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Do You Judge a Book by its Cover?

A few weeks ago, Red Room asked all of its published authors to post a short blog about a mistake they made when they were first published, so aspiring writers could learn from them. My reaction was: Where to begin? Would they regard a few hundred pages of mistakes as “short”?

I finally decided to limit it to the mistake that stuck most firmly into my craw, whatever part of my body that might be: That I didn’t object to the cover my former publisher designed for my first book, REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN.

I thought I’d expand a bit on the importance of cover art.

REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN did okay despite the cover. It was nominated for three major mystery awards and won a smaller award. And while I loved the book, and most aspects of the new-author experience, I disliked the cover. I also dreaded the questions I got about it from booksellers and readers. The cover art my publisher chose was of a theatrical curtain opening. The rationale explained to me was that the curtain was opening on a new author. I thought the cover was supposed to reflect the action depicted in the story, not the author. So why didn’t I say that?

It wasn't even that easy to identify for what it was. One bookseller asked, “What's with these bars on the cover?” Well, I guess the folds of the curtain did look something like bars. As much as anything else.

That publisher did a good job overall with the layout and other production values. And they even sprang for embossed lettering, for which I’ll always be grateful. But the sight of that curtain made me cringe. I wish I'd had the nerve to speak up. But as a new author, I didn't think I had that right.

I must confess, however, that I probably could not have designed a better cover myself. Though I have some design abilities, that I bring to websites, I don’t have a good illustrator-type mind when it comes to cover art. Despite having been a lifelong voracious reader, a published author for a number of years, and a bookseller for a while now, I know a great cover when I see one and I know a bad cover, but I usually couldn’t come up with alternatives for those bad covers.

I even understand why a particular cover sometimes doesn’t work for a particular book, but might for another. For example, we have a personal growth book at our bookstore called WHY MEN DON’T LISTEN AND WOMEN CAN’T READ MAPS: HOW WE’RE DIFFERENT AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT. A customer special ordered it from me after giving his copy away. Since he raved about it, I ordered a copy for the store as well. I’ve come to share his good opinion about this book. It deals with the natures of the male and female brains, and how that affects our behaviors, as well as how we can better understand and communicate with each other.

It has surprised me that the book doesn’t sell well for us. When I hand-sell it to a particular customer, they always thank me afterwards and share my opinion. But not many customers pick it up without a recommendation. The issue might be that so many people have already read it — it has been a bestseller in the past. My apologies to its authors and publisher, but I’ve come to the conclusion that this book suffers from publishing schizophrenia. It treats a serious subject in an intelligent way. Yet its cartoonish cover suggests a less-than-sensitive approach. The wrong cover — even if it’s not an outright bad one — sends the wrong message. How does this cover strike you? Would you pick it up?

I lucked out with my current publishers, Cherokee McGhee Publishing and Red Coyote Press.  They both sent my blatherings about my books onto their designers, and they captured the essences of my books. Here’s the new cover for REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN. Quite a change from the “bars,” huh? Cherokee McGhee has designed equally great covers for the other books in the Tracy Eaton mystery series, DEM BONES’ REVENGE and the forthcoming REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE, capturing both the action of those mysteries, as well as the whimsy.

And here’s the cover for the first book in my new supernatural mystery-urban fantasys eries, HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE. If I tried to design it, I hope I’d have captured an image of Samantha Brennan, my plump, fake psychic protagonist in some of her ditzy finery, but I doubt that I would have thought to couple her image with that of the fires that overtake Los Angeles at the peak of an inexplicable crime wave that brings the City of Angels to its knees. But I’m grateful that the designer portrayed those elements.

Published authors, how do you feel about your covers? Have you ever objected to one? Was it changed?

For those of you still awaiting publication, have you started thinking about your covers yet? Would you do a better job of visualizing yours?

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Hi, Kris

More than the cover, I look for the blurb on the backjacket. It might, therefore, surprise you that I found the curtain cover intriguing in a nice way...a curtain that sets the stage for the 'revenge'!

Of course, the new one is better and more saleable.

I did have a say in my cover, in the sense that I gave him a brief background of the book and that saved him time. In the course of which I mentioned visual images :)


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Thanks for your feedback, Farzana. I guess lots of readers had the same reaction as you to my first cover, since they gave it a chance. The blurb is also what I consider first.

I'm glad you were given the chance to have some say in your cover! Every author should feel good about her cover.