Behind the Scenes of a Great Book Cover  

When your book is published by a traditional publisher, you will not have much of a say in your book cover – unless, that is, you’re Stephen King, or you got a big giant fat advance. Most writers have to take what they are given, and it can be a bitter pill to swallow. To illustrate this, I’ll give you a quick tour of a few of my own books, and then I’ll show you what one of my clients did with her first two self-published books -- which is a very different tale.
My first novel, The Last Beach Bungalow, was set in Redondo Beach California and featured a red-haired woman. The book cover, on the other hand, featured a blond woman seated on a cliff that was clearly somewhere in the Hamptons, or at least somewhere not Southern California. I was baffled and disappointed, but there was nothing I could do. I was a debut novelist just happy to have my book being shepherded into the world.


My third novel, The Threadbare Heart, was set on an avocado ranch in Santa Barbara, California and featured a woman who was a fabric collector. Can’t you just SEE all the possibilities for a great cover there? The cover I ended up with had nothing to do with the story at all. I was baffled and disappointed and this time I put up a big fuss – but my editor assured me that the sales people were thrilled with the cover because it was similar to a bestselling book they had published the year before and they thought it would boost sales. My agent urged me to comply. I wanted my book to be a bestseller, too, and so I agreed to go with the cover:

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The Threadbare Heart did not earn out its advance, which is typical, but not great.  Who knows whether that was the story, the timing, the title, the cover or some combination of all of the above.
I self published my seventh book, a novel set in 1952 called Perfect Red. One of the great benefits of self-publishing is that you get to be in charge of every aspect of the process. You get 100% creative control.  It’s exciting, but it is very easy to make mistakes. I rushed through many aspects of the job, including the cover. I had an idea and hired a friend who is a graphic artist to help me execute it -- but the reality is that we didn't really know what we were doing. The cover didn’t work well online (too hard to read, too hard to “get,” always in need of an annoying artificial border). I believe it was a big mistake.

When I published the e-book a few months later, I re-did the cover as cheaply as possible, meaning I did it myself with a $50 photo. It looks like a lot of other book covers – not very special, not very arresting, nothing there to really invite the reader in. 

My client, Paolina Milano, is self-publishing two of her books – both memoirs -- and she is doing the covers exactly right. She hired a top designer – Christine Van Bree, an artist who has designed many bestselling book covers, who has a long waiting list, and who charges a big chunk of change. Paolina is not messing around. She invested time, money and effort, and hired someone who really knows what she is doing. The results speak for themselves.
The S Word is a story about a harrowing episode in Paolina’s childhood. It’s a memoir about a 14-year-old girl at the center of a swirl of chaos and tragedy. Here is a link to all the original cover options for The S Word.
Paolina was tempted by the cover with the candle, but in the end she choice the cover, below – a darker version of one of the originals.  I think it is spectacular, and perfectly captures the spirit of the story. It will look good in paper and online, and I have no doubt it will help sell copies.

Here is what Paolina says about the winning cover:
“I am very lucky to have connected with the designer Christine Van Bree. She not only asked a ton of questions about my story via email, but then she took the time to do an extensive phone interview. She listened, really listened to my storytelling. And while Christine returned to me several concepts – all of them great – this one captured the “everything” of my life. From the words used to the swirl of chaos in which they are illustrated to the dark colors, she hit the nail on the head.”
Paolina’s second book, Blueberry Hill Cottage, is about her search for home, both literally and figuratively. Home means something very specific for a woman who endured what Paolina endured, and in this book, we get to witness her quest to find what she needs. Here is a link to all the options for the cover of Blueberry Hill Cottage
Below is the cover Paolina chose. I think it's so charming!

What Paolina says about the winning cover:
“The story of how I found my home is pretty magical – even to me. Blueberry Hill Cottage – and, yes, that’s what she officially is called – has a soul of her own, and I truly drew her/dreamt her into existence. Once again, Christine heard the truth of the tale and brought it to life in this cover concept as well as at least a half-dozen more. While they all were works of art, this cover spoke to the simplicity of my Blueberry Hill Cottage, and, yet, to the soul inside that – like a child – believes.”
Note that Paolina does not yet have a link for anyone to buy the books and she does not have an author website. She is slowly chipping away at all the things a self-published author needs to do, one task at a time. I think it’s an excellent and inspiring example of how to self publish – and I can’t wait to share the “Buy Now” buttons to these two books.