Cover Reveals: The Good, the Bad, and, well . . .

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Most authors have little say in the design of our book covers, and thus arrives that anxious moment when the publisher reveals its proposed cover for your novel. You hope for the best.

This time I got lucky. For my next Rachel Gold novel, Bad Trust, due in April of this year, I can state that the publisher’s cover reveal was not only a relief but a delight. I hope you agree.

But feelings of relief, much less delight, are not always an author’s reaction to the cover reveal. The best example I can think of was my very first cover, way back at the beginning of my writing career. Here’s that story:

My first novel, published in hardcover under the title The Canaan Legacy, involved a mysterious grave in a pet cemetery. A powerful senior partner in a large Chicago law firm had established a secret trust fund for the care and maintenance of that grave. After the partner dies, his law firm discovers the trust fund. Both the firm and the dead partner’s family are baffled since neither the partner nor his family had ever owned a pet, much less one named CANAAN. That is the word engraved on the tombstone. The only word. The firm retains Rachel Gold to determine what exactly is in that grave, which is robbed within days after she starts to investigate.

Working with my editor and then my copy editor at the publishing house, we got the manuscript in final form. My editor called to tell me that the book cover would arrive within the next few days. Imagine my excitement and anticipation. My very first novel! My name in print!

And then I received the cover.

Early in the novel, our hero Rachel Gold visits the pet cemetery. As drafted in my manuscript, Chapter 2 opens:

The entrance to Wagging Tail Estates is guarded by two cement bulldogs.  They stand at attention at eye level on a pair of squat doric columns that flank the pathway into the cemetary.  The dogs stare defiantly at the plumbing supply store across the street from the cemetary.

Re-read that quoted paragraph above. Now look over at the cover. As you can tell, the dogs are not bulldogs, they do not “stand at attention at eye level,” and they certainly do not “stare defiantly” at anything.

In a panic, I contacted the publisher and explained the disparity between the manuscript and the cover. “Ah, yes,” he responded, “Andre in our art department designed the cover. He said the bulldogs looked deplorable. He asured me that these dogs are much better.”

“Oh,” I responded, confused. After a long pause, “And what breed of dog are they?”

“Good question. I asked Andre the same. His said hunting dogs.”

Another pause as I tried to make sense out of this conversation. “The breed?”

“He doesn’t know. Have another call coming in, Mike. Talk later. Bye.”

I called my agent, outraged. She listened, offered some words of sympathy, and then said, “Mike, how important are those two cement dogs to the story? Do they have any impact on the plot?”

I sighed. “I suppose not.”

“Keep that in mind, Mike.”

And I did. If you turn to Chapter 2 of the published novel–reissued in paperback under the title Grave Designs–the opening paragraph now reads:

The entrance to Wagging Tail Estates is guarded by two cement hunting dogs.  They sit at attention at eye level on a pair of squat doric columns that flank the pathway into the cemetery.  The dogs gaze aloofly at the plumbing supply store across the street from the cemetery

Thus my welcome to the world of publishing.

The paperback edition came out with not only a new cover but a new title: Grave Designs. A long story that I will save for another day.

What do you think?

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1 Comment
  • Rebecca J Brandau
    March 5, 2020

    Great story, Mike. I can’t help but wonder, did you have to get permission to use that red shoe sole on your new cover? 🙂 Becky