Guest & Contest: Marilyn Kelly

In Search of the Perfect Cover

My first book cover, for Sounds of Love, was from the Ellora’s Cave design staff, and I love it. More than just a little. I had a fabric sample made up so I could stitch myself a bra pocket and keep this cover (and my phone) next to my heart.

The man is bulkier than my hero, but otherwise, this is a perfect representation of the story. This cover has movement and passion, and the rooftops of London set the scene. She’s resisting him slightly, but she’s ready to cave to desire.

For my first independent publication, All the Boys I Ever Kissed, I hired a local designer and told her I had an image in my head of a cluster of kissing lips. She came up with the following:

All_the_boys_yellow nameI liked this cover because it had a little black book feel to it, and I was ready to go with it until I saw it next to my elegant Ellora’s Cave cover on my website. My designer was out of town, and I had heard about during a workshop at RWA, so I held a cover contest. Thirty designers from around the world submitted 130 entries, ranging from amateurish to chic. Although it was time-consuming to respond to each entry, I’m thrilled with the result.

I was able to post entries on Facebook and Twitter and ask for opinions on the five finalists. I received quite a few comments there. When I was down to my final three, I emailed them to my closest friends and writing contacts, and I received 15 responses to the poll, clearly ranking an earlier version of this cover highest. I had been leaning towards the finalist that came in a distant third in ranking, so I was grateful for the collective creative process. I also received valuable feedback and was able to ask for changes that made me happier with this cover. I like the reflective tension of her pinky on her lips, and the men waiting in the shadows for her decision. The coloring and cropping were exactly what I asked for, and the title is legible as a thumbnail. Now when I see the covers side by side on my website, they present a more unified brand, even though one is clearly contemporary and the other historical.

ATBIEK front cover 5-7So what have I learned about crafting the perfect cover? First, the cover should fit the emotional tone of the book and if possible, be an encapsulation of the story. I want my reader to know what they’re getting, and I think my final choice does that better than my initial design with the cluster of lips. Second, I write sexy stories with a twist of scandal, and all my covers should represent that brand. Third, the title should be legible at thumbnail size. I could eliminate most of my cover contest entries on that condition alone. I was surprised at how many illegible titles were on Amazon. Fourth, the cover has to look good in black and white, because that’s how it will be seen on many e-readers. Several entries failed on this criterion. Finally, I made the mistake of giving my original designer instructions that were too specific, thinking I could save money if I told her what I had in mind. I tied her hands. Even though I was initially happy with the result, it worked out better for me to show designers my back cover copy and see what creative minds made of my story.

I hope that knowing about this contest process will help all authors craft a more perfect cover for their independent publications. Elance and oDesk are other companies that have freelance designers, but I found 99designs very easy to use.

Thank you for reading this blog and I hope you’ll enter my contest to win an e-copy of All the Boys I Ever Kissed on Amazon.


???????Marilyn Kelly writes super-strong women, which is no surprise. Traveling the world with five brothers, her theme song growing up was Anything They Can Do, I Can Do Better! A few years ago, she started writing sexy historical romances and her college sweetheart husband jumped in, helping with research and grinning all the way.

Her Wanton Widows series, published by Ellora’s Cave, is about three accomplished women in Victorian England who are all searching for love, respect, and passion. The first in the series released in January. Sounds of Love is a sizzling historical romance about a matchmaking novelist, a scholarly widow and an arrogant earl.

All the Boys I Ever Kissed (A Choose Your Ending Novel) is her first contemporary romantic women’s fiction. If you like The Bachelorette or Mamma Mia, she hopes you’ll love this book. There are three amazing men – a Washington DC firefighter/paramedic, an athletic Argentine millionaire, and an English baron. Which one will win Lana’s heart? The reader chooses their favorite! She follows the steamy romance with The Men Tell All Q&A.

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12 thoughts on “Guest & Contest: Marilyn Kelly

  1. Christine says:

    What a fascinating idea! I loved choose your own adventure books as a child, this ones sounds great!

  2. Christine says:

    I loved choose your own adventure books as a pre-teen – this one sounds fascinating! And I love covers that feature strong men 🙂

  3. erinf1 says:

    I agree that they need to be eye catching 🙂 Thanks for sharing! I do like these covers!

  4. Mary Preston says:

    I love covers that make me look twice. It might be the colors or the pictures. You do have great covers.

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