Intermezzo 6

This Intermezzo might use as its title a variant of the advertising slogan for Visine eye drops: “Gets the red out!” Here it would be: “Get the red text out!”

Amateur cover designers seem to have a penchant for using red text against blue and gray backgrounds. Almost always this is a mistake.

The problem most often is seen in two genres, horror and thrillers, but it appears elsewhere too, though seldom on the covers of non-fiction books or romance novels.

The reason isn’t hard to fathom. Red is the color of blood and of fear. Scary things come in red, not in sweet pastels. A horror story is likely to have gallons of blood spilled within its pages. A thriller will have blood-curdling scenes, even if no blood seeps from wounds. Science fiction books will have scary aliens, while suspense stories will have scary malefactors.

“Why not suggest the blood on the cover, using red type?” wonder these designers. It’s a fair question but one that usually ought to be answered this way: “Please don’t.”

The problem is that red, when used even for large type such as titles, stands out poorly against the background colors often used for most horror stories, thrillers, and other genres. Those colors are dark blue and shades of gray. There are two problems.

First, red on blue or red on gray usually means dark color on dark color, with the result that nothing pops. Second, and worse, is that red and blue clash (see the accompanying spiral for proof), and even red and gray don’t play well together.

Red type can look great on a cover, provided the red is set against a light color such as white, beige, or pale yellow. When that is done, a red title will catch the eye more deliberately than will a blue or green or brown title. The only competition, oddly enough, will be black.

I say “oddly enough” because many people think black is an unobtrusive color, one that sits at a table while the vibrant colors dance in the middle of the room. Not so, actually. Black, when put on a light-colored background, pops at least as well as red. (Conversely, on a dark background, white stands out well, often even better than the next-best color for that situation, yellow.)

As effective as red can be on a light background, it can be that ineffective on a dark background. It even can be ineffective on a background halfway between, such as sky blue (against which gold often is a better choice). Still, many amateur designers default to red on blue or red on gray. They focus too much on symbolism (blood, fear) and too little on visuals.

They think they “need” to show the typographical equivalent of blood if their book is to be seen as being in its true genre. They overlook that many of the most successful covers in categories such as horror, thrillers, suspense, and science fiction—all genres where red is widely misused—have no red on them at all.

Each designer—particularly each do-it-yourself designer—should have by the computer monitor a sticky note that says, “Get the red text out!” Following that injunction can prevent a good cover from being tagged with the kiss-of-death label “amateur.”

Intermezzo 5








The earliest book covers weren’t covers as we know them. They were tubes in which scrolls were kept. Jesus went to the synagogue at Nazareth and there read from the scroll of the book of Isaiah. The scroll would have been fetched for him by an attendant who removed it from a shelf where it likely was kept in a protective tube.

Centuries later, handwritten books featured not only elaborately illustrated pages but finely wrought covers. The largest books, such as Bibles, often had covers made of wood, from which we get the term “boards” for the front and back covers of a hardback book.

The book trade flourished in the seventeenth century. By that time printing had become far advanced, and books were affordable by people of means. Covers were tooled leather, which persisted into the twentieth century.

At home I have an elegant forty-volume set of the works of John Henry Newman. The books were printed in the late 1870s. The covers are stiff leather, with prominent ribs on the spines. The books look handsome on their shelves, but only the golden lettering on the spines reveal what the books contain.

Dust jackets with flaps began to be used in the 1850s, and by the 1890s most books sported them. Of course, back then nearly all books were hardbacks, paperbacks being a rarity. Early dust jackets made up for simplified bindings, which no longer were visible. It was cheaper to make dust jackets than fancy bindings. This was true even after cloth covers replaced leather covers. Cloth covers—then as now—consisted of stiffened cardboard (still “boards”) over which cloth was glued.

Once cloth began to predominate for covers, it was possible to add artwork inexpensively directly to the cover. Adding artwork to leather covers could be done, but it required time-consuming tooling. Eventually dust jackets took over the artistic task entirely, and we ended up with the sort of cloth covers seen today: usually monochromatic, with black and deep blue being the two most common colors.

