Underneath the covers

By AJ Llewellyn

What you didn’t know about how books covers are created

Many years ago, when I first started out writing MM romance novels, a reader informed me that a well-known and extremely bitchy review site had nominated the cover of my then-new release The Forbidden Island for a prize.

I was surprised they even knew who I was because I wasn’t one of the cool authors. The now-defunct Reviews by Jessewave was a nasty site that fawned over a handful of “elite” authors and vomited over everyone else. Frankly, I was relieved they ignored me because I dreaded getting one of their hatchet jobs—much as I sort of got a guilty giggle/gasp out of reading some of their awful reviews.

So, imagine my surprise to learn they were nominating me for a prize! I followed the link my reader sent me and was horrified to learn that I’d been nominated for Worst Cover of the Year award.

I did shed a tear. Okay, many, because they posted the cover, and the comments were simply shocking. It was my second romance novel, and I feared my career was over. Then I took my dog-therapist for a walk, came back, and posted a comment of my own. I wrote, “Thanks for nominating me! Do I get a bun or something if I win?”

I guess they liked my sense of humor because Wave herself responded with “What on earth were you thinking when you picked that cover?”

As smart and groovy as she and her gaggle of misfits thought they were, they clearly had NO idea how romance novels work online. I responded with the fact that my cover artist was also my publisher. No, I wasn’t crazy about the cover, and I wasn’t thrilled she’d used Poser, an art program that has probably improved a lot by now to create one of the three men in my story. But I also pointed out, I had to take into consideration the cover artist’s feelings.

Wave seemed shocked. She had no idea that this happened all the time. I soon learned, as did she, that many small online presses published ebooks designed by the publishers themselves.

To me, it was also stunning that she’d picked a cover by my cover artist/publisher under her pen name. The debate went on for days and she got an education she hadn’t expected.

I won the prize for worst cover of the year, but never got a bun. Nothing!

But here’s my point. That book sold its ass off, surprising me and everyone else. So, yes, covers are important, but sometimes, readers will overlook a cover to get to what is important. The story.

The Forbidden Island ended up being the third book in my Phantom Lover series. Over the years, I took back the rights of all 16 books once they lapsed and hired my own cover artist, in this case, the glorious and sadly retired Karrie Jax. I had new covers made for all my books. When you are paying a professional cover artist yourself, it’s much easier to tweak things and go back and forth with them. If you work with an artist unwilling to give you a cover you love, find someone else.

I’ve paid artists for covers I ended up not using. I’ve gone through hell with a couple of them who told me all their problems, hit me up for more money and then did not deliver. Or delivered covers that were simply unusable. I’ve had publishers give me covers they wouldn’t refine, and it hurt. An early cover of another book I love, Mating Tomeo, was so sloppily done it looked like one of the men had a booger on his nose. Truly. See for yourself.

But since I have more and more books self-published now, I have more control, not that I am an artist. Not at all.

I love the cover of The Forbidden Island that Karrie gave me. And I still love this book. I wrote it after being given the rare opportunity to visit Ni’ihau, the actual Forbidden Island of Hawaii.

My books are like my children. I want them out there, dressed as beautifully as they can be. And I want them to be beautiful both inside and out.

Here are the current covers:

How do you feel about covers? Leave a comment below.

AJ Llewellyn

Bestselling author A.J. Llewellyn

lives in California, but dreams of living in Hawaii. Frequent trips to all the islands, bags of Kona coffee in the fridge and a healthy collection of Hawaiian records keep this writer refueled.

A.J’s passion for the islands led to writing a play about the overthrow of Queen Lili’uokalani’s kingdom.

A.J. never lacks inspiration for writing erotic romances but has many other passions: collecting books on Hawaiiana, surfing and spending time with family, friends and animal companions.

A.J. Llewellyn believes that love is a song best sung out loud.

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