About bethanyfarris

I've done everything from sending fish into space to herding guinea pigs in Peru. Now I'm the Dean at RenaissanceSchool.org.

ebook covers: amazon editors’ picks hits and misses

Dimly lit is the new puce.

This is one of my all time favorite books from fourth grade – even I don’t recognize it.

Would you be surprised to learn this book isn’t about ghosts and summer camp? Actually it’s about a boy and his dogs?

This cover is a major miss. Black is the new black, but murky twilight details just don’t work on a thumbnail. And the cover image does not fit the story anyway.

Where the Red Fern Grows
Wilson Rawls

Where the Red Fern Grows is a great story and one of the Amazon editors’ picks for kids’ summer reading 2012.

Carl Hiaasen

It’s no surprise that not just Chomp, but Splash, Scat, and of course Hoot are all featured in the top 40. Carl writes great stories for kids, but from a marketing perspective, the bold colors and simple images on the covers really stand out from a muddle crowd. This is a major hit.

This is the most frustrating print-to-ebook cover miss yet. A simple cover. A single image. A clean color scheme.

So why o why not blow up that cover image so I can see it as a thumbnail??

Three guesses as to what that thing that looks like a cartoon dog head is.

Wendelin van Draanen

Surprised that it’s a chicken? I was. I’m also not totally sure what that has to do with a ‘romantic comedy of errors’.

Out of My Mind
Sharon M. Draper

There are some bones to pick with this cover – you can’t really read the title, and the author name is likewise a little tricky to read. But the image caught my eye even in the thumbnail, and then when I read the description and learned it was not a teeny bopper romance, it made me want to pick up the book.

“Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there’s no delete button. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school—but no one knows it. Most people—her teachers and doctors included—don’t think she’s capable of learning. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows . . . but she can’t, because Melody can’t talk.”

It would be great to see some stats on kids reading ebooks. Research project!

ebook covers: not reimagined

In Teen Sci-Fi & Fantasy, no new eBook cover required. In contrast to the popular books in YA Action & Adventure, I couldn’t find one book perusing the popular and best-seller lists that had a meaningfully different cover from the print version(s). (Note: I know last week I said I was going to look at Dystopian fiction – I swear I saw it on the list last week but this week it’s not there. Amazon is always monkeying with things.)There were two different flavors of this cover homogeneity, however:

  1. Print covers that were originally designed to look good as eBook covers
  2. Print covers that don’t look good as eBook covers, but seem to be selling well anyway (perhaps on the back of the famous author name attached)

Mark of Athena

This one caught my eye right away – great way to build anticipation! I am not a Rick Riordan fan, but I found myself intrigued and wondering – what is the cover going to look like? This is far more interesting than a blank Amazon space indicating “No cover image available”. That’s the same blank space for some old used book someone’s trying to sell who can’t be bothered taking a picture of the book – probably because it looks like crap. No, this is great marketing and I am definitely going to be borrowing this.

The Serpent’s Shadow

In sharp contrast, this eBook cover, also for Rick Riordan, sucks. Can’t read it, can’t tell what’s going on in the image. This is the same cover design as the print version, and it might look good on a bookstore shelf, but on Amazon it just looks like a mess.

A Wrinkle in Time

It pains me to say this, as Madeleine L’Engle is probably the reason why I write stories at all. Sure there are others – Lewis, Kipling, Adams, Tolkein, to name a few – but L’Engle is a hero to me. And this print cover does not work as an eBook cover. The sumptuous, detailed illustrations do not pop electronically. It looks dull.

A Wrinkle in Time
50th Anniversary Edition

Why, oh why, are they not using this bold graphic cover instead? Duh.


I don’t know anything about the Matched trilogy, but this cool cover caught my eye. The colors are bright, the image is simple and uncluttered, there is tension with that girl in the bubble, and the description of the book didn’t feel like a mismatch when I read it: Matched is about a teen girl living a beautiful live, but who needs to break free. I can’t read whatever the extra text on the cover is, so that is a problem. If it’s important, blow it up (or put it in the book description), if it’s not, take it off. The book doesn’t really sound like my cup of tea, but the cover is working.

