The Frustrated Novelist’s Guide To Good Cover Design


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!)


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….)


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 opening chapter to: The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl

chapter one

Boxing Day, 1997

Liz. Where do I start? I suppose the end is as good a place as any.

Despite that dreadful first date – sitting in a near empty pub, trying to conjure sparks of conversation out of the void between us – I clung to the possibility that behind that cold, hard exterior was a warm heart, a sensitive soul, and someone whose yin was a close match to my less than melodic yang.

I was wrong, of course.

Liz was not the girl I’d hoped she would be. Any fantasies I’d had of ‘romantic happy ever afters’ soon gave way to a cast-iron certainty that I never, ever, wanted to see this girl ever again. And three years later I finally got around to telling her.

On Christmas Day.


Right after she’d proposed marriage.

I hung my head in shame, and tried hard to blend into the background. But The Tulip, with its garish Christmas decorations, antler-wearing bar staff, and ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’ thumping out of the juke box, was really only adequate cover if you were a high-spirited festive drinker. Right now I was struggling to look like a drinker, let alone high-spirited or festive. I hadn’t touched my pint. It was as lonely and dejected as I. Which made it all the more annoying when a chubby hand appeared and swept it away.

“This mine?” asked Alex. He drained two thirds, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, let out a satisfied belch, then sat down next to me. “Where’s yours?” he asked, after a moment or two. I stared at a fleck of melting snow caught in the stubble on his face and the pathetic strands of damp blond hair glued to a forehead that had once sported an impressive quiff.

“That was mine!” I said.

“You only bought your own?” asked Alex. “You selfish bastard.”

“I didn’t know how long you’d be, did I! Happy bloody Christmas.”

“Yeah,” said Alex, “you too.” He glanced in the barmaid’s direction and gave her a nod to indicate that one of us required another beer. “Look – can’t stay long. Mum’s serving lunch in half an hour. I only sneaked out by volunteering to walk her dog. Poor sod’s tied up outside. Weren’t you supposed to be spending the day with Liz’s grandmother?”

I let out a long, tortured sigh.

Alex stared at the side of my head. “What? Did she die or something?”

“We broke up.”

“You and Liz’s grandmother?”

“Me and Liz!”

“Oh right,” said Alex, nodding sagely. “Yeah, that can happen. Christmas gets them all worked up. Really brings out the bitch. Don’t worry about it,” he said. “By the time you get home she’ll be standing on your doorstep, dressed in nothing but a raincoat, holding a four-pack of beers …” He tailed off and stared into the distance, still holding the pint glass in front of him. I let out a single, humourless laugh as I massaged my eyes with my palms.

“Now you know that isn’t Liz,” I said. Alex frowned, then let out an exaggerated sigh.

“Ok,” he said. “I give in. What the hell happened?”

* * * * *

We’d just left my parents. The first few flakes of snow had started to fall. As I drove, eyes fixed ahead, Liz broke the silence.

“Jason,” she said. “I think we should get married.” Then, when I didn’t react in any way, she added: “Or break up.”

* * * * *

Alex’s frown deepened.

“So?” he asked. “What did you say?”

I blinked. “You know what I said.”

“No I don’t,” said Alex.

“Well, you can probably guess!”

“Let’s assume,” said Alex, “that I can’t.”

* * * * *

I said nothing. Not immediately. Not until I realised that this was it. This was the moment I’d been waiting for, the past three years.

“Then we should break up,” I said.

The rest of the journey felt like a bad dream. I clung to the steering wheel and stared forward, mesmerised by the way the flakes swarmed in huge silent clumps, right before they rushed at the windscreen. Rushed at me. Occasionally I’d steal a glance at Liz, sitting there with a hand to her mouth, her sleek jet black hair shielding the side of her face. Every now and then her body would jolt and shake as if someone in the waking world was using a defibrillator to bring her back from this nightmare.

And when we finally got to her place, I switched off the engine and we sat outside for what seemed like a lifetime.

“Want to come in?” she asked eventually. Just as she had done a million times before.

“No,” I said. “No, I think I ought to make a move.”

“Jason Smith!” said Liz, still facing forwards but raising a good inch and a half in her seat. “I believe you owe me an explanation!” I said nothing for a moment whilst I considered what to do next.

“Ok then,” I said eventually.

“Fine!” said Liz, getting out of the car and slamming the passenger door behind her. I watched as she marched up to the communal entrance of her flat and started attacking the door with her key. Then I put my hands back on the wheel and took a dozen deep breaths.

