Covers: Don’t Look Down

So with Don’t Look Down out in paperback, I thought you might like a look at that cover process, too. Of course, I am often wrong, so if you’re sick of covers, just skip this one.

Don’t Look Down was a tough, tough cover because, like The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, it was selling something new that the industry and the public probably weren’t going to understand at first. Usually when two people “collaborate” on a book, the larger name doesn’t do much except give her name, and the lesser known author does the writing. This is why people don’t trust collaborations, I think. But this was a real collaboration, Bob wrote half and I wrote half and then we rewrote together, so we had to sell that idea of two-authors-in-one-text. That,in fact, was the real impetus behind both the logo and the old He Wrote She Wrote blog, although that quickly changed into something completely different. Still, it did what it was supposed to, showed people that we were equal partners. The book cover was going to have to communicate that, too.

Then we had to get people past the idea of romantic comedy because this wasn’t going to be one. We brainstormed what to call it and decided on “Romantic Adventure” and put a lot of effort into pushing that, on the blog and in interviews, and we knew the cover really had to communicate that.

And then we had to get the fun-sexy-exciting-Crusie-Mayer-book feeling on there. So we knew it was going to be tough.

So this is the first one they sent us:

Everybody liked it. Except me. I hated it.

It must catch the eye across a bookstore.
Weird colors, hard-to-read font, obscure graphic, can’t see the title.

It must be pick-up-able when the reader gets close.
This cover had one huge thing going for it: those little alligators in the background were going to be embossed and then the back would have been matte and they’d have been glossy. Other than that, up close this cover was just butt-ugly with a amateurish graphic and an unreadable type.

It must capture the mood and the content of the story.

The type, the colors, the graphic, they all look like a retro/forties murder mystery. It so missed “funny, modern, romantic adventure” that I could not understand why anybody liked it. Bob still likes it.

So I went through in detail and they sent us another pass, in six colorways:

DLD 2a

Here are three more of the colorways; I’ll spare you the other two.

DLD 2bDLD 2cDLD 2d

Basically, they took the shadow off the type and made the title bigger. That didn’t solve the majority of the problems, so after a some more back and forth, I gave up and hired my own designer. She gave us these (among several other designs):


MUCH closer but still not right, so she tweaked, and while she was working, the art department at the publisher came up with this:


If we’d started with that, I’d probably have been happier, but now I was hooked on the stuff the designer was doing, so when we got her revisions, I was thrilled, and we picked the turquoise one. Actually, I think I picked the turquoise one; Bob was refusing to answer my e-mails at that point.


It must catch the eye across a bookstore.
The colors, the clear graphic, the great title, yep.

It must be pick-up-able when the reader gets close.
The detail on the figures, the gator, and especially that great helicopter with the whirring wings. Great detail.

It must capture the mood and the content of the story.
Hot colors, good graphic, lots of movement, two people clinging together on a rope, it nailed the collaboration and the vibe of the book.

I was so happy.

Then the publisher came back with this, and said, “Marketing really loves this, what do you think?”

DLD Yellow
And I knew it was over. It was a great cover for a chick lit book. DLD is not chick lit, but chick lit was going to sell better than romantic adventure, the people who bought Bet Me would grab this cover in a nanosecond, it was going to sell like crazy. (Which it did, BTW.) And then they were going to read a romantic adventure that was not romantic comedy or even a romance and throw the book against the wall. But at the point, I had pushed my luck with the publisher pretty far. And I wasn’t going to win. In the words of the great Kenny Rogers, it was time to fold those cards and accept defeat gracefully. Or as Bob said, looking at all pink and baby blue and sunny infant yellow, “We should have taken the first one.”

