The Stupid 365 Project, Day 72: Cover Story

December 13th, 2010

To continue with the topic of covers.

Just got two cover designs for INCINERATOR, the fifth Simeon Grist novel, from the amazing Allen Chiu.

For those of you who have, inexplicably, not read the book, there’s a lunatic stalking the most heartbreaking of Los Angeles’ streets, setting homeless people on fire.  He chooses those who are drunk or comatose or otherwise helpless.

Then he makes a mistake.  He burns an old man who turns out to be a supermarket millionaire with advanced senile dementia who escaped from the home in which his daughter had placed him.  In the resulting media frenzy — which is what the killer had wanted all along — he writes his first letter.

And sends it to Simeon.

At some point in his life, Simeon may have known the killer. That makes him uncomfortably interesting to the police. And then the murdered man’s forceful daughter, frustrated by the police’s lack of progress, hires Simeon and holds a press conference to announce it, and things begin to get way too interesting.

So Allen knew that fire was the primary design element, and he came up with the sneaker, which I think is brilliant.  But the cover above is the second one he designed, and he sent it to me after I’d fallen in love with the first.  Here’s the first:

Now I love them both.  Which one do you like, and why?  Any other comments?

I’m going to try to get Allen into this discussion, too, although he won’t join us for a few hours because, um, because he’s in school.

Give this a minute, if you can, and weigh in.

22 Responses to “The Stupid 365 Project, Day 72: Cover Story”

  1. Rachel Brady Says:

    Tim, I like the first one with the white letters. The font is bigger and the white stands out. It matches the white-hot part of the flame.

    Both the title and your name are punchier, in my opinion, with the larger white font.

    I really like the imagine a lot.

    And I really, REALLY like the sounds of this creepy plot premise!

  2. Rachel Brady Says:

    To clarify… the first one shown here on this blog. Not the first one Allen sent you. That was probably clear, but I’m obsessive like that.

  3. Suzanna Says:

    Hi, Tim and Allen

    Allen, you’re doing a really great job with Tim’s ebook covers.

    They are both strong covers, but the second one really works for me. The image and type complement each other, neither is struggling for dominance.

    I also like the use of color and sort of fuzzy/flame quality of the book title in the second one because it emphasizes the meaning of the title better than block/plain type used in the top cover image.

    It’s good that you kept the author type in white — good contrast to the flame.

    Good luck deciding.

  4. Sabine Says:

    Tim, usually westerners read from top to bottom. As it is obviously your name rather than the title which sells your books (suggested by the covers of your other books), of course my choice is cover #1, which is cover #2 in your post, the one at the very bottom of it. Cover #1 offers a much more aesthetic type face than cover #2 at the top of this page. And it puts your name first. That’s how it should be.

    Getting back to yesterday’s question of whether or not change a book’s cover for another edition, I don’t think that it’s a problem to change it. The German paperback edition of “Close Range: Wyoming Stories” by Annie Proulx for example was first covered with the poster of the Brokeback Mountain movie. Of course. What else. This paperback edition wasn’t available for almost all of the year 2009. By the end of 2009 they printed another edition with a completely different cover. I bought it as a birthday present for my mother, who is a dedicated reader with an unconditional love for beautiful language. Here it is normal to change a book’s cover ten or twenty times when you print ten or twenty editions of a book.

    While we’re at it, some weeks ago I read a novel which even excels Annie Proulx’ Brokeback Mountain story. Linguistically and otherwise. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful love story ever written. I read this novel within two days. My life stopped. Couldn’t put it down until the end. Forget about Romeo and Juliet. No, they don’t die in the end, but they live “comatosely” (the autor’s expression) ever after. Sure, I don’t like endings like this, but it isn’t my book. I’m talking about “Call me by your name” by André Aciman: Readers donated five stars 81 times and 4 stars 19 times. I’m ready to donate 10 stars for this novel as soon as amazon offers them.

    By the way, amazing offers a hardcover copy of Everything but the Squeal for € 138.94, which equals $ 183.85. Nice deal.

    Oh, I almost forgot it – European amazon-sites were down last night. Some people say for half an hour, others say for many hours. Due to “technical problems”, says amazon. Yes. Technical problems.

  5. EverettK Says:

    I’m not going to be a LOT of help, as they both look fantastic. But if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to choose, I think I’d go with the second one. The reasons: the first one feels more crowded, the larger fonts feel like they’re over-powering the image (which is dark and somewhat ‘hidden.’ In the second image, it makes the image POP more because the fonts are a little smaller. You’re not yet Stephen King or James Patterson (sorry), so making your name so huge on the cover doesn’t necessarily catch people’s eye as much as the graphic would.

