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The difference between male and female book covers…

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Book covers.

I hate them!

No really, I do. Because the age old advice – never judge a book by the cover – is universally ignored.

Recently my third novel, My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend, came out and I couldn’t be more delighted. Like my previous two novels it’s sort-of a romantic comedy, only this one’s about… well, you can probably work it out from the title.

I went through hell and back with the designer working on the covers for my first two novels (you can read about those experiences here and here), but when it came to this book, I was pretty sure it would be a walk in the park. And here’s why:

In the opening chapter of My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend, there’s a silly joke about our hero’s girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend being soooo perfect that there’s probably a Tibetan temple dedicated to him. It would be your standard Tibetan temple; chanting monks, a sixty foot golden statue – only obviously the statue would have an extra pair of arms so that Sebastian (the perfect ex-boyfriend) could hold various symbols and representations of all the wondrous gifts that he brings to the world.

That, I thought, would make a great cover for the book. I put all this in an email to my wonderful designer and this is what he came back with.

I was pleased. Okay so it’s not perfect by any means. It’s quite difficult to read some of the words against the patterned background, but as a concept it’s pretty darn close to what I had in my head. However, even though I really like covers that wrap around the spine and continue on the back, it seemed a shame that we couldn’t see all of Sebastian. Plus I had a nagging feeling that despite the cartoon style grin, this cover didn’t necessarily scream romantic comedy at anyone casually looking for a new book to read.

So with that in mind I decided to familiarise myself with covers of other women’s contemporary humorous fiction, written by male novelists, and from a male viewpoint. And here’s what I found:

I think you’ll agree, there’s definitely a style. Lots of flat colour. Slightly cartoony. Silhouettes seem popular. Oh, and all of them (with the possible exception of two) are EASY TO READ – particularly when reduced to a thumbnail. So – Mr Cover Designer Man – would it be possible to take that original design for my cover, and tweak it so that it wouldn’t look out of place when filling that gap in the bottom right hand corner?

Oh, and could I have a couple of ideas to pick from? Thank you.

Here’s what I got back.

 

Wow!

Now remember, these are just rough-and-ready sketches, so any weird blobs or lines wouldn’t be there on a final finished version, but even so, my gob was well and truly smacked. I loved them. All of them. Not equally of course, but each one was a massive improvement on the original, and I was utterly convinced that with a bit of tweaking we had a finished cover. All I had to decide was which one.

It was an easy choice.

Now obviously this one is a clear winner. No doubt in my mind. I was a little worried about my name getting lost at the bottom there, but really the title’s the more important thing.

However, just to be absolutely sure I’d picked the right one, I decided to ask some other authors. Specifically romantic fiction authors. Specifically female romantic fiction authors. I uploaded all six new designs (plus the original design) into one of the private facebook groups for the Romantic Novelists Association and asks my fellow novelists to vote.

I’m not going to lie to you… I was shocked at the result.

With the exception of one person (Hello Sue Lovett), every single woman chose one of the following:

This left me scratching my head. I was so sure my choice was the better cover and yet here I was being out-voted by 10 to 1! (Incidentally, Sue chose the original, first design).

So I asked my partner what she thought. Along with all her (female) work colleagues, she too picked one of the two covers above, with the majority of her colleagues picking the version on the right.

Not only that, but almost every woman I’d asked took the time to tell me that, although they liked the design, they hated Sebastian’s orange tie! One woman (Hello Virginia) said it reminded her of Halloween!!

Still reeling from this new information I decided to ask my male friends which one they would go for. With the exception of one person (Hello Patrick – there’s always one isn’t there) they all picked the same one I’d chosen, or a near relative.

So this left me with a rather interesting conclusion and a potentially troublesome conundrum.

Conclusion: Different covers appeal to male and female readers.

Conundrum: Do I pick a female cover, or a male one?

It really wasn’t a hard choice if I’m honest.

