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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Judging a Book By Its Cover

When I first published “A Soul to Steal” back on Aug. 29, it’s an understatement to say I was flying blind.
The amount of research I had done was negligible, I didn’t have a blog, I barely had a Twitter presence and my knowledge of book blogs was practically nonexistent. Rather than taking the time to learn all of that, I did what I usually do when undertaking a new activity—I jumped in feet first. It was either sink or swim.
For the most part, this was a good decision. I feel like by instinct or dumb luck (probably the latter), I made a lot of right calls. The best was that “A Soul to Steal” was in good shape when I published it. I had revised it several times, had it edited and had sought and incorporated professional feedback on it. It was ready for prime time.
What I didn’t think through was the cover. At the recommendation of a friend, I contacted a very talented artist who agreed—at no charge—to mock up a cover for me. He had several intriguing designs and I had my own ideas and ultimately we settled on the one you see to the left—the Headless Horseman racing down a path at midnight.
It was a good cover, evoking mystery and suspense, and I was quite happy with it. Several of my friends liked it too, noting that it had an old-timey, grainy feel that made it unique.
But that uniqueness came at a price.
Although I like the cover and believe the artist did a terrific job, the flaw in it was that it didn’t look like the kind of cover you would see on a Big Six title. It was proudly, defiantly indie and while I liked that idea, I didn’t realize its significance. There were other issues which can be laid at my doorstep: the overall look was too dark and it was difficult to see when reduced to a very small size—which it was, all the time, on Amazon. Also a problem: the image wasn’t good enough resolution to put on the print version of my book.
In December, my sister-in-law helped me design a cover for the print version, this one going away from the Headless Horseman. Instead, it was a photo of Virginia woods. Again, I liked the evocative feel and the hint of mystery it provided.
But by then I was deeply troubled. I didn’t like having two different covers—one for print and one for ebook—and neither seemed the kind of cover art that was going to get an immediate, gripping reaction.
About two weeks ago, I decided enough was enough. As I mentioned, I jumped in with both feet when I published my book, concerned about spending any money on the book and watching it drag me down financially. By now, however, it was clear I needed to hire an artist who would give me a cover for both versions of the book—and one that looked exactly like the kind of cover you would see in a book store.
Enter Travis Pennington of Pro Bookcovers. Travis, a writer himself, came up with the design and then patiently made various tweaks and revisions to it. In the end, I think he got it just right.
The new cover is bold, brash and demands attention. It has the Headless Horseman on it, but it’s not trying to recreate the look of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (which is good, because the book doesn’t either.) I hope it will win the novel some more attention.
Most importantly, it also looks like a “real” cover. The original one might have screamed indie, but that’s a dangerous position. When people buy a book, they usually aren’t looking for something hip or different—they are looking for something that grabs them and doesn’t let go.
With this new cover, I think “A Soul to Steal” does just that.


  1. Wow. I think you got it exactly right. That new cover is FAB!! Food for thought for all of us...thank you!

  2. Thanks, Jo! I'm very pleased with it. I have no idea if it will help sales or not, but I'm happy with the reaction from folks that have seen it.

  3. It sure is a learning process, isn't it? It's great to see the evolution, though. All part of the journey.

  4. Good choice, Rob! Interesting to hear the evolution of the cover.

  5. Thanks Laura and Virginia. I still feel like I don't know what the hell I'm doing, but I am learning. Sloooooooowly.

  6. Rob,
    We have the same story, well, almost. I paid a professional for a great book cover and it is great - for a hardback. It didn't work on my eBook so I found a free image on line, had a good friend assemble a new cover, and... yep, that doesn't work either. So, after twelve months It's about to happen the way it should have happened a year ago - a professional cover designer and eBook writer is redesigning it.
    I'll bet we could share a lot of jumping in before checking the water stories...

  7. Thanks, Bert! It's all a giant learning experience. By the time I roll out my next book, I definitely will do a number of things differently.