My Cover Story

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.

ONCE A SPYcover.jpg

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, 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 And rest assured, I will largely stay out of the judging, leaving it up to my esteemed colleagues.

Spanish pieces of eight

Spanish pieces of eight