Monday, September 24, 2007

That About Covers It Part 2

When I was sent the cover art for my latest Lt. Jack Daniels novel, Fuzzy Navel, I liked it. The cover designer kept up the theme of the previous four books in the series, which is extremely important when building a brand.

If you've read this blog before, you know I'm big on branding. The fact that someone can go into a bookstore and say, "I'm looking for a mystery series but I don't know the author, or the main character, of the titles of any of the books, but I know they're all named after drinks" is not accidental. It's a calculated effort on my part to establish a brand.

Covers sell books. And having a consistent cover style, which can be recognized by fans by sight before they even see the book's title, is smart business.

Hyperion, my publisher, is smart. Not only have they provided my series with attractive, eye-catching covers, but they've also made sure that each new cover fits in with the theme. Here's what they've done so far:

The newest cover for Fuzzy Navel fit within this theme, but I had a four problems with it. Three were issues of consistency, and the fourth was stylistic.

So I emailed my agent and said this:

"I like it, but have a few small problems. The biggest is that my second novel, Bloody Mary, had a blue cover. I'm worried that when future fans see the paperback on the shelf, they'll believe they already read the "blue" book, and miss out buying one or the other. How about purple as the background color?

Also, one of the fun things about my covers is the hidden skull somewhere in the picture. This one doesn't have a skull. Maybe the cover artist can make the cherry into a skull?

Looking back on previous covers, I also noticed that both words of the title are the same length, stretching across the whole cover. In Fuzzy Navel, the second word is shorter.

Finally, and this is purely opinion on my part, I really don't like the gun on the swizzle stick. It looks like a spear gun. Is there any way to turn it into a sniper rifle, which is what the villains in Fuzzy Navel use?"

My agent agreed, and forwarded my note to my editor.

A week passed without a response. Then two weeks. I wondered if I annoyed my publisher with my suggestions. Then I got an email from them with this attached:

So they followed every one of my suggestions, and I think this cover works better. I also feel damn good about my publisher. They actually listened to me, when they could have easily done whatever they wanted to do. Points for them, and I'll remember this when the next contract negotiation takes place.

While many of my peers believe that the only thing you can get out of a publisher is advance money, I remain unconvinced. Call me naive, but I think there's still room for loyalty, mutual respect, and an open exchange of ideas and information between writer and publisher. Ideally, these efforts should compliment each other, and each party should have a similar vision for the book or books, and a plan to make that vision a reality.

A cover is part of that shared vision. If you have problems with a proposed cover, talk to your agent and calmly explain what doesn't work and why. As the song says, you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need...


  1. I love the purple!!!! I can't see the skull, but I'll take your word that it is there. I think it's great that they put it in. The new gun looks good too. It's...well, it shouts gun all right. No missing it in there!

    Really nice.

  2. Hi Maria--

    You can click on the cover and make it larger, then you should be able to see the cherry skull.

  3. Yes, I think the new cover is better. I thought the original one had a much too big FUZZY in comparison to others, and I missed the skull. I also was puzzled by the gun, which didn't look much like a gun. So this is better.

  4. Anonymous3:55 PM

    Purple is my favorite color - I love it! I feel really dumb for being 0 for 4 in the guessing though - LOL

    Best wishes for a fabulous day!

  5. Purple is also my favorite color. I hardly ever see purple prominently on book covers. That's awesome!

  6. Anonymous4:44 PM

    The reason your publisher probably listened is because your feedback was persuasive.

    You could have just complained, but you didn't. You started off pointing out how blue may lose sales. That got their attention. You were specific and you offered specific changes (e.g., purple, make the cherry a skull) rather than just complaining (blue won't work, no skull).

    The size of the text and the swizel-gun probably wouldn't have cost you a single sale, but they fixed those too because the rest of your argument was well-presented and once the artist was making changes, the extra ones probably weren't that expensive. Good job.

  7. I would ditch the gun altogether and just have the cherry/skull floating in the glass. Otherwise, I think your changes were spot on.

    Very attractive cover!

  8. "room for loyalty, mutual respect, and an open exchange of ideas and information"
    This is my dream.

    Also, I thought the old cover looked pretty much like the previous ones, then I saw the new one. Wow! Those subtle changes make a huge difference. Especially the "navel" being larger.

  9. Smart you, Mr. Respectfully Persausive! The revised cover is a real eye grabber.

  10. I like the purple too! I had to enlarge the pic to see the skull, but I found it, right where everyone suggested.

    I agree the fade looks cool, like a pulp detective film (is that even a thing?) but it doesn't match :)

  11. I like the new cover. The purple really brings the title out. I've read all of your books and never noticed the I'll be looking for it.

    I'm glad the publishers listened to your concerns.

  12. Anonymous7:23 PM

    Totally agree with Adrian above. That, and the fact that you went through your agent.

    And I love the new cover. I agree with Jude in that I think the rifle is too much--the bullet is enough. But so glad they at least changed the color and added the skull.

