The WOW Factor


I have a bit of an obsession I have to admit to – call it Covers OCD.

Cover scan of a Wow comic nº 38.

In the days when I read every Famous Five book that Enid Blyton ever wrote I never thought about covers consciously. But looking fondly at the old friends I kept I notice now they all have a colourful cover; a certain look that tells me what’s awaiting me; never-ending adventure stories where nothing too bad is going to happen. Not much later Classic and Superhero comics started arrived in boxes, rescued by my father from the paper mill’s waste-paper depot where they were destined to be pulped into bagasse. Maybe that’s where it started; the first awareness of dramatic cover design.

Anyway, to cut a long story short. I strongly disliked the first published cover of my first novel The Good Cemetery Guide, changed from a quirky/arty (in my view) pink and red hearse artwork to a funereal white lily jacket which proved to be oddly popular with many readers.  Now I have the opportunity to do exactly what I want and while it’s liberating it’s harder than I thought. So I’ve started a Covers topic which I’ll add to as time goes on with useful links and information gleaned.

17 March 2012: Stumbled upon an interesting article on Createspace Community about the importance of genre when selecting a cover. Seems obvious, no? But it isn’t, as I’ve discovered. People have all kinds of subjective reasons for why they like or dislike covers (myself included). In the end it has to be about book sales. Which cover will attract the attention of online readers so word-of-mouth and good reviews will exponentially attract other online readers?

That’s what finally helped me decide on the new cover for the new e-book and POD version of The Good Cemetery Guide. I decided to listen to the experts. Thoughtful insightful people in the book business took the time to choose one cover above all others using terms like ‘genre-appropriate’. It wasn’t the cover that got the most votes in my little market research exercise; sometimes the minority view prevails, especially if it’s based on more experience and knowledge about what drives book sales.

Ad astra per aspera

My mother believes in reading your stars.

That’s one excuse I have for checking my horoscope every day. The other is the scuffed-fullsizeoutput_1e5ayellow paperback of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs that sits on the bookshelf next to my dictionaries, harking back to a lovelorn student. My preoccupations are just different these days. Today’s Your Stars by Jonathan Cainer predicts:

The grand trine has picked you up by the scruff of your neck and is whipping you away from trouble. Never mind how or why. Just be glad.’

Boy, am I relieved things are looking up. I’m glad, believe me, really, I am. Once I’ve stopped wondering who the hell the grand trine is. I never claimed to be very au fait with matters astrological. When I look it up the following is presented: The strength in the pattern of the Grand Trine is when the individual uses the Grand Trine to their maximum advantage and sets their goals accordingly, thereby reaching their goals with incredible success.

Could it possibly be referring to the hearse cover saga for The Good Cemetery Guide e-book? Read about that here sometime soon. Or is that I’ve finally accepted there’s no overnight spell to turn me into a Catherine Ryan Howard clone with sparkling wit and buoyant personality? That’s what she’s been saying all along and I finally get it. Lots of blogs use pictures from stock photo sites. And clearly ‘Consuelo, Chocolated’ won’t do. Everybody will think it’s a chocolate foodie site of some sort. And yes, I could have said ‘Writer, ballerina, straight-haired’ in my tagline. Once upon a time, feeling fat and frizzy-haired, I indulged in the harmless day-dream of being the next Dame Margot Fonteyn, but that was so I’d get to dance with the sublime Rudolph Nureyev.

So what if I’m not the most original blogger ever to hit the airwaves? I’m not the only writer who is using someone else’s visual images to market my stories. But that’s okay I’ve finally decided. So long as I acknowledge the artist. All respect to JH Lynch. And so long as the words are mine.


JH Lynch in Kalk Bay

 I’m no expert on art and I’m no expert on JH Lynch. I discovered the mystery artist quite by mistake in Kalk Bay. You really shouldn’t walk into Big Blue if you set out that morning planning not to buy anything except a cup of coffee or an ice-cream. I ended up buying a set of 6 coasters for R120.00 that reminded me of the Roman Noir covers I’d been perusing while doing research for a new thriller. My latest character is a bit of a femme fatale herself and there was something reminiscent about these women; as if they were all part of dream encounters I’d been sorry to leave behind.

Without really thinking about it I commented how amazing (I meant mesmerizing) the women’s faces on the coasters were. The shop assistant at the cash till said the artist was somebody Lynch. Did you say David Lynch? I asked, mishearing. No, she said, giving me a quick look, realising I didn’t actually have any idea. That’s how I discovered JH Lynch, right there in Kalk Bay, the atmospheric seaside town where Anthony Loxton hijacked my imagination one dark night long after midnight, resulting in The Good Cemetery Guide. There’s something about the place; I always seem to find something I don’t even know I’m looking for. No, for the record, I don’t live there. I just pass through occasionally. That’s the nature of our relationship and it suits us both. Neither of us gets bored with the other that way.

So now I have three of JH Lynch’s fabulous femme fatales gracing my header after months of sitting on my desk lending me inspiration.  When the right energy was lacking I’d shuffle them between my hands like tarot cards, marvelling at the full-lipped seductive power of those expressive faces – women with a certain bring-it-on laissez-faire attitude to love.


QI: JH Lynch’s pictures appeared in Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange. Did they epitomise kitsch? Or did Kubrick employ their temptress power on a subliminal level to draw us into his game? Rumours persist that JH Lynch was a woman.

CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD: Oh for the love of fudge

So. Catherine Ryan Howard is my guru. My guru says ‘Oh for the love of fudge.’ Isn’t that retro and cool? Never had a guru before. I have become slavishly devoted to everything she says because she is going to teach me how to be more than ‘just a writer’. The problem is I don’t have good ideas like hers. I’m going crazy trying to find a good blog name never mind do all the rest.

The best I can come up with is Consuelo, Chocolated. It is clear plagiarism of Catherine, Caffeinated and not as smart or as humorous. Chocolated also reminds me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which is not good. This means I’m the most unoriginal person on the planet. Why can I dream up  story after story but I can’t come up with a name for a Writer’s blog that is glittering with the smarts, never mind a bright tagline that is part of the whole cohesive trip… How do you compete with ‘Writer, Astronaut, Skinny’? I ask myself. ‘Writer, Ballerina, Straight hair’, is the best I can do. But it sounds lame because I’m copying Catherine.

I’ve been on first name terms with my guru for a while. Copying is not good. The problem is this whole marketing yourself thing is a bit like writing an unbelievable story about myself and that’s where it comes undone; the non-fiction of my existence doesn’t excite me. I like to make it all up; none of it must ever have existed before.

Catherine says all one has to is have a cohesive concept and stick to it – brand yourself in other words. So she does pink the whole hog, and normally this could be girlish and a bit mundane – but she has this very cool picture of a retro pink tea-cup (much prettier than a coffee mug) and super-retro pink typewriter and it’s practically irresistable. Right now a cohesive concept is eluding me. What is my unique angle? What do I have to share that anybody else might want to know about? Oh for the love of fudge…!