    But, that said, they’re both wonderful covers, and were it my book, I could flip a coin and be tickled pink either way (as long as it didn’t land on its edge…)

  6. Sylvia Says:

    This is a little bit hard to justify but it seems to me that the burning sneaker in the first one looks empty and in the second one less so (i.e. it could be on someone’s foot). I’m not sure why because they are clearly the same picture but I think it’s to do with the AN of Hallinan hanging over so that it feels like our view is obscured.

    So my vote is for the second.

  7. Tim Hallinan (imposter) Says:

    I like the first one at the top of the post.

  8. Allen Says:

    Hello. Sneaking on in CompSci right now. I like the top one better. Though I wanted Tim’s name to be at the top as well. Since both the top and bottom part of the photo fades into black it would be a fairly simple matter to move the picture down a bit, cutting off a bit of the shoe to create space for Tim’s name.

    Also, I have several other takes from last night which offer a more comprehensive view of the fire victim’s body. We could try using a different photo. If none of them work, it’ll be a while before I can shoot again, as it’ll probably be several months before my model fully recovers from the injuries and it may be difficult to find another willing model.

  9. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    I like the first which is second on the Blog page. It just feels more elegant, and not as sensationalistic and in your face as the one with the big fonts. All this is in contrast to the material, but makes it more, um, serious. This is all my gut take. Now I wish you James Patterson’s sales, without having to write like and his latest whoever, if that were possible.

  10. Suzanna Says:


    You are kidding about that model, right?!

    And who dare pose as Tim on this blog? (See “imposter” entry above)

    Is that you as well, Allen? Hmmmmm?

  11. Laren Bright Says:

    Look — Conventional wisdom is that you put your strongest stuff at the top. Among Tim’s loyal band of followers, it’s obviously his name. To the newcomers you want to attract, it’s probably not his name.

    You have 3 text elements on the cover.
    A Simeon Grist Mystery

    If you can figure out which of those would be most motivating to the audience you want to reach, then you’ll have something objective to go on.

    Otherwise, all you have is peoples’ opinions which are great though they don’t tell you what’s going to sell books — just what they speculate or find personally attractive.

    In the realm of opinion and simple personal preference, mine is that the top one with the white text gives the most mileage. Tim’s name is clearly visible and so is the title. And I note Tim’s name is larger than the title — which I have no idea what that means or if it’s a good or bad idea.

    For aesthetics, I like the second one shown above. It’s warmer (no pun intended — well, not really.)

  12. Gary Says:

    I like the bottom one. I think it looks more eggelant.

    I mean, elegant.

    Highbrow and exotic, even.

  13. Robb Royer Says:

    Thanks to Bonnie and Everett forfinally teaching the penguin italics naturally when you get a new toy you tend to overuse it.

  14. Robb Royer Says:

    It also tends to obliterate all other writerly considerations, spelling, punctuation like a tidal wave

  15. EverettK Says:

    Robb said: It also tends to obliterate all other writerly considerations, spelling, punctuation like a tidal wave

    Only if you don’t do it right… 🙂

  16. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    And it can lead you to emphasize the wrong word and occasionally even the wrong syllable.

  17. Sylvia Says:

    I’m not so concerned about the injured model but I certainly hope that Allen was kidding about sneaking on during class!

    [insert stern motherly look here]

  18. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Sylvia, I’m certain that he wasn’t.

  19. EverettK Says:

    By the way, Tim, you should be happy that you’re unable to use the artwork from the printed books. The cover of the Avon paperback of Incinerator really sucks.

    Allen’s covers are infinitely better than that one!

  20. EverettK Says:

    One comment on the cover that Allen’s working on (and I know I’m being picky),
    in the book, a great deal is made (as of chapter 8) of the fact that the Incinerator uses wooden matches, breaking many at the crime scene. But Allen’s cover photo shows a Bic-like lighter. Mabye the Incinerator switches to one later in the book (of course, since you haven’t let Allen READ the book, how would he know?), and/or maybe you don’t really care.

    I probably wouldn’t have even thought about it if such a big deal weren’t made out of the multiple-broken stick matches on several occasions.

    As I said, it’s nit-picking and not a big deal, but I thought I’d point it out for your (and Allen’s) consideration.

  21. murphy Says:

    I like the first. Big white letters. By comparison the second seems a bit limp.

  22. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Murphy — We’re essentially taking your advice and using the first as the basic model for a few improvements — replacing the lighter with a wooden match (thanks, Everett) bringing the shoe out a little more clearly. We have to remember that this is going to be seen as a thumbnail on Amazon unless the browser is interested enough to enlarge the image, so the three elements — fire, hand with match, shoe (with person attached) have to be very clear.

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