Welcome Guest Blogger Sean Chercover

A Crazy Idea?  Or The Future of Publishing?
So, Trigger City is
out and I’m in the midst of my tour, town-to-town, up and down the dial
… which makes Tess’s post about the evolution of author tours even more
In order to ease the pain, I’d like to talk about a crazy idea.
I’ve often wondered why, with all the technology at our disposal, the
process of book cover selection hasn’t evolved.  It seems to me that a
book cover is just about the easiest thing in the world to
test-market.  It can even be done online.
potential book covers are shown around the publishing house, to the
author and author’s agent, and perhaps most importantly, to the buyers
at some of the bigger bookstore chains.
why not gather feedback from the front-line booksellers, indie stores,
librarians, book clubs, and readers across the country?
So I asked around, and mostly I heard that my idea was crazy, and variations on, “That’s just not the way we do things.”  But the forward-thinking folks at William Morrow were intrigued and agreed to let me share some of the book covers that were not chosen for Trigger City, and to gather feedback.
I’m psyched to offer you a glimpse behind the curtain and share a few
of these runner-up covers with you, along with a few words about the
deliberations that went into choosing. You can rate the different
designs, and we will share the feedback with the publisher.
This is just a fun experiment.  But looking forward, I see a time when we do this sort of thing before the final decision is made.  Wouldn’t that be cool?  Could this be the future?
Incidentally, I love the cover for Trigger City and
I think we chose the best one, but there were some other excellent
covers that didn’t get chosen, and I’m really curious to hear what
y’all think.
This interactive experiment takes place in the behind the scenes section of my website, here. When asked for username and password, enter "triggercity" (without the quotes) in both fields.
Let’s hear your opinion, on the covers and on this crazy idea…
big thank-you to the good folks at HarperCollins for allowing me to do
this … and a HUGE thank you to the awesome gang at Murderati for having
me as a guest blogger.]

-Sean, it was our pleasure!-

Formerly a private investigator in Chicago and New Orleans, Sean
Chercover has since written for film, television, and print. His debut
novel, Big City, Bad Blood, received the Gumshoe and
Crimespree Magazine awards for best first novel, was shortlisted for
the ITW Thriller and Arthur Ellis awards, and is nominated for the
Shamus, the Barry and the Anthony Awards.
When he’s not on the road, you can find him in Chicago or Toronto.  Trigger City is his second novel.


24 thoughts on “Welcome Guest Blogger Sean Chercover

  1. Catherine

    I found my own response to some very small things regarding the covers lurking at the back of your website a bit interesting. I didn’t know I absorbed so many impressions from cover imagery.

    I quite like the first cover, even the fairly personal looking down a gun barrel aspect … and although I recognise the vintage feel of the font…to me it doesn’t carry equal weight with the imagery. So somehow it loses impact.

    I agree on your comment on the second cover being a bit happy…actually it does sort of reek of happiness. I think it has something to do with the clearness of the image. For someone that hasn’t visited Chicago or watched much TV set there, the Chicago skyline is a moot point, as I wouldn’t recognise it if it bit me…

    This is a bit bizarre, but in turns of vibe this cover is feeling a bit Tampa to me , if Tampa had a denser high rise. (I have visited Tampa)

    Again for the third one I wouldn’t know it was an aerial view of Chicago…but I don’t think that matters all that much, as I do like the shadow of the gun and general colour and layout though. To me it comes off as broody and ominous…direct opposite of happy. I do like the red title font too.Also I think I’d be curious if I saw this in the distance as I wouldn’t be sure what the background was…therefore drawing me closer to have a look and pick up etc…just a short step away from purchase.

    The fourth cover for some reason makes me think it could be ideal for a larger print range. I like it and it has a good balance between misty and clear. Also I look at it and again get the ominous gun thing, plus even though I wouldn’t recognise the image as Chicago, I can see it’s a city that’s not all sparkly.

