Are You a Writer or a Cave Painter?
Posted by Laurie Kellogg Sep 14 2012, 12:01 am in Book Covers, Laurie Kellogg, Marketing, new releases, Ruby Release, The Parent Pact
At some point in your life, I’m sure you’ve read a book and hated the cover and wondered why on earth the publisher used it. Maybe you’ve even received cover art for your own novel that you don’t feel fits your story. Romance readers get totally bent out of shape if the hero and heroine isn’t depicted accurately on the cover as compared to how the author describes them.
Many of you may recall my debut novel, The Memory of You, had an extremely different cover when I first released it. All of my romance-writer friends told me how much they loved it. I don’t know if they were being honest or just sparing my feelings. In any case, I really liked the cover.
When my son, who has a master’s in marketing, saw it, he hated it—which frankly didn’t surprise me. I have a have an honest open relationship with my kids, and they have no problem telling me when they think something I’ve done sucks the big one. Normally, I might shrug off his opinion, but this time I couldn’t, because I knew on this particular subject he spoke as an authority. His father and I spent a lot of money helping to educate him in his chosen field, and he made us extremely proud by graduating just a hundredth of a point shy of summa cum laude (and don’t think that didn’t royally tick him off).
He told me my first cover made him think of an old lady story about a funeral. He reduced the image to thumbnail and pointed to the vase of hydrangeas and said, “What is this? It looks like a purple tree. And who’s that guy in the background? Is he a ghost? Is this a paranormal story? What’s that gold blob in the corner. You’re selling your books on the Internet, you need a design with pictures and fonts that readers can see in a thumbnail.”
I loved my cover and didn’t want to admit he might have a valid point. So I did what mother’s do best, I argued with my son, and tried to explain what the book is about. I showed him other covers on Amazon that were no different than mine. That’s when the poop hit the fan. “Are you a writer or a cave painter?” he asked in a not so soft voice.
“I’m a writer,” I answered defensively.
“Then stop trying to tell the story with pictures! The only thing your cover needs to accomplish is to get people interested enough to find out more about your book. You only have to catch their attention and give a sense of the genre and the tone. It doesn’t matter if the artwork matches the story. Covers are designed for shoppers. The inside is for readers.”
Well, I still don’t totally agree with that, but I understood the lesson he was trying to teach me. Giving the shopper an impression of the type of story is far more important than the accuracy in the cover art. My son then explained many NY publishers are still designing covers for brick and mortar bookstore shelves instead of the digital market. He reworked my first two covers to illustrate what I should use to sell my work.
Many were disappointed by the new cover for The Memory of You (like my 80-year-old mother, who is one of the little old ladies my son mentioned) because they’d truly loved the original. I had to explain time and again that, although the first cover might have been aesthetically pleasing, it was a lousy representation of what the reader should expect from the book.
From that point on, I took my son’s advice and made sure L.L. Kellogg’s first cover gave the right impression of Hypnotic Seduction’s genre and tone, which is a red-hot romantic comedy that’s A Little Bit Naughty and a Lot of Fun. The Great Bedroom War’s cover told readers they were going to get a fun, sexy, contemporary read.
While choosing the cover art for my new release, The Parent Pact—book three of The Return to Redemption series, I somehow forgot my son’s marketing lesson and began cave painting again. I designed a cover I absolutely love and which illustrated the story wonderfully. The kids look exactly like the little boy and girl in my novel, and there’s even an issue with the heroine’s son kissing the hero’s daughter against her will. I’d already finished the cover before the Anaheim RWA conference, so I naturally included the cover image for my upcoming release on the promotional material I distributed in the Goodie Room.
As I was admiring my handiwork on the flight home (in coach), my flamboyant alter-ego, L.L. Kellogg, sauntered back from first class to gloat about how much roomier her seat was than mine . Since my butt is twice the size of hers, you can bet she grated on my nerves.
She snatched the promotional card I’d distributed at the conference from my hand. “What the hell did you do!” she shrieked loud enough for the passenger in the closet-size john at the rear of the plane to hear. She pointed at the sweet covers for my next two releases. “These are awful! Where’s the sexy hero and half-naked heroine? Is this a romance between children?”
“No,” I answered, “but the hero and heroine are both single parents.”
