01 September 2013

Criminal Book Covers

by Leigh Lundin

I have a nice kitchen stove with digital temperature, slow pre-heat, glass top, USB and firewire ports, automatic transmission, and other features I'm sure. I also own pots and pans and a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil. Just because I have them, doesn’t mean I should attempt to use them.

When it comes to vanity publishing, I’m of the opinion just because some have the weapons to write a book, doesn’t mean they should. Indeed, 98% should refrain.

A blog called Lousy Book Covers applies my opinion to book covers using the motto “Just because you CAN design your own book cover doesn't mean you SHOULD.” It made me realize if one can’t or won’t use an artist, they sure as hell won’t pay an editor.

My friend Deborah used to point out the Ellora’s Cave covers that looked like sixth-graders had discovered Smith Micro art programs, software putting the S&M in Poser, creating oddly stiff mannequin figures committing unnatural acts in unnatural positions.

Later in a LinkedIn discussion on self-pubbing with the attendant interpersonal drama, one ‘historical’ writer became a hysterical writer, attacking a friend and colleague, calling her a slut for writing sex scenes while insisting his were tasteful. He was bent on pushing his Civil War ‘true-life’ story which cover featured an ultra-busty plastic Poser babe dressed in six-guns and a plunging leather vest. He claimed the cover had cost him a thousand or so, but it still looked like it was cobbled by a hormonal driven teen in a hurry.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that thin-skinned 'indy' writers are equally thin-skinned about their pride-n-joy covers. But, as one observer said, “If you can't take the heat, stay out of the Photoshop.” And oh, Lord… vanity press book covers have become internet cannon fodder with sites like the Caustic Cover Critic, Judge a Book, Bad BookCovers, More Bad Book Covers, Awful Library Books, WTF Bad RomanceCovers, Something Awful, of course Lousy Book Covers and more!

If you can stand the crimes, here are a few mostly ‘indy’ self-published books and their covers flogged on an unsuspecting internet audience.

Being a crime writer, my first thought was severed heads in a field… but why are they smiling so strangely?
Burning… Hey! Not literally, it's a figure of speech. Like a hunk'a hunk'a burning love.
Critics agree… Athink thith ith one of the ghastliest coverth ever!
I suppose this is supposed to be an administration-hating, art-hating, literacy-hating book. With all the out-sourcing, shouldn't they depict an Indian elephant for true symbolism?
Now we know where the extra heads in the first book came from. Usually the number one rule in graphic design is leave the heads on people.
Seriously? This is for sale?
I think this is about head, but I'm not sure it's in a good way. Could this be why those in the first book are grinning?
This is a literary oxymoron, with an emphasis on the last two syllables. What? Half of you don't mind?
Really, doesn't Michigan have enough problems? And don't blame it on the Upper Peninsula. Or Detroit.
What? Starting with the title… no, belay that, I'd rather not. Insane eyes? The phallic arrow? 'Double Penetrator' action? What could be so wrong?
Granted, this isn't a new book or indy, but it speaks volumes about cover design.
Uh, I know this isn't politically correct, but aren't all younger sisters sort of …? Well, you know what I mean.
Whew! Poser and Photoshop and talent. And what a concept for Stuart Little.
A truly abominable snowman. There's nothing to fear except clip art in the hands of a noobee Poser/Photoshop user.
At last! Combine Poser models for that perfect androgynous look!
What is it with Nazi romance novels?
One of the worst covers ever. Even on Earth, I never liked Charlie's Angels.
Some people shouldn't be allowed crayons.
I don't so much object to this cover on aesthetic grounds, but grammar. "Beneath your Beautiful what?" The mind stalls, just like the phrase.
This scares the hell out of me.
   I can't add a thing.


  1. On the other hand, there is a certain outre charm to Thong the Barbarian Meets Cycle Sluts of Saturn- you couldn't make that up!

  2. That should be "ghathtletht" for consistency's sake. And it reminded me of Dorothy Parker's legendary review as "Constant Reader": "Conthtant Weader fwowed up."

  3. Those are hilarious. When will people ever learn!

  4. Janice, a thong on me would be decidedly barbaric. Don't you love the graphic style and the tasteful juxtaposition of text?

