by | Nov 22, 2022 | Karna Small Bodman, The Writer's Life | 8 comments

By Karna Small Bodman

When selecting the next book to read, are you influenced by a friend’s recommendation, a review you saw, the current bestseller list, the author’s name, or perhaps by the cover? And, if you’re in a bookstore (thankfully there are still a few around), you probably check out the tables in front with a sign announcing NEW RELEASES in both fiction and non-fiction – right? In that case, does the cover art make you pick up a certain book to read a blurb on the cover or even a description on the back or inside flap?

The ARC cover of Gambit

As an author I, and my fellow writers, have all had experience dealing with our publishers when it comes to cover art, especially for initial releases. Publishers will generally send an author a photo of what their Graphic Arts Department has come up with – take it or leave it. My thriller, Gambit, involves an international plot targeting not only our commercial airliners, but Air Force Two as well, so I was pleased with their cover showing a plane framed by the Presidential seal – similar, I thought, to the one used on the old TV show, West Wing. And the publisher had printed hundreds of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) with this cover for distribution at Book Expo in New York where they would be given out to booksellers, librarians and reviewers, and where I was scheduled to do a major signing.

The final book cover of Gambit

Big problem!!! 

The night before I was to fly to New York, I got a frantic call from the publisher saying their legal department had ruled that any use of the actual presidential seal was illegal. Wait a minute. Their artist used the “actual” seal and not a “similar” one missing a star or something? I quickly emailed the illustration to an old friend who happened to be the White House Legal Counsel. He answered immediately saying, “Sorry, kiddo – ANY commercial use of the precise Presidential Seal really IS illegal.” What to do? It turns out that the publisher hurriedly printed up a bunch of stickers their staff slapped onto the ARCs that covered up the seal – and I had no choice but to sign the ARCs as planned. As you can imagine, tons of people simply tore off the stickers and sold the “illegal” books (for a profit) on eBay. That snafu was even featured in an article in the Book Expo Newsletter. To the left is the art that was put on the final hardcover edition. I always wondered if readers were encouraged to buy that novel based on the new cover or if the old one – “adjusted” a bit – would have sold better. 

The Coil by Gayle Lynds

When it comes to cover art though, let me give you a few examples of ones I think are really effective. The first is on a terrific thriller, The Coil, by our own Rogue, Gayle Lynds. This story features CIA agents in a desperate hunt across two continents to uncover a dark conspiracy linked to a shadowy group known as “The Coil.” The cover shows a frantic chase and promises the reader a tension-filled story. And, by the way, Gayle’s bestselling thrillers not only led her to be dubbed “A master of the modern Cold War Spy Thriller” by the Associated Press, her experiences marketing her books encouraged her to create our group, Rogue Women Writers.

Lore Olympus book cover

Another cover that I think is quite intriguing is on the book, Lore Olympus. It wasn’t written by a super well-known author, but it has hit Publishers Weekly’s Bestseller list, and perhaps the cover played a part in that. The book is described as “A refreshingly modern and surprisingly poignant take on the Hades and Persephone myth from Greek mythology and includes rumors of their romance vs. expectations of the gods. As I study that cover, I get the sense of a combination of history, romance and a struggle, all elements that make a good story.

I love you to the Moon and Back

Checking covers in a completely different genre, this time for children’s books, I found this one I think is adorable, I Love You to the Moon and Back. It’s been my observation that artists who illustrate children’s books must be especially creative in order to capture the imagination of a child. They certainly did that with this particular book. It’s a beautiful gift edition of a bedtime story about new ways to share love with little ones. Of course, the text must be inviting as well. Here are a few lines, “So snuggle safely in my arms, our day is nearly done. I love you to the moon and stars, my precious little one.”

