The Ins and Outs of a Sexy Book Cover

No pun intended.  Promise.

If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve been busy re-publishing my previously released novels from Penguin-Putnam (via Onyx and Signet paperback imprints). as ebooks.  They tossed the rights under the bus with me, and I’m happily taking them forward into the brave new world of digital publishing to see what happens. 

I didn’t have Storyfix then.  Or “Story Engineering.”  I do now.  I have friends in digital places.

And, I’m changing the cover of the most commercially successful of those books — Darkness Bound, my USA Today bestseller.

The original cover of the paperback published in 2000 was hot.  Kinky.  A model with her hands tied together with a scarf, and a veiled pose that said she was liking it. 

I had nothing to do with that.  Zero input. 

That said, it worked.  It was somewhat reflective of the content, and it was totally a strategic choice.  Thankfully the reviews were solid, so the book took off out of the chute, due in no small part to a pretty procative radio campaign.  Here’s what that cover looked like back then (you can still get it, used, via Amazon):


So why not keep it?  Why not use it again for the ebook?

Because it says the wrong thing. 

Entirely because of the cover, the major bookclubs (Literary Guild, Doubleday and BOTM, all of which selected it) categorized “Darkiness Bound” as erotica (which, by the way, I’m not dissing here, it’s just that DB isn’t erotica).  This is like showing up at a bar wearing a leather dress and immediately being arrested as a hooker. 

Friends and family struggled with that cover.  Readers looked down judgmental noses at signings.  One independent bookstore owner in Tucson practically threw me out of her store when I dropped in to sign the stock.  Pariah.  Perv.  Pornographer.

All because of the cover.  But… here’s what Publishers Weekly said about the cover in it’s review:

Teasingly erotic, Brooks’s first novel is that rarest of sexual thrillers, in which the sex isn’t gratuitous but a convincing means to an end. Unfortunately, the book’s erotic cover may cause horror/thriller fans to overlook this title on the bookshelf.

Cut to ten years later.  To that whole new ballgame. 

When I decided to re-publish it as an ebook,  I wanted sexy — the book is dark and sexy — but I also wanted something my sister wouldn’t be embarrassed to recommend to her friends.  Because, while hot and steamy and darkly romantic, it’s not erotica… it’s just wildly erotic in a subconsious fantasy sort of way — the most erotic realm there is, if you ask me — rather than in a sweaty nude people sort of way.  Big diff.

So I bought a stock cover design for ten bucks.  True story (is this the Big Time, or what?).   Had the designer slap on a title and my name.  But it wasn’t saying it, and I wasn’t feeling it.  Too gothic (candles and medieval typeface) and therefore misleading.  

It needed more… juice.  It needed mystery, a delicious promise, a sense of forbidden compulson and taboo fantasy. 

Just like the novel.

So here’s the new cover, already in place on all the venues.  I found the image on Flickr, hired Colin Dunbar to make it sizzle… and here’s the outcome:









That’s more like it. 

Don’t take your ebook cover lightly.  It’s the centerpiece of your marketing, and it’s your best shot at convincing a reader to opt-in.  That and some good reviews and word-of-mouth…  who knows what might happen. 

Just republished my novel “Pressure Points” today — changed the title of that one to: “The Seminar.”  A mind-bending psychological thrller that takes the self-help industry and twists it in sinister directions.  If  you’ve ever been to one of those workshops, you’ll relate.  Here’s the cover for it:

Cover for 'The Seminar' 

Also ten bucks, by the way.  (Not the book, which is $2.99… the cover art.  Amazing.)

All my re-published novels are now available as downloadable ebooks at Kindle, Smashwords, Nook and (soon) the Apple Bookstore. 


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14 Responses to The Ins and Outs of a Sexy Book Cover

  1. Patrick Sullivan

    Thrilled to see you getting your back catalog up on digital format. Might as well bring in more money from all that work you did writing them before.

    I grabbed Bait and Switch and have it in the queue to finally read some of your more traditionally published stuff and see how it compares to Whispers, but good lord, too many books to read, plus busy trying to complete a rough draft while holding down the day job.

