by J.T. Ellison

I’m feeling a bit schizophrenic this week — so much is happening, so many things to do, that I find it hard to give each item my full attention. It’s been a week of good news, of catching up, of diligent research and not nearly enough writing. But that’s okay, it’s coming. I have a title for the 4th book in the Taylor Jackson series as of Wednesday.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m worthless if I don’t have a title, and I’ve proven that to myself yet again. The new book is going along, but I haven’t been feeling those EUREKA moments. Which scared me to death. Am I done after three? Can I not do this anymore? Why can’t I come up with a title for this book that pleases everyone?????

Then, Tuesday night, in the middle of torture America(n) Idol, I realized that something was humming in my brain. I’ve been looking at titles that are symbolically telling, that encapsulate the story of the book into one or two words. What I was neglecting to do was step away from what I think the story is about and look deeper. Past the plot. Past the characters. Past the twists. Look deep into the series. Into what I, as a writer, am trying to do.


The title appeared within five minutes. I was telling Randy I was almost there… I felt like I was on the edge… the edge? And then it came to me. I said it aloud and got goosebumps. I knew. This was it. I sent off the email to New York, fingers crossed. I got the big YES emails back. We have liftoff.

Which magically settled everything into place. I renamed all the file folders, the manuscript, the research files on the laptop. Suddenly, the research makes sense. The story is coming together, all the backstory floating around in my head is piecing its molecules into a semblance of coherence…. I’m writing a book again instead of talking about writing a book. The relief, as I’m sure you understand, is palpable.

It shouldn’t be like this. Any professional writer will laugh at you if you say you can’t write without a title.  And I’m blessed, because the original 4th title was the first that got rejected by the house. So, now that I have all that behind me…

Oh, the title? EDGE OF BLACK

I’m in love.

Which leads me to cover art. I can not wait to see what they do with that.

Art is the most exciting part of the publication process for me. I fill out the art sheets, give my synopsis and themes, the hidden metaphors for the titles, and sit back, anticipating what the artists will dream up.

I’ve been blown away both times now. It’s so much fun getting that email from my editor, knowing that something spectacular lies within. I’m having what I assume to be a rare experience — twice now, my editor has sent me a cover and I’ve said yes immediately, no changes, no worries. Granted, Mira’s done a very nice job of branding me. The scratchy, insane asylum font, the graphic scenes, the bold colors… what’s not to love?

I know we’ve talked about covers a hundred times. I think we return to it, again and again, because there’s a certain element of communication intrinsic in cover art. A good one gets you noticed. A bad one, just like a bad title, and the readers will pass you by.

But what is it really that draws us? Isn’t there a certain reality that the writer doesn’t have anything to do with their covers? Yes, we have input, but just like titles, the publisher makes the final decision based on their publication model.

Getting your first cover is a bit overwhelming. Especially for authors who are less than enthralled by their art. How do you tell your house that you aren’t thrilled? It’s hard. But open lines of communication make life easier for everyone.

Anyway… all that’s just a precursor for the main event today. Like I said, lots happened this week. I’ve been given the go ahead to release my next cover. I’ve been sitting on it for what feels like months (only two) and can’t wait for everyone to see it. I sent out my newsletter early this month so I’d have a chance to debut it to the fans first. (Okay, that was a heady little statement.)

So, without further ado… the second installment of Taylor Jackson and John Baldwin is going to look like this…


Another completely visceral reaction on my part when I got this in my inbox. I was so taken with the look… but the copy was great too:

Ten victims, each with pale skin and long dark hair.

All have been slashed across the throat, the same red lipstick smeared across their lips.

In the mid-1980s the Snow White Killer terrorized the streets of
Nashville, Tennessee. Then suddenly the murders stopped. A letter from
the killer to the police stated that his work was done.

Now four more bodies are found, marked with his fatal signature. The
residents of Nashville fear a madman has returned, decades later, to
finish his sick fairy tale. Homicide Lieutenant Taylor Jackson believes
the killings are the work of a copycat killer who’s even more
terrifying. For this monster is meticulously honing his craft as he
mimics famous serial murders…proving that the past is not to be

Creepy, huh? I think they did a great job.  I was chilled to the bone.

So tell me, have you ever seen a cover that’s stayed with you? Something that really rocked your world?

And the update question: Do you have a title in the closet that you’re desperate to use but no one will let you? Or something you’ve fallen in love with and are saving for your Magnum Opus?

Wine of the Week: Penfolds Thomas Hyland Shiraz 2003  I agree with the sentiment that now is too soon to get the full body of this wine, but it’s pretty good regardless.

27 thoughts on “Identity

  1. billie

    JT, you have another great cover – congratulations! And on your newest title.

    Short of sitting here pulling books off the shelf, I can’t think of a specific book cover that knocked my socks off. But I do love cover art, and I think the ones I love the most offer a glimpse into the book in some way, either symbolic or actual, and one that becomes even more clear AFTER I’ve read the book, so I look back to the cover and think, aha!

    I studied photography back in my younger days and still love it, so any time a book cover uses a gorgeous photograph I’m going to notice it.

