d like getting there once. I’ve got lots of pieces; they can have some. ;/

  5. Isa says:

    I have to say that I’m glad there are writers in this world. I would be lost if I had nothing to read. Especially since I dont read books that are normally on the best seller lists. When I was young I thought it would be great to grow up and write a book. I thought “it can’t be that hard”. Well I found out that writing isn’t that easy and for me it was torture. So I do appreciate all the work that goes into writing a book. Even more I appreciate the variety of books and authors that are out there.

    Not to make your nightmare come true but I purchased PDFs of TOS and Power Exchange on Smashwords and the PDFs don’t have covers.

    • I noticed that about SW! How strange. That’s why I created the PDF for ARe myself; I wanted to make sure it had a cover.

      Maybe if you said something to SW about it, they’re change how they put a PDF together. I do like the cover and want it to accompany every copy, no matter what the format.

  6. diannegray says:

    Interesting dream. Strangely enough I’m having nightmares about my latest novel. I seriously don’t know what to put on the cover other than a question mark.

    As far as reviews go – it’s always just an opinion. Mine go between bright stars and hells gates, but unless the reviewer personally takes to me with a machete, I don’t particularly worry.

    • Although I’ve been writing as far back as I can remember, I only got published last year. When I think about how much has happened to me in that, year, I’m amazed. 1) Got published. 2) Got published nine more times. 3) Self-published. Sounds simple when I put it like that, but a lot went on to make all those things happen, least of which was writing that much (admittedly, I had some stuff lying around that I quickly got into shape for publication). Self-pubbing was an eye-opener in more than one way; I had to get up to speed on all kinds of things, as I created my own cover(s) (Photoshop shop whore here), was responsible for final edits, and learned how to format my manuscript for different online platforms.

      My personal life was also chaotic. I moved, I lost a job I’d been counting on, and I re-created myself as a freelance editor and am learning how to bind books for fun and hopefully profit.

      All this change has certainly kept me on my toes! As for reviews: I read them at first. They had a huge impact on me. Lately, I don’t care so much. I realize they are only opinions of readers like me, and some are going to be positive and some negative. I try really hard not to let the bad ones adversely affect me anymore, though they used to send me screaming for the comfort of my bed. As long as some people are buying and enjoying what I write, that’s enough for me.

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