Friday, July 26, 2013

The Birth of a Cover Design (Kate Middleton had it easier)

When I decided to self-publish my book “Keeping Score,” one of the tasks I was particularly concerned about was the cover design. While I’m confident about plot, structure, characterization, and other writerly things that make a story resonate, I’m not a visual person at all. I’m not someone who sees scenes unfolding in her mind; I’m more likely to get into the head of my characters, to understand their motivations. That’s also why I’ve never liked the “character casting game;” I don’t have a strong sense of what my characters look like and really don’t care who should play them.

So when it came time to work with a designer, I was a little stressed. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I did know what I didn’t want – I really don’t like photographs on covers; I think it makes the book look amateurish. And of course it is an amateur book, so there’s no reason to advertise that even further. “Keeping Score” is about a devoted mom and her 9-year-old son; it’s his first summer playing travel baseball. There’s a lot of crazy baseball parents, and the competition ruins my heroine’s relationship with her best friend. So, there are a lot of elements that the cover could highlight.

I was lucky enough to find a cover designer who was willing to humor me and try to create on paper some of the crazy ideas in my head. My first thought that since it was a funny book, I wanted the cover to be funny. There’s a scene where my heroine, Shannon, puts on catcher’s gear in order to help her son Sam practice pitching. I envisioned a cover that had a woman in professional clothes wearing catcher’s gear and crouching down as her son pitched to her. Unfortunately, my ability to visualize things like perspective isn’t really strong. There’s really no way to get a pitcher and a catcher in the same shot and have either of them larger than ants. Since Mom and son wouldn’t be right next to each other to throw, so my designer had Shannon in her gear standing behind a kid who was ready to hit. It wasn’t funny; it was just confusing.

Take two. Since another theme of the book was crazy overinvolved baseball parents, I suggested keeping the kid at the plate, but have a bunch of parents behind him, hanging off the back stop fence. This would take care of the perspective problem. My designer worked diligently with me and accepted my suggestions – for instance, I told her that the kid wouldn’t be alone at the plate, but the catcher would be behind him. Unfortunately, with the kid hitter and kid catcher front and center, by the time my designer had sketched everything out, the cover looked like it belonged on a kid’s book. Even though it had taken her weeks to come up with the drawing I said I wanted, luckily my designer was very understanding when I asked her to go back to the drawing board.

Take three. This time I went for simplicity. Since the throughline of the book was how the competitive baseball scene destroyed the relationship between Shannon and her best friend Jennifer, as well as the one between Sam and his best friend, Jennifer’s son Matthew, how about a simple drawing of the four of them squaring off on a baseball field? And after a month’s trial and error, that’s what I got. My designer went above and beyond the call, developing a 3D technique for realism’s sake and scouring the web for models and kids’ baseball uniforms.

There are many indie authors who make a big deal out of their cover reveals, but I’m not one whose decision to buy a book is influenced by the cover. Maybe if I’m at Barnes & Noble going through the new fiction pile, a good cover might draw me in. But when I’m downloading new fiction to my Kindle, it’s all about the plot, the price, and whether I’m already a fan of the author. (This is why I haven’t bought J.K. Rowling’s latest. Good reviews aside, the plot doesn’t draw me in enough to look past that $10 price.)

So without further ado, I give you the cover of “Keeping Score.”


  1. I agree, a cover is very important especially if it's a new author for me. If the cover gets my attention on the shelf of the store, I will pick it up and read the back to see if I will like it. If it sounds good, I usually buy it. But, a cover that isn't interesting to me usually gets looked over.

  2. Actually, you did good! I like the cover! I think your designer has had many more covers that required a lot more patience than yours!

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  4. Hi Jami,

    I absolutely love the concept, you can just see the tension between Shannon and Jennifer. I only disagree on one point; I think that photographs can be used if they are integrated as a part of the background. See this cover for an example:

    Hire a photographer or a student for a staged photoshoot, and hand it off to an expert web designer for a cover that demands attention. After they're hooked, then you can reel them into the prospect of your plot.

    I think it is amazing that you have published your book, now it's time to get it into the hands of readers. I will definitely buy a copy.