Covers: Agnes and the Hitman

I’ve talked on here before about how important covers are, and what makes a good cover design, but not much about our actual cover choices. Agnes was an interesting cover journey because we got all good covers, beautifully designed, but until the end, they just weren’t . . . right.

The first one was beautiful:

Agnes Cover 1

However, when we analyzed it closely, it didn’t work.

It must catch the eye across a bookstore.
Oh, yeah. You could see this sucker from across the street.

It must be pick-up-able when the reader gets close.
Nothing there. The graphic is gorgeous, and that might be enough to pick it up, but I didn’t like it because it was so plain when you got up close, nothing there to make it crunchy.

It must capture the mood and the content of the story.
This was the deal-breaker. I might have closed my eyes to the lack of detail since it’s such a strong graphic, but this really isn’t Agnes and the Hitman. There’s no quirk here, no comedy-with-violence, no sass or any sense of a strong woman or the relationships in the book. It was a complete miss on the most important part: It didn’t represent the book.

The thing that’s interesting about this cover, I think, is that it’s a beautiful cover. It was just designed by somebody who didn’t understand the book, and I think that’s the place the majority of covers go south. Art departments can’t read every book they design for, but they have to have a grasp of what they’re selling with that cover, not just do something pretty or striking. The cover has to sell the book for what it is.

So great cover, just not for our book.

The second one used the Agnes logo that Mara Lubell designed and we all loved, but Barnes and Noble didn’t like it so back to the drawing board. I have no idea what that one looked like, but in retrospect, B&N must have been right because this is what they sent us next, in two flavors, pink . . .

Agnes Cover 3 Pink

and white . . .


Bob screamed when he saw the pink, so we buried that one in the back yard. We liked everything about the white version and they did a final with better bullet holes, except the new bullet holes looked like daisies, so we sent them back again. We didn’t want to lose the holes because they were going to be diecut so the red tablecloth cover boards of the actual book beneath would show through:

Agnes Tablecloth cover

So we ditched the pink and got new bullet holes and got this one:

Agnes Cover 4

And everybody approved so we have a great cover:

It must catch the eye across a bookstore.
Readers will cross the room because of the face. Even newborn babies respond to faces.

It must be pick-up-able when the reader gets close.
Up close, they’ll see the little flamingos and the die-cut bullet holes (how much do I love the diecut bullet holes? THIS MUCH) and pick it up.

It must capture the mood and the content of the story.
It really communicates the quirky off-center comedy and violence vibe of the book. And Mara’s Agnes logo IS Agnes, she just nailed that character.

I think we have a winner.

43 thoughts on “Covers: Agnes and the Hitman

  1. I especially like what they’ve done with the flamingo and the checked cloth. I grew up seeing those tablecloths at my godmother’s house. They were on every table. It’s what I thought a tablecloth should be. The first tablecloth I spent my own money on??? Yep, one of those woven check ones. Still have it. Still love it.

    Nice bullet holes, too. /;+)


  2. The first one is so… stark. (And I hate the colors, n’offense.) The pink one IS scary; Bob was right to scream. I’d have screamed. It’s so very pink. But the white one! It is awesome! I would pick that up in a bookstore to see what was up, definitely.


  3. Yes, I love this cover, too – and I think the tablecloth is hilarious. Not just any checked cloth would do for THIS book!

    Although I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t go with a red-and-white check for anything other than a picnic cloth, for myself…

    My first several table cloths were white and cream, and now are good “under” cloths, since they stained pretty quickly. No bullet holes, though.


  4. Love IT!!!

    Although, I gotta say you scared me a for a minute with the big flamingo and then the pink cover.

    Agnes’s face is striking, I’m so glad you got to keep it. Those red glasses really POP.

    Oooh, is Mollie going to do wallpaper with the checkerboard flamingo’s?? ‘Cause I LUV that!!


  5. Yeah, the pink cover had to go. I was screaming along with Bob on that one. And you’re right. The first one just didn’t convey the feeling of the book. I loved what you ended with though. And the bullet holes come through very nicely. The red is a good foil for the white. I loved the dainty flamingos in the background.


  6. I’ll chime in with the rest of you … I LOVE the cover!! I adore flamingos but the first cover was a bit much. I much prefer the scattering of subtle flamingos on the cover. I would love to have mousepads and wallpaper with the flamingos & bullet holes (and a much or an apron with the whole design including Agnes’ face)!

    And although I’ve seen the graphic of Agnes’ face several times on the website, let me say if I haven’t already that it is AWESOME.


  7. You guys do rock at picking the perfect cover. I agree, the first was striking – but it was also a little scary bold and didn’t convey the feeling I know you guys had.