Then Bob came up with the brilliant idea of making the book underneath camo colored and the publisher said yes immediately and gave us camo with little alligators in it which still makes me giggle whenever I see it.
DLD Camo
It really was a great combo, chick lit on the outside/camo undercover, but the vast majority of romance readers only saw the chick lit cover. And boy howdy were they upset when they read the book. The most common complaint we got was variations on “This isn’t like Crusie’s other books,” and yeah the two names on the cover should have been a tip-off but really? The cover promised them another Crusie romantic comedy. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that the cover promise the book that’s inside it. Expectation is huge in reader satisfaction.

So when it came time to do the paperback, nobody wanted the pink, baby blue, and yellow again. We started with this:

This is a stepback cover, something publishers do on some mass market titles so that they can have a cover and then an inside cover with lots of words or a more detailed/explicit picture to sell the story (mass market covers are small . . .). This was not terrific but so much closer than the hardcover chick lit jacket that I thought, “This isn’t bad.” And we tweaked it–got the guy out of dress shoes and into boots, changed the image so that with the first cover closed there was an alligator (adventure) instead of a woman in high heels (chick lit)– focused the colors better, and ended up with this:
Which I loved. Mollie and Bob not so much, but I LOVED it.

It must catch the eye across a bookstore.

Those colors will get you.

It must be pick-up-able when the reader gets close.

I loved, loved, loved the contrast in the two gator patterns. I liked the anything-goes adventure feel to the type. I loved how busy and gaudy and over-the-top it was. Just loved it.

It must capture the mood and the content of the story.
As far as i was concerned, this was DLD: busy, colorful, moving, exotic, with two different patterns/authors working as one. Can I say, I loved this?

If you bought the book, you may have noticed that it doesn’t look like this. Marketing decided it was too busy and made it plainer. It looks very nice now. And like every other red cover out there. They said, “Is this okay?” and Bob and Mollie were hating the one I loved, and Kenny was singing again, so I said, “Yes.”

I still think it’s a mistake, but it’s over, moving on . . .

And the Agnes cover is PERFECT. I’m giddy over the Agnes cover.

Some day I’ll tell you about the Getting Rid of Bradley cover. When I can stop banging my head against the wall.

56 thoughts on “Covers: Don’t Look Down

  1. “Some day I’ll tell you about the Getting Rid of Bradley cover. When I can stop banging my head against the wall.”

    You mean the one where Lucy looks like a very blonde Cruella De Vil? I’d love to hear that story!


  2. Jeez – when do you get time to write? Do you sleep?

    Getting Rid of Bradley was my first. I was a Crusie virgin before that. And it came on a recommendation so I didn’t pay any attention to the cover. But yes, Becky, would still love to hear the story.

    Not sick of covers.


  3. I thought it was funny that between the very first (yellow) cover and the next colorpass ones the woman was moved from being on top to hanging on below the man…or am I making too much out of that?

    And I could not see any way on God’s green earth that a Crusie reader would not love DLD and that there were complaints about it. Sheesh!


  4. Getting Rid of Bradley… I loved the book so much I didn’t pay any attention to the cover!


  5. Yes, the Agnes cover is perfect. I can say this because I am holding it in my hot little hands right now. THANK YOU JENNY! I’ll bet you six M&Ms everyone loves it as much as I do. I’m having the time of my life over here. Thank you so much!


  6. Hummm… that might not be what you want to hear. But I do love reading about how much effort you put into your covers to capture the flavor of the story. And I’m certain that covers have an influence on buyers that are browsing rather than looking for a specific author. I’m impressed by your dedication to every detail of your books!


  7. O.K. me – not only were you gloa… celebrating over at the Bar and Grill, but now you are over here celebrating? Can’t say as I blame you!


  8. Ack. I hit publish by accident. This was a draft while I was waiting for Bob to find the yellow chick lit jpg (because I’m too lazy to scan the cover i have.). Oh well.

    I’ll get that yellow cover up there. But most of you know what it looks like anyway.

    Note: I stole a cover from until Bob can get me a jpg. So at least that part makes sense now. Argh.


  9. Just so you know-not sick of the cover stories. Although, personally, if it says “Jennifer Crusie” on the cover, I’m gonna buy it whether the cover is gorgeous or not. Just sayin’.

