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A Killer Among Us

The author says:

Colby, the newest cop in town, stumbles upon a homicide on her first day. Tom, the italian boy everyone loves, shows up and seems to always be around. Tensions rise within the department and between Colby and Tom, can she save them while she saves the town?

a killer among us-titled

a killer among us-titled

Nathan says:

I’m not going to lie to you, there are serious problems with this cover.  Let’s look first at the ones that are visible from the thumbnail, since that’s the first impression most people will get.

  1. Color and contrast are not dynamic.  There are plenty of covers with a restricted color scheme, but they make up for it by high contrast — at the very least, some distinct blacks.  Here, though, nothing “pops” to the eye.
  2. The font is dead boring.  The longer I do this, the more I come to believe that a reader should be able to get the tone of the book — if not the actual genre — from the font alone.  By contrast, all that the Times Roman-ish font here tells us is that the designer didn’t know what font to use and so chose the most immediate default choice.
  3. The layout has no focus.  The title, the cops, the squad car, the house… all of them are in a contest for the viewer’s eyes, and consequently no single visual element sticks in memory or attracts interest.

Now let’s take a look at what become apparent at a larger size:

  1. Ouch. The officers are pixelated from blowing up a too-small image, the blonde officer’s head obviously does not belong to her body, her hair is cut out with a jagged edge that threatens to become the real focal point of the cover, and the shadow on her face looks like a can of spray pain exploded in her hand.  What’s really distressing about this is that there’s nothing about the final pose that’s dynamic or evocative enough that it justifies all the manipulation; it’s a picture of two cops. Surely there’s another stock photo somewhere of a male and female officer that can serve?
  2. You might get away with blending layers if the foreground figures are fading into the background, but it definitely doesn’t work when they’re blending into a tree.
  3. You’ve already established “police” with the two officers.  Do you really need the squad car to make it “policey” enough?
  4. The border at the top of the farmhouse photo only emphasizes that these are unrelated images which have been cobbled together.

Here’s what I would do, if an author gave me this cover as a rough concept sketch:

  1. Lose the squad car.
  2. Find a picture of two officers that looks good at the resolution I need and position them on the center-left of the cover, and have them looking across to the right side (instead of their current gaze, which looks like they’d rather be somewhere more interesting off to the left).
  3. Place the farmhouse on the right, in a position that indicates that it’s clearly background to the officers.  The human figures are the focus; the house is backdrop. If the original farmhouse picture didn’t have enough sky to fill the space, I’d cheat and borrow sky from some other source (sky is really easy to blend together), letting it get darker and sunset-like toward the top.
  4. Tie the officers and the farmhouse together by color.  You’ve got a late-in-the-day vibe in the farmhouse pic, so I’d experiment with oranges and reds to bring the two images together.  Orange and red are also “danger” colors, which fit in well with the crime-thriller theme.
  5. Put the title at the top, byline at the bottom, and find a good font.  (The easy way to do this: browse police thrillers on Amazon and see which covers stand out at thumbnail size because of strong fonts.  Then go to a free font site — and are good places to start — and find something that approximates what you found on Amazon.

Good luck!

Anyone else have comments?


  1. The trouble to me is the imagery doesn’t convey any particular tone or genre. Is this a thriller? A mystery? Maybe even a romantic thriller? I can’t tell. And none of those genres are well served by the kind of images we see on this cover.

    Except for romance, all these genres are much better served by sharp design that conveys the tone than by any kind of images. If it’s a mystery, you might just use a picture of an item that’s a clue in the story. If it’s a thriller, maybe no image or a less central image and just use big, bold typography and color.

  2. I second everything that Nathan said; I disagree in that I don’t generally like mono-tint covers like this. I don’t think you get the badly-needed contrast that grabs the eye with that tack. I like the idea of the sunset for the farmhouse, if you can’t do anything else.

    Fonts MUST GO. If this is a romance-cum-mystery…hmmmm….see, it’s very problematic to find a romantic font that ALSO works for a mystery. Utterly different vibes. Think of something like Champagne & Limousines, or Cienki, and you see the issue.

    If this is a thriller, maybe Valentina for the title? I mean, if you have a romance subplot, too? or Cumulus…something along those lines? And then you could, if you wished, use a solid stylistic serif for the byline.

    I tend to think of serif for titles contrasted with sans-serif for bylines, when the genre/type isn’t very well-defined, or there isn’t an instantly-recognizable font for the genre.

    So…if it’s primarily a romance, something like Ballroom Tango, with a sans-serif byline. I’m currently enamored of Ostrich Sans or Colaborate-Thin if a byline is a longer name. But, for each of these, you have to put them both on, stare at them, size them, resize them, etc., to see what gives you the most bang for your buck.

    Sorry for the stream-of-consciousness posting about fonts, but when I’m thinking “fonts” I’m almost always thinking aloud. I will slap something up, on the background images, in a template, and then stick the fonts on, off, on,off, change size, move ’em around, etc., until I get a combo I like for the title/byline, and then play with the location and relative sizing. While I’m not a cover designer, we think about these types of relationships a lot in the bookmaking business, for body fonts and chapter head fonts, in similar ways.

    I don’t know if that helps. Hope it does. DEFINITELY get something red or yellow or orange or…some combination thereof, in that image. It’s too bland now, not enough contrast. It needs a lot more KA-BOOM!, to get eyes to find it on a page full of search results.

    Remember: the cover’s job is NOT to tell your story, it’s to SELL your story. It really doesn’t matter if the cover is nothing more than a background with a metallic nut on it, as long as it grabs eyes and makes the viewers click. A simple symbol, or, as (someone here) suggested, just a bloody murder weapon. That would probably work better, at doing its job (of selling your book) than what you have right now.

