Monday, April 24, 2017

Judging a Book by Its Cover

It’s time to admit it. I suffer from OCPD—Obsessive Compulsive Planning Disorder. I hadn’t even finished writing my first book, Murder Strikes a Pose when I started preparing to query agents. I took classes, read dozens of blog articles, and attended a host of information sessions. In the end, I left with two key takeaways:

1.      Check your spelling. Agents will toss your manuscript in the garbage if you spell their name wrong.
2.      Your manuscript must have a fabulous first line—a single sentence that will hook the reader in twenty words or less.

Writing my book’s first line became an obsession. I sweated and angsted and wrote and rewrote. I finally created something perfect: a pithy first sentence that would simultaneously hook the reader, draw them into the story, and introduce them to the voice of the novel’s protagonist.

But all of that angst and hard work will be for nothing if readers never crack open the book. That’s where the cover comes in.

The design of my book’s cover started with my author website. My webmaster (aka husband) and I discussed the site’s design for months. I wanted it to illustrate some key elements of my mysteries; he wanted a professional-looking page that wouldn’t take him a hundred years to create. We finally agreed that the site would contain:

·        Bright, happy colors that captured the lighthearted tone of the work
·        An illustration that quickly showed two important components of the series: yoga and dogs
·        Recognizable landmarks of Seattle, the city in which the series takes place
·        A feeling of playful mischief between the two main characters: Kate, a quirky yoga instructor, and Bella, her horse-sized German shepherd.

That decided, my husband hired artist Nicole Alesi who developed this web banner.

I was simply delighted. The web banner contained everything that I wanted and more.

My publisher agreed. When Midnight Ink purchased the first three books in the series, they hired Nicole to design the book covers. The cover art she created for Murder Strikes a Pose is below:

I have to admit, I love it.

So imagine my surprise when I read my first one-star review. The reviewer said that my writing was “lovely; fast paced and vivid,” and that mystery readers would like the book. So why did she give it a single star? In spite of the word “murder” in the title, she thought that the book was a romance, not a mystery. Evidently, she doesn’t like reading about murder.

The second surprise came a few weeks later at my first book signing. Several people paused at my table, glanced at the cartoon cover, shrugged, and walked away saying, “Oh, it’s a kid’s book.”
So much for that all-important first line.

I still adore my covers, as do most of my readers. I know many people have started the book specifically because they were drawn in by its bright, happy design. The covers of the rest of my series are substantively similar: Same light, bright cartoon characters; same illustration of the setting in the background; same sense of mischief and play between the two main characters.

But now we include crime elements.  In my newest book, A Fatal Twist, it’s the outline of a body.  Hopefully it's large enough for people to notice.

What makes you decide to read a book? Cover? Title? First line? Please share your thoughts below.

Tracy Weber

All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

Tracy Weber is a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, where she current­ly lives with her husband, Marc, and precocious German shepherd puppy, Ana. She loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. When she’s not writing, she spends her time teaching yoga, trying to corral Ana Tasha, and sip­ping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house. Tracy loves connecting with fans.  Find her on her author web page or on Facebook.



Anonymous said...

I have to admit I'm a cover girl. The cover will draw my attention to a book first. I think your book covers are very attractive. I have to admit I didn't notice the body in the background of your newest until you mentioned it and I went back and found it. Maybe a little bolder outline might make it more conspicuous? Nevertheless, the title should alert people that's it's a mystery. And as for that 1-star review. Okay, the reader mistook it for romance, but she still thought it was written well so why not rate it based on that?

Aimee Hix said...

Murder Strikes a Pose sounds like the title of a romance or a kid's book to some people? Really? These are people who don't buy many books, I'm guessing.

I love the covers. I think they present a nice lightness showcasing the relationship between Kate and Bella. And they're a little different than other cozy covers but they still show the story skews closer to cozy/traditional than thriller or suspense and isn't that part of a cover's job?

I do judge books by their covers and after going through the cover development process recently myself, I have much more an appreciation for the people behind the scenes who do this all-important job. Creating a cover is much more than just choosing images that represent story elements - you have to create the right mood and tone, give something of the story while giving little to nothing away, and then there's the responsibility of knowing that sales are driven, in part, by how well you've done the other tasks.

Tracy Weber said...

Thanks, Aimee and cozynookbks. I find it interesting that few people actually look at the title if they are hooked or turned off from the cover art. I never would have thought of that before I was a writer.

Celia Fowler said...

I am definitely drawn in by book covers, and love all of yours. The first sentence is also important too, as you stated ~

Jeanie Jackson said...

While the tendency towards bright cartoonish covers has gone too far, you covers are excellent. The connection between the person on the cover and the dog, now I know who they are, but I didn't then, was the thing that first caught me. It was too specific not to reflect the book and the author's attitude. Your covers still have that special connection that first drew me in.

Since I mostly buy ebooks, covers are even more important than when I browsed the library and book stores.

Tracy Weber said...

Thanks, all! My new cover will be coming out soon. Hopefully you all like it as well as the others. My publisher is making some changes....

Unknown said...

I will admit, I am a cover person. I learned about cozies from a friend. Once I started to read them I fell in love with them. Then I saw those paperback covers of the cozy mysteries. You know the ones, with all the details, the fabulous artwork. Well, it made me become a cover snob. There are some cozies I haven't read because they don't have artistic covers. I probably would not have read your books had I not met you on facebook and learned more about what they were about. I will say your books are one of the very few I read that do not have those fabulous artistic covers. No offense please, lol

Tracy Weber said...

No offense at all, Kay! I'm curious. What makes an artistic cover to you? Mine are actually made by a very talented artist with a specific style. I think they err on the side of too kid-like, but she is definitely an artist. So what makes something artistic? Intricate detail? a "feel?" I'm truly curious....