Murphy’s Law—The Unboxed Writer’s Version

From Writer Unboxed:

The following is a writerly public service announcement.

Or maybe it’s more like a report from the publishing trenches. No need to panic; there’s nothing here that amounts to an emergency, in the greater scheme. But my recent experience with my debut has taught me that Murphy’s Law holds sway over publishing. In case it’s somehow slipped your mind, Murphy’s Law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And in the complex process of publishing a book, there are a great many things that can go wrong. Any one of those things can either trigger other issues, or adversely affect other steps to the process. Or both.

Allow me to provide a few examples—you know, in the interest of writerly public service.

Cover Story

Several of you have inquired about my cover, and the process of creating it. I really wanted a cover I could be proud of—one that would reflect the perseverance and the toil that went into bringing this story to the page. Which made me willing to invest in creating something special.

The story of my cover actually began in March of 2021. In spite of finding appeal in the graphic covers that are popular these days, I knew I wanted a painted look. So I started by scoping out painted epic fantasy covers  that I love and the artists that created them. A handful of artists kept coming up, and from those I picked a favorite. I reached out to my choice, whom I won’t name to protect their privacy, and they agreed to paint my cover. After several months, due to health reasons this artist asked for an extension, and I pushed the release date I’d had in mind (for the fall of ’21). Late in the fall, due to their workload with Big Five publishers and lingering health issues, the artist conveyed that something had to give. Of course I immediately released them from our contract, and the artist aided me in my search for a replacement.

Which brings us to March of this year, and my chosen replacement. I had already noted John Anthony Di Giovanni’s work, particularly the pieces he created for Joe Abercrombie’s Age of Madness trilogy. I love the series and thought that John’s work perfectly captured the atmosphere of the story and it’s world. John happened to be on my first artist’s short list for their replacement. In my initial contact with John, he very kindly conveyed his regrets; he was just too busy to fit my cover in to his tight schedule, but he would be happy to add me to his 2023 schedule.

Folks, I had already waited a year and missed my initial timeline for release. Add to that my growing feeling that providence had brought John and I together. I was smitten by his work. I could perfectly imagine him capturing my story-world and characters. It made me stubborn. I persisted and convinced John to squeeze me in (demonstrating my complicity in what followed). Together we agreed on a slot for the painting of my cover that fit both of our calendars. John read the manuscript right away, came up with a series of sketches, from which we chose the scene we both felt best captured the atmosphere and even conveyed a sense of the story’s themes and symbolism. By the start of summer things were clicking along like clockwork.

Until they weren’t. Due to a series of unforeseen setbacks, none of which was anyone’s fault, August came and went. John was making solid progress, but nowhere near done. I pushed my release day twice, but stubbornly dug my heels in to keep it in October. Since I didn’t want to have my book land during Halloween hoopla, I stuck with the 18th (another example of my complicity).

The (very) good news is, the cover is gorgeous! Definitely worth the wait. I couldn’t be happier with it. The less desirable side-effect was that the cover painting’s delayed arrival left us with a mere few weeks to get about a hundred publishing ducks into a row. Two of those ducks happened to be massive and less than cooperative birds (water “foul”?). Which brings me to my next example of Mr. Murphy’s implacable principle.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG was immediately reminded of an aphorism:

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

The purpose of a cover is to attract a prospective reader’s eye and cause a potential purchaser to either click on the cover image or, in a physical bookstore, if the book isn’t shelved so the cover can’t be seen, the cover does nothing.

If the cover can be seen in a bookstore or if something, likely the author’s name or book’s title on the spine, causes a prospective purchaser to pull the book out to examine, PG supposes that a really terrible cover could cause a prospect to reshelve it, but, at that point, the prospective purchaser is likely to at least open the book and examine the interior or check the blurbs on the back.

