What You See is What You Want to Get

Michelle, I love your cover. It makes all sorts of questions pop into my head: Is the main character a boy or a girl? Is he or she a wild one (the best kind!)? Could this be a Catholic-school-gone-bad scenario? Does the story echo the great Shakespeare play? It may be some or none of those, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? The point is, I want to look inside and see.  

Michelle Ray's In-Progress Cover

Another reason this cover strikes me as smart is because it offsets the title, which, by having the name Hamlet in it, can make the subject seems a little dry to the uninformed (unless you’ve read Hamlet, in which case you know otherwise). But the cover itself is spicy and intriguing, and I especially love that it has a tag line at the top to clarify: First comes love, then comes madness. Also, the splash of red against a black and white background makes the book leap out at me with unbridled PASSION! If I saw this in a book store, I would definitely be intrigued to read further.

It’s funny, but the last few covers I’ve seen have all been amazing. It makes me nervous about my own book. What if I don’t like the cover? I agree covers are critical, as are titles. So far, I’ve only reached the title-angst stage. For the longest time my book, currently titled LEAGUE OF STRAYS was named THE LOSERS CLUB. I loved the original title, but then one day while perusing Amazon, I almost fainted dead away when I saw my title, already out there in the form of a middle-grade book. After people assured me that this title-twin was published awhile ago and for a different age demographic, I felt a little better. Still, something nagged at me. Then I figure it out: THE LOSERS CLUB sounds like a middle grade book. Clubs aren’t a sophisticated enough concept, as it turns out. And they don’t have the sinister ring I was going for. Oh, no, a middle grade title could be the strike of death for a fledgling YA! It’s funny you mentioned THE BABYSITTER’S CLUB in your post because that exact title started haunting me. I didn’t want my book to be lumped together with a popular series designed for much younger readers.

So what did I do? I sent out a zillion and one titles to everyone I knew, forcing them to vote. It was never unanimous, but I finally settled on LEAGUE OF STRAYS. I still can’t get a sense if it works or not, although several people have told me how much they like my title. Still, in insecure moments, I worry that LEAGUE might be too ladies-doing-lunch for YA readers. Like everything else to do with my book, I guess I am just too close to this to judge. Which is why it’s a good thing it’s being left in the hands of my publisher. With fresh eyes, the marketing department can determine what my book needs, cover and/or title,  to attract the right readers.

Your publisher did a good job, Michelle; whatever people think about the short skirt, it’s intriguing, and it dispels any possibility that this is a boring story. You got me hooked without even knowing the plot, which is the ultimate victory of a winning title and cover.


Filed under cover art, Publishers and Editors

6 responses to “What You See is What You Want to Get

  1. Cynthia Levinson

    A cover! It’s really going to be published! That’s what I imagine I’ll think when I see a cover. Alas, I’m nowhere near that stage. (I don’t even have an official publication date–or, even an official pub year!)

    EMUs have talked about interesting aspects of the cover issue–the impression it gives about the contents, the age level of the readership, the tastes of the people who actually buy the book. Another, related issue, which I’m just beginning to hear from my editor about, is that of the whole design of the entire book.

    With a middle-grade nonfiction book, I’m dealing with personal and sometimes disturbing photographs, lengthy quotations, and sidebars (which my editor is taking issue with; she’s pointed out that some of mine are informative and biographical, and others are anecdotes–yeah, so?!). The appearance of all of these factor into the appeal of the product.

    In fact, the main concern I talked with Erin about when deciding which publisher to go with was design. I knew I wanted a book with spacious margins, solid reproduction values, generous support for purchasing rights to photos and speeches. When Peachtree said they would buy photographs, and when the editor named a nonfiction author whose books I revere for both content and presentation as the look and feel she wanted, I knew my book had found its design home.

    The number of photos they will buy is still uncertain. But, she encouraged me to develop a go-for-broke wish list, which I’ve been doing over the past several weeks. I’m about to put files into Dropbox for her–because I have so many I want to use, the files are too big too email!

    So, congratulations on the cover, Michelle. It’s a winner! We all can’t wait to see the insides, too.


  2. You bring up an interesting thing here, Cynthia, that what you want your cover to say as a non-fiction book might be a little different from a fiction book. I would think that since your book focuses on the civil rights movement, and a fairly spectacular march within that movement, that there would be some really powerful images out there.

    My book is historical fiction, set in 1901, and I am really wondering how the cover is going to be historically accurate and interesting to the current reader. My story isn’t filled with sex appeal or great moments in history. It is about how ordinary people in ordinary lives transcend the mundane and find ways to prosper–but all my mental images are fairly colorless and mundane. I’m not saying the story is dull or mundane, but I have a hard time creating a mental picture that would make someone pick it up in the bookstore.

    Good thing the publisher hires the artist and has a staff to figure out how to create covers that sell!


    • J. Anderson Coats

      I hear you, Jeannie! My book is historical as well, and I’m very curious to see what they’ll come up with.

      I’m hoping for something as grabby and engaging as Michelle’s cover, but more in tune with my time period.

      At any rate, the skirts will be longer. Which is both good and bad, I guess.


  3. L.B.,
    I like League of Strays. I don’t think League sounds like old ladies drinking tea–it sounds more dashing or rogue-like to me–like the League of Gentlemen.


  4. Michelle Ray

    League of Strays is an awesome title. I agree with Jeannie that it’s got that mysterious and fabulous air about it.

    There are lots of grabby covers for historical books, and not just bodice rippers. I think of Geraldine Brooks’ A Year of Wonders. I picked it up based on the portrait image on the spine. If it’s not sexy content, the cover needn’t be. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and Fever 1793 come to mind as intriguing but content related. Can’t wait to see all of yours.


  5. I think League of Strays is a great title that lends itself well to an intriguing cover!

    Good luck!



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