Last year, I put my toe in eBook original publishing’s treacherous waters.
I started out with my own, already-published novels for which I had retained electronic rights—HEAD GAMES and TOROS & TORSOS. That went pretty well, so I started thinking about moving on to some original stuff.
This wasn’t a hard decision: In a print market dedicated to a one-book-a-year publishing concept, I knew a lot of stuff I’ve written was never going to see publication anytime soon, or maybe not ever.
That sobering prospect made e-publishing seem a no-brainer. And so came PARTS UNKNOWN, CARNIVAL NOIR and new-this-week CABAL.
It’s been a heady experience so far, and one that allows the former art student in me to at last get some visual artistic urges out of my system via cover design.
Before putting my own eBook originals out there, I spent a lot of time looking at how others packaged their stuff.
The thing that struck me most is the terrible execution of the cover art for the bulk of eBook originals.
Fact is, as readers/consumers we do judge books by their covers.
Many a great tale has been commercially wrecked by a lousy cover.
Conversely, more than one mediocre book has seen its sales driven by a great piece of packaging.
I’ve always been a prolific writer and I was at this trade a long time before securing publication. Consequently, I have a lot of manuscripts in the hopper.
Looking over my unpublished backlist, I made the decision to first publish a long-languishing series of novels I wrote about a writer. Most of the books were written in the 1990s, and the series came close to earning me publication back around 1991 or ’92.
The author in those books was a guy named Chris Lyon. The novels turned largely on historic, unsolved crimes. They were, at base, literary thrillers.
In 2007, my debut novel, HEAD GAMES, was published. It was a literary thriller about an author named Hector Lassiter who pokes around famous historic, unsolved crimes and brushes shoulders with historic figures in the process. The Lassiter series clearly owed a lot to my experience writing the Lyon novels.
In the course of writing the Lassiter cycle, I sometimes picked up characters from the Lyon series (Lassiter sidekicks Bud Fiske and James Hanrahan, for instance, got their first work outs/mentions in long-ago written Lyon books).
Pretty quickly, the timelines, events and even some storylines from the unpublished Lyon series and the emerging Lassiter series got tangled up with one another.
The two series seemed bent upon speaking to and expanding upon one another. At some point, Chris Lyon insinuated himself into PRINT THE LEGEND.
Hector, particularly, began to push himself into Lyon’s unpublished saga in a big way.
As a result of that mingling, last year, I took the time and actually wrote a new novel uniting the two series after making the decision to launch the Chris Lyon thrillers myself as eBook originals. (More on that in a minute.)
For better or worse, with the notable exception of ROGUE MALES, I’ve always been pretty hands-on in terms of cover design and packaging concepts for my published books.
For good reason, most authors are not allowed anywhere near the design end of things. Somehow, that rule hasn’t applied to me.
HEAD GAMES’ cover was strongly modeled on concepts I put forth to Bleak House after seeing some first passes by designers that frankly left me cold.
For the Bleak House edition of TOROS & TORSOS, I negotiated my own contract with the estate of Diego Rivera for the painting that stands as that book’s cover.
PRINT THE LEGEND’s cover was drawn from a handful of suggested cover photos of Hemingway I provided St. Martin’s at my then-editor’s request.
EL GAVILAN’s cover, again, was drawn from an image I suggested of razor baling wire.
When it came time to design the covers for my own eBooks, I was thrilled by the prospect to have more cover control than ever before.
And I knew exactly this much: I wanted the Chris Lyon covers to be clearly linked visually, and to have a very bold, straight-forward branding concept that stood out from the pack.
Looking over the genre series covers that most resonated for me over the years, I turned immediately to two popular series.
The first was the Bantam Doc Savage pulp novel reprints of the early 1960s. These were executed by the brilliant, realist painter James Bama.
Bama chose an unusual monochromatic approach in painting his best and most iconic Doc Savage covers.
I decided the Lyon covers would also follow a monochromatic approach to immediately link them in the reader’s mind and eye.
The other works I seized on were the hardcover James Bond illustrations, particularly the British first edition covers painted by Richard Chopping (working with significant input from author Ian Fleming).
The Chopping covers tended to feel of-a-piece, and they rely on a single, in-your-face image drawn directly from each novel.
In my mind, I saw some blending of the Bama/Chopping covers: strong image and one hue.
To execute these hypothetical covers, I approached the brilliant JT Lindroos, who designed the cover for my first published book, 2006’s collection of author interviews, ART IN THE BLOOD.
In discussing cover ideas with JT years ago, I suggested an image for ART IN THE BLOOD of a blood-splashed typewriter. JT took that shorthand suggestion and expanded upon it to brilliant and striking effect.
I followed a similar, minimalist design suggestion approach with JT for the Lyon covers.
I provided him with samples of some key Bama and Chopping Doc Savage and Bond covers (reprinted here), the overarching concept I saw for combining their styles, then the Lyon book titles and a couple of suggested images for each novel.
JT ran with all that, in nearly every case providing the perfect cover for each title on his very first pass—covers that seemed drawn directly from my mind’s eye.
CABAL, the third Lyon novel, made its Kindle-exclusive appearance this week. It shifts back and forth in time, from the 1990s, to the 1880s and Victorian London. The Whitechapel murders attributed to Jack the Ripper are key to the plot, and Mr. Lindroos’ bloody red cover conveys that fact in simple and evocative fashion, I think.
At this writing, I’m finalizing plans for Chris Lyon number four, which will bring Chris Lyon and Hector Lassiter together on the page in a very big way.
The novel is a kind of Rosetta stone for my fictional universe, underscoring the overarching themes of both the Lyon and Lassiter series, and setting up a new crime-solving author who could conceivably be passed the torch by Hector and Chris somewhere down the line.
This new eBook original also directly links back to my second Lassiter novel, TOROS & TORSOS.
The new book will appear in April, exclusively for Kindle, and is entitled “ANGELS OF DARKNESS,” a title that is a nod to Arthur Conan Doyle, who also suggested the title for ART IN THE BLOOD.
Mr. Lindroos got my suggestions for Angels’ cover last night.
It’s pretty simple imagery I suggested for this one: Something golden or bronze… Something with forbidding looking angels or images evoking menace and Scotland, the setting for much of the novel’s early action.
A bit ago, I got his first pass at an ANGELS cover. Two concepts; the second one, a very striking and unusual take, was perfect.
I'll share that image soon for book #4. In the meantime, if you're looking for a brilliant cover artist, check out Mr. Lindroos other work here.