The covers themselves are blank, but the spine include the title, author name, and perhaps the publisher’s logo. Artwork is to be found on the dust jacket, as in the pictured cover of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926).

Soon the artwork was more than just artwork. It became a marketing device for the book. Publishers came to realize that it wasn’t enough to have an artsy cover, as with the Hemingway book. What was needed was an attractive cover that made clear the genre of the book and said enough about the book to induce the prospective buyer to take the book off the book store shelf. Unless the buyer hefted the book and turned its pages, it was unlikely a sale would be made. A cover that intrigued, rather than just looked pretty, often was enough to get past that crucial first step.

Paperback books were issued as early as the nineteenth century, but they didn’t come into prominence until after World War II. In 1935 Penguin began issuing paperbacks with the now-famous penguin logo. It was a cheap way to distribute books that likely wouldn’t have mass appeal, such as Classical works or works in niches other than fiction. The Pelican paperback on The Pyramids of Egypt (1947) is an example.

After the war, other publishers followed suit, and mass-market paperbacks became ubiquitous in the 1950s. For the first time, at least in a concerted way, book covers began to have a distinctly marketing function. They no longer were merely protective or merely artistic. The still were both of those, of course, but now they also were sales tools. By today’s standards they were primitive sales tools, and often garish, but there was a deliberate attempt to make covers analogous to display advertisements, the purpose of which was to generate sales.

Fast forward a few decades, to the era of digital books. By the time the first ebooks began to appear, paperback covers and hardback dust jackets had matured considerably. Competition had forced publishers to pay attention not just to marketing angles but to overall attractiveness of their covers. Still, many printed books had pedestrian covers.

After all, there were ways other than the covers themselves that the books came to the attention of the public, such as catalogues and display ads. In such venues more than the book cover was shown. Commonly there would be a few lines about the book’s contents and perhaps even a few celebrity endorsements, “celebrity” varying from niche to niche, of course. The cover didn’t carry all the marketing weight—or even most of it.

For the most part, ebooks weren’t listed in printed catalogues or given ad space in newspapers and magazines. They didn’t have auxiliary means of promotion. They had to promote themselves, which meant their covers took on a more crucial role for them than covers did for hardbacks and paperbacks.

In the “old days,” an author or publisher could get by with a ho-hum cover. If the cover didn’t indicate the niche of the book, well, that could be made up by the text in the catalogue or ad. Now there was no catalogue or ad. The cover had to do all the work, and it had to do it right, else the book wouldn’t sell.

A detective thriller that looked like the hardback cover of The Sun Also Rises wouldn’t get thrilling sales. A plain-text cover, such as The Pyramids of Egypt, might get by, if the text said what needed to be said, but was getting by enough, given the competition.

Over the last decade ebook covers have become increasingly sophisticated. They often surpass covers of hardbacks issued by the Big 5 publishers, some of whom produce beautiful, artsy covers that fail as marketing tools, with microscopic or skewed text or images that relate neither to the genre nor the book’s storyline.

Today’s indie author probably isn’t today’s indie cover designer. When ebooks first appeared, simple, home-grown covers often were enough, so long as they weren’t outright dreadful, but that phase didn’t last long. Competition saw to that. Few authors have the skills needed to produce top-rate or even just respectable covers, but many try their hands at it anyway. The results usually are less than adequate.

There seem to be two things at work here.

Many writers are on such tight budgets that they shrink from spending several hundred dollars on a professionally-made cover. Will their books sell enough to make up even for that cost?

Other writers don’t yet understand the purpose of ebook covers. “A cover’s a cover,” they think, as though only their books’ words are important. They don’t appreciate that if people don’t get past their books’ covers, they won’t get to their books’ words.

