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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Capturing the Essence of the Story — All on One Cover

(Creston Mapes' Fear Has a Name is free today on Kindle.) 

by Creston Mapes

Since you’re here reading Novel Rocket, I’m assuming you love novels. What about the covers of those books — do you love them as much as I do?

I’m a cover junkie. To get away from my writing, I’ll sometimes grab a cup of coffee and wander the aisles of my favorite bookstore, just absorbing all the different covers, the new styles and typefaces, and the different graphic treatments. I’ve even been known to snap a photo or two of those I really like that align with my genre (suspense).

Since I had a new thriller release Feb. 1 (Poison Town, David C Cook), I thought you might enjoy reading about the process of how the cover for that book came about.

Amy Konyndky, Design Manager for
Trade Books at David C. Cook
Let me start by introducing the design manager for Trade Books at David C Cook, Amy Konyndyk. I asked Amy what makes an appealing, must-pick-up novel cover.

 It has to communicate the genre,” Amy said. “You don’t want to mislead the reader having them think it’s suspense when it’s romance. It seems obvious, but I’ve seen some badly represented books. I try to find the feel or essence of the book by determining what is the most important thing or scene that will set the reader up for the content? It’s almost like a movie trailer in print form. I prefer simple covers that communicate effortlessly. And of course, the skill of the execution has to be there.”

Next I asked Amy what goes into choosing the best cover at the publishing house?

We look at a lot of things,” she said. “The genre, the audience, and the overall opinions of the review group. There are a lot of seasoned people in the room and we discuss comparative titles, how the book will be positioned, and what the buyers want to see. We often go multiple rounds on one cover.”

When she has time, Amy reads the entire manuscript to help her envision the book cover she is about to design. She did that with my book, Poison Town. She also asked me what images I pictured for the cover. I gave her some ideas, such as smokestacks, perhaps an ominous manufacturing plant on the poor side of town. I even told her we might want to show the mechanics’ old garage in the moonlight, possibly people being chased in a car, etc.

To give you a bit more context — Poison Town delves into the lives of people who are getting sick and dying on the poor side of Trenton City, Ohio. Some claim that chemicals leaking from a manufacturing plant are causing illnesses. When hero and protagonist Jack Crittendon (reporter) realizes his mechanic friends are getting sick, he investigates. Soon Jack becomes engulfed in a smokescreen of lies, setups, greed, and scandal. The deeper he digs, the more toxic the corruption he uncovers. As Jack faces off with the big-time players behind the scenes and tries to beat the clock before more people die, he realizes he knows way too much — and that knowledge threatens him, his family and those closest to him.

Poison Town
So, I asked Amy what the team at David C Cook was trying to accomplish when designing the cover for Poison Town? 

“Poison Town was a fun one. The cover was boiled down to one main image, but the feel or essence of the book’s content is spelled out,” Amy said. “The clouds are ominous, implying impending danger, the smokestacks are pouring out dark smoke, and the title treatment is a bright red, which hints at an intense page-turner. The reader should know that this is a suspenseful read!”

I asked her if she could share more about how the cover was shaped and perfected. “The cover was styled after the first book in the series, Fear Has a Name,” Amy said.

Fear has a Name
“I believe we set the tone well for the series (The Crittendon Files) with that book, then built off of it with Poison Town. I started by reading the manuscript. Whenever possible, that is the best way for me to work. I also spoke with you [Creston] about main characters, scenes, settings, and so forth. That helped me get started. From there, I pulled in some images and built as I went. I worked closely with you [Creston] and your agent, Natasha Kern, to make sure all of the essential elements were there. It’s very much a back and forth process.”

Early in the process, I asked Amy if she and her team could make the three covers in The Crittendon Files slightly similar, so readers would know the books were part of the same series. But I also asked that they not be too similar, and I did not want the covers to emphasize or highlight “book one,” “book two,” or “book three.” My concern: I didn’t want readers to think they had to read book one first to understand what was happening in books two and three. My desire is for each book to read as an awesome stand-alone thriller, with or without the other books in that series!

