Don’t judge a book by its cover they say. Yeah, right, and I climbed Everest before Sir Edmund did. It’s what people do: we judge, and in the age of Instagram and visual clutter, we judge by appearances, and when it comes to books, oh yes, we judge by covers, whether we like to or not.
A lot of writers, sadly, get this wrong, and believe me, I’m no exception. The thing is, unless they are one of the elite dozen-odd so writers that can sell their laundry lists, (King, Patterson, Rowling, Grisham et al) the average writer is not even middle class, and publishing a book is damn expensive. (As some wit said, “if you want to go broke, publish a book, if you want to go homeless, publish fiction.”) And part of that expense of publishing is the cost of a graphic designer. And good graphic designers like Chip Kidd and John Gall and Na Kim certainly do not come cheap. And if that good designer designs a brilliant cover, costs skyrocket (as can be imagined by this ingenious cover for Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451)
So, what is the average indie writer to do when we have to compete on the same shelves as the Big Guys? We try our best.
This, in my latest book, the disturbing biography of Melanie Wright, I needed a cover that could compete. So, what do you do? I asked myself that question many times. Mel’s story is one that is not mere rags to riches, it’s a harrowing tale of… a terrible life that is just so damn unfair! Yes, yes I know, “Life is unfair, get used to it”. But this was something else, and I wanted to tell the story of this incredible woman who turned her life around from being homeless to being a beauty queen. And me, being big on symbolism, came up with this.
The photo of Mel – torn up, balled up, abused, but somehow still whole. And the very “Beauty Queen” font…
Nah, way too literal. And somehow, it did not quite click with the target audience. And here I thought it was brilliant.
So, next one up – let’s try for more ‘drama’.
I may have been on medication when I did this. Man, talk about trying too hard! And when one reviewer said “wait, is that blood?” and I had to say “no, it is lipstick” I knew the cause was lost. I changed it from red to pink, but I gave up on this one even before my audience did. This is how low us designers can sink when we hit walls.
So, I know what I’m doing behind a camera, lets go take an inspirational, powerful photo. I took Mel’s actual crown, put it up in my studio and, voila! This one rocks.
Looks bloody great, doesn’t it? “Looks like a young adult romance novel.” …and looks like about 100 other covers out there.
Crap – can’t argue that one. So, into File-13 it goes.
So, inspired by the odd, abstract work of Na Kim, I did this. And I loved it! This was a winner for me all the way. The slice of brown bread on the bare concrete floor with the “scrawled” title, now ding ding, we have a winner.
But only in my mind.
Mel killed it upon arrival.
So, despondent and doubting my own capacity as a designer, I called up my buddy Debbie Boettcher of Indie Author Cover Designs and asked her if she can shake something loose.
Half an hour later she cobbled together this.
Everyone loved it, including me.
But it was a stock image. And we don’t have money for stock images. But Mel has four sprogs, and I have a camera… It took maybe half an hour in studio, and then nine years in Photoshop, but we have it.
A clear winner, head and shoulders above the rest. As a bookseller told me: “You f*ing nailed that cover” – yes, yes we did.
And now we have a book, we have a cover, and we have a publication date – the book will be available – barring disaster – on Tuesday, 16 July 2019, and the first beta-reader reviews and ratings are starting to dribble in on GoodReads . Pre-sales, advanced orders and tickets to the launch available now!