The Hunger Games

And, yes, black is the new black. This cover only needed very minor tweaks – mostly to increase the contrast and make the gold brighter – from the original print cover. It’s like they had eBooks in mind. Simple graphics, one bold color, and the black background just jumps off that white Amazon background. I wonder if Suzanne is bathing in money at this point.


ebook covers: reimagined

One of the things on the to-do list for 2012 is a new cover not just for The Rival, but for the rest of the series (prequel The Mentor, sequel The Emissary, finale The Pretender). I was really impressed with Mayapriya Long’s presentation to my eBook DIY class at WriterHouse this spring, and I learned a lot from it. I’ve been spending some time researching what’s selling well in YA Action & Adventure. Next week, YA Dystopian Fiction. I’ve been impressed with some new tales, but also some old favorites reimagined. Some favorite examples here:

El Palacio de la Noche Eterna
Palace of the Eternal Night

This one caught my eye right away. Those teeth! The spooky text! And what a title. Especially on Amazon, where the storefront background is white, the black cover really stands out. This might not work on a dark wood bookstore bookshelf, but on a website with a white background, this does grab the eye.

Animal Farm

When I read Animal Farm in high school, the cover looked nothing like this! I love the bold color, the blood spatter, and the creepy way that pig is standing on his hind legs. This is a pretty good example of an old classic getting an eBook cover makeover that makes some sense.

The Hobbit

I’m starting to think for eBook covers, black is the new black. Unless you squint, you can’t really see that it says “75th Anniversary Edition” at the bottom… extra words really don’t work on an eBook cover. That sun really looks like an evil eye, doesn’t it? The Tolkien font is consistent with his published work, so the vibe is familiar. Overall, if I hadn’t just read The Hobbit again, this cover would tempt me.

True Grit

The paperback cover for True Grit looks like an old time Western wanted poster. This is a fairly good reimagining – most of the extra words have been removed, although there’s still a lot in there that I just can’t read. But the title really jumps out, and all you really need to capture the vibe is that Playbill font. What it’s not really showing is the feminine side of this story… but there’s only so much you can do in a single image, I guess. Less is more.

Reason to Breathe

Not sure what to say about this one. This book is apparently very popular in YA Action & Adventure… I don’t know a thing about it. The cover looks more like angst teenage romance to me. But I’m definitely getting the picture: black is back. Black is in. Once you go black, you don’t go back.

whoa: ebook exports up 332.6% in 2011

And the surprise winner is: Africa!

“U.S. trade publishers are seeing huge growth in English language eBook sales to other countries. According to a new report from the Association of American Publishers, eBook net sales revenue for 2011 was $21.5 million, which was up 332.6% from 2010. The press release explains more: “…this represents 3.4 million eBook units sold in 2011, up 303.3 %. As comparison, print formats (Hardcover, Paperback and Mass Market Paperback) increased 2.3% to $335.9 million in 2011.” In 2011, eBook sales grew 218.8% in Continental Europe, 1316.8% in the UK, 201.6% in Latin America and 636.8% in Africa.

Overall, U.S. publishers earned a net sales revenue of $357.4 million from export sales in 2011, for both print and eBook titles. This was a 7.2% increase from $333.3 million the net sales revenue earned in 2010.”

– Dianna Dilworth | MediaBistro.com | 5/18/12

I’m sad to say that while The Rival is available in several foreign countries thanks to Google Play and Amazon, I haven’t sold a single copy overseas. But I haven’t done any networking or marketing overseas either, so that’s not really a surprise! Something to brainstorm about for when The Mentor comes out.

a favorite mom from literature

ONCE upon a time there were four little Rabbits,

and their names were —




and Peter.

They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir tree.

“NOW, my dears,” said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, “you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”

“NOW run along, and don’t get into mischief. I am going out.”

THEN old Mrs. Rabbit took a basket and her umbrella, and went through the wood to the baker’s. She bought a loaf of brown bread and five currant buns.

– The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter, 1902

I always loved it when my mom read Beatrix Potter to my sister and me, and then I loved reading them to my sister. It was a real treat in 2003 when we got to go to Beatrix Potter’s House in the Lake District of England. Her instructions to the National Trust were that her house should always look as if she had just stepped out and would be back home any minute, and that is just how it felt!

Thanks for all the great stories big and small, mom, and for a lifetime love of reading.

story time: the king’s ankus

These are the Four that are never content, that have never been filled since the Dews began — Jacala’s mouth, and the glut of the Kite, and the hands of the Ape, and the Eyes of Man.

— Jungle Saying.                                      


Kaa, the big Rock Python, had changed his skin for perhaps the two-hundredth time since his birth; and Mowgli, who never forgot that he owed his life to Kaa for a night’s work at Cold Lairs, which you may perhaps remember, went to congratulate him. Skin-changing always makes a snake moody and depressed till the new skin begins to shine and look beautiful.