I write Women’s Contemporary Humorous Fiction. 90% of my readers (possibly more) are women. If I’m going to continue trying to make a living out of this writing lark then I had to choose the cover that the RNA ladies and my girlfriend’s colleagues had gone for.

Thing is, I didn’t like it.

The strap line seemed sort of lost at the bottom, and my name seemed a bit lonely up there at the top. And the two new silhouettes (which are supposed to represent Adrian and his girlfriend Paige), well they just seemed to be plonked either side of the word PERFECT for no reason.

I went back to Mr Cover Design Man with these thoughts and a couple of days later I went back to my girlfriend and novelist buddies with these four variations:

At first glance there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference between them so let me talk you through the key points.

  • In three of the designs Adrian and Paige have been resized to create a sense of perspective. Now we have a ‘scene’ being illustrated. In fact, in two of the designs they even have their own shadows!
  • Two of the designs obviously have borders whilst two don’t, but in all of them the colour of the tie has changed to match the word perfect, and my name has been tinkered with to make it look more ‘fun’.
  • Finally in one version the grin has made a reappearance, because I like the grin. I thought it was funny and would make people laugh. Turns out I was wrong. Most people told me the grin was off-putting and scary.

Everyone liked the pink tie though. And aside from comments about my name being hard to read, and the strap-line being too long, everyone chose either the second or third version.

And those comments were easily addressed.

I present to you, the final version:

 

And I have to say… I love it. Of all the covers on all my books, this one is most definitely my favourite.

It’s perfect.

Or is it? Let me know what you think in the comments.


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The Truth About Great Cover Design…

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TTATCM publicity

Book covers.

I hate ’em.

No really, that’s the truth, because that age old piece of advice – never judge a book by its cover – is universally IGNORED!

Everyone judges pretty much everything by its cover, ESPECIALLY books. So it really doesn’t matter how many months I spent slaving over the words on the inside, if the cover isn’t absolutely perfect (or as close as), I’ll have pretty much wasted my time. After all, I went through goodness knows how many covers for my first novel and to this day I’m still not entirely sure we got it absolutely right (read about that here).

So it was with considerable trepidation that I approached the cover design for my latest fiction offering; The Truth About This Charming Man. And just for “fun” (yours, not mine) my agent thought you might enjoy seeing the personal torment we went through to arrive at the FABULOUS jacket above / to the right. That’s nice of her, isn’t it.

Anyway, let’s start with these three doodles…

The Truth - proof4 The Truth - proof The Truth - proof2

If you’re shaking your head in bewilderment I can’t say I blame you. Let me give you some context:

My latest novel was never intended to be a novel at all. Back at the beginning of 2015, in a desperate attempt to plug the hole in my bank account, I’d written a five part story entitled The Truth. The plan was to submit it to a well-known weekly women’s publication in the hopes that they might serialise it. This is a bit like trying to solve a financial crisis by purchasing a single lottery ticket, but still, I was determined.

The basic plot was (and still is… to some degree) about a thirty something actor who, despite never having secured a ‘proper’ role on stage or screen, has, somehow, landed three unusuallet’s call them ‘positions’… pretending to be whoever his clients need him to be. And although it still isn’t proper theatre, by and large, life is pretty good for our hero… until the day he needs to play two of those people. At the same meeting.

It’s an idea that Kate and I originally came up with many years ago – although typically, when I actually came to write it, it morphed into something very different, and in my humble opinion, far better, than what we’d originally envisaged.

In fact, so pleased was I with my second piece of full length fiction that I resolved to self-publish it as a novella should the magazine in question decide not to take the story. Hence the doodles above. These are *some* of my attempts at what I thought might be the cover… and I hated them. I still do. In my head I had this idea about our hero falling between sinister versions of the two famous actor masks. I realised too that the design had to be at least sympathetic to my first novel, but I just couldn’t get it to work; close friends I shared these doodles with said it made the book look like a murder mystery. Arrrgghhh!

FORTUNATELY, around March of last year, destiny stepped in.

