The UK Is Going Mad For These Covers!!! by Susan Price

Thank you, Lev Butts. You have been an inspiration.

     My Authors Electric colleagues are always being inspirational and Lev was the latest one at it. Before Christmas 2017, Lev did a blog on ideas for presents to give the writers in your life.
     One of Lev's gift ideas was a book on cover design: Cover Design Secrets Bestselling Authors Use to Sell More Books, by Derek Murphy. (Oooh, those sneaky best-selling authors with their secrets. Murphy is no slouch on 'exactly what it says on the tin' titles either.)
     Lev's blog seems to have been quite a success, since just earlier this month, another AE, Reb MacRath was having a bit of a rave about another of his recommends, Arc customisable notebooks.
     But since I've been spared the notebook obsession that seems to strike so many writers, it was the cover design secrets that grabbed me. It had been nagging in the back of my mind for quite some while that not all of my covers were as, well, grabby as they could be.
      What were those secrets that best-selling authors were hogging to themselves? I needed to know.

     I ended up looking into several books on the subject. Look up Murphy's book on Amazon and you will be shown several others covering the same ground.
     What did I glean? -- as my Scots partner always puts it.
     Well, I'd always known that the cover needs to show the would-be reader the kind of book they'll be getting, whether it's humourous, romantic, historical, thrilling adventure or blood-thirsty crime.

     But this is a factual approach. Here you are: there's a castle and someone in historical clothing on the front: it's historical. Or, there's a fast modern car and a gun, so it's contemporary and a thriller.

     I think what I'd failed to grasp -- surprisingly, considering how I've made my living -- is that there needs to be an emotional connection too, just as in story-telling.
     When we write, we most often start with something that shows the reader the character they'll be connecting with. We construct a scene that lures the reader into identifying with that character, that creates an interest in them. So a cover needs to say, not only: This is X kind of book. It has to also say: Don't you want to know more about this person?

Years ago I was commissioned to write a story set in the Viking Age. The publishers wanted something pacey and exciting but historically accurate. After it went out of print, I republished it myself, and this is the cover it had. (Art work by Andrew Price.)

I looked at it again, and considered it in the light of what I'd been reading about book design. Despite all the axe and sword waving, it seems a little aloof and distant. It says: This is a book set in a time when blokes went about in helmets and mail, looking for trouble.

But there's a bunch of them. Milling. Which one are we supposed to be rooting for?

So I fired up PhotoShop and made some changes.

 Saga of Aslak Slave-Born by Susan Price

This new cover gets in close and personal and leaves no one in any doubt about which one is Aslak, our main man. It also reminds me of the quote from Sellar and Yeatman's 1066 And All That
 'Britain was attacked by waves of Picts (and, of course, Scots) who had recently learnt how to climb the wall, and of Angles, Saxons and Jutes who, landing at Thanet, soon overran the country with fire (and, of course, the sword).'
Another book of mine which I felt was not being sold by its cover was The Bearwood Witch. 

Andrew and I, in designing the cover, had been puzzled what to put on it. There's a witch but it's set, not in fairy-tale forests, but in one of today's grimy inner cities. How to tell the reader that, visually?

We came up with this, but neither of us were very happy with it.

The door-key was supposed to suggest the present day, while the five-pointed star stood for witchcraft. It's quite eye-catching and graphic, but who builds an emotional connection with a key? It doesn't give the reader much idea of what to expect.

Again to PhotoShop. (I know, Karen, I know about PicMonkey but just as the shortest way to a destination is the way you already know well, so is the shortest way to a new cover.)

The Bearwood Witch by Susan Price

I think the new cover (left) does a far better job of connecting a browser with the book and what they can expect from it. Darkness settles over a street of parked cars and terraced housing as we are eyeballed by one of the main characters.

I also discovered that I'd neglected to publish Bearwood Witch as a paperback -- well, that's put right now.

The title of this blog is, of course, inspired by all those ads that keep popping up while you're browsing on-line, with either 'the UK' or the name of some town local to you inserted: Oldbury is going mad for this diet plan!  Smethwick is going crazy for these incontinence pads!