    Lastly, one more comment: this isn’t directly related to the cover, AS a cover, but “A Killer Among Us” as a title is not spectacularly original. It carries a sort of unfortunate Lifetime Made-for-TV movie vibe. At least, it does to me. If I close my eyes, not thinking about your cover, and just thinking about the title, I see all those female actors that have ended up in the Lifetime movie-ghetto, playing a trite part in a belabored plot. That’s not a vibe you want.

    You might get some more bang for the buck if you change even one word, something as innocuous as changing “That” in for “A,” to get “That Killer Among Us.” It’s not fabulous, but at least it’s slightly different. Just a thought.

    Good luck to you! I’d like to see the revised cover!

  3. Hoo, boy! You’ve come to the right place; your cover has an awful lot of problems. Had you published it like this, you would sooner or later have landed your book an entry on Lousy Book Covers for the reasons Nathan Shumate has already given. It’s definitely in need of a major makeover.

    To be sure, when I first saw it in thumbnail, it didn’t look all that bad. The font’s rather boring, as others have noted, but the picture montage did have a certain familiar ring to it. The closer I look, however, the worse it gets; the pixelation and jagged edges that betray the cut-and-paste hair, the uneven fades that put edges on some things and none on others… The boring fonts are really the least of your troubles.

    Even before I read your description, I had this figured for either a cop show with a side of romance, or a romance with a side of cop show. Upon reading your description, I also thought it might be veering into Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week territory, depending on who committed the murder. (If the murderer turns out to be the obvious love interest Tom? Definitely Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week.) No, you don’t need to give us any spoilers; you just need to make your chosen genre(s) clear on the cover for your target audience’s sake.

    Really, my main complaint is just that everything on this cover is so generic. Of course, that’s partially because cop show, romance, and Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week are such heavily-traveled genres already. You’ll have a tough time sticking out from the pack in any of these genres. Still, if you can’t do that, you can at least tailor your cover to your chosen genre’s standards.

    Whichever genre(s) you’ve chosen, however, your cover is definitely going to have to be completely redone; apart from all the complaints about the quality, it’s just too indecisive right now. You need something that lets everyone know right from the start which genre you’re doing. Is this mainly a cop show (i.e. murder mystery with a strong emphasis on the law enforcement officers involved), a romance, or a Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week? How you answer this question determines what should be on your new cover.

    If this is mainly a cop show, your emphasis should be on squad cars, uniforms, handcuffs, nightsticks… anything people typically associate with the police. Assuming this has a romantic subplot, it’s still fine to show a male-and-female team on the cover, but your focus should be on the action first and foremost. A good template for this would be the promotional posters for the old TV cop show Hunter, in which the titular protagonist was regularly paired with a tough lady cop with whom there was plenty of unresolved sexual tension. In these posters, the two are typically shown with their guns drawn and aimed either at the viewer or at someone off the poster; their physical proximity and being of the opposite sex is sufficient to provide any necessary romantic subtext on top of that. If you’re doing a cop show story, go thou and do likewise.

    If it’s mainly a romance? Well, you’ve probably already seen how the handsome hunks and lovely lasses are typically posed on any of a million romance novel covers. Your cover needs only to do the same thing with police officers, as in this example from Harlequin. The “guy comforting gal” pose on this cover should serve on a romance cover as well as any, but do consider other common poses on romance covers as well; and whatever you do, make sure your loving couple are high-resolution enough to avoid pixelation and well-integrated enough with the rest of your cover to ensure that we can’t tell you cut-and-pasted anything. (In fact, if you can arrange it, you could do worse than to ask some actual cops to pose for you at a photo shoot, and then run your cover straight from one of the photographs.)

    Finally, if you’re doing a Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week story… even if you’re pandering to the lowest common denominator, that’s no excuse for not doing it well. Gone Girl is quite possibly the best Lifetime-style movie ever made from one of the best Lifetime-style novels ever written. Here’s the cover for that book. See how simple that is? A bit of hair, some blood on a floor, maybe a shot of the murder weapon… This particular focus-on-a-single-object style of cover is also suitable for a grim n’ gritty serial killer murder mystery, as with that death’s head moth on Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs.

    I also agree with Hitch on one point in particular: like the rest of your cover, the title A Killer Among Us is terribly generic. Consider changing it to suit whichever genre you’re doing. If I were doing a cop show story with a side of romance, for instance, my title for this kind of story might be Dead Heat. For a romance with a side of cop show story, maybe Cut to the Heart. For a Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week/serial killer murder mystery, something like Death’s Betrayal. (Don’t use those titles, by the way: they’re just examples and besides, they’re already taken.) If you’re going to do a well-trodden genre (which all of these are), you need to ham up your act a little.

  4. I think nathan covered most everything wrong with this design, but I have to add that the attempt to take a left-facing female officer and layering her over the male officer a poorly cropping her face to try to simulate her face being buried in his shoulder is sloppy and stands out as contrived. As important as the cover of a book is, I think it’s worth paying for a proper image of a female cop crying on a male cop’s shoulder rather than trying to chop such an image together. The tattooes can be Photoshopped in if necessary and you will have a solid image to work with. You might even try some interesting filters on the embracing cops image just to see if you can get a neat effect to give it an edgy feel.

    Finally, the good news: I like the overall layout and concept as long as you lose the cruiser as Natan suggested. I like the way the male officer is gazing off into the distance and the image of what looks like an old farmhouse or a suburban developement home. I find it intriguing and it spurs genuine curiosity. Now, maybe that’s just me, I don’t know, but that’s my take on this cover design.

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