    The pink cover was scary, but I don’t blame Bob for burying it in the backyard.

    The diecut bullet hole are amazing!! I can’t wait to buy this book!

    Oh, and I would also buy a mousepad, apron, and other merchandise with that design on it. Go for it!


  8. My eyes! My eyes! I fear my retinas were forever damaged by that pink version. And until you mentioned it, I didn’t realize those wierd abstract shapes were supposed to be bullet holes. (And Phew! The final cover is GORGEOUS! Agnes looks like she’ll hit YOU with a frying pan if you don’t have the brains to pick up her book.)

    And I love that the publishers have given the Crusie/Mayer collection its own motif – the Ta Da! cover.


  9. The first one with the huge pink flamingo is the one that would have sucked me in to read the back blurb.


  10. OK – even if I wasn’t already gonna buy this book, the cover woulda cinched it for me.

    Love the red white and black.

    Can’t wait. (But, of course, I must.)


  11. I could NOT have picked up the pink version. TOO SCARY. The white was nice in a sissy sort of way… didn’t go with the hitman. But, omigod, did you nail it with the last one. I think I’ll hyperventilate and have a heart attack right here on the spot. It’s absolutely AMAZING.

    One question, though. Can someone please explain the flamingos to me? I don’t get it. (Did I miss something?)


  12. Revisiting the checked cloth…can’t it be flamingo pink? Really. Red and white checks just don’t say the South to me. /;+) More Middle America. /;+)


  13. From what I’ve read about publishing, not many authors get to have any sayso about covers. You all seem to have had a whole lot of sayso. Why is that?


  14. The flamingos are a motif in the book. There are also two real flamingos that Agnes gets stuck with: Cerise and Hot Pink.

    The cloth is called a Texas checkerboard, I think, and it has to be red. Italians. The mob. That stuff. Also it’s already in production. Hits the stands Aug 21.

    Why I get a say in my covers:
    Killer agent.
    Fabulous editor.
    Degree in art and a degree in professional writing and a year-long stint in the backroom of a major indie bookstore, studying everything I could, all of which means I can say, “Okay, this is why I don’t think this cover is going to sell books.” As opposed to “But her dress isn’t green in the story!”
    In the end, I still don’t always get what I want. I wanted a different cover on DLD and compromised because marketing really felt strongly about it. I still think I was right, but that was then, this is now.
    And now is two kick ass covers from St. Martin’s Press.


  15. Yes. Italian restaurants with the red and white checked cloths, the empty Chianti bottle with the white candle, and the wonderful food that tastes home cooked. I know, I eat in cheap places. *grin* The more expensive places have white cloths and extensive wine lists, but who needs them?

    Now I want to eat Chapelli’s food and they don’t deliver and it’s too darn hot to go out.

    Love the cover and the “Ta Da” cover. Can’t wait for August 21st.


  16. Love romance/action/adventure books. there’s way too much pink w/face love the face, white works but I think one more bullet hole by the face would have more impact about danger.


  17. Also that red check says cookbook to me. Specifically, the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook of my childhood. Mmmm. Jello with things in it. And bullet holes. BAM!

    August is so far away though. Why did I think this was coming out in July?


  18. Having seen so many bad covers, and covers that just don’t fit the book at all, I probably would have seen the first one and thought “Wow! Winner!” Yep, it didn’t fit the book, but hey, so many don’t. But seeing the evolution of this cover is great, and the last one really has it all. I can’t believe they did the pink one though. . . .
    I like the red tablecloth too. It evokes danger and a taste of blood. Plus, I think there’s plenty of red-checked tablecloths in the south.
    I was wondering about your comment that Barnes and Noble didn’t like the cover. Do bookstores usually have a say in cover choices as well?


  19. I love the flamingo motif, and really liked the flamingo on the first cover but I have to agree, the version you ended up with is soooo cool.


  20. Certain chains can change a cover by changing their order. Sometimes it’s just a flat out yes or no: if Walmart won’t stock your book with a certain cover, you change it, period. Other times, the chain’s buyer who needs to sell a lot of books will look at a cover and say, “I’ll take X number of books with this cover, but if you fix it, I’ll take 4X.” So publishers change it because chains sell a lot of books. Everybody wants the same thing: lots of books sold. They just disagree on what will do it.

    But everybody’s happy with this one.