  13. Anonymous8:30 PM

    When I read your first post on the cover, I must admit, I thought you were being overly-sensitive about your cover, and I posted a comment saying it looked fine to me. Turns out you were right; the new one, as subtle as the differences are, looks much better. Congratulatons on successfully going to bat on behalf of your book. You have good reason to be pleased.


  14. Actually, Rusty Nail has the words not of equal size. I would have never noticed it if you had not menionted the whole letter size thing.

  15. On the jpg the words Rusty and Nail have a different size. On the actual cover, they're closer in size.

  16. Frankly, I think they are fantastic covers.
    I particularly like the banner style for A Jacqueline 'Jack" Daniels Mystery on the last two.

  17. I have to agree - changing the color was a brilliant idea. You obviously understand the human mind. :)

  18. Anonymous8:02 AM

    Hey Joe - LOVE the new cover. It's good to know an editor will listen to author suggestions. Can't wait till it hits the store!

    Darcy McKenna

  19. Anonymous8:18 AM

    You communicated clearly, honestly, and reasonably, and they paid attention, as any good business partner would. You're in the business together.

    I agree with you -- I like the new cover much better.

    I also like the new look of the blog.

  20. Sometimes I think that us writers tend to forget that publishers, booksellers and agents want what we do: to sell books! Lots of books! Your respectful, all business approach worked really well, Joe--I like the new cover, especially the cool purple.

  21. Anonymous9:17 AM

    Joe: The blue was changed to purple but the orange letter was not changed. The original colors (orange and blue) go together, as compliments on the color wheen. Orange and purple do not, though. It would be more attractive if yellow was used for the lettering, making the primary colors yellow and purple, which are compliments on the color wheel.

  22. Interesting stuff. Thanks. I've always been a believer in approaching people reasonably and expecting them to be reasonable. It's impressive how often it works where belligerence wouldn't.

    BTW, every use of compliment and its variations in the post and in the comments should have been complement. Compliment means to say nice things or give free products or services. Sorry for being anal, but this error is almost as frequent as it's/its.

  23. Thanks, Janet! Its good to know.

  24. Anonymous3:22 PM

    Janet: I want to complement you on catching my typos. Sometimes its hard to do things wright, especially when I learned everything I know from that famous book, "Read Gooder, Right Gooder & Speak Gooder."

  25. Wow, definately better. Very cool, that not only did they not get snippy over your objections, but actually acted on them.

  26. You are absolutely right about the importance of the cover. I worked in the home video industry and cover art was EVERYTHING!!! You couldn't even peek into the video to see anything like you can with a book. Nice looking book covers! Congrats!

  27. The new cover is great and really pops--orange and purple are on opposite ends of the color spectrum, and really go well together.

  28. The purple looks fantastic. At first I wasn't crazy about the sniper rifle, but once I zoomed it, it really looks nice.

  29. I love the new version of the cover. I didn't dislike the original but thought that it appeared a little retro, like a throwback to old time detective novels. This one pops.

  30. Anonymous4:03 PM

    The purple cover looks great. A very small thing, about which you may not care at all:

    The rifle is very recognizably an H&K PSG1. (I say very recognizably, realizing there are many folks who don't know or care, but aware of the fact that plenty of mystery readers do know and care.)

    If the meanies don't use that very rifle, it might be something to consider adjusting.

    Now, if you thought THAT was trivial, here's another: the cartridge lying next to the glass is equally obviously not a 7.62 X 51 mm, the caliber used by the PSG1.

    Again, the tiniest of things, but there are those who will notice.

    All that said, I think your novel covers are excellent and doubtless sell a lot of books for you.

  31. Joe, sweet new cover. And you're right about working together with the publisher. There's definitely give and take.

    My first four novels, my publisher loved my Book Titles. But on the sequel to Isle of Swords, we went round and round with titles. I mean a coupla months of round and round.

    When all was said and done, I didn't get the title I wanted. I got one I could live with. But that's okay. There are hills to die on and then there are hills to sled down and enjoy the ride.

    The cool thing about all this is: Joe, they are building a brand out of you. That's pretty dang cool, eh?

  32. MUCH BETTER! Nice to know they listened. I like all the changes. I always look for the I think its a great little hidden thing.
    Tell Hyperion Nice Work!

  33. It's amazing at how a book cover can really sometimes make or brake you with book sales amongst all of the other tricks I have learned.

  34. Anonymous10:27 AM

    Hey, Joe. Where'd your archive index disapear to?

  35. I was nitpicking the first one just to join the contest, it was fine by me. But, I really think the purple pops!

  36. i liked that red colour design.its quite attractive and that purple too.good job

  37. The purple cover looks well cool

  38. Hi JA, I must admit I havent heard about you until now. Good thing I stumbled upon your site. I'll check out one of your books one of these days.

  39. The changes were perfect. You were dead-on about the swizzle stick. It looks a thousand times better. And having a giant word "Fuzzy" and a smaller word "Navel" didn't look right either.

    I'm glad you found someone willing to listen and take suggestions. My first publisher also co-wrote the story with me, so he had a lot of great ideas from his experience, while mine were more about staying true to the character. Glad you got both.


    PS- Thanks for the tidbit about the villains ;)