  2. Will Bereswill

    First of all, congratulations on everything, JT. Waiting for the release of my first book has been maddening, so it’s nice to read about your sucess.

    I think cover art does influence me when I buy, but I can’t say I remember any, other than The Stand by Stephen King. And I think I remeber that because I don’t think it did the novel inside, justice.

    I’m sure I’ll change my mind when I see my own cover art for the first time, which should be very soon.

  3. Louise Ure

    I’m a sucker for great covers, JT, and yours are fabulous.

    How about Tim Maleeny’s cover art? Exotic, intriguing … definitely eye catching.

    I’m with you on titles, too. Have to have one or I can’t even start a book. I’m in the uncomfortable position of not having one now. I’ll start the fourth book on April 1, when I’m done tweaking this current one. That means only two more weeks to come up with a title …

  4. pari noskin taichert

    Titles mean so much to me, J.T., and I never bore of thinking about them — of studying them.

    Congrats on the new title AND that gorgeous, scary cover.

    Sheesh. Where do you come up with these ideas, girl? You’re making me nervous . . .

  5. JT Ellison

    Pari, you know I’m already in the house… insert Jaws theme here…

    Louise — you come up with incredible titles. FORCING AMARYLLIS and THE FAULT TREE… will there be a nature component to your next as well?

    Will, I can’t wait for your book. Can’t wait! And thanks for the congrats. We’ll be toasting you very soon!

  6. JT Ellison

    Billie, you’ve said what I was hoping someone could say so we can go to town with this.

    “Short of sitting here pulling books off the shelf, I can’t think of a specific book cover that knocked my socks off”

    I think without a brand, it’s very, very hard to remember the cover. Yes, you know your friend’s (Marcus Sakey’s AT THE CITY’S EDGE comes to mind — it’s one I think is very effective (here’s his website if you want to go look –

    The historicals have brilliant covers, but it’s easier, I think, because you need to have all the period detail to depict the story.

    But an interesting, effective and memorable brand is Lee Child. The target. Delacourt does this on all his US books (the UK covers are different.) But you see that target and you know it is a Lee Child book.

    Anyone else know of a great branding identity?

  7. Lori G. Armstrong

    JT- congrats on coming up with a killer title 🙂 We chatted at LCC about that last week and I was relieved to know I’m not the only author who HAS to have a title before I can begin work on a book.

    Stunning cover, too – thrilled for you 🙂

  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I either have a title from the beginning or not until I’m done with the book. It’s annoying not to have a title but I’m so used to having to change titles it’s also sometimes a good thing not to get too attached.

    Covers… I always go for spooky ones but rarely remember particular covers, even though I really appreciate the good ones at the time I’m reading. I try to keep in mind that the quality of the cover has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the quality of the book (I’m thinking right now of Tana French’s IN THE WOODS, which I would never have bought because of the cover, and I sure would have missed out.)

    Joe Konrath’s got the ultimate brand going, and great covers.

  9. Louise Ure

    I think I left you with the impression that the book due in two weeks doesn’t have a title. Not so! That one’s called LIARS ANONYMOUS. It’s the one I start work on on April 1. It’s a great idea but the name …?

  10. Bill Cameron

    I tend to muddle along without a title for a long time, or come up with a title and use it more as a placeholder. Lost Dog didn’t get titled until I was working on my final submission pass. My second one had so many titles I can’t even remember them anymore. It landed on Chasing Smoke, which is what I’m calling it, but I know that might not be it once a publisher is on the scene. I have a title for my third one, but I know it’s not the final title because it doesn’t feel right in my mouth when I say it. But where the title is hiding I couldn’t tell you.

    Funny, I do feel like I’m muddling along a bit with this one. I don’t know if finding the right title would make a difference or not.

    I love your new title, JT. And the cover is really striking and creepy for 14. You’ve got a great look working for you!

  11. Bryon Quertermous

    I think you need more lace and pictures of girls and high heeled shoes…

    (slapped on arm and whispered to by secret elf)

    Oh, right you write serial killer stuff. I mean, of course I read your book. That Lucas Davenport is awesome.

  12. j.t. ellison

    Bryon, I blow raspberries in your general direction : )

    Bill, there may be something to it. I just cast about when I don’t have a title, looking for . . . something. The weird thing was the title for book 4 got changed, they didn’t want the first iteration, and that was like a massive mental tsunami… I’ll need tog et past this eventually. I loved the alternate title for CHASING SMOKE, but it’s up to you to share it.

    Louise, I knew what you meant, though I wasn’t too clear. LIARS ANONYMOUS is totally cool! And you’re right, Tim Maleeny’s covers are awesome.

    I’m going to go back in the post and ask another question…

    Lori, so great to see you! I was bemoaning my fate at lunch, wasn’t I? I’m a real drag when I’m in the title hunt.

    Alex, your titles are so cool, I can’t imagine you ever having any trouble coming up with the perfect fit.

  13. Naomi

    I think I’m comment 14, so does that mean I win something?

