Judge A Book By Its Cover

We find new successes to measure in this web age.  I recently had my highest response ever on a Facebook post.  My wife Ruth says this was because it is a picture, and people are visual.  I wonder if it is just timing, so a post on a weekend captures more idle surfers instead of being submerged into oblivion by the endless, oncoming pile of midweek information.

The post was my book cover. Rather, a mockup of a cover for my thriller novel APPREHENSION prepared as a sales tool for an upcoming writers’ conference. At Thrillerfest in Manhattan next month, I will spend four days with authors and wannabees learning writing, publishing and editing tips within the mystery genre. For a fee, I can hang the cover as a poster in a hallway to be seen by thousands, or at least dozens, attending the conference between classes.  Classes like Glock, Kevlar or Squirtgun: Kitting Out Your Character.  Or Cardiologist, Neurologist or Proctologist: Ask Your Medical Questions.   One class I won’t attend but typical at these is on what the Secret Service really does, designed for neophyte writers outside the law enforcement realm.  Not me.

Here is the mockup cover.

Photo by Jim Craige- www.jimprophoto.com
Photo by Jim Craige- http://www.jimprophoto.com

The most important part for me will be a speed-dating session with literary agents. They don’t actually call it speed dating, but for four hours one afternoon about 30 agents will sit in a big room, and we unsigned writers will line up for three-minute sessions with them (less if they cut you off because you’re boring.)  In the book world nowadays, writers no longer mail manuscripts directly to publishers.  They sign with agents who act as middlemen.  This is reportedly good for publishers no longer overwhelmed by a flood of unsolicited and unremarkable manuscripts, and good for agents because it makes work for them, picking out the ones they like and sending them along to publishers who may like them. Or not.

For a new writer trying to break through, the trick is getting an agent’s attention, done almost always via the query. A query is a short letter, most often in email form, outlining what you wrote generally, a short synopsis and an author’s biography.  The agent, on his or her website, tells you (and of course, hundreds of others at any given time) what to put in the query.  The real trick, therefore, is rising to the top of the so-called slush pile of ten, 20, 30 queries an agent receives every day, by making your query shine in the pile which, if you fancy yourself a writer, should not be hard.  But it is. Whole conferences, books and on-line seminars are dedicated to writing killer queries and getting published. I attended one in Cleveland earlier this month (See my blog: Cut Off One Toe, right here on this website.)

Writers for whom the query/agent/publisher gateway remains closed have another way to go: self-publishing. No longer the “vanity press” last chance for losers it was when I grew up, self-publishing has grown in numbers and respectability with the rise of e-readers like Kindle and Nook, and the ubiquity of tablets and pads, “I” or otherwise.  I could have APPREHENSION in your hands in two days, and may go that route still. There is more money in it per book sold for the author, which is always good ( and since I’m giving ten percent of my profit to anti-police-suicide charities even better.) One problem is the Washington Post doesn’t review self-published work, and I admit, vainly, this matters. Libraries won’t shelve it, book stores won’t stock it, and it exists in a web netherworld generally unknown and unrecognized unless you find (read: pay) a way to advertise or a reader trips over it on the Amazon sales page or, as rarely but miraculously happens, it breaks through to bestseller-dom.  THE MARTIAN, FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY and OUTLANDER jump to mind. Three among thousands.

So self-publishing is my last resort, though the choice looms closer each month.  I began writing after stopping work at the police department in 2013 for cardiac  rehab after my heart attacks, wrote through my  actual retirement in March 2014, and finished in January 2015.  I naively gave myself a year to get an agent, and am six months overdue.  I console myself with the opportunity for rewrite.

But here is an unexpected thing.  I already knew self-publishing gives the author great control over production, pricing, advertising.  But envisioning my cover, contracting its creation, contributing to its look, all have been extremely satisfying.  Though my friend Jim Craige, a former police sergeant and now professional photographer, did the shoot, he depicted an idea of mine.  I think it looks good, and from the response on Facebook, others do too.   If readers don’t judge it, but notice it by the cover, I may do okay.

Here’s the (probably) final conference poster with the cover and some begging, if Jim and I don’t tinker too much more with it. Pretend it is on a two-foot by three-foot board.  Oh, and it has my first blurb, thank you Ken Howard, my former boss and creator of the Alexandria Police Street Crimes Unit, aka The Jumpout Boys, fictionally depicted in the book.

Photo by Jim Craige- www.jimprophoto.com
Photo by Jim Craige- http://www.jimprophoto.com

Wish me luck at the conference. It will probably be worth a blog, in three weeks.

7 thoughts on “Judge A Book By Its Cover

  1. Whether your book is published by a publishing house “old school” or put on kindle by you, it will be a joy to read for all. Can’t wait to see your name in lights or um ‘font’


  2. I’m proud of you! Your writing is getting better all the time. I wish I had your creativity.

    Jamie Bartlett

    Sent from my iPad3



  3. It seems that navigating your way through the publishing process has been an adventure in itself. Good luck in your latest search for an agent, Mark.


  4. I think the cover is awesome. The lighting makes the colors pop, there’s interesting elements in both the background and the foreground, there are multiple points to draw the eye and make the viewer wonder what the story is about. Plus, there’s the double meaning of the title which is cool. It’s really well done and it just feels like something you would see on the shelf at B&N. Put another way – It looks like the real deal!!

    Good luck with the conference. I’m sure it’s nerve-wracking, but really, objectively, no one can judge someone else’s writing based on a 3 minute conversation. I understand that’s the way it needs to be done because so many people want to get published, but it’s really pretty bizarre when you think about it.


  5. Best wishes, Mark. I can’t wait to read APPREHENSION, and although I am only a few days into my summer break from school, I keep thinking about how I may be able to use your book with my Criminal Justice classes.


  6. I like the cover mostly b/c it grabs your attention and is not the usual picture of a gun, some gore or a woman trying to look frightened or sexy. Best of luck at the upcoming conference, I look forward to reading more from you.


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