I’d just landed myself a new agent, who in turn had secured a publicity deal with amazon, which led to my first novel being re-vamped and re-published. But before I’d even signed my contract, my agent was understandably keen to know what else could be in the pipeline. So I showed her The Truth, and… she loved it.

Though she didn’t love the title.

Or the fact it was a novella.

“Go away,” she said, “and turn this into a proper, full-length novel… with a better title.”

Nine months later and I had finished The Truth About This Charming Man.

Which brings us onto this…

THE TRUTH kindle proof

 

I was still basking in the glory of somehow completing an entire novel in the tenth of the time it had taken me to write the first one, when this cover was designed. Maybe I wasn’t being objective but at the time I loved the masks. I loved the way they’re all angry or sad with the exception of the one he’s wearing. I loved the spot light. I loved everything about it. I was in love!

So pleased was I – and so confident that both amazon and my agent would love it too – I grabbed my wallet and went right ahead and had the finished artwork made up.

Oops.

My agent did like it, sort of, but there were some problems.

Firstly, apparently books that are obviously about actors or acting are unpopular with publishers (as are books to do with writers, or writing). So anything with actor masks on it was a strict no-no.

Secondly, my market, apparently, is women’s contemporary romantic fiction. Regardless of whether my books are heavy on the romance or not 90% of my readers fit that demographic, and therefore it’s those ladies that have to look at the cover and go “Ooooo…”

I was sent back to the drawing board, with strict instructions to come back with ‘at least three’ ideas that we could pick from.

Several days later – with the dread that this entire process might take as long as it did last time hanging over my head – this design popped out:

TTATCM man in heart sketch

I liked it!

I felt we’d finally cracked the font. I liked the colour. The strap-line felt right.

I wasn’t sure whether we’d get away with the mask on the man…  more than that though, I was even more worried it still wouldn’t appeal to the women’s contemporary romantic fiction market.

A fear that was addressed by the following…

TTATCM bench sketch copy

Bear in mind this is a sketch, so it’s a bit rough round the edges. Those lines on the bench wouldn’t be there in a finished version.

I hate it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. It’s more or less a scene from the book, and I like the London skyline, but it’s so… chick-lit. There’s nothing wrong with chick-lit of course, but slap a cover like this on my book and I could envisage two things happening:

  1. I’d lose every single one of my male readers (even though there are probably about 6, and I know them all by name).
  2. There would be more than a few female readers who were hoping for a plot that’s a good deal more romantic than the one I’ve actually come up with.

Put simply, I wasn’t convinced it was a  good fit, even if I knew, in my heart of hearts, that this was probably the cover amazon and my agent would go for.

There hardly seemed any point in having a third idea – so I suggested a simple typographical solution, using the font and background colour from the first idea, maybe the border from the second idea. Just something we could throw into the mix so we could say, hand on heart, that we’d delivered three covers. The book equivalent of a guy in a red jersey beaming down to an unexplored planet with Captain Kirk.

What I got was this…

TTATCM typographical solution sketch

This is another sketch. Those glasses, I was assured, wouldn’t have the words shutterstock across them. But I wasn’t listening. What I was thinking was…

Woah!

I knew pretty much instantly that this was it. There was a kind of stirring. In my loins. Despite the fact that this design was turned out in the time it took me to send an email, go downstairs, make a cup of tea, and come back up again – I just knew.

And I wasn’t alone. I sent all three covers to several friends, and most chose the design above over the other two. Especially those friends who hadn’t seen any other design, or had no idea what the book was about.

My favourite bit of feedback was this:

“I like the glasses. It makes me think of ‘deception’ – but also about those comedy glasses you could buy with a big nose and bushy eyebrows attached.”

Perfect!

Interestingly, those that didn’t choose this design, chose the couple on the bench. But no one liked the guy in the mask.

So, naughty though it may be, I casually forgot about the guy in the mask. I know, I know – I was tasked with submitting three ideas, but I wanted my favourite to have at least a 50/50 chance of winning even though I was 100% certain that the chick-lit cover would beat it to a pulp!

