Tales, Sales and “Other Deadly Things” -Cover Art Revisited

by Nancy Tesler

Not just because they are colleagues and write books that I enjoy reading, but because by-and-large, they are good people. Authors help other authors promote their work. Mystery authors are particularly generous in this respect. Vicious as we may be on paper, we seem to lack the killer instinct where our colleagues are concerned. It’s not that the competitive gene is lacking. We’d all like to be as famous as Janet Evanovich or Michael Connelly or John Lescroart but if I became a NY Times best seller tomorrow (are you listening, God?) it wouldn’t impinge on their success one wit. If you like Janet Evanovich, you might like my books but you wouldn’t decide not to buy “Notorious Nineteen” if you had bought my “Slippery Slopes and Other Deadly Things” when she recommended it. We belong to organizations that foster this attitude. Sisters in Crime came into being to help female mystery authors, who were being reviewed less often than their male counterparts, bring their work to the attention of readers.

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I’ve personally benefited from this generosity of spirit. I’ve had author friends go out of their way to introduce me to a particular publisher or agent or reviewer. Some have briefly put their own work on hold in order to read my latest book and give me a quote for my back cover. But it’s not just personal friends who reach out to help and encourage. Which brings me to Elle Lothlorien, a bestselling romance author who I met at a recent mystery writers’ conference. In the process of readying my traditionally published back list for e-publication, I attended her workshop on eBook publishing which included a discussion on eBook cover art. After the session I asked her opinion about a book cover for the first book in my series, “Pink Balloons and Other Deadly Things,” on which I’d been working with my cover artist and right arm, Karen Adler. Elle took the time to study it and to explain to me that the design was too busy–it would not work well in the digital world.
My original eBook concept for “Pink Balloons and Other Deadly Things.”

Fast forward a couple of months. Taking her advice, Karen had created new covers for each of the five books with which I was extremely pleased. They were already up on Amazon, my redesigned website and my Facebook page – – and were generating sales!

I emailed Elle thanking her for her help and inviting her to “like” my Facebook page. The email exchange went as follows:
•NT: Hi Elle. Just wanted to let you know I finally have my backlist on Kindle.
•EL: I am so thrilled for you! I am sure I’m not the only one! Couldn’t be more thrilled for you!
•NT: Your advice on cover design was invaluable and I want you to know how much I’ve appreciated your making yourself available to answer questions about this strange new world. I’ve still got much to learn about marketing and follow you as a great example of what to do.
•EL: Your cover concepts are delightful and clever! (If you’re interested in more feedback, please let me know. I know better than to offer without being invited.) ….Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can help in any way (including cross-promotion)!
Big, BIG hugs,

Another example of author generosity. But “more feedback?” Hmmm. Karen and I loved the covers just as they were, and Elle did say she thought they were “delightful and clever.” Then again, she’d said the cover concepts were delightful and clever. Hmmm again. After much soul-searching, we decided to subjugate our egos, let go of our “pride of ownership” and open up a phone dialogue. After all, our creativity was being challenged. We wanted to defend our “concept.” Didn’t Elle understand that the covers were telling a story? The cover art of “Pink Balloons” when originally published by Dell made clear that the story was set in suburbia—note, suburban houses in b.g.– it was a mystery—note the gun—but the balloons gave it a “cozy” feel. In our eBook cover, we also told the story but made it simpler than in our first attempt. The body in the water and the police tape on the ladder made clear that this was a murder mystery, but the balloons and the wonky font indicated “cozy.”

We were about to get a valuable free lesson in eBook marketing. YOUR COVER DOESN’T HAVE TO TELL THE STORY! IT HAS TO SELL YOUR BOOK! I pass along this little gem with love to any of my fellow authors who, like me, may not yet have quite “gotten it.”


The digital world of Kindle and Kobo and Nook is not the same as a bookstore. Our books do not appear on bookshelves for readers to gaze at the full-sized covers and get an idea of the story within. For the digital world we authors have to alter our vocabularies to change the meaning of such words as “ribbon” and “thumbnail.” Ribbons are no longer pretty colorful things with which we wrap gifts or put in our daughter’s hair. Thumbnails are no longer things on the end of our thumbs.

Ribbons are the thumbnail-size string of book covers that float across the bottom of your screen on Amazon. Woe be unto the author whose cover is cluttered with extraneous images. In thumbnail size the reader’s eye will pass it by and settle on the bold, simply designed graphic that “pops.” In Elle’s Digital Book World blog in which she uses my old and new book covers as examples, (aha!— what she meant by “cross-promotion”) she makes the analogy that if you lined up a bunch of beautiful blondes in a row and threw in one brunette, your eye would be drawn to the brunette, beautiful or not.

Final eBook cover for “Pink Balloons and Other Deadly Things”optimized for eBook marketing.

“Designing a kick-ass book cover for the Kindle store is one of the most valuable marketing and discoverability opportunities an independently published author is likely to have. When designing an eBook cover, you MUST assume that every potential reader will see it first as a thumbnail on Amazon’s suggestive ribbon and not as a full-sized graphic.” – Elle Lothlorien

Another shock to my system. YOUR BOOK TITLE and YOUR NAME aren’t as important as the graphic! “What?“ That was hard to swallow. The reason is that the title of the book and your name will appear alongside the cover which the reader will see AFTER your cover has grabbed his or her interest. Of course, this advice is for the indie author. It doesn’t apply to a big name author whose name sells the book and whose publisher will design the cover.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Below are my five covers, the top line Karen’s original designs – the bottom line, her revised designs. I leave it to you. Which ones grab you? For me, there’s no contest. Thank you, Karen for your patience, your creativity, and all your hard work. And thank you, Elle, for spreading the word!

I welcome your comments. You can contact me at nanmys@aol.com or follow me on facebook at www.facebook.com/nancyteslerauthor. Be sure to check out my latest book, a gripping romantic suspense entitled “Ablaze.”

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