Book Cover Design
By James M Jackson
Raise your hand if your mother or a teacher ever said to you, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Do you believe it? I do. I’ve seen book covers that have only the title and the author’s name in common with the book inside. Book cover designers are not paid to have you judge a book based on their design; they’re paid to have you BUY THE BOOK based on its design, or barring that, at least pick the book up or click on the electronic “See inside” button.
While I wait for my editor to return Empty Promises (Seamus McCree #5) to me, I am working on the first draft of False Promises (Seamus McCree #6) and planning the marketing for Empty Promises. One large component of marketing is developing the book cover.
One of my favorite authors is John Sandford. I have read the entire Prey series featuring Lucas Davenport. I thought it would be fun to look at what has happened over time to the cover of Rules of Prey, the first in the series.
Plain black background. Title large and red. Debut author’s name medium and white. A yellow note with black print of one of the rules, and a red fingerprint. Notice at the small size I have made the cover (thumbnail size these days) you can easily read the title and the author. The yellow note is unreadable.
Here’s the 2001 edition:
The black background remains, as does the red title, which is now even larger. John Sandford’s name is still the same size, but also red (and so it doesn’t stand out). The rules note has been simplified (no longer uses one of the actual rules), the note color is not as vibrant, and the red fingerprint remains.
In addition, we have a shouted blurb at the top: “THE TERRIFYING NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER introducing Lucas Davenport in the smash debut thriller by the author of Silent Prey”
So, Lucas Davenport has become a marketing name and it ties into Silent Prey, book #4 in the series (1992).
By 2005 we have more changes:
The color scheme is completely different, with a construction-worker green background on top and white on the bottom. Author and title are now both large. The yellow note aspect is captured in the “E” of Rules.
The longwinded promo at the top is replaced by “#1 New York Times Bestselling Author” (notice no all caps shouting) AND a blurb by Stephen King.
The rich get richer, don’t they?
A year later a paperback edition had a different cover:
It’s a throwback, with the black background, larger title than author (although the author has a different color), and the original note has returned, but large enough you can read it.
The Stephen King blurb is in the slash at the bottom left. When you get a blurb from King, you keep it.
Here’s the current edition:
New set of colors. Author and Title with equal size, but different colors. They’re back to shouting #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR, the Stephen King blurb is still present.
They’ve added “A Lucas Davenport Novel” in a color that stands out, and it and the title are skewed in such a way to imply 3D.
And look behind all the words: a picture or at least an illustration of a scene! That’s very different from any of the previous versions.
The Lucas Davenport series has utilized the word PREY in every title. I’ve heard many people refer to the series as the PREY series, although I’ve always thought of it as the Lucas Davenport series – I must not have been alone.
There have been a gazillion other covers along the way for different foreign markets, audio books, etc. I picked just a few to illustrate the changes.
Isn’t it interesting to see how one book’s covers have changed?
Here are my current five Seamus McCree titles (four novels and a novella):
Some consistencies: A big title. Author’s name in white print and relative small (who the hell knows me, right?) A subtitle “A Seamus McCree Novel (or Novella).
And here’s my stab at a cover for Empty Promises. I’d love to know what you think: good, bad, indifferent.