  21. Love the cover! It would sell it to me even if I didn’t follow your blog & hadn’t followed the development of this book. 🙂 I so love it when covers actually DO capture the book because far too often they don’t.
    My all-time favorite book cover is A GREAT & TERRIBLE BEAUTY by Libba Bray. I saw that one from across the room at Barnes & Noble during their Christmas rush (I believe I actually gasped!) and then made like the world’s greatest quarter-back dodging grumpy shoppers to scoop it up just so I could see what was behind the awesome cover. LOL! Luckily, the story was indeed worthy of the cover and I read my first young adult novel in 20 years. I also bought the sequel when it came out & cannot wait for the 3rd one in December. The point of that long ramble… never underestimate the importance of a great cover! I believe y’all have a winner!


  22. Psychologically speaking…

    The first cover says to me some creepoid is using defenseless flamingos for target practice.

    The chosen cover is just the opposite. Bullets may be flying, but Agnes is in control. Her look says, “You let that thing off one more time and you’ll eat this frying pan.”


  23. Yes, I think you do have a winner. Love the bullet holes.

    I did read your previous essay on cover design and have to tell you, I thought the “bracelet” on “Anyone but You”, was actually Fred’s collar, since it is Fred’s book and all, so I think it fits well. The fact that you didn’t see it that way indicates the problem with the design, but still..


  24. I LOVE the tablecloth. I LOVE the whole chosen book cover. I think a person unfamiliar with Agnes would get the drift from the cover.

    OTOH, I love the first cover. The novel behind it would be a takeoff on Alice in Wonderland playing golf with the flamingo, aiming the balls at the target.


  25. I was trying to work out why those middle covers had two pink flying pigs on them. Took me a while to realise that when Jenny said ‘better bullet holes’ she was meaning that they were the not-so-good ones.


  26. The bullet holes are like our own Rorshach test. Laura saw pink flying pigs, I saw deformed bloody bats. Hmm. Let’s not examine our respective psyches too closely. The final cover is definitely a winner!


  27. i am eternally grateful to good covers. it keeps my toddler occupied with her own conversation while i get some reading done. ditto for author pics on the back cover. she thinks y’all are talking to her so she talks back. smart or scary, not sure which, but it’s working for us.


  28. Well, when I saw an earlier version of the cover, I thought that the top bullet hole was the head of a dead flamingo and that a lower one was more dead flamingo poking through. At least I hallucinate on topic, I guess!


  29. My first thought when I saw the pink cover, “Pepto-Bismol” and then ,”god that fits every romance novel stero-type(a pink cover).

    I love the final outcome. Could be the red-framed glasses or I’m easy to please.

    The big flamingo was just too much.


  30. That first cover belongs on a Carl Hiaasen (sp?) book, no? ;+) Send it to him, Jenny.

    And does anyone else, when looking at that Agnes face, think of Jenny, as a school teacher, terrorizing the kid who never does his homework, with a single raised eyebrow?


  31. ZaZa: omg – you are dead correct on the Carl Hiassen cover! Perfect.

    Great final cover. I love the incomplete Agnes pic, catchy and intriguing, esp. with her checking you out from above her glasses.


  32. See, I saw chocolate covered cherries instead of bullet holes. There was another version, the one on the ARCs where they looked like white daisies with red centers.

    Bullet holes are hard.


  33. yep – it’s a winner. I like it. I didn’t like some of the others one so much, espeically the pink, but you are talking to a dance teacher who avoids pink costumes at all costs. I have issues with pink.

    Yep – bullet holes are hard, but I think they look good on the final cover.

    Looks Good! Can’t wait for the book to come out.


  34. Mary Stella, those ‘not-good’ gunholes are very definitely the Cherry equivalent of the Rorschach test.

    So far we’ve got

    (1) me seeing flying pigs (rather appropriate for an academic who thinks that one day some romances will be recognised as having significant literary merit).

    (2) Mary Stella seeing ‘deformed bloody bats’ (is this the influence of the paranormal Unfortunate Miss Fortunes and their butterflies?).

    (3) Diane (TT) seeing ‘the top bullet hole was the head of a dead flamingo and that a lower one was more dead flamingo poking through’ (as she said, she’s the only one ‘on topic’)

    (4) Jenny, seeing ‘chocolate covered cherries’ (and we all know Jenny meticulously researches recipes mentioned in her books).

    (5) my husband, who was sure the top one was a tiny map of Australia and was trying to work out which country the second one was when I started laughing at him. (He likes maps).


  35. I love hearing the logic behind the evolution of the covers. Thanks for sharing. I have to say, until the final cover, I didn’t know the red marks were bullet holes–I’m glad it wasn’t just me.


  36. What a great lesson in cover art. The first one would have had me turning it over to read the back blurb even if I didn’t know the authors. I also like your final choice and can hardly wait until August.


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