People say, don’t judge a book by its cover but most who say that aren’t book authors. For readers, the front surface of a book is the face of its story. The graphic offers readers clues about what’s behind it. Readers start digesting a book from the cover. Yes, a book’s cover really matters.
Don’t be mistaken. A good graphic (and title) won’t guarantee a book’s success, but it does give it a chance to get to first base. It must be taken off the shelf to be in the game. Even if it’s denied and put back on the shelf, it’s better to have been discovered and rejected than be overlooked entirely.
I chose a predominantly black cover for my book because it made the right statement about the content. The cover graphic looks like how the story feels. If I made it a pink cover covered with love hearts, it’d say the wrong thing about the story. I didn’t want that. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to designing and choosing the right graphic for this book — a thriller-styled novel.
It sounds like a simple process but my decision didn’t come easy — and black wasn’t choice number one. It wasn’t even my second or fifth. It took time to experiment with many wrong-coloured backgrounds (and titles) to get closer to those that mattered. The earlier versions were white, cream, and beige. Getting it to go towards a dark theme took time to figure out.
The first mock-up was a representation of a key scene that’s written into the novel. It shows a toy bear with a bracelet on its wrist. From the bracelet hangs a small charm that looks distinctly like a phone’s SIM card. Although this cover graphic makes perfect sense to anyone who’s read the book, it sends the wrong signal to those who haven’t. This cutesy-cutesy image suggests that a child-appropriate narrative exists behind it. It doesn’t.
Several attempts were made to work a teddy bear into the graphic but none satisfied the brief (whatever brief was going on inside my head) and, after failing to come up with something suitable, I canned the idea and switched to another key element of the narrative — the storm!
It shows a nighttime picture, set in a secluded bush, well away from the lights of civilisation. There are trees, grass and a lightning bolt zigzagging between clouds to the ground. The image said much but proved to be difficult as it looked messy, especially when placing a title over it. I tried shifting the graphic so the darkest parts of it gave me a place for the title but when I did that, I’d lose key parts of the lightning. I moved on.
After doing the titling research with strangers, using a simple single-shot layout, I became hooked on the idea of using a simplified version of lightning. It felt right — without the trees and grass, the abundance of dark space around the bolt gave me the flexibility to fit words anywhere on top of it. The trick was finding the right lightning bolt shape (the one I used in the mock-ups was lo-res and not mine). I had a few of my own but none worked. I went back to designing an entirely new graphic.
The story isn’t just about rain, lightning, teddy bears, SIM cards and bracelets. The greater story is about sex and intimacy. I found some old material in my photo library and placed an image of a woman’s chest on the screen. This one made perfect sense. I added a crucifix (another key symbol of the story), coloured it red, and then placed the title on the surface. It worked but there was one element still left to add. I wanted that storm to be included. I tried a lightning bolt but that ruined everything, so I opted for a single rain droplet instead. The evolution of the cover was complete.
Nine years after I sat down to write SEETHINGS, this cover appeared on the shelves.
People scroll through online book catalogues and will stop when something catches their eye. If they are into Thrillers and Dark Fiction of any kind, this cover (and title) should stand out and get them to do just that. That’s what I call the book reaching first base. I truly hope my book gets its chance to play the game right and be found by someone special like you!
See you next time –Michael (Dark Adult Fiction Author)
Five women’s bodies are discovered after the nights of thunderstorms. Their spouses are suspected of the crimes, but it becomes clear that someone else is responsible. There’s no blood and few clues. A storm photographer who specialises in taking pictures of lightning may be the only witness.
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