    For the record, I actually really liked the 2nd one that the art department came up with-the one with the turqouise and yellowish-greenish blocks & black silhouettes. Maybe not those exact colors (the yellowish-greenish one, for example), but I really love the boldness of those not-quite-squares. But that first one-that’s hideous (in any color). I’m glad you had veto power. I still would’ve bought it, but I might’ve had to rip the cover off to protect my eyes. Sheesh.


  10. I was looking at the different cover options and it occurs to me that if they had kept the helicopter in the final version it would have had the “adventure” hook to balance the chick lit. But then we might not have gotten the TADA cover.

    You know, I never got the “it’s not a Crusie” complaint. Okay, it had more violence and action, but it also had snark. And, sheesh, a good book is a good book. I mean, JAK or SEP books are not “Crusie’s” either. Jenny, I love your books, but I do sometimes read other people and I don’t whine because they don’t read like your books. People need to get out of their ruts.

    And yes, Me, you can leave now. Go to your room and think on your sins.


  11. It is fun to see the progression in the cover design. But I personally want to thank you for telling us about the gator camo. I never even thought to look under my dust jacket, but just went and had a peek. Made me smile to see that gator camo right there on my very own book. 🙂


  12. I wasn’t trying to gloat or be mean. I just wanted to say thanks. I’m sorry. I’ll be quiet.


  13. Me: We’re just jealous. We’ll get over it. Eventually. Well, most likely. At least, that’s the plan.

    Seriously, enjoy the book….Just maybe don’t mention it again until August.


  14. *snort* two of them. Me, and Charlene, you might as well go ahead and gloat. If you try to keep it in you might hurt something.


  15. Jenny, I think it’s only fair that you make your ARC winners take a vow of silence. And while you’re at it, probably you should make them take vows of — oh, I don’t know, maybe chastity and poverty as well. Yeah, that sounds good. That would make the rest of us feel so much better. Silence, chastity and poverty. And 40 hours of community service. While wearing one of those hats. You can let them skip the self-flagellation. Maybe.

    Sounds like a fair trade off to me. Well, maybe not to ME, but to me? Yeah.


  16. Ahem. Not that there’s anything wrong with those hats. I’m sure they’d be more than happy, honored even, to wear one. Or even all of them. Quietly.


  17. I also like the cover stories. Maybe I’ll get a tattoo of one. Turquoise. I love the helo, too. Are there helicopters in Agnes?

    Maybe in the next one. Two Hueys and a Model 47. Better than an old VW. Very retro.


  18. I picked up a totally lying cover lately. It was a recent (the most recent?) Rachel Gibson, Anybody Out There. It’s pink. It’s got a girl in a pink slip dress on the cover. It’s got a blurb about the irrepressible Walsh sisters. It’s in that large-paperback size that says Chick Lit. But IT’S ABOUT GRIEF. Not in the sly “oh look there’s something serious here” way her other books are. Nope. It’s just about grief.

    It’s a good book. But I was not in the mood for this book when I picked it up, at all. In fact, I was pretty pissed.


  19. I hang around a couple of fan groups, and there seems to be a sense out there that cover artists just don’t get it, and that’s the way things are. It’s nice to see someone fighting for a good cover! (Although, I bet having an art background really helps.) For the record, I really, really liked the helicopter; and the hair not being in an impeccable ponytail.

    Bet Me was one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen, and I wouldn’t mind a poster of that. The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes was also breathtaking — I’d like a diary cover with that motif. Ya know, I think those marketing guys lack . . . vision. You could have a whole range of products out there.


  20. Man, this is fun, seeing the evolution of the covers.

    The weirdest one is the blue room with the mustard yellow carpet, where a couple is having a vehement fight with whips, oblivious to the alligator in the room.

    (Or are they curtain cords?)


