Look, first things first. I've always loved the original cover of my first serious novel, Olives - A Violent Romance, which published back in the mists of time (well, 2011). I asked Lebanese artist and designer Naeema Zarif to create it for me and her artwork was very dear to my heart. She brought together the soil and the sky, the sea and the sandy Citadel in Amman, a layer of peace treaty adding the final texture to her multi-faceted visual.
It's a lovely piece of work. But it's not a commercial book cover. Let's not forget, at the time I hardly expected to be publishing another four books and more. Beirut - An Explosive Thriller's sexy lipstick bullet (by Jessie Shoucair) set a new look for my front covers, cemented with Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy's pill skull (by Gerrard King). I've been lucky to find wonderful collaborators for my covers.
The new cover of Olives - A Violent Romance: bang on brand!
By the way, can we just remember that Olives was always a rubbish idea for the book's title? I even knew it at the time, but try as I might I couldn't break the result of the book having carried that title for years as a WIP. I added the 'A Violent Romance' line just to ameliorate some of the worst impact of setting my book up against the might of Crespo and other olive packers, let alone Mediterranean recipes and eateries of all sorts. It's as a result of this I can (and do!) with great authority tell people at talks I give about self publishing that self indulgence is a terrible, terrible thing.
With the new style covers, the world moved on. I had to bring Olives into line and so I set about trying to find cover images that would work. Having failed on all fronts, I cludged together some blood and an olives graphic. The resulting cover was certainly striking but it was, to be honest, awful. Try as I might, I couldn't get anything better together and I was really focusing more on publishing A Decent Bomber (by which time I had learned to be more careful both about my book titles and cover images) and Birdkill. It was this last work introduced me, via a serendipitous little bit of searchery, to Mary Jo Hoffman and her gorgeous daily study of still life, the ethereal little slice of nature and tranquillity that is the Still Blog. A spit in the palm and handshake later, I had her little dead fox sparrow and Birdkill had its rather lovely cover.
As I readied for the series of writing, editing and publishing workshops I gave at the Emirates Literature Foundation last month, I started to find Olives' awful cover nagging at me once again. Swinging by Mary Jo's blog, an occasional treat I still enjoy, what did I spot but images of olives? And a rather wonderful idea dawned. Hoping against hope, I got in touch and asked her if she'd be up for looking at a cover image for my (newly revised) first book? Sure, she said, why the devil not?
And so we have a new cover. Mary Jo's still threatening to work on more treatments, so it may yet change a tad but in the meantime Olives has had a good hard edit in time for the workshop (rather more painful than I had first thought it would be, I unearthed a lot more sloppy writing habits than I'd thought I'd find) a new cover and the fruits of my laziness and self indulgence have instead been replaced by those of Mary Jo's cleverness and art.
What's the impact, you may ask, of a bad book cover design and title? Well, it's measurable - both Olives - A Violent Romance and Beirut - An Explosive Thriller are available on Amazon as free downloads. And they have run at a pretty consistent rate of about 20 to 1 in favour of Beirut over the past three months Will that change now we have a new cover in place? I'll let you know when things have bedded down enough for a pattern to emerge.
In the meantime, Olives has a lovely new cover and copies are not only available online as ebooks and paperbacks, but will also be on sale in the UAE soon, too. More on that piece of news soon!