Judging By The Cover

Let’s pretend you’re browsing through a bookstore. Picture your favorite independent bookseller’s shop, someplace with racks and racks of tempting volumes and plenty of light and comfy chairs, an espresso bar and maybe a cat (a congenial, hypoallergenic cat that only cozies up to you when you want it to and doesn’t lick itself in awkward places while in your presence —  we’re pretending, remember). Let us also assume that you have at least a passing interest in historical fiction.

And on one of the tables or shelves or perhaps an end cap, you spot this cover:



Would it catch your attention? Would you be curious about what was inside? Would you check out the back cover or the inside flaps, maybe riffle through the pages? Would you exclaim aloud, “Wow! What a cool book cover! I wonder who designed it!” at which point I would appear at your elbow and tell you that it was none other than my very own, exceptionally talented husband, J. Michael Flynn, at which point you would respond, “My goodness, aren’t you a lucky duck to have a husband who can make your book look so irresistible! Excuse me while I order copies for all my friends and family.”

I’m heading to the Historical Novel Society’s 2017 conference in Portland, Oregon this week, in large part to promote my debut novel (apparently the term “debut” is preferable to “first” when it comes to novels, at least until you’ve sold your second one), THE MOON RAN AFTER HER. Here’s a quick description, the kind of verbiage that might go on the back cover in a 3D, hardcopy version:

In the spring of 1915 in Eastern Turkey, fifteen-year-old Ani Jebejian and her older sister Mariam are separated by the brutal chaos of ethnic cleansing. Ani witnesses her father’s murder and becomes a refugee fleeing across a war-torn continent, while Mariam is forced on a death march that claims the lives of her children, and is conscripted into a Turkish harem. In order to escape and reunite, each sister faces a stark choice. Based on real-life accounts of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, THE MOON RAN AFTER HER is a testament to survival and the strength of the human spirit.

Or, if we were sharing an elevator and you asked me what my book was about, I’d say something like this:

A triumphant story of survival as two sisters find the strength to escape the Armenian Genocide and reunite in America, THE MOON RAN AFTER HER is based on real events.

And since you were just being polite, this is when you  get off on the next floor whether it’s your destination or not.


But wait; we’re pretending again. Now you and I are at a writer’s conference, and you’re a literary agent looking for manuscripts you think have a shot at getting published. I don’t just hit you with my 20 second spiel; I hand you a postcard-size card with the above cover image on the front, a  descriptive blurb and my contact info on the back.


And you whip out your phone and call your best contacts at the Big 5 publishers who immediately engage in a bidding war and by the time the elevator reaches the lobby we’ve inked a deal with a six-figure advance and Spielberg has optioned the movie rights.

Also there is world peace and prosperity and free health care for everyone and studies prove that wine cures everything.


Of course that’s a fantasy, except for the part about wine. Writers with a grip on reality (which by no means describes all of us) do not go to conferences with the expectation of selling their books. The purpose of a good writer’s conference is to allow us to crawl out of our dark writing caves for a day or two to mingle and make connections, learn about the industry and about our craft and perhaps have the opportunity to share and promote our work. Writing is a solitary pursuit most of the time, so it’s good to have a chance to party with our like-minded brethren. And sistren (it’s mostly women at these things).

This particular conference even includes a costume contest on the first night. I’m going as a Wild West performer, which as you might guess has nothing at all to do with the Armenian Genocide, but does fit with the protagonist of my second novel, GLORY DAYS. More on that one in the next post.


So, wish me bon chance in Portland, and pretty please leave a comment and let me know what you think of the cover!




  1. Ooh, a conference! That’s so exciting. I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time.

    It sounds like a fascinating book you’ve written – I’d be interested to read that.

    Regarding your cover, please take everything I say with a shovelful of salt because I’m 0% artistic and am certainly not a cover designer, which is an art in itself.

    I like the font for the title. It’s sort of moody and gives a bit of a historical feel, yet is totally readable.

    The yellows and browns also have an appropriate historical feel to them.

    My main unease is about the busy-ness of the images and lack of colour contrast.

    You’ve got a moon (appropriate to the title, nicely placed, and simple enough), a map that seems to overlay the whole cover, and a historical picture of a family. It almost looks like there might be something else as well, but I can’t really tell.

    Three elements on a cover is not necessarily too many, but as they are here they feel too busy and it’s hard to understand what you’re looking at at first glance, especially with the way the map overlays the family.

    When I first look at the cover there is no one element that grabs my eye. I suspect you’re doing yourself a disservice using so little contrast.

    One thing I can imagine (and really really don’t take this too seriously because I probably don’t know what I’m talking about) is fading out the map so it stops above the family, and taking that boy in the middle of the picture and making him a contrasting colour. Maybe even the boy and the girl.

    I hope what I’ve said helps, otherwise please ignore it. 🙂

    Enjoy your conference!

  2. Thank you so much for the feedback; it is truly helpful! I really appreciate you taking the time to make such thoughtful comments.

    And glad to hear the book is interesting to you!

  3. Really looking forward to reading this! I agree with the earlier comments. It would be nice to highlight, for example, two of the young girls. We can relate to the tragedy of one or two children but somehow we glaze over when we speak of 1 million Armenians or 6 million Jews. A cover which focuses on a tragedy we can handle is a good suggestion.

  4. You rock, Cowgirl! The cover is gorgeous, but I agree that a punch of contrast might help. I’m not too familiar with the mechanics of graphic design, but enough to know that that even a small tweak can cause chaos. If your bags are packed and you are out the door, you will be bringing a beautiful, evocative promo piece with you. Personally, I like the family-swallowed-by-geography feel of the image. However, the advice from previous comments is excellent: a little more solidity to the survivors/your protagonists would be an enticement to open the book and follow their saga. If you only have time for a quick adjustment, an easy contrast change would be to adjust the color and/or value of The Author’s name. The white text makes it appear washed out and you and your writing are anything but!

    Have a blast in Portland!

  5. Well, I DO wish you good luck in Portland, unless you’re already back, haven’t read the next post to the end.
    This is all very exciting stuff. I like the cover, and would absolutely pick up the book in my hand to see what it’s all about!

  6. I loved the cover – and still do. Great job Michael! However the previous comments make me realize that I didn’t even see the moon (that could totally be my problem) and I agree that the author name is a little hard to read. But -that aside I think the map overlay of the family, and the color tones are all marvelous. And yes- it would make me want to pick it up. And the title itself – beautiful & seductive & captivating. Good work Jan!

  7. Yay! Michael has already tweaked it a bit from the version seen here, so I think it’s even better. Now all I need to do is get the book published 😉

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