  21. Rosa-That was Marian Keyes, “Anybody Out There.” I’m with you on that one. I got to the point where it became obvious that her husband was dead, and I haven’t been able to pick it up since. I’m sure it’s a perfectly good book-her books usually are. But it was SO not as advertised, and so not what I was in the mood for at the time. One of these days I’ll probably pick it up and finish it, but right now I’m still a little bitter.

    It was shortly after that that I picked up “Don’t Look Down,” which WAS as advertised (thank you, Jenny), and it was all better.


  22. Rosa – “Anybody out there” is by Marian Keyes, and it’s a good book, and I think it’s not just about grief but also very funny. (All of Marian’s books deal with a serious topic but in the funniest way I can imagine.)

    But in German it’s called “Strawberry Moon”, and it’s got a pink cover with a strawberry on it, and nobody will ever be able to explain that title because I think the word “strawberry” doesn’t even appear in the book.


  23. And, BCB – I think silence, chastity, and poverty is sufficient. Leave out the hat. Rather take away chocolate until they have passed on their books to other readers.


  24. The final cover is nice, it’s friendly, a bit chick lit but that’s okay. My favorite though, was the turquoise with the copter.


  25. It’s funny, but I never once thought chick-lit when I looked at the hardback DLD cover. I saw fun and interesting. After reading the book, whenever I look at the cover now I think, “J.T. and Lucy are hanging on by the golden lasso of truth”.


  26. Sorry for the non sequitur but why did ya’ll name the book DON’T LOOK DOWN? I understand the link to the helicopter scene, but you also call first drafts the DLD draft.

    Is there a story behind choosing that title?


  27. As a full time writer and mom of two under the age of five, I’m already functionally under a vow of chastity and poverty. And if you take away my chocolate, I’ll never make it through these edits. I’ll wear the hat, though. *ggg*


  28. I, also, like the cover blips… who knew how much went into this? And as I REALLY don’t like the Getting Rid of Bradley cover, I look forward to some info on that debacle. Hope I didn’t offend, I mean I did buy and read the book, but that cover makes no sense. At all.


  29. Don’t Look Down as a title happened like this:

    I sent my first draft of my part of the book to Bob with a title on it that said “Don’t Look Down Draft.” Because that’s what I call my first drafts.

    Bob said, “Great title.”

    I said, “No, no, that’s a term for a first draft.”

    Bob said, “Great title.”

    He’s usually easy-going but when he finds something he wants, he gets it. We titled the book that.


  30. He was right, great title. Fits the book perfectly – and the added touch of it being a mistake is just hilarious.


  31. Ok, sorry to be a contrarian, but I liked the Getting Rid of Bradley cover–I felt it captured Lucy’s embrace of herself, her sensuality, and the need to dump her husband. And I like that style of drawing.


  32. I really enjoy the cover stories. Can’t wait to hear the Bradley one. . .

    Quick notes — Have been away, so I finally went to the store today and couldn’t find The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes in the store. Had to insist they go dig them out of the back — they hadn’t been unloaded. The girl said “Oh, I guess I can give you one now,” and I asked, “But, haven’t they been our for a week now?” She gave me some sort of vague answer and left. When she came back, I mentioned again that I thought the books should have been out and she said their store just hadn’t gotten around to setting them out. But I still wondered if their computer wasn’t giving the store the order to set them out. This was a Barnes and Noble, so if the national figures of B and N don’t match other stores this may be why. . .

    Finally, Sarah Franz at Teach Me Tonight enjoyed The Unortunate Miss Fortunes. I just glanced at the review, as she said she had spoilers in it and I want to read it fresh.


  33. love the cover progression stories.

    for the most part, i don’t like covers with “real” people. i like designs, i like items, i like cartoon people, but real people just throw me off. i’m weird that way.

