Long ago I worked for a software company in Alameda, California. One day the company changed their name and when I asked why I was told obliquely (a great adverb BTW) that “successful companies don’t change their names”. Which basically meant that failing companies do change their names. In fact, sometimes failing companies change their names, their board, their addresses, and their products. And as most of my friends know, they usually lay off their most brilliant, hard-working employees.
Oops! Looks like I got a little off topic. Because the topic today is “If the cover of your already-published novel fails you, should you change it?”
My answer is Yes. Because I’ve done it and am much happier for it.
Hopefully, no one involved in the publication of a novel (traditional, indie, or other) looks at their soon-to-go-live cover and says “What a failure!” Hopefully, your feelings about your pre-launch cover range from “Wow, what a winner!” to “BEST. COVER. EVER.” to “How many contests can I enter this cover in?”
I had those hopeful feelings, kinda-sorta-maybe, when Sand Hill Review Press launched my historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER in November 2017. (You can see the original cover here.)
My publisher and I worked diligently on that cover, sending ideas back and forth for months. I created a (formerly) super-secret Pinterest board where I shared Gilded Age images that resonated with me, hoping that we could create a cover that would compliment other books in my genre—Mysteries set in an American city of the Gilded Age.
In the end, to keep costs down, the cover was done entirely in-house, and we came away with a cover that reflected the first sentence of my back-of-the-book blurb:
“Gilded Age New Orleans is overrun with prostitutes, pornographers, and a malicious Jack the Ripper copycat.”
Yes, ma’am, we had prostitutes on that cover. We had 19th century pornography, too. And we had mahogany-colored blood stains left by the Jack the Ripper copycat. (And to be clear, I’m not playing the author victim here. I thought the first cover was suitable and participated in creating it. But I was also a first-time author, learning as I followed.)
And we sold books, both paperbacks and kindles with that first cover. FANNY NEWCOMB even won the IBPA Gold Medal for Historical Fiction and the Readers’ Favorite Silver for Historical Mysteries with that cover.
But although the cover reflected the blurb, it did not reflect the heroine. And it certainly didn’t compliment the covers of other Gilded Age mysteries. Which I discovered immediately when I entered the bookstore at the HNS Conference 2019. After I really realized that my cover wasn’t attractive—that it wouldn’t attract readers—I saw it as a failure.
I came away from that conference wanting to change FANNY NEWCOMB’S cover and so I did. It took me a year and about $400 of my own money, but I now have a cover that says “We gotta heroine in Gilded Age New Orleans who’s going to kick some Jack-the-Ripper-copycat butt!” instead of “Gilded Age New Orleans is overrun with prostitutes, pornographers, and a malicious Jack the Ripper copycat.”
In honor of the new cover, I also rewrote the back-of-the-book blurb, starting with:
“A Jack the Ripper copycat is terrorizing the women of Gilded Age New Orleans. Desperate to know if her favorite student was a Ripper copycat victim, tenacious and quick-witted Fanny Newcomb turns detective.”
I was also fortunate enough to add some praise from Ann Parker, author of the award-winning Silver Rush series:
“FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is a ripping good read. Author Ana Brazil brings the dark underbelly of Gilded Age New Orleans vividly to life as her trio of determined female sleuths seek out a Jack the Ripper copycat killer.”
This second cover—showing a bright, intelligent amateur sleuth emerging from the French Quarter—makes me very, very happy, although I still wish that Fanny had her arms folded as in the black and white composite above. Still, gotta love that newspaper.
So, if you’re an author and your existing cover or covers aren’t making you happy, aren’t making you feel proud, don’t make you go yummmmm, make you feel like a failure, and don’t compliment the other covers in your genre, it’s probably time to redo your cover. It’s worth the time, it’s worth the money, it’s worth the rethinking of how you want your novel to be known.
I’m happy to report that even though Fanny’s got a new cover on the outside, she’s still the same old Fanny inside. Tenacious, quick-witted, and ready to track down that Jack the Ripper copycat.
Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans. Her upcoming October 17 2023 release is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, a Viola Vermillion Vaudeville mystery set in 1919 San Francisco.