A Debut Author’s Journey With What Goes On The Front of Their Book by Melonie Johnson

BTS of a Cover Shoot

[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have author Melonie Johnson guest post on the site today. Take it away Melonie!]

As a debut author with a traditional publisher, I went into the process knowing there were a few things I could control…and a lot of things I could not. Armed with the experiences of other authors, I knew I would have little say regarding such details as the title and the cover. For the most part, authors are in charge of what goes inside the book, but not what appears on the outside.

However, I didn’t know exactly who was in charge of that part. At first, I was surprised to discover from title to image, much of the cover decision process is controlled by marketing. But the revelation makes sense. Publishing is in the business of selling books. It stands to reason the group tasked with selling the books dictates how they are packaged for sale.

Knowing this, I do my best to trust the decisions the marketing team makes. After all, we share the same goal. Get my books on shelves and into readers’ hands. And sometimes, the stars align, and we share the same vision. For example, the first book in my series, GETTING HOT WITH THE SCOT, originally was on a solid colored background. When I first saw it, I mentioned to my editor I thought it would be nice to include some Highland hills and ground readers in the travel aspect of the story. Initially that idea was nixed, so I suggested adding a plaid scarf to give it a bit of Scottish flair. They agreed to add the scarf as well as change the original color scheme. And that, I thought, was that. But when the book was introduced at the sales meeting, marketing felt something was missing…any guesses what? Yep, I got my Highland hills after all.

Less than twenty-four hours after my cover reveal, I had several people e-mail me to tell me they’d seen the exact same couple on my book featured on other covers (reverse image search revealed it to be on at least three other books). They were baffled. How could this happen? They asked me. Aren’t you upset? And while I won’t say I was delighted to see “my” characters also playing as other authors’ characters, it didn’t bother me. Stock photos aren’t exclusive and if an image is good it’s likely going to be used more often. I was chill about this, but I’ve also never cared about being caught wearing the same outfit as someone else.

What I wasn’t chill about, was the cover for my second book, SMITTEN BY THE BRIT. My initial reaction was something like no, no, oh my God no. I didn’t say that, of course. I thanked my editor for sending it and immediately e-mailed my agent. “I hate it!” I cried. And I did hate it. Everything about it was wrong. The dynamic between the couple was wrong, the hero looked like a jerk, and the vibe was totally off. After talking things through with my agent (and calming down), I was able to respond to my editor outlining the reasons why I felt the cover didn’t work. This was my first time speaking up for myself as an author, and I held my breath, waiting for her answer, terrified they would dismiss my opinion, knowing this was the hill I would die on. (I really hated that cover). Luckily, they listened.

That experience taught me the importance of speaking up about what really matters to me as an author. I was scared to rock the boat but knew in my gut I had to say something. By sharing my concerns in a professional manner with reasons based on logic rather than emotion, I was able to make my point and the design team did a fabulous job coming back with two new options, one which I immediately recognized as being perfect.

Speaking of perfect, when I saw the cover for the third book, I loved it immediately. The colors, the background atmosphere, the connection between the couple…everything was perfect. Everything except—the hero had a beard—and the hero in my story did not. Since this series was on a triple release schedule with all three books coming out back to back to back, I saw this third cover long before I finished writing the third book. Which meant I could quite easily (and it turns out, enjoyably) add a beard to the hero. This unexpected cover element worked out great, and the beard became a part of his character and the story. Like the first book, one thing did change at the sales meeting. Marketing felt the title didn’t have the right vibe, eventually landing on ONCE UPON A BAD BOY.

My debut publishing experience taught me that from start to finish, everything about a cover—from the background, to the couple, to the title—comes down to that sales meeting. I’ve learned to know what I’m willing to compromise on and what I’m not. Picking my battles means saving my arrows to fight for what is most important to me while letting the other stuff go. Focus on the goal; a cover that makes me smile when I see it on a website, a store shelf, or best of all, in a reader’s hands.

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About the Author:

After earning her Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago, Melonie Johnson―aka #thewritinglush―taught high school English and Theatre for several years. An award winning author and a two-time RWA Golden Heart® finalist, she writes smart and funny contemporary romance and moonlights as an audiobook narrator under the pseudonym, Evelyn Eibhlin. She lives happily ever after with her husband, two redheaded daughters, a dog that’s more like a small horse, and a pair of hermit crabs. Getting Hot with the Scot is her debut novel. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @MelonieJohnson

Once Upon a Bad Boy by Melonie Johnson, out now!

Sadie Gold is ready to take her career to the next level with the role of a lifetime. Finally, she can shake her reputation as a pretty face with more wealth and connections than talent. But Sadie is not prepared for the wild turn her own life is about to take. The man in charge of training Sadie for her most demanding role yet is none other than her first real boyfriend―the one who took her heart and ran away.

Bo Ibarra is as good-looking and irresistible as ever. Maybe even more so, now that everything once worked against them―Sadie’s pampered and privileged upbringing and Bo’s childhood in a family struggling to make ends meet―is in the past. But the future is still unwritten…and getting there, together, means coming clean about painful secrets and slashing through nasty tabloid rumors while trying to control the attraction that crackles between them. Maybe it’s finally time for them to walk off into the sunset and into a true and lasting love?


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