I published a well-reviewed crime novel last year—August 2021—that didn’t make much of an impact on the reading public. I type this with great disappointment and regret because I believe Loser Baby is easily the most effective, intricate book I’ve written. Loser Baby deserves a wider audience! So, anyway, I spent a fair amount of time, post-mortem, trying to determine why the book tanked. The few people who read it loved it, particularly if they were in tune with what I was going for. Now, admittedly, the book is self-published, so it’s got that going against it, right from the start. But I put a big, expensive marketing push behind that book, including blog tours, high-profile advance reviews, interviews, and bookstore appearances in multiple states. And it went nowhere.
About a year later, I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that, dammit, the cover wasn’t quite right.
And I preface all this by saying that I devoted a LOT of time and effort to the cover image, with essential help from my friends Michael Morris (artist) and Kirk Whitham (designer). The art was my concept, and I will always insist that Michael’s execution was wonderful. Kirk’s design, including the cinderblock-inspired title font, was equally on-target. I’m proud of the image we came up with for Jasmine Frank, Loser Baby herself.
But in the conceptual stage, I believe I erred in a couple ways. First, as much as I love a painterly cover, and as much as I believe Michael’s cover art is effective on a large scale, it just doesn’t work at the thumbnail size, which is what most people are looking at nowadays when they shop for books. I’m the type of writer (and reader!) who really values the physical presentation of a book, the work of art that you can hold in your hand and admire. In that capacity, the painterly cover ROCKED! The image conveyed Jasmine’s pain and determination, and I thought it would serve the book well. However, viewed in extremely small format as a digital preview of the ebook, it was muddy and lost. The second way I erred was that the image focused on Jasmine’s pain and sorrow and brokenness rather than her ultimate strength as an eventually badass character. It’s true that Loser Baby puts Jasmine through the emotional wringer, but in the end she’s a strong character who shows incredible power. I should’ve focused on that aspect.
Well, I’ve decided to give Loser Baby a second life by fixing those conceptual mistakes and re-releasing her. Whereas the first edition of Loser Baby will always feature the Michael Morris cover art (and obviously become a collector’s item!), I’m publishing a new version with brand-new cover art. Think of the new Loser Baby as the mass market edition. Yeah, that’s the ticket!
My main task was to match the look of the new Loser Baby cover to the look of my latest book, Tessa Goes Down. For that book (which you should DEFINITELY check out if you like naughty noir), I decided to go with a stark, eye-catching look inspired by the Richard Stark series of Parker novels published by the University of Chicago Press ten or fifteen years ago. Those Parker covers always struck me as simple but extremely effective in conveying tone and content. They’re eye-catching in all the right ways, especially for this era of thumbnail viewing—in essence, judging books by their (tiny) covers. Tessa is clearly inspired by the cover for The Hunter, and I wanted Loser Baby to have a similar design, with the key difference of color palette. With the help of designer extraordinaire Kirk Whitham, we set to work coming up with a stark, powerful, colorful, blisteringly cool yet simple design.
But, in the end, the REAL difference is in the attitude of the young woman in the cover image. This simple change—altering the tone from downbeat and tearful to friggin’ IN CHARGE—makes a big difference from an emotional perspective. Regardless of the size of this new image, I think it will inspire a new initial reaction among potential readers. Perhaps with the old cover, readers’ first impression was, “Man, I don’t want to spend any time with that crying woman!” My hope now is that they’ll look at this new image and say, “Get me aboard this kickass ride!”
Hey, an author can dream.
And, oh, a final word about consistency in cover art across series. I’ve long been a proponent of a uniform look across series of books, as evidenced by my Blood trilogy. Those books are even spread across two different publishers, and it was still of paramount importance that they look “of a piece.” Christopher Nowell (my designer at that time) and I went to great pains with Draw Blood and Blood Dawn to mimic the look of Blood Red, and—again—to differ really only by color and figure placement. Although Loser Baby and Tessa Goes Down aren’t connected by characters or plot like the Blood books are, they do share the new genre I’m exploring, and thus can be considered part of my new “line of GenZ neo-noir thrillers.” It’s maybe my small way of establishing a new brand for myself.
We’ll see how it all goes!