Years of working in a bookshop taught me a lot about books and book people. They’re a wonderful lot but sometimes a tad forgetful. They may not remember the author or the title of the book they’re looking for but most will remember the cover.
“It’s blue…with butterflies” or “It’s the Stephen King with the old school desks” or “There’s an old castle on the front…with a Viking helmet” or simply “It’s red and white with black letters”.
The cover therefore becomes the first-line sales tool. The cover usually indicates the genre immediately although romance novels have been treading on the western genre recently. It used to be that a cowboy on the cover meant horses, guns, and bad guys inside. Maybe it still does…I’ve never read a cowboy romance so I probably should refrain from further comment.
After I’d finished White Wolf Moon I asked for suggestions for the cover illustration and mostly I got the obvious. Wolf…moon…y’know. This wasn’t what I wanted. During my time at the bookshop I was subjected to covers of many kinds, from all genres. Mystery, romance, western, sci-fi…they all seem to have a format. When you see a book with a long-haired bare-chested male clutching a scantily clad buxom female against a six-pack it’s pretty clear we aren’t talking Captain Underpants. It’s instant genre identification and it works. General fiction is another story. I knew I had to come up with a cover for my book so I studied what the big publishers were doing. The ones that stood out for me were the simple presentations, a single photograph and minimal text. A lot of Canadian Vintage releases utilize this approach and I found myself reading the book description on the back just because the front cover had caught my eye.
The photograph I used on White Wolf Moon is a modification of a shot I took in 2008. I walked along the river behind my house experimenting with a new digital camera trying different settings, shutting off auto-balances and the like. When I loaded the images onto my computer one of them leapt off the screen.
It was taken at around 10 in the morning and for whatever reason this one had just the right feel about it. I wish I could remember how I messed up the exposure because, by accident, I ended up with one of my favorite photographs.
When I was going through my files to see if I had any photographs that would be suitable for the cover I stumbled on this one again. I tried darkening it and superimposing a moon to replace the sun but that looked pretty bad so I played with the color balance, turned it blue and came up with the cover shot.
The cover has garnered so many great comments and, I believe, a few sales. I appreciate this approach won’t work for everyone but just because you’re writing in a particular genre doesn’t mean you should be restricted to the norm as far as a cover is concerned. It’s the old “think outside the box” philosophy…experiment a little, try a totally different approach and steer away from the obvious. This is the first thing the book-buyer notices and you need to grab their attention and make them pick it up for a closer look. Play with some radical ideas before it comes time to send it off to the printer…get some other opinions. Mostly go with your gut…if it feels right then do it. If it doesn’t feel right you can always go back to the more accepted approach but you have, at the very least, checked out some options, stirred your imagination, and tested your creativity.