Friday, March 28, 2014

Book Covers: Right Image, Wrong Message

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

Books covers! Sometimes you get lucky and find the perfect image after a quick search. Most of the time, the author and cover designers struggle to even articulate what type of single image will best convey a complex story.

I loved the first cover proof Thomas & Mercer sent for Deadly Bonds. It’s simple, powerful, and emotional. The child’s hand in the adult hand also tells readers something about the bonds in the title. I wanted to just say Yes, this is perfect.

But then I worried that the image would give some people the wrong idea. For some readers, any image involving a child on the cover of a crime fiction story implies pedophilia. I wanted to be wrong about that assumption, but I mentioned my concern to my publisher. They passed the cover around to a few employees to get their reactions and decided that they shared my concern.

So we’re back to the drawing board. Yesterday, they sent this cover. I like it, but I think it’s too sweet. And again, will people get the wrong idea? How do you covey that a small child plays a role in the story without having people assume that the child is victimized?

I have no regrets about the story. It may be one of my strongest Jackson books yet. But the cover is challenging, and I’m tempted to set up a photo shoot to see if my graphic artist can produce an image that implies a nonsexual bond between a caregiver and a child. Is that even possible?

So what do you think of these covers? Where does your mind go?


  1. Wow, this is a tough one. Once you use the image of a child on the cover, especially with that title, you are going to raise eyebrows and risk turning readers off. Is there a way to have an adult image on the cover and broken toys in the background. I think something along those lines would mute the abuse overtones. Just a thought! Good luck, L.J.

  2. I like AM Khalifa's suggestion. My mind didn't jump to pedophilia when I saw the first cover; I just felt jarred by the juxtaposition of title and image. They drew me in and made me wonder what was going on inside the covers of this book--which is what's supposed to happen. The second cover left me puzzled, not necessarily intrigued.

    1. I like that the cover drew you in and made you wonder. Exactly what it's supposed to do. I wish we could use it. If it were up to just my editor, we probably would.

  3. The first cover encourages the reader to find out what the book is about and I think your fans would know the Detective Jackson would make things right. This cover is no more controversial that the cover for Sex Club. Go for it.

  4. I like the first cover better than the second. I could go either way on the "pedophile" idea - but if you already polled others and their minds went there, then I'd probably listen to them. But what else...?

    Could you have a child's hand holding something dangerous? IDK. I know you'll figure it all out. You're a smart cookie.

  5. I like the first cover and would use it. As A.M. said, the child is holding on to the adult's finger, not being held or restrained by the adult.

  6. Thanks, everyone for the input. We may end up going back to the first cover. But I have an idea that I'd like to try first.

  7. I think both look like pedophilia, and the second paints it stronger than the first. Sorry.

  8. Between these two, I prefer the first one by far. Until you mentioned pedophilia, it didn't occur to me. I'm wondering how the question was phrased to others.

    But there's some alternative ideas worth considering here. As Gayle said, you're a smart cookie and will find the perfect cover.

  9. I like the first cover better as well L.J. And it's sad about the presumed pedophilia link :(


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