    The fifth cover is where I hadn’t realised how much I associated this particular colour set with Miami. I can appreciate the imagery, but the colours do evoke a certain Tequila Sunrise-esque vibe.

    I think that you have picked the best cover; it has a good mix of clear bold font, plenty of white space, the black white image within the gun outline, and the muted skin tone. I think considering the amount of time I spend in bookstores and libraries I’ve got a fair idea of what stands out…I’d say this should stand out well on the shelf too.

    As for this being a crazy idea? I’d say a quick dip into the opinions of an interested sample group of end users could be a valuable tool as part of the decision process. In terms of marketing it could be another way to engage interest in the book…a point of difference. It has an element of online relationship building.

    I really enjoyed Big City Bad Blood.I’m looking forward to reading Trigger City.

  2. Jake Nantz

    Mr. Chercover,I really would have liked to see that first cover you spoke about, with the x-ray. I’m betting if it had been done blue outline on white (instead of black) it would have stood out.

    I also agree with Catherine about the two that have a very Florida-esque feel. Your first, had it been an automatic instead of a revolver, would have really appealed to me and maybe gotten rid of SOME of the “period piece” argument. I’m fine with staring down the barrel of a gun, as long as it’s on a bookshelf.

    As far as the rest, I definitely agree that you guys chose the best one. Personally, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with my story, I’m hoping for a little lime green on black if this current WIP gets a publisher. Something about that just stands out to me over the usual blue-on-black or red-on-black that you see so much of on today’s shelves…especially in MMPB. Kinda like Ms. Gerritsen’s THE SINNER.

    I also wonder if part of the worry over the period piece bit was the title, which sounds very noir…kinda Sam Spade-ish.

    Either way, can’t wait to read TRIGGER CITY!

  3. Marianne

    What Catherine said. 😀 As much as I liked number 5 and that it had the correct ‘look’, I can see why the final one you chose is the better reflection of the story. All that white, large type and vignette illustration reflect what publishers call ‘the big book look’: ie, the blockbuster look. The earlier versions of the cover don’t quite convey that.

    As for the publishers knowing what they want: yes, that is one thing, but it is the DISTRIBUTORS who dictate the cover material these days. They want to be able to sell it to the widest possible audience, beginning with sales from Target and Walmart. How do I know this? Personal experience. My husband has been a cover artist for thirty years, and I had a brief career with a small publisher. The small publisher told me what they wanted, the author got involved too, and after many approval stages I gave them what they asked for. Thumbs up all round, right? No. The Distributor hated it and made them cut it down to a small vampire head from the background and placed it front and center. It looked awful, but the publisher was forced to go with it because with all of the dicking around they did with the original version, they’d run out of time. I gave up after that. The book was a vampire police procedural, natch that they wanted a vampire on the front. The author wanted a Kelly Rippa lookalike heroine with police accoutrements AND something to cover the romance aspect AND a vampire. Sigh. Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t. The bigger publishers have a better time dealing with and understanding the distributors, and they also have better practice at knowing what sells and ask for it. 😀

    Good on you for getting a great cover, Sean.


  4. Tammy Cravit

    I cast my votes on your site, but I ultimately think I like the one that was chosen best of the group.

    On the other hand, I have to think that “because we’ve always done it that way” is among the worst reasons one can come up with to support the status quo, and it frustrates me to no end when I hear people in the publishing industry (or other businesses) say that sort of thing. Just because something’s always been done a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean that way continues to be the most effective method for achieving the goal. Kudos to you and your publisher for being willing to entertain other ideas.

  5. B.G. Ritts

    I really like the runner-up, but won’t know whether I’d prefer it to the final cover until I read the book (which will be soon). I tend to like blue, so that is probably part of my reaction. The only other one that I had a positive reaction to was the more colorful version of the final.

    I think your idea is a solid one, Sean. No matter how much ‘inhouse experience’ is looking at something, the public can occasionally pick up on some point that no one else has noticed.