And I’m delighted to say I was wrong.

My agent circulated the two covers (the ones on offer) round her agency and my fave won hands down! The only objection being that it might not be *quite* romantic enough… and was it possible to ‘fix’ that? Which is why we came up with the finished version below by adding a little bit of a glow and a few love hearts (including the dot on the i in the word ‘charming’).

Personally I prefer the un-romanticised version, but hey – it’s not that much of a compromise. I’m still proud to be associated with this design.

TTATCM kindle

But… maybe we’ve got it wrong?

Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below.


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Hot news; my second novel The Truth About This Charming Man is available right now, in paperback and for your phone, tablet, computer or kindle device!

Read the opening chapter, right now, right here.

The film will be along some time in the next decade.

The Frustrated Novelist’s Guide To Good Cover Design

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TGGGTGTG-drop-shadow

Behold the cover for The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl! Lovely isn’t it. Isn’t it? Yes it is. No, no, really – it is!! And I won’t have anybody tell me any different because God knows how much pain and suffering I went through before we (my agent & I) finally settled on this beauty!

This post probably seems a little familiar. And so it should. It’s recycled, and updated, from the last time I thought I’d ‘finally’ decided on the cover. But no. Here we are again. Let’s hope this is the last time – for this book at least. I’m beginning to realise that the words ‘finished’ & ‘finally’ are dangerous things to say when talking about books.

So, just for fun, I thought it might be kinda cathartic to share with you *some* (and I really do mean some) of the designs that ended up being seriously considered, but ultimately tossed on the scrap heap. Everybody ready? Then buckle up people and prepare yourself for an emotional ride.

book jacket1

Above is a mock-up book jacket which I designed back in 2010 to help motivate me whilst I was writing the book. I figured if I had something I could see which represented my wildest fantasies of having the book  published and then subsequently made into a movie, not to mention big name authors taking the time to give me a by-line I could use, I might be more inclined to get a move on and write the thing. I never really intended to show this to anybody, but it hung on my wall for months and months and months. Until it fell off.

Incidentally, that actually is my office wall. I took a picture of my Kylie calendar and my pin board and used those elements as the basis for the cover. And I realise that isn’t Kylie Minogue. In a deluded paranoid moment I decided to swap her picture for someone else in case her lawyers decided to pay me a visit.

just the cover

When my third & fourth books were published I realised I was missing a trick if there wasn’t at least a mention of my forthcoming novel at the back – and a ‘mention’ would be a whole lot more powerful with an image to accompany it. With this in mind I quickly bashed out this cover which is unashamedly based on the original edition of Della Galton’s novel Ice And A Slice. That cover featured an image of a girl with a drink (because that features strongly in the story) so logically I chose a fella with a camera.

At the time I really liked this. I liked it’s simplicity and I thought the bloke would appeal to female readers – a plus given that the book is actually classified as Women’s Contemporary Fiction.

Over time though I began to suspect it was a little dull. Worse still, friends I showed it to actually thought it might be non-fiction, rather than fiction – which you can’t really blame them for given that I have four self-help books under my belt. So when the time came to settle on the final cover design I decided to start with this idea, but tweak it as much as possible to make it look a little more ‘chick lit’.

paperback - illustrated man, white background

Dear God. It’s difficult to know how this can look less finished than the previous version. I appeared to have gone backwards!

paperback - photograph

So the thinking here was take the previous idea, but turn the picture of Jason (that’s the protagonist) with his camera into a ‘polaroid’ laying on a coloured background. Except that, unless you had the paperback and could see how the image wrapped all the way round to the back (where there was a second polaroid image of Melanie – the love interest), it’s not at all obvious what’s going on here! Most of my friends said “what’s that purple bar thing at the side and top?”

TGGGTGTG final cover proof

And so we arrive at what I thought, for quite a while, was the final version. The polaroids look like polaroids and we’ve got something for everybody; a handsome guy for the gals, and an absolute babe for the lads. I was a little worried that the title was getting lost but I was more than happy to live with it. Notice too how we’ve returned to the original ‘office wall’ background colour. All in all a job well done.

