Right Image, Wrong Message?

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

Books covers! Sometimes you get lucky and find the perfect image after a quick search. Most of the time, the author and cover designers struggle to even articulate what type of single image will best convey a complex story.

I loved the first cover proof Thomas & Mercer sent for Deadly Bonds. It’s simple, powerful, and emotional. The child’s hand in the adult hand also tells readers something about the bonds in the title. I wanted to just say Yes, this is perfect.

But then I worried that the image would give some people the wrong idea. For some readers, any image involving a child on the cover of a crime fiction story implies pedophilia. I wanted to be wrong about that assumption, but I mentioned my concern to my publisher. They passed the cover around to a few employees to get their reactions and decided that they shared my concern.

So we’re back to the drawing board. Yesterday, they sent this cover. I like it, but I think it’s too sweet. And again, will people get the wrong idea? How do you covey that a small child plays a role in the story without having people assume that the child is victimized?

I have no regrets about the story. It may be one of my strongest Jackson books yet. But the cover is challenging, and I’m tempted to set up a photo shoot to see if my graphic artist can produce an image that implies a nonsexual bond between a caregiver and a child. Is that even possible?

So what do you think of these covers? Where does your mind go?

7 Comments
  1. I agree with you about cover #1, #2 could seem too sweet, perhaps there could be Det. Jackson kneeling down and showing the boy his badge? That way you know there is a connection but it’s a safe one? Can’t wait for the new book, keep up the great work!

  2. After reading the synopsis, I think the cover with the child holding the hand of an adult (presumably male) conveys the message of this book – The child of a murdered mother becomes attached to Det. Jackson after being found by him (Jackson) hiding at the murder scene. Just my opinion, but I would go with it over the picture of the child, which might be misconstrued.

  3. LJ,
    I think if your books in the past have had the provocative covers that send a message that the story was about Baby’s, Sex Clubs, Justice, Crime (2 books), Cheaters, and Bonds between and adult and and a child. If it sends a signal that your readers need to read the books to find out about the story.

    You have never delivered a story that was on the wrong side of and issue and I think your fans know the story must be interesting. It is a book featuring Detective Jackson who has a reputation of caring for people young and old. I think it tells the right message. I polled 25 close contacts and 23 out of 25 liked the cover and didn’t feel it was about a child molester.

    My thoughts have a little research for now. I have a larger group I asked the same question. I let you know.

  4. I think your right LJ – both covers are misleading. I wonder about a face to face (profile) of an adult and child facing each other – would that work? I suppose it comes down to their expressions too.

  5. I have to agree that the one of them holding hands kind gives me the creeps. Maybe the back of the two of them running ???

  6. Cover #1 makes me think of an adult leading a child away to harm them. I know that the child is holding the adult not vice versa but that was the first thought given the genre. I’m not sure what to think of cover #2. I really don’t know how to have a child on the cover of a mystery/thriller without a reader assuming they’ll be a/the victim.

  7. Yes– first one was striking but brought forth wrong message. Overall they’ve done a great job branding you with covers.

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