Most of these people likely are doomed to few sales. For some it will be well deserved, since their prose won’t deserve good sales anyway, but for others, who objectively are good writers, the disappointment will be keen. They will complain that, despite what some say, there isn’t any real market for ebooks or that the ebook tide has crested and print books are the wave of the future. Such people will disappear from ebook publishing.

That will leave those who have varying levels of savvy. They will know that their books’ covers are crucial to their books’ hoped-for success. The ones who experience wide sales will know to give not a small part of the credit to their cover designers. They will acknowledge that, in the minds of readers, “what you see is what you get.”

Intermezzo 4















In American political history, there have been two times when opposite sides have been represented by distinctive colors.

During the Civil War the colors were blue and gray, used respectively for the uniforms of the Union and Confederate armies. In our own time the colors red and blue have come to symbolize the Republican and Democratic parties.

It happens that these three colors—red, blue, and gray—can be problems not just in politics but in the design of book covers, particularly where red text is put atop a blue or gray background.

There is a persistent tendency among designers, particularly amateurs, to select red for text when red simply doesn’t go with the graphics. The designers seem to think red is obligatory for their genres. This tendency is seen especially on covers of murder mysteries, thrillers, and horror stories.

The thinking is easy enough to grasp: red is the color of blood and, secondarily, of fear. Mysteries, thrillers, and horror stores involve blood—sometimes a lot of it—and so the blood “needs” to be represented on the cover, if not in the image then at least in the type.

But that isn’t so. Look at covers of successful books in those genres. Few make use of red type, even those that show no blood in the image. White, off-white, and yellow-orange seem to predominate as colors in the typography, and they succeed not just in conveying the genre but in being legible. Red may succeed in the first, but it often fails in the second.

Consider the four covers shown here.

Red must have seemed the ideal color for the main title word of The Blood Cries Out. The choice may have seemed inevitable, but the designer should have found a way to make the inevitable avoidable. “Blood” ends up being the least standout-ish word on the cover because it rests against dark (black) or similar (brown) hues.

Bucharest may be a beautiful city, but the title of The Beauty of Bucharest isn’t beautiful because it’s hard to read. The main word nearly disappears in the gloom.

This book is labeled a thriller, but the maroon of “Bucharest” wasn’t mandatory. The cover might have worked adequately if that word were fire-engine red (or any of several colors other than red). As it is, the words that stand out are “the beauty of.”

Given how large “Bucharest” is by comparison, those three words apparently were understood by the designer to be less important than the name of the city, yet they ended up being the words that first catch the eye because they are in white and “Bucharest” is in red. They pop from the background, while “Bucharest” fades into the background.

A similar problem shows up in Castle Danger, where the whole of the title is in dull red set against a mottled gray background. Here again a bright red might have worked, without yet being quite right. I would have chosen a yellow or orange, as a link to the fire burning in the building.

On this cover, as it now stands, only the specks of fire stand out. The red title doesn’t stand out even as well as the author name, which itself isn’t bright enough.

Night of the Hidden Fang has two textual elements in red, the author name and the series tagline. The tagline would be difficult to read even if it were in white; the red makes it almost entirely unreadable. The author name, being so much larger, can be made out, but it unfortunately takes attention away from what should be the only red on the cover, the eyes of the wolf.

In each of these cases, it’s easy enough to imagine the designer’s thinking, but first instincts often led us astray. It may “make sense” to employ red on a cover of a book promising thrills and chills, but that abstract notion often fails in practice.

The covers on which red text “works” against blue or gray are few in number. There’s a reason for that, one that designers and authors should learn.

Intermezzo 3














These four covers were chosen by AIGA as among the 50 best covers in their respective publication years. AIGA is the American Institute of Graphic Arts, which calls itself “the profession’s oldest and largest professional membership organization for design.” It has 70 chapters and 25,000 members.

AIGA runs an annual competition called 50 Books/50 Covers, the purpose of which is to showcase “the best work in book and cover design.” The competition began in 1923. From what I can gather, it features covers (and books as a whole, but here I’ll consider these four books only as covers) published by traditional publishers, not by indie publishers.