Well, the UK as a whole does seem to have gone a bit giddy just lately but I can assure you that neither Smethwick nor Oldbury goes mad for anything.

Except these books. The UK is going mad for them, I tell you. Mad.

This is the saga of Aslak Ottarssen, born a slave.
Aslak, and his beloved sister, Astrid, are the children of a Norwegian farmer. Their mother was an
English slave.
     Their father chooses to free Aslak. But Astrid remains a slave.
     Aslak promises that he will buy her freedom when he is a man and can earn enough silver. At fifteen, he goes viking to earn his fortune.
     Returning from sea, he finds that his father has died. Worse: his step-brothers have sold his sister.
     Furious, Aslak leaves his home forever, and calls on his ship-brothers to help him find and free his sister.
     He pursues Astrid across the North: a violent and dangerous place in the Viking Age. His hot temper leads to him being sold into slavery himself, in Jorvik, capital of England's Danelaw.
     But, captive among strangers, he finds unexpected help, faces death, sees a ghost— and meets still more danger.
Can Aslak regain his own freedom and rescue his lost sister?
 Kindle              Paperback

Zoe wants her dead boyfriend back. 
She's heard all about Elizabeth Beckerdyke. About her being a witch. About her speaking to the dead.
     Maybe she can raise the dead too?
     So Zoe goes knocking on the witch's door.
                Duncan is homeless, a rough sleeper.
     He's looking for a new life. He fears the witch and he fears for Zoe.
                Elizabeth Beckerdyke wants to prove her power.
     But can she control what she leads back from the land of the dead?

                A dark, disturbing novel of the occult by the award-winning author of The Sterkarm Handshake.

Kindle             Paperback


I found this post fascinating because we've been agonising over a choice of cover for my new novel for some months now and have finally come to a decision that everyone (i.e. me, publisher, sales and Uncle Tom Cobley and all) actually like and think will work. I'm lucky enough to have a publisher who involves me in the choice of cover but I've learned that certain otherwise lovely visual images lead the potential reader inexorably in particular directions which I suppose I knew, but hadn't articulated so clearly to myself.
(Rings, however beautifully displayed, suggest weddings, for example!) This recent one proved tricky for all kinds of unforeseen reasons, mostly to do with the title of the novel and the fact that it's the first in a series so we know there are going to be more with the same theme. So they will need to be connected but different. I love your new covers, by the way and think your analysis is right.
Anonymous said…
Fantastic post Sue - thank you! I love your new covers too. I've been thinking a lot about cover design - my new look books for writers don't have anyone on them you can relate to, but they look like mainstream non-fiction - so although I personally loved the old ones, these rebranded ones are being treated in the mainstream media like trad published books, reviewed alongside Julia Cameron's new one in mslexia and currently on offer to new subscribers with Writing Magazine. That would never have happen with my beautiful, quirky original covers.
glitter noir said…
Well done, Sue. And well learned. LAv's little blog has struck home at least twice. And the lesson itself has struck four times here at least: Lev has come up with far better covers for his Arthurian Western saga...and I've changed cover designers for my spinoff series--determined to try something different with hopes of winning more readers.
"Don't judge a book by its cover"... but readers always do, of course! I find cover design fascinating, and your new Bearwood Witch is much more atmospheric than the original. Excellent post, and interesting that there are cover fashions too, as Jenny's experience proves. (In 10 years, I guess we'll all be madly redesigning them again...)
Susan Price said…
Thanks everyone. I'm working to remake a lot of my covers, having learned a lot about using Photoshop and InDesign -- and even Word -- since they were first done. It certainly keeps the brain active, this self-publishing.
Sandra Horn said…
Thank you, Susan! Immediate and startling differeces in the covers really underline your message!
Unknown said…
Getting an attractive book cover is an essential need for every writer. I was really upset and discouraged when I was getting good reviews for my book content but bad remark about the cover. I found an agent who provides me with real quality and unique book cover design which brought human traffic for my book Now I write with passion and joy because I know I have an illustrator who will be able to capture all my idea into a captivating cover design which is the first thing that prompts a potential reader to pick up any book. I have been using her services for sometime now and she is the best so far.

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