* * * * *

“You didn’t go in?” asked Alex. I waited for a moment or two whilst the barmaid put two fresh pints before us. Alex dug around in his pocket for some change, and whilst he did so I handed her a five pound note.

“Of course I went in,” I said, once the barmaid had returned to the till.

“Are you mad?”

“What was I supposed to do?”

“Drive home!”

“She’d have only phoned!”

“Unplug it!”

“Or come over!”

“Change the locks!”

“In the middle of the night? On Christmas Day?”

Alex raised a finger, but when no further words of wisdom were forthcoming, he lowered it, picked up his pint, and brought it to his lips.

* * * * *

By the time I’d removed my coat and hung it on my allocated hook, Liz was in the kitchen. And for the first time in months, possibly years, I took a good look at my now ex-girlfriend.

She was wearing one of my sweaters. And though it was gigantic on her petite frame, it looked good on her. Certainly better than it did on me, although any hint of a bosom was lost within its deep woollen folds. Still, I liked the way her hair fell long and straight to the centre of her back, and though I’d long since given up on seeing her in some sort of skirt or dress, those skinny jeans were very flattering. I could almost fancy her if she wasn’t – well, if she wasn’t Liz.

In many ways she was a woman out of time. Forced to live in a century which required her to at least acknowledge some sort of feminine side. In another era she’d have been commanding armies of bloodthirsty, muscle bound warriors. Crushing her enemies. Bending whole nations to her will. Expanding her empire. But here there were no nations to conquer. No empire. Only me.

I glanced into the lounge. If I went in and waited for her to come and find me I could put off the inevitable for at least another minute or so. Then I saw the two seater sofa and thought better of it. Rock hard cushions stuffed to within breaking point, upholstered in the textile equivalent of sandpaper. If doilies had been in fashion there’d have been doilies.

“So, that’s it then?” she asked, as I walked into the kitchen.

“What do you want me to say?” I asked. She stopped what she was doing and turned to face me, one hand perched high on her hip, the other gripping the edge of the kitchen worktop like she might break off a chunk and use it as a blunt instrument.

“I want to know why you want to break up!” It hadn’t occurred to me that this was something I still ‘wanted’ – I’d assumed the deal was done.

“You gave me a choice,” I said.

“But you didn’t even have to think about it,” spat Liz. “It was like your mind was already made up.” I said nothing. “It was, wasn’t it!” continued Liz, but all I could do was shuffle. “How long?” she asked.

“A while,” I said.

“What – a week? A month? A year?” My mouth opened, but no words came out. Liz frowned. “Longer?” she asked. I took a deep breath, then blew it out through puffed out cheeks. “Jason! That doesn’t make any sense! You can’t have spent the whole of our relationship waiting to break up!”

“I wasn’t,” I said. “I was …”


“Waiting. For things … to get … better.”

“Better? What does ‘better’ mean? How can our relationship get any better? I love you, you love me – at least I thought you did. We get on with each other. We like the same things, sort of. I cook. I put up with your mess. We don’t even argue that much! I don’t see what I could do to make it ‘better’! Other than magically transform into bloody Kylie Minogue, of course!”

“Don’t be silly,” I muttered, but the blood was already rushing to my cheeks. Liz stood there. Her jaw clamped shut, her lips thinned, her eyes flickering with rage. Then she pushed past me and marched out of the kitchen. A second or two later the bedroom door slammed with such force it shook the whole flat.

* * * * *

Alex shook his head.

“You should have dumped her months ago,” he said.

“Probably. But I didn’t want it to end that way. This way.” Alex’s face contorted into a mixture of confusion and disbelief.

“How did you expect it to end?” he asked.

“I dunno. I kinda hoped that she’d meet someone else.”

“That was never gonna happen,” said Alex, shaking his head again. “She’d pegged you for a keeper from the start.” I turned and gave Alex a long hard look.

“She didn’t even like me at the start!”

“Probably not,” said Alex, working on his drink, “but she saw potential. Thought she could change you. Women think like that. It’s why they get so frustrated. We’re a major disappointment when we stay as we are.”

“That’s just cynicism.”

Alex shrugged. “It’s true,” he said, and drained his second pint. I looked at mine, still untouched. Then I picked it up and put it in front of my friend. Alex took it without question. “So?” he asked. “Then what?”

