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First Ten Days in Heaven [resubmit]

The author says:


Michael Greyson awoke one morning feeling better than he had in years. Unfortunately, he soon learned he felt so good because he had died the day before. The upside to being dead was he made it to Heaven. The potential downside was he didn’t believe in Heaven, or God. Although Heaven is the last stop, Mike has one other option. This is a thoughtful story about being dead and Mike’s first ten days in heaven; helped by his guide Pete, no relation to the famous saint.

Audience is baby boomers seeking a better understanding of the meaning of life. It’s literary fiction.

[original submission and comments here]

Nathan says:

I think all of the original criticisms from commenters still hold true here: There’s nothing to catch the eye or indicate the contents. There’s nothing that makes the cover a promo for the book.

You’ve changed fonts, but this one has its on problems: the kerning (spacing between letters) is problematic, so that “FIRST” looks scrunched together while “HEAVEN” has visible gaps (often a problem between A and V).  And the italic version for Personal Wisdom and Simply Bob isn’t a true italic; it’s just that same font, slanted.  I’ll grant you that most readers won’t be able to articulate comments about “kerning” and “true italics,” but they will come away with the impression that, not only is the cover not intriguing or appealing, it’s also not put together very well.

I think your best bet is advice I commonly give: Seek out half a dozen titles in the same genre that you would expect to appeal to the same readers, and examine their covers to see how readers of books like yours are used to being marketed to.

Other comments?


  1. The pic is more interesting visually (but maybe less informative about the setting) than the vague gradient sky from before, but boy that’s a lot of grey. It’s also too stable and peaceful, and desperately needs some color and contrast. The image itself ends up so small I couldn’t tell what it was at thumbnail size.

    After a quick search I feel like maybe something with these kinds of fonts and colors×538.jpg

    But more than anything, I’d get rid of the massive amount of grey.

  2. Hmmm…well, I actually liked the first one better. And unfortunately, neither really work.

    May I ask the author–what’s the tone? I mean, I get that it’s literary fiction. But lots of books are, that reduced me to tears from laughing so hard. Is this somber? Humorous? Witty?

    I think it would help us all, if we understood the tone and theme, other than “the meaning of life.” I’m drawing blanks on this, because I don’t know enough about what you’re selling, and the HOW of how you are selling it.

  3. I can hardly think of a more perfect example to which you might want to apply the experiment of imagining the title in a language you don’t understand: Would you have even the remotest clue as to the nature of the book or its subject? I suspect that the answer would be “no.” There is not even anything to suggest whether the book is fiction or non-fiction. And even with the title in English, that is difficult to say.

    I suspect that the cover is the result of not enough objectivity on your part: the imagery is obviously meaningful to you—but not to anyone who is not already familiar with the book.

    I think you need to start entirely from scratch.

  4. In some ways it’s an improvement (a more interesting image and an improvement in the lettering), but I’m afraid there’s still some way to go before getting to a really communicative and intriguing cover. In addition to what’s already been said, I’d add that this layout etc makes the book look non-fiction.

    The imagery might have potential but it’s cropped badly at the moment too. The hands stirring the tea and in nice lighting/definition; everyhting to the left of the picture is duly and unidentifiable and should be cropped out. That leaves you with a more portrait-format photo, but that’s OK – the photo, if used, should be full-bleed and the text overlayed anyway, not in a little letterbox in the middle of dull grey.

    Otherwise my comments and reference points from before still stand.

    1. Also, I’d advise including the words ‘a novel’ on the front in the way that much American lit fic does. It can be a bit pretentious but it;s acceptable within literary fiction, and here it’s necessary to make the genre clear.

  5. I think if this really is literary fiction, it needs a new title; First Ten Days in Heaven immediately makes me think “inspirational” and/or “Christian fiction,” since it’s so close to both 90 Minutes in Heaven and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. If it’s actually closer to that kind of thing, then I feel like the cover needs to be bright and beautiful and joyous and, well, heavenly-looking…as it is it’s so gray and dour and mundane, there’s a real disconnect between it and a story that’s supposed to take place in heaven.