PG doesn’t know the author of the OP, but expects he is a very nice man (he did self-publish the book in question), but gently suggests that he may be overthinking the importance of the absolutely perfect cover that exists in his mind that transfers to the perfect cover artist is vital to the success or failure of his book.

Further along in the OP, the author describes using Ingram Spark for all his trade paper books because they’re known for their wonderful cover printing and non-Amazon online and offline bookstores get along fine with Ingram. Ingram assured him that they got along just fine with Amazon. Unfortunately there were problems getting his Ingram paperbacks on Amazon because Ingram and Amazon don’t actually like each other.

PG is not in a position to determine which of the two companies, or maybe both, is right/wrong, jerk/non-jerk, etc., but points out that a book with a perfectly printed cover on Amazon will certainly look different on everybody’s computer/tablet/smartphone screen than the one the artist created or that Ingram printed.

PG thinks it’s a worthy goal to want to delight a hard copy reader with a beautiful cover for a book the reader purchased online, but will a perfectly-designed and perfectly-printed cover make a reader like the book more than a good cover? If yes, how many readers like that are there in the book-buying public? They bought the book online while examining the online version of the cover on their iPhone for how long?

PG has ridden his hobby horse for so long, he’s saddle-sore, so he will stop. He’s happy to put this author’s cover up for all the visitors to TPV to enjoy and is likely to read the ebook version himself.

If you’re a fan of fantasy, PG urges you to not judge a book by it’s cover and read some of the sample pages of Mr. Roycroft’s book.


PG just did some looking and discovered this is Mr. Roycroft’s only book listed for sale on Amazon.

If this is his first book, PG apologizes for being so hard on a first-time author. As he wrote previously, PG is likely to read the ebook version and will mention that it’s available through Kindle Unlimited if visitors to TPV wish to give it a try.

Note to visitors: PG is still recovering from his intimate encounter with an escalator a few days ago. He has a row of 2 inch long gouges across the top of his head and may not be in his right mind.

Note to Mr. Roycroft: I just looked at your sample chapters and downloaded your ebook. I expect to enjoy it.

14 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law—The Unboxed Writer’s Version”

  1. This made me curious enough to click through to see the cover. It’s OK I guess? It would be functional enough on a bookstore shelf. It wouldn’t make the book jump off the shelf into my hands, but neither is it off-putting. It fails the “make the genre immediate obvious” test, but the title covers that well enough. The cover fails the thumbnail test. I just looked at it on Goodreads. I can see there is a guy on a horse, but that’s it.

    This may be just me, but the Look Inside kills any potential for a deal. A fantasy novel, we are assured the first of a trilogy, with a map, a list of characters, and a glossary. I tired of these about thirty years ago. The only thing missing is a pronunciation guide. This looks very much like the stuff that on rec.arts.sf.written they used to call “extruded fantasy product.” I could be wrong. It could be terrific. But we aren’t given any reason to believe there is anything new or interesting here.

    I am more interested by the nominal publisher: “Avalon Cottage Publishing LLC.” Googling turns up nothing, which is another way of saying this is self-published but with a facade of having a publisher behind it. This is pretty common, which is itself telling, but more so with nonfiction. This particular name is especially interesting, as Avalon Books was a pretty prominent imprint for fantasy, back in the day. I won’t say this guy is trying to piggyback on it, but he isn’t trying very hard to avoid this appearance.

    • I’m not sure that isn’t a “gal” on the horse… 🙂

      Doesn’t scream “Fantasy” — could have been an Amerindian setting, or maybe the Steppes.

      Finding a cover artist for an ongoing series is indeed fraught — will the person you really really like still be available by book 5 and onwards? I marvel at the 20+ book series (e.g., Foreigner, C J Cherryh) that have covers from the same (famous) artist, since that’s either a 20-year relationship, or those books got re-covered en masse at least once (an expensive proposition).