I sat in the hallway with my back against the bedroom door. I’d more or less given up trying to explain how I felt without actually explaining how I felt, and the various sounds of Liz punching pillows or sobbing into them had long since stopped. For all I knew, Liz had climbed out of her bedroom window and was slashing my car’s tyres whilst I sat holding the watch she had given me for Christmas, watching the seconds tick by.

I opened my mouth to speak. “It’s not you,” I wanted to say, “it’s me.” But that would have been a lie. Of course it was her. Liz had been manipulative, devoid of humour, and at times cruel. She’d spent the first few months of our relationship calling me James because, and I quote, “I don’t really like the name ‘Jason’.” She’d even tried to change my name. That was how controlling she really was!

Then why was I feeling guilty?

Because her real failing wasn’t her faults, but the fact that she wasn’t the person I’d hoped she would be. And once I’d realised that I should have come clean, set her free, returned to my miserable single existence. Instead I started waiting. For a miracle.

Any miracle would have done. I’d have settled for a slight thaw in the Ice Queen’s demeanour. Or an opportunity for us to part with a minimal amount of bloodshed. But in truth, the miracle I’d set my heart on was to be rescued – for someone specific to walk back into my life and give me the impetus I needed. That sounds ridiculous, I’m sure. But against all the odds it had actually happened. And when it had, Liz had done what Liz did best: She’d rallied her armies. And crushed the opposing nations.

From that moment on I no longer wanted to be a part of her empire.

“Are you still there?” she said eventually.


“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” I said.

“If it’s not me, just what is it that you do want, Jason Smith?”

I said nothing for a moment. “I don’t know,” I lied.

“I’ve been such a fool,” she said after a pause. “You never loved me. I see that now. I too was waiting. Waiting for a moment – one that was never going to come.”

I shivered. Partly at the coldness of her words, partly because I knew what it was like to spend your life waiting for ‘a moment’, but mostly because she was right; I’d never loved her.

“Jason,” she said eventually, “just leave.”

I left the watch on the side as I left, then crunched through the fresh snow to the car and somehow summoned the courage to glance up at her window, just in time to see her draw the curtains.

And that was it. In typical Liz fashion, she’d decided on a course of action. The three years of her life, with me, were over. Why then did I feel so wretched?

* * * * *

“Stupid,” said Alex. I looked over my shoulder to see if he was talking to someone else. He wasn’t.

“What’s stupid?” I asked. Alex stared back at me for a moment, then shook his head.

“Mate, I know I’m your best friend, but when it comes to women, you don’t have to be a genius to know what you want.”

“How can you say that?” I asked. “I’m not even sure I know what I want!” Alex said nothing. Just frowned slightly and stared into the space in front of his nose like he was attempting long division in his head.

“Fifteen years,” he said eventually.

“I’m sorry?”

“You’ve been hung up on the same girl for the past fifteen years.”

“What girl?!” I asked. But Alex said nothing. He just turned his head slowly until he was looking right at me.

He was right, of course.

TGGGTGTG-drop-shadow‘The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl’ is my debut novel. Read more about it here, and buy it here.

Peter Jones. Novelist.

Things have moved on somewhat since I wrote this post.
Find out how, here

Regular followers of my this blog might remember that I’ve made several attempts at claiming the novel I’ve been fiddling about with for  – gulp! – ten years was ‘finished’, or ‘almost finished’.

Here I am in 2011 for instance. And here. And, oh dear, here too. But the truth is I knew I could never claim it was actually finished until it was out there, in print, so back at the start of this year I set myself the following goal:

My novel
(The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl)
is AVAILABLE in two formats.
Easter 2014

Well I’m sure you know what happened next.

Easter came and went and the novel was nowhere to be seen.

People asked me where was it, and I told them that

  • it was with my agent, or
  • another publisher was taking a look at it

And whilst all those things were true, it wasn’t quite the whole truth, because I actually could have made the Easter deadline. If I’d put my mind to it. If I’d really wanted to. But I didn’t.


Because I was scared.

This novel has been a long time in the making. It was a journey that Kate set me off on just after we’d met. She believed in me. She believed in the story. She thought the book would do really really well. Basically there’s an entire decade of hopes and dreams wrapped up in those words.

But if I publish it…

  • maybe no one will buy it?
  • maybe people will buy it but maybe they won’t like it!
  • maybe they will like it, but not that much.
  • maybe this will be the first and last novel I ever write!!
  • maybe this will be the last book I ever write.
  • maybe this will herald the end of my writing career.