    It was wonderful seeing you and your family in Baltimore. (Your son’s a nifty little guy — but you already know that!)

  6. Louise Ure

    You wound up with a great cover, Sean, but I adored that “period piece” initial effort, too.

    Come to think of it, I would have wanted the suicidal skeleton, too.

  7. toni mcgee causey

    Very cool post Sean–loved seeing the other efforts. I like the one you have best, and the runner up second, as well. I do agree that first one had a very noir feel, almost a throwback to another generation, and I would have “read” that cover at a distance as a period piece, too.

    But I agree about test marketing on line.

  8. pari

    Sean,Welcome to Murderati.

    I do know of at least one book cover that was changed based on a national book chain’s comments; basically, the buyer said that if the publisher didn’t follow some of her suggestions, she wouldn’t be able to order as much for all the stores.

    I can’t name the book or the chain — but, believe me, that cover was changed and went on to be a national bestseller (not a mystery, btw).

    True story.

  9. J.D. Rhoades

    Sean! Dude! Welcome to Murderati.

    Put me down as another fan of the ‘period piece’ cover. But I do love that vintage stuff, so mine is not necessarily a mainstream opinion.

    And have I told you lately how much I LOVE the book? Even better than the first one, and that’s saying a lot. Best of luck with it.

  10. Allison Brennan

    I love the idea of test marketing covers! It would probably work with the big or breakout or debut covers the best . . . i.e., what the publisher might be willing to pay for it. Harlequin, I believe, does more reader test-marketing than any other publisher. They have focus groups about covers, images, storylines, etc. But they also have a very well-known target audience, which also helps.

    Love the first cover, but as Toni said, very noir and I instantly thought Maltese Falcon or The Thin Man. I would have picked it up . . . and I may not have bought it if I thought it was a 40s-50s crime novel and it wasn’t. The one thing I hate more than anything are covers that lie–i.e. make me think the book is about one thing or written in a specific tone, and the books is the polar opposite.

    I actually would have loved the second cover if the city was at night or fogged. You’re right, it’s too happy–but I like the red, blue, gold feel of the words and background. Very big-book feeling to me. But that image of the city completely ruined the cover, and I couldn’t really tell it was a hand around the trigger.

    I love the aerial view. I don’t care what city, it’s very ominous and would have me picking it up to see what was inside. But it did look a bit busy.

    While I do like your chosen cover, I really loved the runner-up. The fog, the blues, it spoke to me.

    Even though the last cover is close to your new cover, the improvements on the chosen cover are so fabulous. I don’t like the sunset and the coloring on the white background. Maybe if the background was black, the sunset would have been better, but this had a feeling of being cheesy. And your name doesn’t stand out in the gold against the white background. I really like the changes they made–they made the difference.

    Fun exercise!

    I love, love, love

  11. Allison Brennan

    Pari, I believe it. The cover for THE PREY was changed (actually very small changes, but they made a huge difference) because someone (I don’t know if it was marketing or buyers) felt that it was too sedate and they wanted “movement” on the cover. The artist changed the lighting angle and the woman. The changes were right on the money. Sort of like Sean’s last unchosen cover, the relatively minor changes to the chosen cover really made all the difference.

    Buyers USUALLY (not always) knows what works for their customers, so listening to them is not always a bad idea. But they don’t know everything.

  12. JT Ellison

    Sean, thanks so much for sitting in for me today! I love the chance to look at other iterations of covers. And I agree that the white cover was the right one to go with – it screams BIG BOOK, and that’s what you want.

    Did your publisher ever concern themselves with having a gun on the cover turning away possible women readers? I’ve heard that before and don’t know how true it is.

    And congratulations on being THE debut of 2007. I am so proud of you, and for you! xo

  13. Dana King

    I discovered this neat little poll on Sean’s website and had a lot of fun with it, though the lesson I took away is probably not what was intended.

