Have you ever gone to a movie and realized about halfway through that the jackass who made the trailer for it spoiled one of the major plot points? One of my favorite examples is The Sixth Sense, where the creepy kid confides ‘I see dead people,’ in the trailer, a very important plot twist that doesn’t come until about halfway through the movie.
Well, the same sort of thing can happen in books. I’ve had, on multiple occasions, found myself a chapter or two into a book when I suddenly realize that the author wanted to spring something on me that I knew going in. Perhaps it’s the fact that the novel is set on a spaceship traveling to a new solar system. The first few chapters take place on a farm, so when we get to the end of a chapter and the boy is peering through the glass dome and realizes that he’s out amongst the stars, it’s supposed to take our breath away.
It’s a little hard to be surprised by that revelation, though, when the cover of the book shows a spaceship that happens to have a giant dome on its back and what appears to be a continent within it.
Similarly, the scene where the kindly old professor reveals himself to be a bloodthirsty vampire is just a bit less of a shocker when the cover shows me an old man grinning to reveal two impressive fangs.
Not to mention everything that a back cover can give away.
Part of the problem is where the control over these things lies. If a writer has final say on a book cover and jacket blurb, he’s got a good chance of getting out ahead of these problems. But if the publisher isn’t interested in feedback and just wants to rush the manuscript through their machine and get it out in the world, things can be a bit more complicated.
But even if the writer does have control over these things, it can be tricky figuring out how to market certain stories without giving things away. Take that story about the farmer who discovers he isn’t on a world, but on a spaceship. If that revelation is in chapter two, then presumably most of the book is a science fiction story. How do you hide what it’s about, while making certain that the appropriate audience reads your book?
It’s a conundrum. And something to think about.