  6. Chiming in. My effort was an elegant cover that would suggest the book is about what I consider the most important question in life; what should I do with this gift thrust upon me. My main character is in heaven and evaluating his life so he can make the decision to stay in heaven or end his existence. The book is a thoughtful look at how to measure the value of a life with sufficient light-heartedness to keep the tone positive. My second cover image was chosen to portray a simple moment in life and pique curiosity. Other covers of books regarding heaven are either somber, full of clouds or full of grace; all what I want to avoid.

    I have learned from you guys that the title must carry the most information about the book and any other visual reflecting that information is redundant. However, pretending the title is in a foreign language to determine how useful other visuals are seems to contradict that idea. With that criterion the Ferris wheel in the Five People You Meet in Heaven makes no sense. So I’m a bit confused about the information role of cover art. My assumption is that its role is to promote picking up the book to learn more.

    However, as I said earlier, I have learned that the cover is a sales tool and that’s where I’m headed. My new cover effort features an old naked guy; that should create some interest. Again, thanks for your valuable knowledge.

    1. Now I’m confused, Bob. I’m not sure where this:

      I have learned from you guys that the title must carry the most information about the book and any other visual reflecting that information is redundant.

      …came from. Yes, a catchy/clever title is important, but…if someone else said, “the title must carry the most information about the book,” I missed that. It would certainly be true that you don’t want the title to be confused with another, more famous book, or that it would completely mislead the reader as to genre/theme. Same holds true for any subtitle.

      To my way of thinking, the foreign-language test is crucial. I tell my clients to use it on every single cover.


      My second cover image was chosen to portray a simple moment in life and pique curiosity.

      …is never going to work. You’re the 3rd author, recently, in my circle of acquaintance/forums/etc., that has said that they did this or that, thinking that the prospective buyer’s curiosity would be piqued, (by some minor thing) and thus, they’d click through and look at the cover more closely–and they’re not going to do that. Unless you really intrigue them, they’re not going to click through, to see what it’s about. (One author thought putting unreadably small subtitle information on his cover was clever–that people would click through to read it, because it was unreadable. Nope–they’ll just go right by.)

      My standard line is: your cover is click-bait. That’s all it is. Nothing more. It wouldn’t even matter if you had nothing more than some symbol on the cover–as long as the colors and the graphic make people click, it’s done its job. However, yes, you don’t want people who are seeking chick-flick to pick up this book. It’s got to convey enough, somehow–the image, the title, the subtitle, whatever–so that you don’t have people clicking through on the book seeking some other genre or theme altogether.

      Old naked guy? Honestly, good luck with that, but I can’t imagine what click-through customer you’re going to get with that. I’m a mature woman, and even I’m not interested in old naked guys.

      Can’t wait to see it, however. You never know–might be brilliant.

    2. So… a melancholy kind of feel? I’d go for grey-ish blues, beige, maybe sepia tones. Toned down but not black and white I think.

      As for “the title must carry the most information about the book and any other visual reflecting that information is redundant.” I think what you’re referring to is how for example if the title is “hammer” you don’t want a picture of a hammer on the cover? Because then people would kinda think “hammer hammer” as they look at it. But the image does carry the most information with composition, color and subject matter. You might want to stay clear of a literal depiction of heaven to avoid that redundancy, but heaven-like imagery would still be quite adequate.

      You can have an old man on the cover but I think the “simple moment in life” won’t really pique interest because it doesn’t speak of what the book is about. There has to be an indication of the life/death theme, and I think some sort of heaven imagery would be a plus (clouds, god rays, something subtle that gives that feeling I guess).

      How about an old man looking at the sea pensively? Or it could also just be an object that implies nostalgia like a gramophone…

  7. Thanks Hitch and Blue for the clarification and the ideas and allowing me a another peek into the realm of design. I will leap forward much better informed and optimistic than I was.

  8. It just doesn’t work at all for me. The title says one thing and the graphic says…I have no idea what the graphic says. The title I find catchy as hell, so it needs a graphic as colorful as the title. If you’re stuck in black & white, I’d suggest consulting another artist. I think if you can come up with a great, colorful picture for the cover, you’ll have a winning hook to attract readers. This one is not happening, IMHO.

  9. I’m fine with the picture. Nobody here likes lit fic covers, but that doesn’t change the fact that that’s what lit fic looks like and what your audience will be looking for, and “nonindicative low-saturation photo” fits right in.