          • Ironically, my first reaction was “garments don’t match the saddles, stirrups, and weaponry very well”…

            One of my favorite examples of such foofery is a Genre-Famous-Artist 1990s cover depicting a particular scene in which a magic-user conjures a bridge into existence for an army to cross and take the castle — a bridge that, as depicted on that cover, would one (or more) of: immediately slide off the hillside for lack of any anchoring, collapse almost immediately when walked upon, and/or get the invading army killed because it was only wide enough for three or four armed men to cross abreast (can you say “chokepoint”?). Sadly, the cover was better-conceived than the scene in the book…

  2. Ingram vs. Amazon: Qui bono? Ingram produces books and distributes them to retailers. Amazon both produces books and retails them. Amazon has a clear motive to not play nice with Ingram: to capture more of the book production business. What is Ingram’s motive to not play nice?

    Book covers: I once talked with a guy who assured me that he has refused to buy books whose covers did not meet his standards. I thought this very confused on multiple levels, but have no reason to doubt him.

    • Agreed on the Ingram v. Amazon, R.

      Other than potential antitrust issues, why is Amazon going to provide frictionless books transferred from Ingram.

      I know the author seems like a newbie, but I wonder if he shouldn’t just upload his trade paper book to Amazon. I hope he hasn’t signed any sort of exclusive agreement with Ingram.

      I also hope he’s not in a sunk cost situation with Ingram where he’s prepaid for a bunch of print books.

  3. To me the main character on the horse is definitely female. Which seems odd given the title of the book. Lots of hints. Arms and chest particularly. Also, the saddle design looks odd. Can’t see those lancers charging very fast on those saddles. Not with that leg posture.

    Finally, and worst to me, the cover design is unbalanced vertically and does it advertise that it is part of a series. But if that’s how his taste runs…

  4. My first thought was where’s the link? I finally found one to B&N at the bottom of the OP’s post at WB. The cover image (on my 13″ Retina display) is about half the actual size of a 6×9 cover. No magnification available.
    $18 for a hardcover. No ebook listed.
    As for the image, like several others here, my first thought was a female rider, but my eyes aren’t what they were (and they were never good).
    OTOH, like we always say in writing critiques, at the end of the day, is this what you (the OP in this case) want? If it is, then, good fortune.

  5. I honestly thought the title was the reason for the Murphy’s Law bit, that it was misspelled or something. Because the character is obviously female, and also because the book’s description says a woman is the main character. Her name is Elan. Aside from that, the title is befuddling rather than intriguing. What is the severing son? Is it good or bad that the son is severing something?

    The description on Amazon’s page is written in dull passive voice, and does not promise rousing action or anything of the kind (bolded for emphasis):

    Tales of the Bringer of Urrinan had been told for generations, but never had the prophecy felt so near to so many. Elan wasn’t sure if she even believed one man could cause the sort of upheaval that would change the world. And yet, just as the prophecy foretold, dark forces were on the rise—including the many Spali warbands raiding across the borderlands.

    It was in pursuit of one such warband when Elan’s host discovered the hidden compound of the Outcast. She’d heard how the former chieftain of the mighty Amalus Clan had been unjustly accused of murdering his rival. How the conflict had begun over a woman. How the Outcast’s son—born of that same woman—perfectly matched the prophecy’s foretelling of the Bringer.

    Prophecy aside, it seemed that fate had led Elan into the midst of a legend. Because of a choice made in the heat of battle, Elan found herself bound to an outlaw hunted by friend and foe alike. Whether she believed in the prophecy or not, she found herself entangled with a lone figure who vowed to seek the sort of upheaval that might just change the world.

    Title, cover, and summary are supposed to be a triumvirate / trinity / whatever that gets a reader to pick up a book. Sometimes a title can be dull or odd, but the cover and the summary can do the heavy lifting. The cover might be dull or odd, but the title and the summary can do the heavy lifting. But the summary must never be dull or confusing, because the title and the art will not do the heavy lifting there.

    Dude’s got to “Frank it up” as the commercial says.

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