A Wicked Welcome to Vanessa Lillie

I’ve been fortunate to get to know Vanessa Lillie through her work on the national board of Sisters in Crime, and by reading her articles in the Providence Journal. I’m thrilled to welcome her to the blog today, celebrating the release of her second book, For the Best.

As an author, one of the most exciting parts of the publishing process has very little to do with the words you’ve written. And yet, it’s likely one of the main reasons someone will read your book.

I’m talking of course about the book’s cover. I wanted to share an inside look into the cover design process for my second thriller, For the Best.  In fact, I liked the cover design so much, it actually changed the content of my book. Here’s what For the Best is about:

When Jules Worthington-Smith’s wallet is found next to a dead man, she becomes the prime suspect in his murder. After struggling for years to build the perfect family and career, she’s dangerously close to losing everything.

Sure of her innocence, Jules is desperate to clear her name. But there’s one big problem: she was blackout drunk when the murder took place and can’t remember what happened.

Unsatisfied with the police’s handling of the case, Jules embarks on her own gin-fueled murder investigation. As she uncovers fresh clues, she starts a true-crime vlog that becomes a viral sensation, pushing her into the public eye. It’s not long before the ordeal forces Jules to confront her demons, including her turbulent childhood and excessive drinking.

The deeper Jules digs, the more dirt she uncovers about the murder and herself. Unexpected truths pile up until she’s buried so deep even finding the killer might not be enough to set her free.

My publisher, Thomas and Mercer, asks authors to fill out a questionnaire for the cover designer. I answered questions about what my characters look like, themes and an excerpt from the story that reflects the overall tone.

I also sent a link to a Pinterest board with different covers that I thought might provide inspiration to the designer.  

Then the designer sent along two main concepts, one similar to the broken wine glass, and another with the pool (and two different background options). That mysterious illuminated pool drew me in right away. The only problem? There wasn’t a pool in my book!

Others may feel differently, but it bothers me if the cover doesn’t match the content. I know a book cover is a marketing tool, but to me it’s also a promise of what’s within.

Because I received this design while I was editing For the Best, I could actually add a pool. Rather than just dropping it into a scene, I was able to develop it into a metaphor for how my main character, Jules, and her family try to keep up appearences, even when everything is crumbling.

Once we decided to go with the dark house in the background, the only small change was adding a glass of wine by the woman staring into the pool.

I appreciated that my publisher used the same cover designer, Shasti O’Leary Soudant, as they used for my debut, Little Voices.

And it’s not just me who absolutely loves this cover. I was thrilled to see Parade Magazine listed For the Best as one of the best book covers for Fall 2020!

Readers, I’m so curious: do you judge a book by the cover? Is that one of the main reasons you decide to read?

Vanessa Lillie is the Amazon Bestselling author of Little Voices, which received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Best Debuts 2019 by Bolo Books. She’s a Board Member of Sisters in Crime and weekly columnist for The Providence Journal. Her next book, For the Best, was released September 8th, and she’s currently working on her third, which is set in rural Oklahoma.

27 Thoughts

  1. A good cover isn’t the only reason I pick up a book, but it certainly helps if the author isn’t familiar to me. If it’s an author I know I like, I don’t care about the cover. Your new book’s cover is fabulous, and I’m glad you found a way to work the pool into your story!

    1. Thank you so much, Marla, I’m glad you like it! I also find if I don’t know an author, it’s great to be drawn in by the cover.

  2. To be honest, I accept ARCs sight unseen, just because you all ask me to review them, which does occasionally end up with me reading and reviewing a book FAR outside of my comfort zone. When I succumb to the lure of a giveaway, I mostly look for covers that imply COZY or HUMOROUS, as well as looking for the book(s) of the author who sent me the link.

      1. Nope, but if the description has anything about BDSM or horror (assuming I READ the description) I pass up that particular book.

  3. Welcome to the blog, Vanessa. Cover design is a fascinating process, and they certainly got it right with both of yours. I feel the same about the content of the book having to match the cover!

    1. Hi Edith! I agree, I’m really fascinated by the design process. And thank you!

  4. Covers rarely influence my decision to buy now that most of my reading occurs on Kindle. That said, I do expect the cover to have a connection to the story and feel a bit cheated if a major cover element is not somehow featured.

  5. Congrats on the release of FOR THE BEST, Vanessa! I love your cover and they do influence my my book buying, especially with an author I may not be familiar with. LITTLE VOICES is in my TBR stack. Your post is a perfect reminder that I need to read it. Cheers!

  6. Covers shouldn’t matter as much as they do but of course, they’re essential for drawing the reader into the story. I love the pool look and I’m glad you chose to include it.

  7. Love book covers! When I see one I try to envision what the story is and then after reading the book I re-examine the cover to see how appropriate it is for the story. It’s very unsettling if the cover doesn’t match the story inside.

    On authors I know, the cover is an added and delightful bonus. However, a cover definitely may determine if I pick up the book and explore it further if I don’t know the author or the book. By the way, your cover design would definitely have me picking up the book and the storyline sounds like a must read to me.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Thank you, Kay. I agree, I like to continue examining the cover as I read and when the book is done. Thanks for the kind words about my cover!

  8. I do judge book covers, and they may be a reason I pick up a book to look at it, but they rarely figure in my buying/reading decision.

    Congratulations, Vanessa!

    1. That’s very interesting, Liz! So it’s the gateway to buying but not the main reason. Thanks!

  9. Welcome to the Wickeds, Vanessa! I use Pinterest to send to my publisher’s art department for covers, but I send scenes. I never thought of sending covers. What I great idea. I’ll buy a book because I’m attracted by a cover, but I won’t avoid a book I want if the cover is bad.

    1. Hi Barbara! I agree, I feel bad for an author if I don’t like the cover since they likely had almost nothing to do with it! That said, when I love a cover, the author DOES get credit for that LOL 🙂

  10. Yes, cover art is important to me. This most likely stems from my background as a children’s librarian and how I always noticed that the students would pick up a book with an interesting cover. And, thank you so much for integrating the pool into your book. When a cover has nothing to do with the story, I find that sad. Years ago I met the author Trina Schart Hyman at a children’s literature symposium just after she learned that her illustrations for Saint George And The Dragon retold by Margaret Hodges had won The Caldecott Medal. She gave a talk about the book and the inspiration for her illustrations and told us that she used her neighbors as her models except for the back jacket cover where she herself is sitting at a desk in period clothing with her own dog at her feet and the author and her husband also in period clothing are walking up the hill in the scene. In an unprecedented situation, Margaret and her husband came to visit Trina before the book was published and it was so impactful a visit that Trina said she felt compelled to record it as an illustration for the book.

  11. Thanks for visiting with the Wickeds, Vanessa! I love the way you took a cover quandary and turned it into a positive! Even though it always seems like I should be more open-minded, covers definitely have an impact on my decision whether or not to pick up a book. Congratulations on yours!

  12. That’s very interesting about how you worked the cover into your novel. Because I am one of those people who gets very disappointed if the cover is wildly different from the book. A few minor things – okay, I get it. But something major would be a huge disappointment for me.

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