I find it interesting that I just posted on how first sentence obsessions annoy me, and that same Sunday the Writing Excuses podcast ("Mating Plumage") was on first sentences, covers, and titles.
I found myself agreeing with Dashner on the majority of the subjects. Book covers are what really help pull me in, as well as titles. For me, the "judging" period of the book happens before I even begin to open it. As I've said countless times, I started really noticing the Dresden files because of how cool I thought the covers were (also because there were so many, which means they must be good if he gets 12 books out). Other instances include The Eye of the World, which I started reading because the cover was cool, and I Am Not a Serial Killer, which I knew about because of Writing Excuses, but the title was what really solidified my desire to read the book. The Maze Runner was also a book that I wanted to read because of the title. I actually have actively averted myself from Dashner's other big series, The 13th Reality, because I thought the series title was extremely generic (sorry James, but I still think that. I'm going to give the books a shot, though...someday). On the other side, A Series of Unfortunate Events sucked me in because of the clever series title.
So, I agree that covers and titles do influence me. Call me shallow, but there are a lot of books in the bookstore, and a lot of bad fantasy novels for sale. When a book has a cool title, I'll pull it off. If the cover is also quite awesome, I might flip it open. If it doesn't have this (or I haven't heard of it), odds are I'm going to leave it where I found it.
I think it's this point (where I flip open the book) that many authors get more hung up than they should. If I'm going to spend my money on a book, that decision is not hinged on that first sentence. Given enough time and money, anybody would write a zingy, catchy first sentence. It says nothing about the skill of the author if your first sentence is clever. A first chapter (or first three-four pages) would be a much better assessment.
I will admit a clever first sentence has a pull that one can't explain. Even I experience it. However, I'll never stop reading a book I'm interested in if the first sentence isn't catchy, but I might read more of a book if the first sentence is really grabby. I think of Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia and how it snagged me because of the first sentence. I gave it more of a chance (I'm not a huge gun nut, so I wasn't sure how the book would appeal to me) because that first sentence was a witty, clever hook. Would I have still tried out the book if the first sentence has been dull? Yes. But I wouldn't have had that little happy "zing!" that pushed me to like it a little further.
I'd argue that your cover, title, and first page/chapter are what sells a reader, as well as your blurb on the back/side. Yes, the first sentence is important, but it really isn't all that fantastic as people crank it up to be.
That being said, BRIEF TANGENT: I think titles are super-important. This is mostly because this is one of the few things the author has actual control of that goes on the outside (jacket) of the novel (besides their name). Other people draw maps, cover art, sometimes edit your blurbs for the back, etc. But the TITLE is yours. Yeah, sometimes they want you to edit it, but it really is your only possession.
Which is why a lot of the time it takes me a while to craft titles. Paradise Seekers is one so far that I actually don't really like the title. An idea I had originally was Thanatophobia (Fear of Death), or Somniphobia (Fear of Sleep). In the end, both didn't really work for a YA novel, and Paradise Seekers alone has enough hidden subtleties to work. It isn't Where Gods and Mortals Dance, The Reigns of the World, or Lacrymosa, but it works.
I also hate Harbinger's title, but I have no idea what to do with that anyway.
This blog post is coming from a consumer, who had to spend a good hour in Barnes and Noble last week figuring out how to spend a gift card.
The moral of the story is Writing Excuses is wrong, and I'm clearly right. Because it's my blog and I say so. (Don't I wish... :P)
I often envision title art for novels as I write them, and I can say my tastes lean towards minimalistic. Maybe I'll do a blog post on it sometime, with which covers are my favorites and which I find to be kind of...lacking.
At any rate, it would be interesting (assuming any of this crap I write ever gets published) to see what a publishing house would like to put on as a cover. Considering my incredibly picky tastes, I'd probably hate just about everything, but something about a cover seems to be meant to convey the soul of the novel (ones that just show a single scene picked from the book frustrate me). So, in that regard, I've always felt that minimalistic covers work (I hate to say this, but Twilight had an extremely clever and well-chosen cover. Too bad whatever cleverness or symbolism was found in the first cover was completely lost in the sequels).
Cover ideas for my books!
Lacrymosa - This was actually a game before, and we made a title screen (which I have somewhere) which I liked. A single white feather, lying on a ground of black, with the title above it.
Harbinger - No idea, actually. I never thought about this one. Probably a character montage, honestly.
Where Gods and Mortals Dance - Similar to Lacrymosa, except replace the feather with one of the pear/teardrop shaped masks the gods wear. You know, the thing could just be lying there.
Paradise Seekers - This one's easy, the silhouette of a tire swing against a setting sun. If you REALLY wanted to add something, you could put a boy and a girl hand in hand off in the distance, but the tire swing would be in the foreground still.
Yeah, it's self centered to make you read this, but it's my blog so ha ha ha. Anybody else think of covers for their books as they are writing them?