Judge a book by its cover

Today I launched a competition to design the cover of Amsterdam Rampant on the website 99designs (link here: http://99designs.com/book-cover-design/contests/amsterdam-rampant-262348/welcome ).

I decided that the Silver package (499 USD) would be a good option – I should get around 60 designs from professional designers and have the chance to go through a couple of rounds of feedback before deciding which one I like.

As I ponder the look that’s right for the book, I am drawn back to a question that has always bothered me. “What is your novel about?”

A quick summary or elevator pitch for the novel is something I’ve always found difficult – maybe because I’m too close to the novel to summarise it in a couple of soundbites (thinking about the book like an engineer would, wanting to unravel the blueprints on the floor and discuss the entire machine and all its inner workings). But probably the main reason I find it difficult is because Amsterdam Rampant doesn’t fit snugly into any one genre.

An absence of recognisable genre, of course, makes it difficult to sell a book through the traditional channels. As the thin line between editors and marketers continues to blur, the rejections I got from publishing houses often focused entirely on the commercial prospects of my project – and if, as a male writer, your work cannot be classified as crime, fantasy, or thriller, or cannot potentially be made into a movie with Hugh Grant, then alas you are in commercial Siberia.

On the other hand, maybe the lack of a recognisable genre can be an advantage. I recently read the excellent book Difficult Men by Brett Martin, which is about the new golden age of television in the last 15 years – The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, etc. There was a quote I loved from Vince Gilligan about his creation: “Breaking Bad fit no discernible genre at all – except quality.” A fine call to arms if ever I heard one.

In the 99designs blurb I described what my book is about as follows:

“There’s no place quite like Amsterdam for losing yourself, and Fin McPhail is one of the lost.

It wasn’t supposed to end up like this. Amsterdam was going to be a fresh start away from all his problems back in Scotland. His new life started well enough, with a new job, big plans, and sobriety. But as winter tightened its grip, Fin reverted back to his old temptations, slowly edging into Amsterdam’s underworld…

And now, not only is Fin being followed by a psychopath, but his old life is hurtling back towards him in the shape of a stag party – four reprobates from his hometown in Scotland, including his future brother-in-law and the former school bully – will arrive in the city this evening. With time running out and nothing left to lose, he knows there is only one course of action left – do what’s right for his sister…”

My goal was to write a book that would be uncompromising and riotously entertaining. Influences include:

WRITERS – Iain Banks, Irvine Welsh, Jonathan Franzen, Roddy Doyle, Charles Bukowski
MOVIES – In Bruges, Trainspotting, Stand By Me
TV – Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men

The competition to design my cover runs for 1 week, after which I will make a decision. I will post the designs here later this week – you will have a chance to vote on your favourite design, so watch this space, pop-pickers!

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One thought on “Judge a book by its cover

  1. That site has a good reputation, the best I’ve heard of its type. Good to see you gave the designers a pretty clear idea of the general approach you’re after, as I think that’s a must if your work isn’t easily pigeonholed by genre. I dislike blatantly genre-styled covers tbh. It’s one of the few areas in which rickety old lit fiction still has an edge, I’d say.

    For me, these are still the pinnacle of cover design: http://causticcovercritic.blogspot.com.es/2010/02/this-is-how-to-do-it.html

    I see too that Penguin Classics’ covers still make no compromise to the Amazon thumbnail format and the absurdly large text it necessitates. Long may they hold out!

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