You might think that with nearly a century of experience, this competition would feature covers that would put those found on self-published books to shame, but not so, at least in my estimation. Here I have selected for comment four representative covers, and I think each one is a failure, though in different ways. Let’s look at them sequentially.

A Man Lies Dreaming, which originally was published by Hodder & Stoughton and appears here in reprint from Melville House, has an intriguing title. It can be taken two ways. It might refer to a man who is lying down and dreaming in his sleep, or it might refer to a man who commits a lie while he dreams. The double entendre is attractive. That’s more than can be said for the cover.

This is a novel, but “A Novel” is almost illegible. The author name is in a red box, but the box is small, and so the name is small. The title is sharply angled. The angling may grab attention, but it makes the words hard to read. There is a promotional blurb from The Guardian, but the blurb is even harder to read than “A Novel.” Textually, the cover is a failure all around.

What about the graphic? The title is A Man Lies Dreaming, but the only thing we see lying down is the lower half of a woman. There is blood behind her knee, so apparently a murder has occurred. However that may be, there is a disconnect between the title and the image.

The graphic treatment has one other element, the background. It’s made to look like a torn and faded paper cover. There is a slight three-dimensionality to it, which is effective and is, to my mind, the most attractive part of the cover. On the left the cover appears to have been torn. Despite the well-done background, I also would call the graphic treatment less than a success.

Let’s look at the second book, Your Face in Mine, which is published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

We know this is a novel because the cover tells us so, provided we can read upside-down text. What is gained by putting “A Novel” upside down, other than brownie points from other designers? It isn’t all that clever a technique, and it certainly doesn’t make the words easier to read for prospective buyers. Perhaps the words are meant to clue buyers that this book is High Art.

The title might suggest that the cover would include, somewhere, a face, whether “yours” or “mine,” but there is nothing facial here, not even in an abstract, Picasso-esque sense. The graphics consist of triangles, parallelograms, and trapezoids, each in a different earth tone, plus a few lines and circles. Those take up about half the acreage, the rest being a flat black background.

Nothing on the cover indicates genre. Is this a murder mystery, a science-fiction fantasy, historical fiction? There is no way to tell, and so the cover fails to provide important information. You likely wouldn’t guess that this is “a daring, ambitious novel about identity and race in the age of globalization,” as described at Amazon. That’s because this cover has been designed for art’s sake, not for marketing’s sake.

The third cover belongs to Accidence Will Happen, a book about English-language style, published by Pegasus Books. It is the simplest of the four covers and the only one, I think, that “works” at all.

It has two chief problems. One is the small text for the blurb: “Distinguished. A unique and indispensable guide to usage.” Those words are just about legible at thumbnail size, but the words themselves are cotton candy, having no substance. They are useful only because they are the words of a well-known writer, but his name is in text that is smaller still. If you can’t read his name, it isn’t there.

The other problem this cover has is graphical dullness. As with A Man Lies Dreaming, the background is made to look like slightly crumpled paper, but the effect isn’t nearly so obvious here. It needs to be either more pronounced or not used at all.

If this cover hadn’t come out of a prominent publisher, one might think it was cobbled together by a first-time writer whose budget was too small to hire a professional designer. There is nothing about it to suggest that indeed it was the product of someone who makes a living in design. Beyond that, its dullness will make a potential reader think the text must be equally dull.

The fourth book is The Wall, a novel published by Random House. We know it’s a novel because the microscopic print tell us so. But what kind of novel is it? The description at Amazon says The Wall “tells the story of Arthur Landau, survivor of a wartime atrocity, a man struggling with his nightmares and his memories of the past as he strives to forge a new life for himself. . . . The Wall is a magnificent epic of survival and redemption, powerfully told through stream of consciousness and suffused with daydream, fantasy, memory, nightmare, and pure imagination.”

