Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Judging a Book...by Betsy Ashton

It is not true that readers don't judge a book by its cover. We do. Sometimes we buy a book because the cover is intriguing, exciting, mysterious. I have often bought a book because I liked the front cover and the back blurb. And as a writer, I know how hard it is to write the blurb to attract readers and not mislead them.

So, we are about to go to school on my psychological suspense novel, Eyes Without a Face.  I worked with a boutique publisher who has a cast of professionals on speed dial. I'm one of his editors, so I work with some of his authors to polish manuscripts.

I selected one of his cover designers to help give Eyes a spooky look and feel. We came up with this. I think we achieved spooky. The dark brown color wash added a hint of danger without being overt. We chose the hoodie because the killer often wears one when she kills. We went with yellow on brown in keeping with that color palette. So far, so good.

We needed a face in the hoodie. After adding a host of different images using PhotoShop, we came up with nothing that worked. Last summer, my DIL, who is a photographer, suggested we take a pic of her husband, black out the face, and drop in a set of creepy female eyes we'd found in open source photo galleries.

We thought we had a winner. The book came out to solid reviews. All but one. That one focused on the cover. The reader would have given me 5 stars had the cover been different. About the same time, I did a series of book signings and talks. I sent out 100 postcards with the eyes themselves on the front. Sales were good but not great.

Three events in a row taught me that the cover was wildly misleading. Not only did the cover not reinforce the salient fact that the main character, who is also the first person narrator, is a bloody female. Pun intended. She's a serial killer. She tells the story her way. She's unreliable. She lies. And the cover lies as well.

People asked what the book was about. I did a bit of research to see what readers thought. They gave me three different ideas about the connotation of the image.

OMG! No, the book is not about the Unabomber. No, the book is not about Jihadi John, the Brit who became the public executioner for ISIS. And no, the book is not about Trayvon Martin. I don't feel qualified to write about any of these three, particularly not Trayvon, whose tragic death touched me deeply.

Oh, what to do? Hire a different cover designer, of course. And, true to wanting a build up for the reveal, you'll have to wait until my next post. Yup, teaser that I am, you'll have to curb your inquiring mind for another few days. Giggle. I hope you like it.


Betsy Ashton is the author of the Mad Max mystery series, Unintended Consequences, Uncharted Territory, and Unsafe Haven. She also wrote a dark psychological suspense novel, Eyes Without A Face, about a female serial killer, who unpacks her life and career in first person.


Margo Hoornstra said...

I agree, and anxiously await your cover reveal.

Jannine Gallant said...

I agree the cover is HUGE! People won't read the blurb if the cover doesn't entice them to pick up the book. I'm looking forward to seeing what your new designer came up with!

Brenda Whiteside said...

I didn't believe the cover was as big a deal as it is until a year into my career. It is huge. I had to change a cover once because I had a Nazi symbol on the front. I had a friend/reader tell me she wouldn't pick it up because of that. I was stunned. I wasn't preaching or pro Nazi. But some wouldn't even get to the blurb because of it. I'm anxious to see what you come up with!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Good for you for taking an objective stance on something so close to your heart, Betsy. I look forward to seeing your new take on what would make readers pick up your book.

Betsy Ashton said...

Yes, I hadn't given enough thought to a cover. Now, it's foremost in my mind as I write my latest.

My next blog post will reveal the new version. I too was astonished when people had such widely diverse, such mistaken views of what the book was about. Mark my words: the new cover will erase any misunderstandings. And then I will be off and running with a re-release promotion.

Jennifer Wilck said...

Sometimes the best way to learn is to make a mistake. Good for you for listening to objective criticism and knowing when to adapt and when to ignore. Best of luck with the relaunch!

RE Mullins said...

I can't wait to compare/contrast your book covers. The power of the cover continues to amaze me.

Alison Henderson said...

As a cover designer myself, I know how important and tricky it is to get just the right image. Can't wait to see the final result!

Leah St. James said...

Cover is the first, and often most lasting, impression. I tend to want to tell a story with my covers, which might not be the best strategy. Your original cover is definitely creepy/scary, but I'm looking forward to seeing the new one!

Diane Burton said...

How right you are about the importance of a cover. One of my books was given a creepy cover--blood dripping down from the top, shadowy figures of a man about to attack a woman in an alley (at least that's what I and a friend saw). The story is a romantic suspense but with a lot of humor. I was fortunate that when I protested they changed the cover. I'm curious to see your new cover, Betsy.