    Congratulations once again on getting everything back up and into the hands of readers 🙂

  2. Olivia

    As a photographer I definately prefer the first cover. The second one might fit in better thematically but isn´t very aesthetic. The picture is fine although a bit too central but the gray colums on top and bottom as well as the old fashioned fonts seem to destroy it. Maybe you should rethink this one a bit more… your second novel however is spot on. anyways, good luck.

  3. Donna Lodge

    “Ten Reasons” and “Ins and Outs” are interesting accounts of your journey with these two books, delivered with humor. They underscore the need to be thick-skinned and determined. Congrats on converting your back list to e-books.

  4. Smoking cover for Darkness Bound! Just looking at the cover peaks my interest in the story itself. I do judge a book by its cover, since a great cover can imply a worthwhile read.

    Thank you for the writerly advice about book covers. I took notes.

  5. Great and timely advice, Larry. Thank you. I’m thoroughly enjoying BAIT AND SWITCH on my Kindle, too!

  6. Richard

    “Erotica?” What’s that they say about judging a book by its cover?

  7. I’m glad you’re getting your back lists out there. I’m finding the description of ‘The Seminar’ more interesting. Adding that one to my reading list.

    Hmm…I’m thinking James Arthur Ray could use a copy of ‘The Seminar’, while he awaits sentencing. Dammit, I still like the guy despite the sweat lodge incident.

    BTW: I agree with Olivia about the cover art for ‘Darkness Bound’. I like the pic itself, but the gray header and footer borders, as well as the fonts, look too “corporate” IMO.

  8. The best thing about the new cover is it will look great when it is reduced to a thumbnail and in black and white (well, duh, it is black and white). Kindle users will love you. Way to go!

  9. Monica Rodriguez

    I just bought a nook myself, and the first purchase I made? Bait and Switch! So glad you got it available for the nook in time for my purchase.

    I’m very interested to learn the results of your “experiment” with the whole $0.99 thing. You’ve helped me start taking self-publishing more seriously and I’ve begun to read much more on it. Pricing is one of those things no one can agree on, apparently.

    By the way, while reading this month’s Writer’s Digest, I was scanning the Writer’s Digest Shop pages. One spread displayed “10 Must-Have Books for Your Writing Life.” What title was among them? Story Engineering, of course! Yay!

  10. Great advice as usual Larry.
    Sorry… but have you seen the cover of Masquerade by Melissa de la Cruz?

  11. Best quote outside of the Bait and Switch repertoire:

    “This is like showing up at a bar wearing a leather dress and immediately being arrested as a hooker.”

    I understand exactly what you mean. I have the gothic candles cover but, being on that itty-bitty Kindle for PC tile view, I don’t pay much attention, anyway. Still, it’s a shame the original cover got your book “locked up”.

    The new cover is smoking! Having just read that particular line this morning (I’m a slow reader), I truly appreciate what went into the making of the cover.

    Anyway, off to stock up on the next book. As I read the description for The Seminar, I was thinking about that movie with Tom Cruise. To top it off, my wife and I are watching The 4400. Whee! What a tie-in!



  12. Wow! I like it – and I like the fact that you mentioned getting a good cover designed could run as low as $10.

    One of the reasons I’m going independent with ebooks is that I’m both a writer and an artist. I also have some experience with design and web design. You’re absolutely right that a good cover sells a book.

    For e-readers, it has to have great contrast, just like a web page. It needs to look good in black and white, still have punch, but look cool in color when you click online. Your stark black and white e-book cover is gorgeous and it’ll show up beautiful on my Kindle. Thank you and your designer for paying attention to contrast! The text is easy to read and the image is striking even in thumbnail.

    Thanks for letting me know that these resources are out there. When I don’t have time to design my own, it’s good to know I can toss a sketch or stock photo to a good designer and delegate the job!

    Robert Sloan, writer and artist.

  13. The cover for The Seminar is a little too Twilight for my taste. I saw once where they were repackaging all these older books, for example, Jane Austen, and giving them a Twilight makeover to attract a younger/newer audience. For me, though, Twilight has negative connotations. I suppose she’s forever stolen the hand/fruit idea for a long time.

    But, the stories, I’m glad to see them on Kindle. I prefer my books digital these days–reading is so much more accessible. Adding these to my reading list!

  14. Pingback: Larry Brooks on Sexy Book Covers Pros and Cons « Logical-Lust's Blog