    GROB cover: i love the blonde. she looks like she just finished the perfect revenge and is drunk on the sucess. doesn’t take shit from anyone. she’s a role model 🙂


  34. I love learning about the evolution of the cover art–thanks so much for continuing to share the stories.

    I have a question that’s a bit off topic. I am a huge audiobook freak and I usually buy both the book and the audiobook. Is there a similar process involved in selecting who does the audiobook reading? Do you have any say in that or in how the reader reads a particular phrase or book even? Do you usually listen to your audiobooks? I guess that’s more than one question. =)


  35. Distracted that’s a very good question. I too love behind the scenes stories. I want to know the evolution of GROB also.

    A sidenote-there shall be no gloating, but then again I got to read The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes as long as I reviewed it. That really made me want to become a reviewer. So I only ask no spoilers.


  36. Brilliance Audio is wonderful to me, but since I’ve never asked to choose a reader. I just don’t know enough about it. It’s something that Mollie and I have been meaning to look into in our spare time. We should have some in about five years and we’ll do it then.


  37. GROB cover: Sorry — Lucy looks like a transvestite.

    And the font for Jenny’s name? It looks like Jenny is in junior high practicing signing her married name.


  38. Jenny,
    I don’t think I’ve ever commented on your blog before, but I read it faithfully (along with the books, and I was NOT disappointed with Don’t Look Down, so ignore those who were). I was really struck by this conversation, though, as my first book (a humorous romantic chick lit) came out in January, with a cover that made my agent and I cry and tear hair out! (It was even up for the Worst Cover Contest…I probably have the only cover in the history of publishing with a double amputee on the cover!)

    However, as a new author, despite my extremely professional, detailed e-mails outlining my concerns that what was on the cover did NOT represent what was in the book, I was ignored. And I think the sales of the book have borne out my arguments.

    I went into detail on my blog just a few days ago about the old cover…and about the cover they decided to go with for the mass market coming out next January. ( I was almost giddy with relief that the new cover at least matched what was in the book.

    I can only hope that some day I at least have my concerns listened to, as you did. I’m loving these cover entries and would love to see the BRADLEY cover…but only when your head banging ceases. 🙂


    Shannon McKelden


  39. This whole cover thing is very interesting to me. I love how you approach it.

    I must say though, that the first few covers looked like James Bond meets one of Charlie’s Angles. I’m glad you ended up with the covers you did.

    I’d never heard that story about the title before – it is a good title.


  40. Not entirely off-topic because we are discussing DLD, yes? Jenny, you and Bob have no idea just what got started at the Dueling Blog. The CherryBombs just might take over the world yet. No weapons; just books, shovels and lots of margaritas.


  41. Speaking of “not entirely off-topic” – I just listened to a couple of audiobooks that turned out to have been abridged (rats!). Who abridges and how does it work? It seemed OK, just not long enough.

    These were Lee Child novels, and I checked ’em out of the library. I mostly only buy audiobooks for my parents because it’s hard to say when they’ll get to ’em. But I should probably buy yours, Jenny, because I’ve checked out Bet Me twice, and would check out others if they had more on the shelf. I dithered over getting Don’t Look Down again today (I’ve re-read fairly recently), but went with a Linda Howard I hadn’t listened to before (Drop Dead Gorgeous, which is a fun book I own in PB), and a couple of Tamora Pierce YAs – I haven’t been able to read her, but I find that what I want to read and what I want to listen to, while similar, are not identical categories, so I’ll try.

    Anyway, I was wondering if the author has a say in abridgement, and is it mostly description that is cut, or dialogue or thoughts or what?


  42. Ummmmm… trying not to gloat over here either, but the Agnes cover really is gorgeous! Jenny, thankyouthankyouthankyou and please tell me that the Living the Dream Tour Part Deux will be swinging through the Land of No Road Signs so that you can sign my beautiful ARC? (Or sing to it, I’m really not picky). If it helps, please reassure Bob that downtown Milwaukee looks almost nothing like Beirut anymore. Or at least, it looks like a nicer neighborhood in Beirut.

