Cover Story – How We Came up with The Laura Cardinal Series Covers

When my publisher Glenn McCreedy at Breakaway Media and I decided to put up my three Laura Cardinal crime fiction thrillers, the first thing we thought about was cover art.

Readers of crime fiction and thrillers would be our primary audience. So we asked ourselves these questions.

What should a thriller look like?

Should the books be unified in some way?

Should they have the traditional look of a big publishing house? And if we chose to go that route, what kind of product did we envision?

We knew right away that we wanted to emulate the look of a big publishing house.  But what kind of book?  Hardcover?  Trade paper?  Or mass market paperback?  We decided to go for the premiere option—hardcover. Hardcover is big, weighty, and looks important.  We wanted to add that kind of “weight” to our books, to signal that my thrillers were worthy of such treatment, and so we studied the hardcovers that were nominated for Edgars last year.  The Edgar Awards are for crime fiction, mystery, and thriller, so our books fit right in.

We noticed right away that the fonts were simple and big.  The background art was good, but it was the backdrop for the title and the name of the author.

Looking at the Edgar Award covers and the covers of some of my favorite thriller/crime fiction writers: Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Joe Finder, etc., we got a general idea of the subject matter, and learned that the cover art itself was secondary to the name and title.  But the books had a certain “thriller look,” which I can’t really define except to say, after looking at hundreds of them, we know it when we see it.

We unified the book covers by using the same, simple print font, and made that font as big as we could.

Then we went looking for images. DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN starts with the discovery of a body in spooky band shell in Bisbee, Arizona. It’s a concrete inner-city park.  I found an image that looked exactly like the entrance to that park. The building in the photo was built in the same era, just after the turn of the last century.  And I loved the dramatic red color and the neon sign, which really seated the book in crime fiction.  There was a car that looked like the car my bad guy drove.  My husband was fooling around with the image and turned on the headlights of the car, and that bit of luck really made the cover. It’s the perfect focal point—to the right and slightly above the horizon, which is good composition.  The last thing we did was add bits and pieces of words the internet predator used when communicating with the girl he killed.

DARK SIDE OF THE MOON:  Part of the book takes place on the freeway through the Mojave Desert.  We found a stunning photo of a road through the desert.  We incorporated the same large, tall, simple font we used for DARKNESS.  The colors were different enough that you wouldn’t mistake one book in the series for the other.  We put the cover up, but as beautiful as it was, it lacked…something.  Glenn wanted to put in a small nuclear symbol (which figures into the story).  It looked like a stupid little kite-shaped sticker—awful!  Then it occurred to us: Don’t go small – go big!  A nuclear symbol is a scary thing.  So we made it larger, and that symbol really made the cover.

THE DEVIL’S HOUR was the first cover we ever did.  Three young girls are kidnapped years earlier and are believed to have been killed, but one returns home to her family nine years after the kidnapping.  Where are the other two?  At the heart of this story is Evil with a capital “E,” and we wanted to personify that malice with an evil man.  I went through IStock Photo looking for “scary men,” and found a wonderful shot.  His eyes are crazy mean. We cropped his face just above the mouth.  We knew we’d have to have something for the lower part of the book, and it was difficult.  We found a blue sky (a sunset) with black silhouetted trees, which looked like the sky and trees right outside my window in Tucson, Arizona.  It worked.  But we didn’t like the black line that divided the blue part of the cover from the top part.  A mistake on Glenn’s part put a thin blue line above the black line we’d used—and it worked!  A happy accident.

You won’t mistake one book for the other two because they are all different colors, but they are unified enough by the fonts to brand the books as J. Carson Black books—thrillers and crime fiction.

Recently, we decided to bundle all three Laura Cardinal mystery/thrillers into one book.  Now what?

We came up with dozens of ideas, but at last hit on something simple.  A Ouija Board plays a part in THE DEVIL’S HOUR.  I went looking for a Ouija Board and found a beautiful one —spooky and old, which gave the cover a feeling of ancient evil.  We wanted the background to be simple, but planned to use strong contrasting colors for the cover and the lettering.  The reddish brown of the Ouija Board was great.  We fooled around but I knew in my heart that I wanted a lime-colored green for my name.  Since we were selling THE LAURA CARDINAL NOVELS, we decided to go big with my name, J. CARSON BLACK.

It’s important to brand your books.  Are they romance?  If so, what kind?  It’s important, too, to link them in some way, so people can think, “That’s a so-and-so book.”  And it’s important to differentiate them so the reader won’t by the same book twice.

View and sample THE LAURA CARDINAL NOVELS on Amazon.