What makes a book grab your attention?

AYearWithoutKilling- FINAL

WHAT DO YOU DO for a living?

Ever get that question?

I do, sometimes, when people ask me what I “do” and I say I do book covers (and book interior layout).

Sometimes I get a half-blank look with the question: “What kind of book covers?”

Then I like to say: the kind that jumps on you in a bookstore. The kind that stands out from the crowd and makes you want to pick up the book and read it.

It’s the weirdest thing. You see, I believe that for most people their first interest in a book is sparked by looking at its cover. Have you ever been in a bookstore, looking for a book on architecture, for example, and out of the corner of your eye a book in the thriller section gets you to look twice?

Something in the combination of “look and title” on that cover jumped straight past your eyes and into your brain. A face, a landmark, a flower, a mood, something someone is doing – yes, even a color.

And now you want to know what this is all about.

Someone is shooting holes into a calendar?? Who does such a thing?

Is this some kind of a countdown to off your Husband or your Wife?

Why does someone not kill for a year? Why have they killed before, and who?

That was the situation when FCEtier asked me to design a cover for his new book, A Year Without Killing. The book cover at the top of the page shows you the results.

Can’t speak for other people but that is pretty much what happens to me when a book cover jumps past my eyes and into my brain. That is how I like to design covers – with that extra little burst that takes them straight there.

When I begin a project, I like to learn a little about the story, the people that live in it. Perhaps some pivotal moment in their lives. Sometimes the author already has a picture in his/her minds eye of what they would like to see on the cover. In this case I try to accommodate pretty much what the author describes.

Andre Le Gallo was specific with some components he wanted to be included on The Red Cell


Some Authors have a very general idea. This Cover, Dark Continent Continental, by Sara Marie Hogg, was based on her wish that is had to be “something Africa – perhaps a Lion somewhere..”


Other authors are wide open and I have only the title and a brief synopsis on the story. I think those are actually my favorite covers. Those give me complete creative freedom and I love that. Roger Summers Heartsongs from a Washboard Road

is a cover done based on brief synopsis only. Of course sending those covers to the author for viewing is a nail-biter every time. High stakes gambling in Las Vegas couldn’t be anymore exciting when the dice roll.

Washboard Road

Designing a book cover (or an entire book) is a little like having a baby. You worry, you want it to be beautiful and perfect and you want everyone to love it. It has to be romantic, scary, funny, dramatic, melancholy, dark and brooding or the conveyor of hope and love. All depending on the story. And it has to almost tell the entire story in one picture.

Often this entails me to sifting through thousands of photos to find just the right ones, with the right mood, the right colors, the right theme to use.

Playing around with images in Photoshop can produce crazy good effects sometimes and literally change everything about any photo and give it an entirely new look and “feel”.

Stephen Woodfin’s The Compost Pile is good example what can become of two plain photos.

First came the photograph of a compost pile.


Then came the face of a girl.


And finally here is the final and  full cover design.


When I think the cover is what I had in mind, I send it off to the “Parent,” the author, and wait.

No problem, I check e-mail only like every twenty minutes or so! – No, I do not pace!

How did I get into this crazy, exciting world of book publishing?

Thanks to my friend and former Boss, Caleb Pirtle, who kept telling me that I could forget about commercial advertising now and dig deeper to find that artist he knew was in there somewhere. I hope I have succeeded.

When I was young, I dreamed of being the one who wrote the books. Well that plan

did not work out. But I found something equally great. I am the one who puts a story into a picture for all the world to see.

It does not get any better than that.

You can check out Julie’s Website if you’re interested in a cover design for your book.

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