    PS: BCB, a vow of silence would probably kill me, but sadly I’m all over the chastity and poverty. I’ll get back to you on the community service, but could you be more specific about the hats?


  43. Diane, they used to send me the abridgement scripts for approval but I asked them not to. Basically, I cut everything I can out of a book before I send to the editor, so when somebody else has to cut more . . . I bleed. So I just turn my eyes away.

    Nope, not going that far north on tour. The farthest we’re heading in that direction in Chicago. Although I know Bob would love another drive through there . . . searching for the airport. “I see PLANES, damn it, where’s the [expletive deleted] airport???”


  44. There will be once the Agnes site is up. Until then, this is it:

    Sunday, August 26th/Pennsylvania
    Book Signing 514 Allegheny River Blvd.
    Oakmont, PA 15139 412-828-4877

    Monday, August 27th /CHICAGO
    Book Signing 123 W. Jefferson
    Naperville, IL

    Tuesday, August 28th /Lexington, KY
    Book Signing 161 Lexington Green Circle
    Lexington, KY
    859-271-5330 x159

    Wednesday, August 29th/Cincinnati, OH
    Book Signing 2692 Madison Rd.
    Cincinnati, OH 45208

    Thursday, August 30th/Dayton, OH
    7:00 PM BOOKS AND CO
    Book Signing 4453 Walnut St.
    Dayton, OH


  45. You’re going to have a huge group of us in Dayton. You know that, don’t you? We’re already planning it. People are coming from Detroit and Canada and Virginia and Indiana, and many other places… We’re making a mini-break of it, actually. 🙂

    I have to share this here, as I shared it over at the B&G, but forgot that you don’t go there. My oldest girl-child, Gret, wrote this little poem on our way home from meeting a CB in Detroit last week. (She happens to LOVE Jenny, for reasons that I won’t even try to explain, but Jenny knows what they are, so all is well in the world.) Enjoy.

    Oh my Bob!
    Oh! My mom!
    Oh my! Jenny!
    Jenny and Bob!
    Cannoli and Moot!
    Don’t give ‘em the boot!
    Instead kick out the coach
    and steal the loot!
    Oh please!
    Pass the cheese!
    I need it for my noodles, you sleaze!
    Just leave the gun
    and bring the buns
    and while you’re at it
    take this cookbook for free
    you see, you need this
    at a non-costly fee!


  46. LOL, Dee. Tell Gret I think she has a HUGE future in poetry!

    But my God, Detroit and Canada and Virginia? We are not worthy.

    Actually we’re not that interesting, either. But we will have Flamingo Jill with us unless Bob loses her in the same place he lost Moot.


  47. Back to the not-entirely-off-topic of audiobooks. Please try NOT to get the reader from Crazy For You again. Her voice drove me nuts, it was like fingernails on a blackboard.


  48. Don’t forget Maryland. People, okay one, are coming from MD too.

    Now, the one in Dayton is actually in Beavercreek, a ‘burb of Dayton, right?


  49. When I was 13 or so I read all the books in ‘the Saint’ series I could get my hands on. The Saint often worked with a girl called (I think) Patricia. Then there was a later book in which he ended up in a tight spot with some other girl, and it just wasn’t the same: the bad guy had the duo covered, there was a gun lying some distance away on the floor, if PATRICIA had been there she would have snatched up the gun and shot the bad guy, whereas the new girl, though not bad, was simply not in the same class as Patricia. I also read a lot of Mary Stewart; Stewart was a much better writer than Charteris (“better writer” — wrote better prose), but she loved stories in which a charmingly ineffectual heroine got into tight spots and got out of them thanks to a hero who turned up being all tough and effectual. Seems like your cover artists liked the kind of scenario where someone tough and effectual is trying to get out of a tight spot while encumbered with someone in high heels who is losing a shoe. Well, it’s depressing, looking at covers, but it does solve the problem of what to put on one’s grave. If I’d known that was the best they could do, I’d have done it myself. RIP.


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