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About Writing Right: The Blog


I ran into someone who asked for some examples of book covers that were unique, interesting, and creative. Here's what I came up with.

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I can think of several I've used over the years--each one more original than the last. For example:


This book, About Writing Right, works because of the simplicity of its design. Yet, it underwent some sixty or seventy subtle changes to incorporate just the right elements, in the right size, and in the right place. The typeface is clean, clear, and to the point. Yet, the placement of the words draws attention to them. The blue "questions" appearing behind the title have been deliberately shadowed down through use of transparency, and the one and only illustration toward the top shows an interesting arrangement that only another writer could appreciate. Ahh, the smell of old books! You just can't beat it.


This book, whose title is obvious, is the first in An Islands Murder Mystery series and shows the ideal setting of a harbor in St. Lucia. The placement of the seaplane is at such an angle as to make obvious the fact that it has just taken off and is in its climb, denoting action (of which there is plenty in this Caribbean-centered murder mystery loosely based on a true story). The plane plays against the placid scene of yachts and boats at moor below. The choice of colors further adds to the overall allure of the cover and reflects the drama inside—ranging from Garifuna tribal members, beautiful precocious women, and electrically charged excitement.


In The Mynah's Call, a mystery-adventure set in the exotic locale of the mighty Hindu Kush mountain range separating Pakistan from Afghanistan, , I used a fashion model I'd once photographed for another publication and superimposed an Afghani Mujahideen freedom fighter who falls in love with the gritty American Peace Corps volunteer before he mysteriously disappears. Left to her own devices, she faces insurmountable odds in trying to escape the war-torn countryside and is surely going to die until she gets the surprise of her life (literally) at the last harrowing moment. The Impressionistic photo manipulation of the background adds to the overall sense of mystery, exotica, and intrigue of exotic Kabul, Afghanistan, and Peshawar, Pakistan.


In this collection of Chicago-based short stories, the painting-style photograph was actually a grab shot I took on the North Side of the city while walking around with my camera one day. I think of it as looking through a window into the very soul of the city, where one may find anything of surprise—including an ominous thug loitering around the shop, looking for trouble—the same theme echoed in each of the stories in Chi-Town Blues, tales of murder, mystery, and mayhem in The Second City. The dark colors and shadowy figures add to the general feeling that the stories inside portray.


Finally, in Solid Stiehl: The Death and Life of Hymie Stiehl, I created a cover that advanced the premise of the book, when a part-time private detective stages his own death in order to go underground and emerge in drag to get the dirt on who kidnapped Chicago White Sox outfielder Jim Alavera--and why. The shot of a corpse in the morgue smoking a fine cigar is both whimsical and eye-catching, reflecting the offbeat humor and zany characters inhabiting the book from start to finish.


In short, I enjoy creating covers that catch the reader's eye and make him think. Most of these books were published by Elektra Press, an independent house that prides itself on quality rather than quantity. Their willingness to take a chance on off-beat cover art (and stories!) appeals to me far more than the hundreds of books I've published with bigger name traditional houses, such as Grolier, Simon & Schuster, and Prometheus. While the covers for those books were all utilitarian (they did what most covers do), they were less than … how shall I put this … inspirational. In fact, they were all pretty bland.


But that's the difference between corporate America and creative America. At least, that's the way I see it. If you'd like to add your two cents worth, drop me a line at my Website. Until then ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. His blogs appear on his Website at www.djherda.org. You can also check out his columns, "The Author-Ethicist" and "Fury and the Beast," at Substack. They're free; they're entertaining; they're informative, and they run weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!) 

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