    Anyway, I think that your branding has indeed been superb. I agree with you about Lee Child’s covers–it’s consistent, so you know what you’re getting. Other covers for series that seem to have this strong unique sense include: Alexander McCall Smith, Jacqueline Winspear, I.J. Parker, Joanne Fluke, and J.A. Konrath. Most of these mentioned are illustrated–whatever that means. I think the industry needs to get away from using the same stock photography on covers. It gets very old and is forgettable.

  14. Bill Cameron

    The alt for Chasing Smoke is OBLIVION OF HUMMINGBIRDS. Much as I like it, as time passes, it seems less potent to me. Maybe it’s just a sense of familiarity with Chasing Smoke has settled in. Anyway, I know it’s get reviewed and possibly changed by the someday publisher anyway. Hell, they might come up with a suggestion that slays me, so it’s all good.

  15. j.t. ellison

    Yay! Tasha’s here! Let’s the games begin! Miss you, sugar.

    Naomi — you are the 14th, which means I’ll send you an ARC when I have them. Fair enough??? And yes, these covers with the same stock photography is a detriment, I think. Thanks for the good list…

    Rob, don’t even think about teasing me. Grr… You always have great titles too. How do you come up with them?

    And yes, Joe Konrath has an excellent brand going — not just cover art, but title, theme and character. It’s brilliant. Kudos to you, Joe!

    Bill, Oblivion of Hummingbirds was so perfect simply because of the poignancy factor, that scene in the middle… well, I won’t give it away, but it was one of those passages that your heart goes THUMP and your breath goes WHOOSH and you realize you’re in the presence of greatness.

  16. Catherine

    In my experience good cover art can catch my peripheral vision and draw me in for a look.I do base a purchase on content, however the art and font do grab me initially. As a font fiend, I like the skittery font on your books JT, and I’m really impressed with how well Louise’s Fault Tree cover works with the content.

    An author who has artwork that is very distinctive is Charlaine Harris. I think the majority of her bookcovers are all the one artist, Lisa Desimini. One of her books in her Harper Connelly series,’Grave Surprise’, has this tattered jack in the box with a skull on the end. Big impact.

    Also congrats on the breakthrough regarding your fourth title. It will be interesting what artwork they come up with to marry that title.

  17. toni

    Love the title and that cover rocks. And I love the new title, Edge of Black. I just may have to kidnap you and force you to help me title book 3. (I have no clue.)

  18. j.t. ellison

    Toni, I’d love (love, love, love) to help. ; )

    Catherine, too right! Charlaine’s books definitely have a great brand. Do the covers in Australia differ from her US covers?

    Karen, thanks! Hope you’re feeling better!!!

  19. Fran

    Look at that cover! It’s gonna sell itself, I bet. I’ll just sit back and watch…no, of course I won’t.

    Great titles, great covers, great stories – what else can you ask for? Congratulations, J.T.!

  20. j.t. ellison

    FRAN!!! Hey there! It was such an honor to meet you in Denver! Nothing cooler than meeting the folks from the Murderati back blog in person… and Fran was too sweet for words. Thanks for making the con so great.

  21. Zoe Sharp

    Hi JT – sorry, been away from my e-mail for most of this week and just catching up. Great title, great cover! You must be thrilled 😉

    Nothing surprises me more than the difference in cover design between my UK and US publishers. I’ve just seen proposed mmpb covers for SECOND SHOT in both countries and they couldn’t be more different. Weird.

    And before St Martin’s asked for a numerically sequenced title, SECOND SHOT was going to be called FALL LINE, which I loved because as every skier knows, the fall line is the fastest way down hill.

    And yes, the title almost always comes first, usually way before I’ve even started the book. Easy when they’re two-word titles in a series, but this new one’s proving a bit more tricky …

  22. Catherine

    JT,Charlaine’s cover art remains the same as the American version here in Australia.It seems we sometimes get the UK covers or the US version…as long as we get the books.

    Sometimes the release date here is months after the US.Case in point is the Killer Year, I’ve been badgering my local bookstore a bit,well consistently over the last couple of months anyway about when it’s available.I think my attempt at delayed gratification is about over though, as I’ve found a store that bypasses the you get what you’re given method, and imports directly from the US.

    Also I am surprised by some of the cover art decisions by the large type companies.

    I realise Large type seems to often be from a different publisher than where the book is orginally published…it’s just that the large type covers are a little bland and often bear little link to the content.Not sure if this common?

  23. j.t. ellison

    Catherine, that one I don’t know.

    I know my Australian release was only one month after my US release, but my cover was different. It was very cool, but aside from the hand and color scheme, totally different. I loved them both!

    Let me know if you can’t get the anthology — I’ll send you one.

    Zoe, I’m glad you weighed in on this. DO you get a double thrill from seeing the two separate covers?

    I love Fall Line. Hold onto that one, for sure. : )

  24. Zoe Sharp

    Hi JT

    Yes, I always get a huge thrill from seeing the covers. It turns a typescript into a ‘proper’ novel, gives the book its whole identity. Or two separate identities, as the case may be.

    But I approach talking about the character and the books differently in the UK and the US anyway, so I feel the covers highlight those differences.

    The only cover I really hated was the Italian one for RIOT ACT, but I got no say in the matter.


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