(click here to continue…)

The tale of The King’s Angkus is one of my all time favorite stories by one of my heroes, the great Rudyard Kipling, and clear inspiration behind many of my own short stories.

if you love writing, do it

“If you love writing, do it, no matter what anyone says. There are people who have told me that The Rival is boring, stupid, pointless, and a waste of time. (And they are entitled to their opinion. It’s a free country.) But I love The Rival, and my sister Rebecca loves it, and you enjoyed it, too. That’s what’s important. If you write, someday someone will say your writing is bad. Don’t let their opinion – which they are entitled to! – come between you and the writing you love.

Next most important to writing a good book is to have a good story. A good story has at least the following three things:

  1. Something important to the main character must be at risk. For example, in The Rival, Bex’s big sister Beatrix has been kidnapped. Imagine if the story was just about Bex and Beatrix going to get ice cream on a sunny day, and the worst thing that happened was Bex dropped her cone on the ground. That would not be too interesting. A good story has risk and danger to something extremely important to the main character.
  2. The main character must have an important decision to make. In The Rival, Bex must decide whether to risk her life and career – and those of her close friends – to save her sister. And, once Beatrix is saved, she must decide whether to try to find a way to stop Dr. Andronicus. Imagine if the biggest decision Bex had to make was whether to have chocolate or vanilla ice cream. That is not too important and therefore not too exciting. A good story contains decisions that are hard to make and have big consequences.
  3. The main character must be changed in a meaningful way by the end. In The Rival, Bex starts out as a student, her biggest concern planning how to win the next Apian Dance competition. But by the end, Bex is the commander of the very small army that stands between the good people of the world and the evil schemes of Dr. Andronicus. She has to learn how to lead and be brave. Imagine if in The Rival, the biggest change that happened to Bex was that she decided she likes chocolate ice cream best. That’s not very meaningful. A good story shows how something important happened inside the heart of the main character.

Best of luck with your writing, and keep up the good work.”

I like this letter I wrote to a fan. So I shared it.

The chicken says “if you love writing, do it”.

Chicken by Lily, from Utah.

cool stuff round up

I cried tears of joy when I saw this:

Resident Charlottesville McGuffey artist Arnaud Boudoiron is doing a truly beautiful job of illustrating the animals, and the acacia tree, for Law of the Jungle, the animated short of The Red Toad and the Buffalo. It is a rather tricky task to illustrate in stained glass, but “Arno” has a very natural grace with it and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Meanwhile, I have been enjoying a pleasant correspondence with someone who doesn’t have a lot of general notoriety, but at least to me is a celebrity: Kristin Laidre.

Her groundbreaking work with Narwhals first came to my attention in this truly amazing Smithsonian article from 2009, In Search of the Mysterious Narwhal. I thanked Kristin for providing great context and background for The Young Narwhal. Kristin writes:

Thanks, very nice! I’m doing field work in Greenland on narwhals right now so it’s fun to read the story. I like their names!”


I am also working on the last short story for my collection of animal fables. The others almost wrote themselves, but this one is not coming easy. The concept is crystal clear, but the story is shrouded. It will probably end up reading nothing like this, but here is a sample of where #7 is today.

There were two of them. The sky gleamed grey like a cannon over the heavy sulfur glare, and there were two of them.

The black one’s features were swallowed up by his midnight darkness. A hint of shoulders, a suggestion of flanks, a shadow of a tail, permitted the correct conclusion: cat.

When the black cat walked alone, his bright, right forepaw alone drew the eye. Its movement, devoid of context, was like a frog’s. An arc and a pause; an arc and a pause. It was fiery orange.

The orange one’s features were stenciled in sharp relief by the fine stripes that seemed to drip down from his spine like blood. His emerald green eyes did not blink.

When the orange cat walked alone, it startled the eye that he did not stumble. His left foreleg appeared to end at the ankle. But no; the paw was there, and sound. Just blacker than the pit.

But when their steps fell in together, as they did that night, the illusion was imperforate. One orange cat. One black shadow.

more like boogle

Google to Pull Plug on Indie eBook Selling

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to read this headline. Google, to my mind, was making it at least possible – if not likely – for independent bookstores to succeed where independent record stores and video stores had failed. They could compete with Amazon.com on a level playing field with their Google partnership. I know they were having mixed success… and I know Google is a business and needs to make a profit… but still. To just give it the axe after only a year or so seems a little extreme.

The American Booksellers Association says they’ll have their own e-book product by the time Google’s program is discontinued in January of next year. But my expectations are not high. The kind of infrastructure required to compete with Amazon is something even Barnes & Noble is having a hard time doing. How will ABA create it from scratch in less than a year?

Call Google at one of their locations if you want to express your disappointment, or give them a ring at their headquarters 1.650.253.0000. I plan on doing this next week.

More to come.