    Elizabeth, you're right, of course. I actually laughed (a real LOL for once) at Conthtant Weader.

    Anon, apparently never, which is good news for articles like this. Some of the web sites mentioned indy authors who've threatened to sue for mocking their books and covers. One of the positive side effects is an occasional self-pubber will take down their own opus.

  5. If the covers are this good, think how great the books must be!!! OMG some are scary!

  6. As a writer with no visual sense whatsoever I am terrified of creating or okaying a cover that people will react to like this. Bad art shows up much more dramatically than bad writing.

    Cooking with Pooh... wow.

  7. Hi Leigh,
    I'm glad I remembered to check your column today. I chuckled all the way through it. I can't imagine myself reading one of those books.

  8. This is why they don't do illustrations for country western songs. They'd all be somewhere between "Cycle sluts of Venus" and "Lumberjack Love." What a hoot!

  9. Anon's right--some of these ARE scary.

    I'm thinking maybe you CAN judge a book by its cover . . .

  10. Anon, I've thought the same thing. "Editors? We don't need no stinking editors!"

    Rob, naturally the cover is the first thing buyers see, so I'm pleased indy authors put so much effort into a first impression.

    Hi Vicki! My first exposure to self-pubbed books was a few years ago and I was astonished. Typos, grammatical errors, and creative punctuation on every pge. I'm glad you chuckled.

    Eve, I hadn't thought about that but you're right. Saturn sluts in a pickup truck!

    I admit I wouldn't want to read Cooking with Pooh. I wouldn't want to touch it. But… do you suppose the woman in The Help wrote that book?

  11. John’s right. In this case there's no doubt in my mind that you can judge the books by their covers. I hope they all used pen names. If I published something like that I'd have to go into hiding I'd be so embarrassed.

  12. “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that's where it should stay.”
    Christopher Hitchens

    After today's post, the quote should be extended to include covers.

    "...do you suppose the woman in The Help wrote that book?” [Cooking with Pooh]

    (laughing) You are a wicked man, Mr Lundin.

  13. John, good point: You CAN judge a book by its cover. Wish I’t thought that up, John.

    Vicki, as a reviewer, your eye must be more critical than ours!

    ABA, wonderful Hitchens’ quote! (bow) Thank you.

    Jeff, good catch! I hadn’t realized Cycle Sluts might have more than one meaning. Speaking of which…

    Confession (which also illustrates a point) regarding the title Beneath Your Beautiful. My first reaction (above) was Beautiful what? Then my second was they meant to spell ‘you’ instead of ‘your’, then perhaps ‘Beneath your _____, Beautiful’ (fill in the blank with anything). And after I posted it, it finally dawned on me perhaps they’re missing punctuation and spelling: ‘Beneath, you’re beautiful.” The sad thing is we can’t be certain what the author really meant.

  14. JEFF BAKER: It's been pointed out to me your clever comment's gone missing! I don't know if this is a Blogger bug or an accident on our part, but my apologies. Sorry, old friend.

  15. Hey, Leigh, when I googled Beneath Your Beautiful, I discovered it is a song title also. Perhaps the author got the book title from the song, which is spelled the same way; evidently the male singer wants to get to know the inner-self of a lovely young woman, which lies beneath her beautiful exterior [i.e.: I want to see beneath your beautiful (exterior, to get to know the "real you") -- I THINK.] Can’t help but think the word “beauty” might do better than the word “beautiful”, but maybe it’s a Brit thing, since that’s where the song seems to have originated.

    Also, for an added kick, check out the "book trailer" evidently created by whoever made the cover art, at Amazon's site for HARVESTING RUE. And, watch where Rue's hand winds up as she's speaking!


  16. "The Penetrator" was a long-running series of men's action/adventure novels published in the '70s and '80s, and the covers--love them or hate them today--were consistent with what was appearing on other men's action/adventure novels of that time.

  17. Ah, that explains a lot, Michael.

    Dixon, I looked for the trailer, but it's been removed. Apparently there's been an update: The cover on Amazon now features a shirtless abs.

  18. The cover as shown for Thong The Barbarian Meets the Cycle Sluts of Saturn is not the books original cover but art that was done later for the Kindle edition. The actual cover art can be found here-


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