How wrong can you be.

A week or so later the cover was circulated around a couple of dozen potential readers (mostly ladies), and the general consensus was that this is not a good cover. The vast majority of women did not like the lady in the polkadot bikini  – some said that would be enough to put them off buying the book! Worse still was the reaction to Jason – many people felt he looked like he was ‘hiding’ behind his camera, thereby making him seem creepy!

TGGGTGTG new jason proof

Never mind, thought I, all those issues could easily be addressed by re-casting Jason (notice how he’s not hiding behind the camera), and for that matter, Melanie (could she be any more ‘cute’?) Also, in this version my previous concerns about the title were finally resolved, and I love the interesting use of the multiple fonts.

However, something about it just isn’t right. Somehow in attempting to address all the issues raised we’d lost something along the way. This didn’t feel like my book any more, and I wasn’t sure it reflects the tone of the story. Not that my concerns mattered. Once the book was circulated again and feedback was – at best – luke warm, I decided to go back to the drawing board.

TGGGTGTG nick hornby2

Take a look at titles by David Nicholls or Nick Hornby and you’ll notice the newer editions are very graphic, and it’s that element that we were trying to capture here. This was one of about six similar ideas, each with a different female face or profile. Personally this image was my favourite, but the title doesn’t quite fit and there were some fears that the woman is slightly too pretty, thereby alienating female readers (again!)

TGGGTGTG_small

Which is why we finally settled on this one. And I have to say at the time I loved it. And I wasn’t the only one; here’s one of my favourite bits of feedback:

I love this one! I like the striking image and the colours and it’s exactly the sort of book I am drawn to pick off the shelves. I know that’s extremely subjective… I would assume (perhaps wrongly!) that this would be slightly more clever & comical than your average chick-lit offering.

This was the cover that I launched the book with back in September 2014. You can read about how that went here, but the short version of the story is, the book did really well… in the first week. After that, not so much. It did however land me a deal with a new agent, AND a publicity deal with a very large online retailer. For boring legal & financial reasons we couldn’t just carry on with the same edition, it needed to be republished under a new ISBN. And if we had to do that then there was an opportunity to tweak a few things. Things like the cover.

I could have shot myself.

However, the general consensus was that whilst the image itself was probably ok – probably – the whole thing needed to be brighter, and it definitely needed to be more fun, to hint at some of the hilarious shenanigans inside the book. And even more female friendly to really attract that Women’s Contemporary Fiction audience. (But, but.. I want to be like Nick Hornby….)

BRIGHTER COVERS

So, here are the five ‘final’ ideas we were presented with. Once we’d been around the houses a few times deciding on a new font (which is  – I hope you’ll agree – more ‘fun’). My agent was delighted… but it took me a while to get used to the brightness, and the, er, pinkness. It’s very pink. Very very pink. I can’t quite believe that I’ve written a pink book! But then on the other hand, when I look back at the ‘first edition’ I can’t believe how drab that was!

Personally my favourite of these is number 4, the one in the bottom left hand corner (I like red). However, from a contrast point of view (important when you reduce the covers to the size of a thumbnail) numbers 2 and 5 are winning… which is why number 5 became the cover we went for in the end.

However… maybe we’ve got it wrong? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below.


TGGGTGTG sidebar

Hot news; my debut novel The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl is part of Amazon’s 99p Summer Book Promotion. Get my quirky, lad-lit, rom-com for less than a quid! But hurry – the promo is for July only!

The film will be along some time in the next decade.

The Importance of Book Covers

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Last week, at the launch of the 2012 Essex Book Festival, I joined Dave Monk from BBC Essex, author Guy Saville, and book illustrator Mary Pullen about the importance of book covers – and by the awesome power of YouTube the interview is preserved here in all it’s glory.

Click the YouTube box above to listen right away or, if you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit YouTube.

To listen to a short piece about the Essex Book Festival click here.