Let’s grant all that, but is any of it suggested by the cover? The photo is of the interior of Liverpool Street Station in London, taken seemingly a lifetime ago. The most prominent architectural element isn’t a wall—something you might expect—but an array of columns. It’s a fine, evocative photo but not one that explains what the story is about. If I hadn’t quoted from the description, you likely would have no idea what the storyline might be.

These covers were winners in design competitions. The judges considered them among the top 50 covers in their respective years, but the judges seem to have looked at the contestants with spectacles quite different from my own. They seem to have awarded points based on techniques thought clever by other designers. (The upside-down “A Novel” is an example.) They seem not to have based their judgments on seeing book covers as marketing tools.

I’m all for loveliness and cleverness in book covers, but nowadays covers need to serve a purpose beyond the merely artistic, important as that may be. Writers want their writings to be read. For that to happen, their books need to be sold, and that’s where covers come into play as marketing tools.

Imagine an entirely blank cover. No words, no graphics—and thus, assuredly, almost no sales. I remember the small buzz that surrounded the publication of The Wit and Wisdom of Spiro Agnew in 1970. It was a book of blank pages. I remember handling the book at a book store. I also remember not bothering to purchase it. I suspect most people who saw it made the same decision.

People don’t buy books that have nothing on the inside (except for journals, I suppose), and they don’t buy books that have nothing on the outside, even if those books have wonderful material on the inside. They never see that wonderful inside material because the covers of those (imaginary) books don’t lure them to the text within.

It isn’t a far step from that to what we see with these four books. They are artsy. They show certain kinds of creativity. One even might find elements of the covers to be interesting or even pretty. But they fail to do what covers need to do, particularly with today’s vast competition among books, and so they fail as covers.

Intermezzo 2

I belong to a writers club in my town. Its monthly meeting attracts as many as 60 members, depending on the subject of the main talk and the notoriety of the speaker. Prior to the main meeting there is a meeting of the marketing group. It meets for an hour and attracts about half as many people.

The marketing group has its regular participants and its occasional participants. All of them are anxious to learn how to let more prospective customers know about their books. Most participants have a single book to their names. A few have half a dozen or more, and others are still working on their first books.

Clubs such as this one attract writers of varying skills and experience. Some actually are good writers. Some have had modest success in marketing their books. Most are in no danger of winning literary prizes and are surprised when their monthly unit sales reach double digits. Occasionally a writer will report on a book signing event at a book store. Some around the table will perk up at the mention of five or ten copies being sold. For them, that would be a windfall.

I confess I remain surprised at how few attendees appreciate the role of their books’ covers. They don’t seem to understand that the book cover has taken on a new function in the age of digital books: the cover now is a book’s chief marketing tool, eclipsing all else. Even people who prefer to make their purchases at brick-and-mortar book stores commonly discover the books they want online, and all those who no longer frequent book stores (the majority of purchasers) find what they want at Amazon or similar sites.

At a book store, a buyer might pick up a book with a ho-hum cover simply because he’s standing in front of the shelf where that book resides. He may not be impressed by the front cover, but he might find something on the back cover to keep his attention. He can flip through the pages. He can heft the book. He can look at the cover from several angles, and he just might buy the book, even if its cover otherwise displeases him.

That same buyer, sitting before his computer at home, operates differently. In a few minutes dozens or even hundreds of book covers pass before his eyes, once he visits an online seller. Each cover will be the same small size. The books may be grouped for him by genre or author, but otherwise he is on his own.

His eyes pass from one cover to the next, lingering only a second or two, until a cover captures his attention. He clicks on it and is taken to a page touting the book’s virtues, the author’s skills, and the low price, as least as compared to the print version. He sees a long or short description of the book. He is unable to flip through the pages in a tactile way, and he may have to click on the print edition to see the back-cover blurbs, but he gleans enough information about the book to make a decision.

