In August 2010 I came across the below al-Qaeda propaganda poster:
It references Abu Dujana ElKhorosani, the terrorist who exploded himself at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009, killing seven CIA officers). Oddly, the very same day I saw the Al-Qaeda effort, I received this mock-up of the cover design for the paperback version of my novel Once a Spy (a thriller about a spy with Alzheimer’s disease). Kind of similar, right?
I thought: What the heck does it say if your book jacket looks like an al-Qaeda recruitment poster? On top of that, I worried about how prospective readers would respond to the image of a gun being fired at them? I’d really liked this jacket on the hardcover version, which Doubleday had published earlier in the year.
The hardcover had sold like expired tuna, though, despite plenty of the things that you’d want—a grade-A marketing effort, decent reviews, a couple of award nominations, etc. What hope was there, I wondered, for the terrorist-cover version whose marketing effort consisted largely of its shelf appeal in airport and drugstores where no one had heard of it? But in second-guessing the venerable Doubleday sales and marketing team, wouldn’t I be like the patient who’s perused WebMD and then figures he knows more than his surgeons about removing his spleen? That’s where I netted out.
Fortunately. The paperback cracked the New York Times Best Seller List.
Which brings us to the cover of my first book, Pirates of Pensacola, a modern-day pirate novel published by St. Martin’s Press in 2005, back in the days that all books were printed on paper. Recently I reacquired the rights to the book from St. Martin's so that an e-book could be produced by Worldreader.org, which donates e-books to readers in impoverished countries. It turns out that when you re-aquire rights, you get your manuscript back, not the cover. For the cover for Worldreader, I used the drawing I’d hastily made for the Pirates galley in 2004.
One thing I can say for sure about covers: Mine sucks. So now that I’m republishing the book digitally, I'm conducting a covert art contest. The rules, in a nutshell, are send my crew your original cover art by May 24. There are a number of prizes, including a couple of authentic silver “pieces of eight” coins. For the full details of the contest, see http://keiththomsonbooks.com/cover-contest. And rest assured, I will largely stay out of the judging, leaving it up to my esteemed colleagues.