the book cover of Wrigley at the White House

I had been researching children’s books because, in addition to writing my White House thrillers, on the side I wrote a children’s picture book, Wrigley at The White House, in rhyme like the previous one. Mine is about 4-year-old twins (boy and girl) living in The White House. They get a puppy for their birthday, name it “Wrigley,” and that little dog then runs around the famous building getting into trouble while also solving a big problem for their dad, the President. My point in writing it was not only to entertain children by the antics of the puppy, but to “show” them that there IS a home of our First Families that has an Oval Office, Rose Garden, State Dining Room with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and so much more. I have a great illustrator, Susan Spellman, who created this cover. The story is currently being considered by a few publishers (hope I get a deal) – and I’m also hoping that if parents or grandparents see this cover on a children’s book, they just might pick it up. 

As an author, have you had any “cover hassles” with your publishers? And, as a reader, is there a cover that encouraged you to buy a particular book? If so, what did you like about it? Let us know.

And a very HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU AND YOURS from all of us at Rogue Women Writers!

Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Jenny Milchman

    Great save regarding the seal! And boy, that cover on Gayle’s has fantastic color. It positively glows.

    I’ve always had what they call “cover consult” so have luckily been a part of the process with my 5 novels. I’ve never had much to say though because I think those cover designers are geniuses all without me!

    • Karna Small Bodman

      So glad you have had terrific cover designers – you are fortunate indeed!! Then again, you have a great following for your intriguing thrillers! That’s for sure.

  2. Tracy Clark

    I actually gasped at the seal story. Oh boy! I’ve been so lucky with all my book covers so far. I’ve loved them all. I’m asked for suggestions each time, and I gladly give them, then I wait to see what comes back. So far the covers have been great. I trust that the publisher and the cover artist kind of know what works and what doesn’t, what’s going to compel a reader to pick a book off a shelf and what might turn them off. It’s art, but it’s also business, marketing. I could probably learn more about it, but I kinda don’t wanna? Writing books is labor-intensive enough. I leave the cover to the professionals.

  3. Gayle Lynds

    You really covered covers, Karna, both oh-my! and fun! Like Tracy, I sorta gasped at the seal story. I think I knew about it in the deep dark past, but really, the way you told it was heart-stopping. I still think the cover is so dramatic that it’s a grabber. Nothing like having a huge jet aimed right atcha!

    And thanks for showing my The Coil cover. It went through several iterations, and when the final was final, I was truly jazzed.

    I want you to sell your Wrigley at the White House because I want to get it for my grandchildren!!!! Fingers crossed!!!!

    You are so versatile. Love your adult thrillers, and am eager to read about Wrigley and the twins!

  4. Karna Small Bodman

    You too have creative covers on your thrillers, Tracy. thanks for your comments here.

  5. Lisa Black

    Oh yes! I only gained some limited input into my cover designs recently. With one publisher, my book about a murderous fall off the 23rd floor of a downtown building under construction had a picture of a rickety, wooden, spiral staircase. Another had a tree out in a field, nothing else, for a book that took place entirely in the downtown area of a major city. But my current publisher has begun asking my opinion and so I actually participated in the cover design for my latest book, Red Flags.

  6. Alex Kava

    Karna, great blog and both those versions of GAMBIT are awesome! I remember seeing one of my covers for the first time at BookExpo. (Back in the days when I didn’t have “cover consult.”) It looked like a cartoon version of a thriller. They admitted they rushed it for the display (and ARCs) and thankfully changed it for the hardcover, but what a wasted opportunity. Now that I’m designing my own, I believe cover designs are more important than ever. Today, the biggest challenge is making sure not only that the hardcover draws attention, but also that the thumbnail version stands out at digital retailers.

  7. Suzanne Barr

    Karna — What a shocker of a cover story! I had no idea, but now that I do, I can only imagine how anxious you must’ve been. As a writer, I don’t always have input on the cover art, though there are exceptions when a “certain someone” doesn’t read the text! I’ll leave you guessing!

    Excellent blog, and my fingers are crossed we get to see Wrigley at The White House prominently displayed in our local bookstore!