People often think that I left credit card banking because my first book, How To Do Everything And Be Happy, took off. That wasn’t the reason at all.  I left a well paid career behind because I realised, yet again, that life’s too short to be doing things that don’t make you happy!

I had a half finished novel on my desk, a half finished self help book, some money in the bank, and dreams of what life could be like – if I put some effort in – I took it all and made the most crazy decision of my life. In short I took a leap of faith.

I only realised recently that I was still mid-leap. I was still terrified to see it through.

But not any more!

I’m delighted to announce that The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl is FINALLY here. In two formats. And if you happen to be reading this before the 19th of September 2014 then it’s currently less than a quid for your kindle enabled tablet or smart phone! That’s got to be worth a punt, surely. Click here to visit your favourite online bookseller.

What’s it about?

It’s basically a romantic comedy – similar I suppose to Bridget Jones’s Diary or High Fidelity. If you’re a fan of Nick Hornby, or Mike Gayle, you might like this. Here’s the blurb:

Boxing Day, 1997: Jason Smith, 29, and self-confessed ‘good guy’, is single again. And now that he is, it seems all the single girls – the “Melanie Jacksons” of this world – are in short supply. Or are they? Has Jason stumbled on a foolproof way to find the girl of his dreams?

Both aided and hindered by his beer-drinking best buddy and reluctant father-to-be Alex, and his ever-wise, ever-sarcastic colleague Sian, “The Good Guy’s Guide to Getting The Girl” follows Jason on a voyage of self-discovery as he experiences the highs and lows of trying to meet one’s soul mate at the turn of the millennium.

And if all that hasn’t convinced you to run along to your nearest (online) book store, then you can find out more here.

I’m still terrified of course. I have no idea what people are going to make of it. I have no idea whether I’ve lived up to the high expectations Kate had of me. And I have absolutely no idea whether this will herald the start of my career as a novelist, or the end of my career as an author. But at least now – I’ll get to find out!

If you’ve been through a similar experience or have any words of wisdom to share with me, feel free to post a comment below.

Now what?

please wait
Having sent the second draft of my novel back to the agent, here’s why I’m not prepared to wait one moment longer

So, a while back you’ll remember I was sharing with you the challenge of having to bring a 115,000 word manuscript to under 90,000 – whilst shoe horning in another couple of chapters.

You’ll be pleased to know that I did it.

Two months to the day after I sharpened my editing pencil, the novel finally weighed in at 89,532 words and was promptly shipped back to my agent.

Now – apparently – I wait.

Let me just take this opportunity to segway into a barely concealed rant about how much waiting there seems to be in the traditional world of publishing. From the moment you type the words THE END on your manuscript you actually begin a perilous journey on the road to publication – most of which involves waiting for someone, somewhere, to come back to you.

Which is quite a shock to the system for a fella like me, when up til now the only person preventing me from moving forwards – was myself.

It doesn’t help that I come from a Credit Card Banking background where hard-nosed, money-minded gentlemen want everything this time last week – earlier if at all possible – and I hate to admit it now, but that suited me just fine.

You might have gathered that I’m not a patient person. In fact, in the words of Charlotte from The Importance of Being Earnest – “I hate waiting even five minutes for anybody. It always makes me rather cross.” But what makes the waiting even more torturous (for me at least) is that I’m acutely aware that there are no guarantees. In my head, every second that ticks by is just another moment when my manuscript might be buried under something else, never to see the light of day.

So what’s to be done? How can I prevent myself from gnawing off my forearm as I sit and stare at my empty email in-box? The answer – so I’m told (thank you Wendy, thank you Della – two ladies who have said this very thing to me many many times over the past few weeks) is to start writing my next book.

And that – you lovely, lovely people – is exactly what I’m going to do. Consider this a formal announcement as such, if for no other reason than I’ll look pretty silly if this time next month I haven’t actually done anything about it.

A few gems to whet your appetite. It’ll most likely be another non-fiction book. It’ll most likely be another self-help book. It’ll most likely be written in a similar style to How To Do Everything and Be Happy. And here’s where I really lay my head on the block – it’ll be finished, proof read, formatted, and on-sale (for the kindle at least) by next April. Ish.
Because… I wouldn’t want to keep you waiting.

In the meantime though feel free to torture me with your writing-related-waiting-experiences (I think I’m going to regret asking that) OR any pearls of wisdom you may have re the publishing process and how to survive it, in the comments box below.

Originally written for