The Truth About Great Cover Design…

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.

Now 8% funnier!

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“Why don’t you go and do some writing?” That’s what my wife Kate had said to me.

I returned half an hour or so later with a paragraph or two about how I always hoped Kylie Minogue might break down outside my flat, and how – having discovered that her mobile phone was dead – she’d choose my door (from the multitude of doors available to her) to knock and ask if she could borrow my landline. And this – this seemingly unlikely event – would be how destiny would finally bring the two of us together!

Kate roared with laughter. “That,” she said, “would make an excellent first chapter.”

First chapter? I was just killing time.

But back in September, ten long years after writing that initial scene, I published my debut novel – The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl. The book that Kate had encouraged me to write. The one that she hoped would allow us to sell up and move to warmer climes. The one she never got to read.

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Putting the book out there was pretty scary. I’ve written (or co-written) four other titles, but I wasn’t anywhere near as emotionally invested in those books, as I was in this one.

When the book climbed to number 9 in Women’s Contemporary Humorous Fiction I was besides myself with joy… when it fell out of the charts a few days later, only to fall and keep falling, I was heartbroken. I felt like I’d failed. Worse still, I felt like I’d failed Kate. The money was running out, my days as a full-time author seemed to be numbered.

Well maybe not.

In much the same way that the first edition of ‘Happy’ eventually got the attention of Audible, an agent, and Harper Collins – my little novel found it’s way into the offices of people with considerably more clout than me – and earlier this year I signed not one, but two contracts – the upshot of which means that today, Thursday 21st May, Good Guy Jason Smith gets another shot at the big time. Behold the revamped, re-released, second edition of The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl.

It’s not massively different to the original: A few tweaks here and there to make it a little less ‘blokey’. A brighter, more feminine version of the original cover. I’ll be blogging about some of the other differences between this edition and it’s forerunner in the coming days, but for now all you really need to know is that it’s still the amusing tale of a thirty something guy, and his somewhat unorthodox attempts to find the woman of his dreams at the turn of the century. All made up. Honestly. And the perfect summer read whilst you soak up some rays, or take cover from a monsoon.

Right now the ebook version is little more than a couple of quidthat’s less than the price of a cup of coffee – and you can download it from amazon and read it on your kindle, your ipad, your smart phone, even your mac or pc. Or, if you’re more retro, for a few quid more there’s always the paperback.

And am I scared? No. Well, maybe just a bit. But this time around things feel more ‘right’ than before. This time around I think Kate would be proud.


My hour long talk entitled ‘How I Met Kylie Minogue‘ is the story of how I came to write this novel. Drop me a line if you’d fancy getting me along to your group, society, or ‘after dinner’ event. In the meantime…

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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.