Judging a Book by its Cover
By Allan Leverone
“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
We’ve all heard that, right? Probably hundred of times, if not thousands. It’s one of those bromides we all learned as kids when our parents were trying to teach us not to prejudge other people.
Great advice when it comes to social interaction. Not quite so helpful when it comes to writing books.
The fact of the matter is, as an author, I want you to judge my book by its cover, or at least to be moved enough by the cover you click on its link to learn more about it.
At one time in the distant past, say five or ten years ago, the goal of a book’s cover art was to get you to pick the thing up in the bookstore and check out its back cover copy or, even better, flip through the first few pages and see if you might be interested in the story.
Now, of course, since bookstore placement is so difficult to achieve if you’re not a genre superstar – think Lee Child or Steve Berry or James Patterson – the same concept applies to Internet purchasing. My goal, when picturing a cover for any of my books, is to:
A – Indicate what type of story is contained within its pages. Is the genre horror? Thriller? Mystery?
B – Pique your interest in a visceral way.
All of this is made more difficult, of course, by the fact that my talent in the graphic arts is, shall we say, limited. Okay, I admit it: it’s nonexistent.
I feel reasonably confident that if you’re an avid reader in any of the genres I typically write (thrillers, horror and suspense, or some combination thereof), and you pick up one of my books, I’ll keep you entertained. It’s not bragging to say I have a certain talent for the written word.
But as far as designing a cover for my books? No way. That will never happen. I sucked at art class in grade school and I’m pretty sure I haven’t magically picked up any ability in graphic design in the decades since.
This means, for me, having access to a talented cover designer is critical. I’ve been fortunate to work with several outstanding artists, both with the freelance designers I’ve hired for my self-publishing imprint, Rock Bottom Books, and with artists contracted by the various publishers who have released my work: Medallion Press, StoneHouse Ink, and DarkFuse.
Invariably, when trying to give the designer some idea of what I’m looking for, the cover I’m picturing in my head is hazy and ill-formed. My mind doesn’t work well visually.
For example, for my Amazon bestselling thriller THE LONELY MILE, I wanted a cover that would express a deep-seated feeling of solitude, as the desperate father searching for his kidnapped daughter is forced to operate alone, and perhaps outside the boundaries of the law.
The result was phenomenal, exactly what I was picturing in my head, even though I really wasn’t able to express it very well to the artist.
For PARALLAX VIEW, I wanted something that screams traditional political thriller! The action in the book takes place toward the end of the Cold War, in 1987, and centers around a secret communiqué written by Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. The letter must be delivered to the White House by sexy CIA operative Tracie Tanner, and while she believes the job will be easy, before long she discovers there is a shadowy group of influential people willing to stop at nothing to prevent delivery.
In this case, I wanted a very traditional thriller/type cover, because in many ways it’s a very traditional thriller-type story. Think James Bond, only female and American, and you have the hero of PARALLAX VIEW, Tracie Tanner.
Once again, I was more than a little vague when giving guidance to cover designer Scott Carpenter. But he took the little direction I provided and ran with it, and came back a couple of weeks later with the perfect cover for my novel.
Hopefully, you can judge my book by its cover. That’s the goal. If you’re a genre fiction reader, you want to know what you’re getting into – more or less - before you ever start reading. If you don’t, I haven’t done my job, and neither has the cover.