What is it about a book’s cover that captures the buyer’s attention? An interesting graphic treatment, an intriguing title, text that is legible, an overall style that indicates the book’s genre—those are things the buyer reacts to even if not quite consciously. He “likes” the cover, even if he wouldn’t be able to explain just why.

If a cover doesn’t attract him, he doesn’t click through to that book, perhaps to his loss. It might have been precisely the book he was hoping to find, but he won’t know because he won’t get to the first page. He won’t see the author’s words because he won’t get past the cover.

In the early days of printing, from Gutenberg onward, a cover’s chief role was to protect the pages from the elements. Not until the twentieth century, with the advent of dust jackets, was there much room for artistry on covers. Before then, covers were noted for their leatherwork or binding, but they did little to attract purchasers who otherwise hadn’t been looking for those particular volumes.

(I have a forty-volume set of the collected works of John Henry Newman, published by multiple publishing houses over a several-year span in the 1870s and 1880s. The leather covers are wonderfully designed, with raised ribs and gilt lettering. They are among the handsomest books I’ve ever seen, but those covers were not marketing devices per se.)

Paperbacks didn’t come into wide use until after World War II. In parallel with the general expansion of advertising, their covers became tools to foster sales, though few early paperbacks sported covers that could be called first-rate designs. Over the succeeding decades paperback covers improved only slowly, perhaps understandably so, since nearly all books were purchased in book stores, where they could be held in the hand and considered at leisure.

Then came online book stores and self-publishing. Competition for eyeballs became intense—and remains so. Throughout the era of paperback domination and, before that, of hardbacks, advertising for books largely was independent of the books themselves. There were ads in newspapers, magazines, and, of course, catalogues, but all that largely has disappeared. Display ads once turned a profit for publishers. They long have ceased to do so. Today the dynamics are different, which means the purpose of covers is different.

I hope over time to find ways to impress upon members of my writers club that they need to become as serious about their books’ covers as they are about their books’ words. Not just that: I want to impress upon them that, while they might occasionally use other means of promotion, such as book signings, their sales chiefly will come—if they come at all—as a consequence of buyers seeing their covers and delighting in them.

Two and a half centuries ago Samuel Johnson quipped that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” In his case—at least until he received a pension from the King—that literally was true. If Johnson didn’t write, he didn’t eat. But not everyone then or now writes for money. Some people just want to see their words enshrined in print, and they don’t much care whether anyone else ever reads what they wrote.

But most writers, even the most inexperienced, hope to have a wide readership. That requires wide sales, and nowadays wide sales require fine covers. That’s just the way it is.

Intermezzo 1

There is the critique of a cover, and then there is the critique of the critic. Let me share an account of how not to handle criticism that is negative, even if only mildly.

Joel Friedlander runs a site popular with indie authors, The Book Designer. He has written several books useful to self-publishers, offers training programs, and sells a wide array of book-design templates for use in Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, and Adobe InDesign.

For seven years Friedlander has run a monthly cover design contest. Authors of published books submit their covers for consideration and comment. An average month might feature one hundred covers, three quarters of them fiction, the rest non-fiction. Friedlander chooses a winner from each category and gives gold stars to also-rans. To most books he gives one or two sentences of comment. About some—including most of the worst-designed covers—he politely says nothing.

Usually the winning covers are by professional designers. A few names rise to the top repeatedly. On occasion a winning cover will have been designed by the author, but this is rare. Usually author-designed covers are easy to spot because of their artistic and typographical limitations.

The cover of The Kitty was submitted for the June 2017 competition. The designer was the author, Shawn P. Flynn. Friedlander gave two sentences as comment: “Ah, who doesn’t love cats? This amateur cover makes it clear what you will find inside.”

I suppose that could be taken two ways, regarding “what you will find inside.” It could be taken to mean that inside you will find stuff about this particular kitty, or it might be taken to mean that inside you will find writing as amateurish as the cover design. The author took it the second way, but I think most people would take Friedlander’s comment the first way. After all, the book is about a cat “Who Rescued Me After I Rescued Him.” The subtitle pretty much explains “what you will find inside.”