    As a pre-published author myself (I learned that term at Bouchercon and love it.), I’m still becoming acquainted with all the perpipheral pains in the ass that go along with actual publication. This looks like one more. Writing is great and rewarding fun; publication is a freaking JOB.

    Doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it; everyone needs a certain level of aggravation in his life.

    (Get Well Soon, JT)

  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    One of the chains asked that the initial cover of THE HARROWING be changed,. I still pine for that first cover – I think it was a lot spookier – haunting, really.

    For TC, I like the aerial city view best, too, but I understand the point about the image not reading.

    JT has an interesting point about guns and women readers – I am immediately less interested in a book that has a large gun or gun scope, whatever you call that thing, on a cover.

    I wouldn’t call myself the target audience, though, excuse the pun.

  15. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Sean

    Great post – what an interesting idea to have the runner-up cover designs on your site. I love being involved in the cover design, but at the same time I recognise it is utterly not my area of expertise, so unless I hate the design, I keep my mouth shut!

    And I agree with the majority – you got it right for TRIGGER CITY.

    Great to see you at the launch in NYC. Thank you for inviting me to share your limelight, and I’m sure the book will do great things for you … like it hasn’t done already!

  16. I.J.Parker

    Jeez, you lucky dog!For my first two books at St. Martin’s Press, I wasn’t consulted at all. At Penguin, my previous editor sent me a severe reprimand because I had e-mailed some plot details to the artist (who doesn’t speak enough English to read the book). She pointed out to me that the publisher was paying for the cover, not the author, and that I had no business communicating with the artist. I now see the cover designs and approve them. Still,I’m getting increasingly irritated with the whole business, and complained about the latest. A change was made, but . . .

    You got a fine cover!

  17. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Sean

    First of all – welcome to Murderati. It’s great to see you here.

    And an apology if a second similar comment turns up from me. I posted earlier, but it seems to have disappeared!

    Congrats on the cover – TRIGGER CITY looks great. However they eventually decided it, the final choice works!

    Great to see you in NYC. Thank you so much for inviting me to share the limelight with you at the launch at Partners & Crime.

    I hope the book does great things for you – like it hasn’t done so already!

  18. Jill James

    Sean, they are all awesome covers in their own way, but I think a great cover was chosen, I would pick it up and check it out.

    I am in a focus group for Women’s Day magazine and we help choose the covers for each month. I think the idea of focus groups for testing book covers an excellent idea. They test movies and tv shows, don’t they?

  19. Jude Hardin

    I love the #1 noir cover, but I’m a noir kinda guy. The final choice is awesome too, though, and probably better suited for the mainstream. Best of luck with it, Sean!

  20. Spanish Inquisitor


    I think the cover you chose is the best. I see an almost evolutionary process here, that culminated in the final pick, and it makes sense. And it really fits with the contents, which I think is even better than BC,BB.

    As for the gun scaring away women, isn’t the gun a sort of stand-in, phallically speaking, for…ummm… something that doesn’t scare women? Usually.

    I’m looking forward to #3.

    John P

  21. Allison Brennan

    Hmm, JT, I never heard that about guns and women. But I’m a gunner, so my eye is usually drawn TO a gun, not away from it. Guns on covers tell me it’s a crime novel–PI, cops, bad guys. I like covers that tell me what’s inside. JT’s covers are fantastic, and tell me I’m going to get a thrilling crime novel with a serial killer or other psychopath; Alex’s covers tell me I’m going to get a classic, scary supernatural-type story (I love THE HARROWING . . . now I want to see the original! Did they change between the h/c and paperback? I have the h/c . . . was your first cover different even for the h/c?)

    I don’t like covers that deceive me. I don’t mind ambiguous covers, if done well they draw me in, but one of my pet peeves (which is a problem in romantic suspense) is a cover that is very suspenseful, but the story is not suspenseful; and a new pet peeve are the ultra-sexy RS covers that make me think a book is less suspenseful, so I don’t tend to pick it up. I nearly missed a great book that way, until a friend emailed me about it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *