No book excited me more last year than Cindy Pon’s debut, Silver Phoenix. I rushed out and bought the hard cover. I told everyone I knew about it. Plastered it all over my blog. One fan even wrote me after reading the book because she thought Cindy Pon was my pen name since I’d gabbed about the book so much! (I redirected said fan to the right place)
The morning I sold, I literally ran to my computer and typed an excited e-mail to Cindy. I felt like a giddy schoolgirl running through the playground to a friend who was a grade higher than me. “Cindy, Cindy! I sold!”
Silver Phoenix is lush and gorgeous and the original cover reflected the mood of the book perfectly:
Then I saw the cover of the sequel today:
And I saw how they want to rework Silver Phoenix:
The covers are dark and urban in appearance. The clothing modern. The faces hidden. To me, they look like so much of what’s out there in YA land. Black covers. Dark brooding mood.
I’m going to be emotional and unedited for a moment: They took away everything that was bold and special about Phoenix. They made it look modern and non-descript and non-Asian. The reasoning is that it will reach new readers this way. By hiding. By HIDING.
I lied about the unedited part. I’m a writer. Everything I post is edited. I thought very carefully about this post, because I do admit, I know next to nothing about the publishing industry. I don’t know about marketing books since I’m so new in this game. And I make it a habit not to rant too much about things I don’t know about.
But I am a reader. A consumer of books. And yes, I am biased. I write historical romances set in the Tang Dynasty. I love wuxia fiction. I started writing what I write because there weren’t many books like Silver Phoenix in the English-speaking market.
So I’m going to speak as a fan. Perhaps sales were low and the publisher had a responsibility to try to change that. I get it. This is a business. But what principle of marketing says that the way to success is to downplay your strengths? Cindy Pon writes fantasy. The selling point of fantasy is the worldbuilding. What principle of marketing dictates that you should NOT differentiate yourself from the crowd? That you should look like every other product on the market? Maybe people will think they’re buying Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, but really they’re picking up the generic store brand instead.
And that brings me to my biggest confusion. What makes the powers that be believe that READERS WANT TO BE FOOLED? That readers will pick up a book expecting one thing, and will actually be happy when it’s not that at all? That’s one of the main complaints I read in reviews. I expected a different book. So what happens when a reader picks up Cindy’s next book expecting a dark urban fantasy and gets a sweeping and epic adventure instead?
Maybe 2009 was just a tough year. Maybe people just stopped buying hardcovers except for huge big name authors with established readerships. Debut authors need to build a readership and it takes more than one book. That’s what everyone keeps telling me right now. The best way to sell more books is to write the next book. Well, Cindy did that. Fury of the Phoenix is coming out in April and Silver Phoenix‘s paperback release is in February. If the publisher had stuck with the same look and feel, then they’d be building the brand and message. More sales on the second book, renewed interest in the first.
But the way they’ve done it now muddles the message. I don’t know what to think. If I wasn’t constantly checking up on Cindy’s blog, if I had walked by the bookshelves come April, 2011, I would have missed this sequel.
Consistent messaging. Building a brand. Increasing loyal readership. Aren’t these written into a big book somewhere?
I’m going to read Fury of the Phoenix in April. I’m going to tell everyone I know and I’m going to plaster it all over my lonely blog. I’m going to do it with love and not sadness or anger because I’m getting that out now. I’ve wanted to read this book since I finished the final sentence of the last one.
I hope the marketeers are right. I hope this new look nets a bunch of new readers who are happy to discover Cindy’s work. I hope all her current readers know to look for this book in April and buy it. Because I know the general reading public isn’t online and stalking authors the way I do. They’re walking into the bookstore and browsing shelves.
I hope the marketeers are right about this move, but I hope they’re wrong that an Asian cover doesn’t sell books.