The author was dissatisfied with Friedlander’s short remark and wrote a comment at The Book Designer:

“Thanks for your comments about The Kitty Who Rescued Me After I Rescued Him. We actually field tested several cover concepts, and this was the one that was preferred by the overwhelming majority of participants across all testing platforms (mostly cat lovers). It was designed to have a similar look and feel to James Bowen’s bestseller A Street Cat Named Bob, published by St. Martin’s Press.

“As for the interior, we designed it after reviewing your templates. So, one could argue that even you helped to design the book. Amy Collins [author of a book on self-publishing] also provided feedback on both the cover design and the interior. Judging from the reviews on Amazon (currently 4.9 out of 5 stars) and the other favorable reviews received, target readers have been delighted with the book! But, what do I know, right, heck, you’re The Book Designer.

“Thanks again for your comments, Joel, and I hope you are having a great day!”

Friedlander replied more diplomatically than I might have been inclined to:

“Shawn, I’m glad you ‘field tested’ your cover and that your book is well reviewed. It’s not uncommon to find books that are selling well despite bad or ineffective covers. (Although one wonders how much better they would be selling with great covers!) As long as your target market has no objection to an obviously amateur book production, what’s to worry?”

Friedlander didn’t back down. He was firm yet polite: “Your cover seems to be working? Great! But it’s still a bad cover.”

Flynn, not knowing when to stop, wrote another comment:

“Joel, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that you can’t make the comment ‘amateur book production’ without having evaluated any other part of the book including the spine, back cover, copyright page, rest of the interior, or even reading the story (although I expect now you’ll say that you did). You remind me of a cliché and lose all credibility as a result.

“I see, however, that you typically select one person each month to be an opinion to. And judging from the language at the top of this page about ‘constructive criticism’ and then not providing any constructive suggestions, you clearly are attempting to simply create controversy with your comments. You obviously don’t understand how constructive criticism is defined. It is unfortunate that you feel the need to be such an opinion to visitors of your website. I hope you feel better about yourself now.

“But, I get it, because I didn’t pay you to create my cover or participate in the process, it must be an amateur production. I find it particularly revealing that you did not address my comment that the interior is based on one of your templates. As such, my ‘amateur book production’ must make use of an amateur book template. Therefore, your readers should note that you are selling book templates that are of amateur quality.

“You know what they say about opinions, Joel, and apparently you are just one big opinion!”

Let’s take this paragraph by paragraph.

The monthly cover design contest is a contest about cover design, not about a book’s interior layout. (If it were about interior layout, it’s hard to see how evaluating the copyright page would be an important part of that.) Nor does one need to read the story to judge the cover.

I will say this, having looked through part of the book: the copyright page is handsomely designed. It looks quite professional, as does the table of contents. But the actual contents do not. Amazon lists this paperback as having 102 pages, but the pages are double-spaced, giving them an odd look. Flynn claims that the layout was “based on one of [Friedlander’s] templates,” but apparently no template by Friedlander was purchased or used (none of them feature double-spacing).

As for Flynn’s second paragraph, he accuses Friedlander of “attempting to simply create controversy” with his comments, but it seems evident that Friedlander tried to do precisely the opposite by saying little about a cover he considered to be poorly-executed.

In his third paragraph, Flynn accuses Friedlander of panning his cover because there was no backsheesh. Friedlander must have called the cover amateur only because he saw no money coming his way. “[M]y ‘amateur book production’ must make use of an amateur book template,” pouted Flynn—a template that may have inspired him though he didn’t purchase it.

In this exchange Flynn did everything wrong. His remarks—and his attitude—should be a lesson for authors who design their own covers. The odds are that such covers will have problems that the author-designers will be unconscious of. They might be taken aback by a reviewer’s comments, even when those comments are phrased kindly, as were Friedlander’s in this case.

When that happens, it usually is good to remember the admonition “mum’s the word!”