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?

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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 ???

  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. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

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Five-Time Readers Favorite Award Winner!


I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The characters were compelling, the procedural work was dead-on, and the story was enthralling. Definitely recommended.”
~Michelle Gagnon, author of Boneyard
The author expertly intertwines multiple story lines, presents readers with fully realized characters that readers will feel they know, and keeps the action and suspense levels high. That’s a lot to expect from an author but L. J. Sellers delivers.” ~OverMyDeadBody
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