    My issues are twofold. First, the gray bars. The photo takes up such a small portion of the picture, and most of what our eye is drawn to is just…gray.

    Second, Times New Roman.

    1. I actually read a fair amount of lit fic, and to me this cover is dull and unintriguing even by lit standards. The gray is definitely part of it, but so is the image itself, considering the subject matter of the book; this image, in a different palette, might work for a purely earthbound novel about a lonely old man and his ruminations and reminiscences, but for a novel, even a literary one, set in heaven, I still feel that the cover should have SOME suggestion of heaven if it’s going to attract readers who would be interested in that kind of thing – even if it’s more subtle than the light-rayed clouds and rainbow colors of an inspirational/Christian book on the same topic.

  10. I don’t wish to overstay my welcome, but I’d be happy to share effort number three if there is interest. Who knows, I could strike out or hit a home run with my last at bat.

  11. me three. It’s why we’re here, after all. When you submit a cover, and you hear [crickets], then it’s time for you to pack up the old kit bag. 🙂

  12. Late opinion here: this cover just really isn’t “doing it” for me; in fact, your first cover was actually better than this in my opinion. Yes, you definitely need to do a third draft, and with a completely fresh approach. Your first cover looked like some boring “inspirational” literature, while this one looks a bit like somebody’s dry and dusty biography; your next cover needs to look like… well, like literary fiction involving a guy’s trip to Heaven.

    I’ve mentioned how one of my favorite religious fiction novel covers was on Frank Peretti’s Prophet; while your novel seems more contemplative and introspective than Prophet (which was a bit of a thriller despite what violence there was nearly all occurring out-of-frame and most of the “action” being of the investigative reporting kind rather than fist fights and gun battles), studying the covers for that kind of religious fiction seems likely to serve you better than anything you’ve been doing so far. So there’s no slam-bang action in your novel (not even of the hard-hitting investigative reporting kind)? That’s all right; perhaps studying the somewhat gentler and more softly illuminated cover of Piercing the Darkness would suit your contemplative style better.

    Note how the serene shades of cyan and green add just a dash of color to what could otherwise just as easily be a gray-scale picture, how it has what appears to be one of those concrete angels you sometimes see in graveyards, and how the light shines down upon it; these things certainly tend to bring the subjects of death and Heaven and the afterlife in general to mind for me. While I wouldn’t recommend trying to imitate this cover directly, using some of the same elements on yours would surely help attract your target audience. Think of that concrete angel, especially: wouldn’t having one of those (maybe perched on somebody’s grave as in this example) get you thinking of your mortality and what comes after death and what this implies about the meaning of this life?

    Certainly, the somewhat ironic sight of a beautifully carved angel sculpture in the otherwise somber setting of a graveyard gets me thinking about these profound philosophical concerns more than anything you’ve suggested so far; an old naked guy wouldn’t make me think of such weighty theological matters unless he were laid out in a coffin. Try stepping back from your current authorial conception of how this cover should be for a bit and thinking outside the box. Imagine, if you will, that you were actually designing this cover for a similar book written by somebody else: how would you convey on the cover what you, as the reader, expect to find in that other author’s book?

    One other thing: whatever kind of image you choose, I’d recommend filling your entire cover with it. Horizontal pictures on a vertical cover with lots of dead space above and below them as seen in this draft always give me the unpleasant sensation of peeking out at the world through a mail slot. You want your prospective readers to recognize what the picture is instantly from the thumbnail; so make it big enough for them to see.

  13. I’ve submitted a new cover. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I haven’t changed the text (Mongolian Baiti) which I altered the kerning, but can change later. I have given up the idea of elegant etc for the cover for what I think you all are recommending. This is a stretch, but the cover is growing on me. I hope you can see it soon.

    1. Bob: you know, you don’t have to give up the idea of elegant. You do, however, have to give up the idea that the cover can be elegant, sans any meaningful message or clues or cues, to your prospective buying audience, as to the nature/theme/meaning of the book. That’s what you have to give up. There’s not a damned thing wrong with elegance, but don’t confuse “elegance” with “meaningless imagery.”

      I’m dying to see what we’re getting with naked old guy. 🙂

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