“Aww, isn’t that sweet.” She tossed the card over her shoulder and into the lap of the sixty-ish female passenger on the opposite side of the aisle. “Change it,” L.L. demanded.
“Why should she?” the passenger interjected. “This looks like a wonderful book. Exactly the kind of heartwarming story I’d like to read.”
“Do you like hot, sizzling love scenes?” L.L. asked the woman. “Because I forced her to make the hero walk in on the heroine while she’s bathing in his huge whirlpool tub, and things get mighty steamy—and not from the hot water, if you get my drift.”
The woman blushed. “Well, I don’t mind a little kissing, but I really don’t prefer explicit love scenes.”
“Then this book ain’t for you, lady. It’s hot! Especially the skinny-dipping scene when they finally get it on.”
The woman dropped the promotional card as if it were covered with the Ebola virus.
L.L. picked up the card and flapped it in my face. “THIS is exactly why NY wouldn’t buy your book. Their marketing department couldn’t think of a way to illustrate the fact that, although your stories are heartwarming, they’re far from sweet. You’re cave painting again. Remember what your son taught you.” She turned and wiggled her way back up the aisle to first-class and shouted over her shoulder, “Are you a writer or a freaking cave painter?”
As much as I hated to admit it, L.L. the bimbo-beeyotch was 100 percent right. Granted, the marketing blurb (see below) makes it crystal clear it’s a sexy story, but the title and graphics indicate the exact opposite. The passenger across the aisle had given me a glimpse of the awful reviews I could expect from outraged readers who didn’t bother to check the blurb before clicking the buy link. And the saddest part was they would have every right to be upset about not having their expectations met.
Naturally, as soon as I arrived home, I immediately redesigned the cover. I don’t like it nearly as much as my original cover art (I love the adorable kids), and it’s not accurate to the story. At no time does the heroine run around the hero’s kitchen half naked.
However, this IS a sizzling, different worlds, Cinderella story. The contrast of a sexy, barefooted, penniless heroine kissing a successful lawyer who’s wearing $900 Italian leather shoes is a much better marketing tool and will give shoppers a more accurate impression of what they’ll get when they buy The Parent Pact—Steamy, Heartwarming, Romantic, Fun!
Cinderella and Prince Charming never had to consider the welfare of their children
When widower Tyler Fitzpatrick meets Annie Barnes at his daughter’s school, his libido goes tilt. The sexy single mother is everything he and his grieving little girl need. Unfortunately, Annie flatly refuses his dinner invitation. She wants a husband and a father for her son—not just a boyfriend. And the last time she checked, wealthy, summa-cum-laude lawyers didn’t marry high-school-drop-out housekeepers.
Tyler concedes there’s a vast difference between their experiences and lifestyles. Still, he’s inexplicably drawn to the impoverished young woman—even though her little boy reminds Tyler of an underprivileged past he’d rather forget. While becoming better acquainted, he offers Annie a job caring for his daughter and home in Redemption, PA. He also proposes a Parent Pact—an agreement to become role models to each other’s child and to fill one another’s needs as single parents while they continue to search for true love.
Accepting Tyler’s offer would solve a lot of Annie’s problems. However, surrendering to her weak-in-the-knees attraction to the irresistible widower could very well leave her and her son heartbroken. Yet, when circumstances threaten her ability to feed her child, Annie reluctantly agrees to the pact, making it clear she has no desire for Tyler to fill her so-called needs in bed. It’s a bald-faced lie, but she knows the man’s desperation to give his daughter the nurturing she needs will compel him to accept a purely platonic relationship.
Now, Annie’s only problem is resisting the overwhelming temptation to let sin-in-a-tailored-suit Tyler seduce her.
So the next time you pick up a book with a cover that doesn’t accurately depict the story, think about why the publisher chose the picture they did to market it. And if your publisher gives your novel a cover you hate, consider the marketing aspects. You may realize that, even though the artwork may not be pretty or accurate, it’s eye-catching and a great selling tool.
Now I’d like you to share your experience. Can you think of a cover you really didn’t like, but you can see why the publisher used it? Have you ever quit reading a book simply because the picture on the cover didn’t accurately illustrate the events or characters in the story? What do you envision as a cover for your WIP and why?
Leave a comment to enter a random drawing for a free digital copy of The Parent Pact, available now at Amazon and soon to be released for the Nook and paperback.