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"You can't tell a book by its cover." Wanna bet?

I believe you should absolutely be able to tell something important about a book by its cover. If you can’t, it’s a lousy cover. Back in 1981, when I saw the cover for my very first novel, STAR TREK: THE COVENANT OF THE CROWN, I was disappointed. I thought it was generic and unimaginative.

Confession #1: Actually, I hated it. My next few novels, based on the V sci-fi TV series, also had generic covers. But, hey, my name was on ‘em, so…OK.

Then I figured, well, cover artists and designers can’t read every book. If they’re lucky, they may get a synopsis and a few editorial tips. Maybe they’d appreciate some input from authors. So, when I sold my next STAR TREK novel, I asked the editor if I could provide cover notes and sketches. My suggestions were welcomed, and my next 4 STAR TREK novels had much better, story-specific covers.

Which brings us to GALLOWAY’S GAMBLE. While writing the book, I realized I might end up self-publishing it. And I’d need a cover. During that time, we took 3 vacation trips to Arizona and Wyoming (including Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks). You can’t get more western than that! With digital cameras, it’s easy to shoot hundreds of photos in a very short time. Yet, somewhat stupidly, I didn’t shoot with a specific eye toward cover images.

Still, I’m a decent photographer, and once I started sifting through all the pictures, I found some which might make decent covers. Since I prefer illustration-style covers to photos (which leave little to the reader’s imagination), I used Photoshop to create “watercolor” images that would have been OK (at left).

When I sold GALLOWAY’S GAMBLE to Five Star Publishing, I learned they actively seek author participation in cover design. Hallelujah! In addition to my own potential images, editor Tiffany Schofield pointed me to stock-photo websites, since that’s how many publishers come up with covers, without spending a fortune on commissioned artwork.

Confession #2: Searching hundreds of stock photos left me underwhelmed – maybe photographers don’t put their best stuff on stock-photo websites. Nothing truly grabbed me, but I found a few that might work. Then this Getty Images photo caught my eye: two young cowboys entering a saloon – with a hint of danger (below, top).

Though the color was intentionally washed out, like a white-hot desert day, the backlighting and silhouettes gave the image a classic feel, conjuring the mythos of the Old West, with the added bonus of being specific enough to fit the story. So I cropped (to emphasize the guys in the doorway) and Photoshopped a demo cover. Five Star’s design people (with more skill and better software) did what I asked, enhanced the contrast, and enriched the color. The end result was exactly what we were looking for (below, bottom).

When I first posted the cover image, a Facebook friend (Josh Marrufo, who used to work at Old Tucson Studios in Arizona) thought it looked familiar, and he was right. The unique windows were the tipoff, confirming the photo shoot location was Old Tucson’s Mescal town sets out in the desert near Benson, AZ, about 45 miles southwest of Tucson. The Mescal town has been seen in quite a few western movies, including the 1993 classic TOMBSTONE (starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer). Learning that the GALLOWAY’S GAMBLE cover shared western movie DNA was a cool coincidence.

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