Nicola here. Today I’m talking about re-branding in the form of book covers and titles. The reason: My publisher and I decided to give The Woman in the Lake a new cover and a new title for the UK e-book and I thought it might be interesting to explore why this happened. I hope this will appeal to readers who might wonder why books are sometimes rebranded, and to authors who may face the same dilemmas themselves. It’s a look behind the scenes – and a very honest one – into what happened with The Woman in the Lake.
TWITL as I call it, was published simultaneously in the UK and North America in March 2019. It’s my third “timeslip” novel, a term which in itself can cause problems for an author trying to interest an agent or publisher in a book. Some people haven’t heard of timeslip, others ask what the differences are between timeslip and time travel, some people call the books dual or multiple time stories… There can be some identity issues!
As a reader I have always adored books that involve someone in the present travelling back in time, or a mystery that begins in the past and is solved in the present. Some of my favourite childhood books tell these sorts of stories: A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley, for example, The Driftway and Astercote by Penelope Lively. But in marketing terms the timeslip can be a problem. Is it historical, contemporary, fantasy, all three and more? How do you pitch that to booksellers and readers?
My first two timeslips, House of Shadows and The Phantom Tree, both sold pretty well considering that I had changed from a long career writing Regency historicals to writing something related but different. I loved writing the books (even though I find the plotting of two or three time strands hideously complicated) and readers seemed to enjoy them too. The Phantom Tree in particular struck a chord. Perhaps it was the Tudor setting, perhaps it was the character of Alison and her quest to find her son that caught the imagination. Whatever the reason, the books were building a readership and it made me very happy that there were people who enjoyed reading the sorts of books I loved writing.
When the Woman in the Lake came out I sincerely hoped (as all authors do) that it would do well. For complicated reasons there had been a long delay between The Phantom Tree and the Woman in the Lake, which made me a bit nervous since genre authors are told that we need to publish books frequently to build up a profile but I was hoping the two and a half year gap wouldn’t be too much of a problem. I felt the book had plenty going for it: It’s set in my home town of Swindon, it explores some little-known but fascinating history and it includes smugglers! It is also the story of one gorgeous but deadly “haunted” golden gown that influences the lives of everyone who touches it, so there's a lot going on and it's been described as "clever, twisty and page-turning." It's also romantic!
From the get go I adored the North American cover for TWITL. It was ethereal and fitted the title and the idea of the book perfectly. It didn’t feel as though there were any identity problems there and readers very kindly told me that they loved both the book and the cover. Yay! In the UK it was a different matter. My core readers were as wonderful and supportive and keen as ever but the book didn’t attract new readers. It didn’t reach a new audience or attract much interest.
This is where I’m being very honest because as a general rule, if people ask an author how a book is doing the official line is always that it’s selling brilliantly. Well, The Woman In The Lake hasn’t sold brilliantly in the UK. This happens sometimes for various reasons. A book, it’s setting, its story or its characters fail to catch the imagination of readers. The Woman in the Lake is set in England in the mid eighteenth century, which is said to be a notoriously difficult time period for historical fiction. It doesn’t have an immediate identity like the Regency or the Tudor or the Viking age. Then there was nothing obvious to hang the promotion of it on other than that it was inspired by the life of Lady Diana Spencer, an ancestor of the late Princess of Wales, and that their stories had uncanny parallels. It’s also quite a dark book, dealing with themes of abuse which is important but not to everyone’s taste. So I can see that it may not have immediate appeal. Plus, of course, there are just so many books out there! It’s hard to make an impact.
Anyway, an opportunity arose to give The Woman in the Lake a makeover. I discussed it with my editor and we agreed that the story is, at heart, all about the golden gown. The new title “The Woman in the Golden Dress” reflects this as does the gorgeous, evocative cover of the new e-book version.
Who knows whether this will make any difference to book sales? Changing the cover and title of a book can be a risky business because readers may pick up a rebranded book in good faith thinking it is a new one and then be justifiably annoyed to discover they have bought the same book twice. But at least The Woman in The Golden Dress now does what it says on the book cover; and I think that cover is totally gorgeous! It’s also only £2.99 on Amazon UK! I’d like to say a huge thank you to readers who have bought, read and reviewed The Woman in the Lake and who have read and enjoyed my previous timeslip books. A writing life can be very up and down – some book fly and others perhaps only hop along. I don’t mind admitting that TWITL was a hopper and it’s always useful to examine why.
So now I’d like to ask how you feel about the rebranding of books. As a reader does it annoy and confuse you when a book is given a new title or cover, or do you think it’s a good idea to give a book a refresh sometimes and try to bring it to a new audience? Is there a particular book you've discovered as the result of a re-launch? As an author, have you ever tried rebranding and found that it works – or not? I’m offering a copy of The Woman in the Golden Gown to one commenter between now and midnight Thursday. Thank you!