By: Rebecca York
For authors, one of the biggest frustrations with traditional publishing is the package the publisher provides. It might be good. Or it might be bad, but it's totally outside the author's control.
That's why you may hear authors saying, “the cover gods smiled on me.” Or they might be bemoaning their bad luck with a male model who looks nothing like their hero, in a setting that never appeared in the book.
When you publish your own e-books, you've got total control of the package. Which could be a good thing--or bad.
Take the cover of DARK POWERS, my latest indie release. It's the next book in my Decorah Security series, set around a detective agency where the agents have paranormal abilities or investigate cases with paranormal elements. In DARK POWERS, my hero, Ben Walker, can pick up the last thoughts of murder victims. So what was I going to put on the cover of the book?
Another writer told me recently, “With suspense or romantic suspense, if you're going after a male audience, don't use people. If you want women readers, put people on the cover.”
DARK POWERS is a pretty hot read. I think of the sexual component in a relationship as an important element in the story. Which means I could have had a couple embracing on the cover. But maybe that says “romance” more than “romantic suspense.” And I've been going with the format that Berkley used for my Moon books. Either the hero or heroine alone on the cover. With my name and the book title pretty large--which is important when readers will be looking at a thumbnail cover image.
When you're coming up with your cover design, you must look through hundreds of stock photos, trying to find the right models. The guy on the cover of DARK POWERS has the right look--a challenging sardonic expression. I wish I could have found a picture of him with his shirt off to convey the heat level of the story. But my instinct was to go with this guy.
So the hard part's over. Or is it?
After a near-death experience, Ben acquired the ability to touch dead people and get their last memories. If I'm trying to clue in readers to this power, should I put him in a graveyard? Leaning over a coffin? I looked through more images and giggled when I saw some graveyard scenes with a claw-like hand coming out of the earth. That would be a perfect representation of the story. And it would work great on a horror novel. But not romantic suspense.
I finally decided to steal an idea from one of my Harlequin Intrigue covers--CHAIN REACTION. The hero acquires telekinetic abilities in an explosion in a secret chemical weapons lab. His power is represented by lightning in back of him. It's a good idea, but I think it's an ugly cover. He's shown at an odd angle that makes him unattractive.
I took that idea, found a fantastic-looking guy, and discussed the concept with Patricia Rosemoor, who has designed all my covers. She asked me to send her several pictures of lightning--and she put them in back of Ben. We liked this one best. And I love the way the brightness of the cover pops out at you.
That's how I got the visuals for DARK POWERS. I've been told that it looks too much like science fiction. Maybe that's right. And maybe my name is enough to clue you in that it's romantic suspense?
For a traditionally-published author, it's so great to have total cover freedom. But with great power comes great responsibility.
Give me your feedback. Do you like the DARK POWERS cover? Does it make you want to buy the book? Do you think I should switch to couples embracing? Do you like the idea of the hero staring at you with that sardonic expression?
I’ve always thought that one of the best ways to connect with my readers is through related stories. I’ve done that with my long-running 43 Light Street series for Harlequin Intrigue and my Moon books for Berkley. And I wanted to use a similar format with the Decorah Security series, which I launched with three titles. The usual thriller or detective series has one main protagonist who comes back book after book. Romantic thrillers are a little different because it’s not just about the peril. The focus is on the developing relationship between the hero and heroine as well as on the action plot. It’s also the story of a man and a woman falling in love against a background of suspense and danger, and it isn’t until after they’ve dispatched the bad guys that the reader is sure they’re going to work out their complex relationship. That’s a challenge for the writer. But also fun. You’re always weaving the two plots together so that if you pulled out either one, the story would fall apart. And with the Decorah Security series, there’s another element as well. All of the agents have paranormal powers–or they’re dealing with a paranormal case. As you may have guessed, I named the series after the Decorah eagles:
There’s a live Webcam trained on an eagle’s nest in Decorah, Iowa, and last year I was thrilled to watch Mom and Dad Eagle raise three babies until they fledged. This year I’m just as fascinated, watching them with their new family. Notice that the emblem for the Decorah Security series is a gold eagle coin.