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How a Book Cover Came to Life: "It looks like something from the 80s in the 50cent bin at a garage sale."

Readers always judge a book by its cover.  As a former advertising professional with a deep understanding of brand and the unconscious motivators of humans, I knew this. And yet, when it came time to design my own book cover I made every single mistake in the book.

Then, with great humility and pain, one by one I fixed them.

Mistake Number One

"I can totally do this myself."

Sure, I don't have a 'real' art background. But fifteen years in advertising agencies working with some of the best designers in the business meant I knew how to work the software (sort of) and understood all the buzzwords like pixels and dpi (more or less).

Plus, I had exquisite taste. What could possibly go wrong?

How about this:

My daughter took one look at this cover and said, "It looks like something from the 80's that you'd see in the twenty-five cent bin at a garage sale and you wouldn't buy it because it's hideous."

My God. She was right. I had produced a totally adequate, absolutely sucky book cover. How had I let myself do that? And how did I not even notice?

"It's all over the place," she went on. "It's like you don't know where to look. Everything is glimmering and askew and the colors...."


Plus, I had committed the number one sin of sucky book covers: it had no concept. I had been in advertising for cripes sake. I knew the number one rule of picture + text: they must create a story. So besides the fact that this book cover was hideously ugly, there was no story on this cover. The words and picture didn't interact to create tension.

So I began to think concept.  What was the concept of Tiger Daughter? That the daughter is wiser than the mother. That successful parenting happens only when the mother steps out of the way to let the daughter discover her own passions and desires.

Thus, mistake #2

Mistake Number Two

Tone is everything.

The next cover was much better. I had a concept  I searched for stock.  I got a little better at InDesign and Photoshop. And I came up with this:


Whoa. Now we were getting somewhere.

Luckily, before I bought the stock, my daughter looked at it and said, " Are you trying to sell a book to get kids to be criminals? It doesn't really make any sense. I look like a hoodlum. I'd never spray paint over something. I hate graffiti."

After being mad at my persnickety daughter for a day or so because this was one heck of an excellent concept with a pretty decent execution if I do say so myself, I realized she was right.

Which leads me to mistake number two: don't ignore tone. The concept of this cover was spot-on, but the tone was off. Tone is everything.

I knew exactly how to fix this. But I couldn't find the stock. And if I couldn't find the stock, I'd have to shoot the photo, which would be expensive.

Ah, mistake number three...

Mistake Number Three

"I really don't want to spend a fortune on this cover."

I thought about this for a long time before I decided that I had to hire a professional photographer if we were going to get the cover we wanted.

Luckily, I go a few times a week to our local college library to get some writing done. By chance, I picked up the college student-produced magazine. Hey, this stuff wasn't bad. So I emailed the student whose work I really admired, and we had our picture fast, inexpensively, and with no hassle.

Thus, we didn't fall for mistake number three--spending too much or too little for your cover.

And we ended up with this:


A cover with a concept. A cover with the exact right tone. A cover that's been selling beautifully.

I couldn't be more thrilled.