In my opinion, Amy and the team at David C Cook nailed the Poison Town cover perfectly (all three covers, for that matter). It is unique. It implies a sinister story, thrills and danger, set in contemporary times. As a fiction-lover, it is a book I would pick up in a heartbeat.

Most publishers give the author his or her stab at 5-7 titles for the book, then their team decides on the final title. With all three of my books in The Crittendon Files, the team at David C Cook approved my title suggestions, which has never happened to me before!

I always invite author friends and key influencers to read the manuscript early and provide endorsements if they so choose. When we received the nice endorsement from best-selling author Francine Rivers, we knew we wanted that on the cover, because readers would recognize her name and, hopefully, pick up the book because she enjoyed it. Then another strong endorsement came in from Third Day guitarist Mark Lee, and due to the band’s name recognition, we wanted that on the back cover. Bam.

Sky Zone
Personally, I love endorsements and get a lot out of reading what other people have to say about a book. If the novel has won awards, I appreciate knowing that, too. It influences my decision about whether or not I want to read the book. Needless to say, when we received an endorsement from best-selling author Jerry B. Jenkins for my upcoming thriller, Sky Zone (June 1, 2014, David C Cook), we cheered, gave Jerry a hearty thanks, and got it right on the cover.

Do you have an opinion about the three covers in my series, The Crittendon Files? Or, perhaps you have a favorite novel cover you would like to mention. Feel free to do so in the comments section, and thanks for dropping in. I hope you’ll check out my thrillers. I promise you’ll find tension on every page — and that they’ll live up to their cool and intriguing covers.

Be sure to connect with Creston through his website and online!


  1. Creston, I am also a cover junkie and I agree DCC got the cover of "Poison Town" just right. I'm reading it now and REALLY enjoying it. Also, the books work without having read the previous one, BUT the hints I'm getting in "Poison Town" about "Fear Has A Name" prompted me to pick up that first one too. And I'm betting "Sky Zone" will get into my e-queue pretty darn quickly.

    By the way, you didn't mention it Creston, but folks if you don't have "Fear Has A Name" today (Feb. 11) would be a really good day to visit your favorite e-retailer and pick it up. Just saying the timing would be really good for you, dear reader.

  2. Thanks Michael. I am really enjoying the feedback this series is getting on amazon and goodreads. It's been a lot of fun. The team at DCC is top notch. Thanks for reading and commenting bro!

  3. Totally agree on the critical cover factor. Covers matter big time. All three covers look good, Creston. Sky Zone is especially intriguing to me. I love what Amy had to say regarding nailing the essence of the book. The great covers do just that. (Two that came immediately to mind were The Passion of Mary Margaret and Comes A Horseman, two totally different novels.)

  4. I love the cover art on all three (esp. the first!). I'd love to know thoughts on including a woman's face vs. a more scenery-style pic on suspense covers. I'm currently working on a mystery, and while I know cozies often have cute writing/artwork, it's tricky with a regular mystery, as it's slightly different from suspense. Regardless, I'm impressed w/the way all your covers draw readers in!

  5. Heather, because the covers of my first three novels weren't extremely appealing to women, who comprise 60-80% of all Christian fiction readers, we wanted to have a woman on the cover of Fear Has a Name. The testimonials from well known authors helped immensely. Thanks for you input and best with your mystery!

  6. Creston, I read this article the other day and became so intrigued by your description of the story that I went to Amazon and downloaded it from Kindle, then decided I needed to read Book 1 first so I ordered the trade sized Fear Has a Name. I'm reading it now and I'm hooked. You gained a reader-fan with an article that had nothing to do with actually promoting your books, at least not in an in-your-face way LOL.

  7. Pamela, great to hear that and thank you very much for sharing. Glad you dropped by!


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