I've been intrigued for some time about the value of book covers, especially as I was noodling ideas for my own.
I asked all my book-reading friends and few, if any, ever bought a book because of it's cover. Sure, you might pass on one if it was totally unprofessional, done in crayon, or smeared with fish blood. We have our standards.
But most buy their books based on recommendations from friends, a snappy summary on the back cover or inside jacket, or they buy one because it's the latest effort by one of their favorite authors.
What I've been wanting to do for a long time is to make book covers look like old album covers or CDs. They seem to have fewer rules, especially my man Prince. He's as unconventional as they come and inventive in his covers and even in the distribution of his music.
So one day a few years back I ran across an album by the Black Keys and it was so cool and weird and dumb that I said to myself: "Self, you need to steal this idea for your next book cover." So I did, as you'll see.
Of course, I had my doubts about going against conventional wisdom. As the title of my soon-to-be-released book is "Runaway Trane" (a play of words off the main character's name, Bobby Trane), I scrolled through image catalogs of trains, railroad road tracks, cabooses, train crossing signs, nice scenic photos of trains rolling through the countryside, smoke stacks belching CO2 next to pretty trees, pretty much anything train related. I saved a couple possibilities, kept coming back to them and kept belching at them myself and decided to stick with my first gut feeling. That gut feeling being the album-cover take-off.
I ran it by a couple people, with mixed results. Decided adults are boring, I ran it by the cool kids. I showed it to my 17-year-old boy. He started to laugh, but then stifled it as it dawned on him that it might not be the reaction I was looking for. But it WAS. So that cemented my decision, sent it to my designer, and she fiddled with it, even though it was so simplistic it probably was something she learned in kindergarten Photoshop class.
Then last week Harper Lee released the cover of her much ballyhooed new novel. And guess what it it is: A train traveling down railroad tracks by a big oak tree. Not that anyone would've ever confused Harper Lee with Mark Haugen, but I did think it would look pretty stupid if I came out two weeks later with a train on the tracks going past a tree. "Real clever, Haugen," I could hear all three of my fans saying.
So I sent a note to graphic designer Hayley, told her about the Harper Lee cover, and said how glad I was we didn't go with the serious, adult, industry-standard cover I'd briefly considered.
And she replied: "Your cover is going to be clean, RED and fabulous, Mark." So there ya go. Hope you agree, or at least laugh: