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Letting Your Debut Novel Go and Judging a Book by Its Cover

Posted in book covers, Getting published, Independent Publishing, Learning to Write, Publishing, publishing with a small press, Steampunk, and Writing a novel


The book is finished.

Several rounds of editing – structural/developmental, copy and line, and a proofread – have all been completed. A thousand iterations of the back matter and the front matter and the dedication, acknowledgements and all the rest have finally been put aside and the wording decided upon.

The work is now in the publishing funnel.

The day when I sat down with an empty refill pad and a fountain pen filled with brown ink and told myself, “Just make a start. Doesn’t matter if it’s any good or not,” seem a long way off in the distant past. Looking at the finished manuscript I can hardly remember how I got to this stage.

Scheduled for publication in just a few short months (April 2016) the thing is growing almost beyond my influence now. As with my nearly-adult children, I have to go through the process of realizing and accepting that there is very little more I can do except watch, and love, and hope.

I feel pretty much the same way about this book. My debut novel. There’s a curious irony in letting the book go like this. You see, there has to be a first novel and much will be judged by it, and yet I know – and hope – that it will not be my best novel. I know and hope that as I can continue to write and publish more novels, the work will improve. Maybe my tenth, or twentieth, novel will be the one I’m truly proud of in the end.

Paul Valery’s comment, which has become a cliché, that “a poem is never finished, only abandoned,” never resonated with me more than now.

But the game isn’t quite over.

There’s the business of the cover design. And that other cliché, “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” springs to mind. Valery’s comment may well be true, but whoever is responsible for the latter idea should be brought up short and made to explain himself!

All books are first judged by their covers.

Whether the potential reader is browsing online or in a high street bookstore, or thumbing along a friend’s bookshelves, it is the cover which first pulls the attention. If the cover doesn’t appeal, there’s little chance the blurb will be read or the first chapter tentatively explored.

The book cover matters.

My cover designers are hard at work creating original artwork and developing the typography and I’ve seen the first roughs. There were things I liked and things that caused me to panic – a misinterpretation of a key character, for example – “No! NO! He’s not like that at all!”

Fortunately, while I know in the end I have to trust to these talented and knowledgeable professionals (I mean that, I’m in awe of their skills) to know best what doth a good cover make, I do have some say and veto over the final output. So I’ve been able to give more detailed guidelines about the character art. Of course, I know that the cover will never , can never, represent the characters as I see them in my own imagination and that each reader will bring them to life differently, it is important that they are broadly right.

I suspect that the cover will be ready and finalized within the next couple of weeks. I think it will, in the end, be a cover I can be proud of. And I sincerely hope, a cover that inspires readers to get beyond it and to reach my words.

I know that a first novel rarely sells well on its own. My expectations in that regard are quite realistic. But as I said before, one way or another, there has to be a debut or nothing can follow.

And now, I have done everything I can. It’s time to let go.

In the meantime, I’m close to half way through the first draft of the next in this trilogy. If it’s ultimately going to be the twentieth book that finally makes me feel like a “proper writer,” then I’ve no time to lose.

UPDATE: as of August 2016, I have published both the first and second volumes in the trilogy. The first book continues to sell steadily and has been highly praised. The second one is only just out.

Sign up to the Clockwork Press mailing list. You’ll get the first two books in the Dark Sea Trilogy absolutely free in the e-book format of your choice. Crazy, isn’t it? But it’s true.


If you’d rather buy them or just prefer a paperback, the first in the series, Beyond the Starline, is here: Amazon UK   Amazon US   Waterstones  Barnes & Noble  Smashwords  Kobo or ask for it in your library or local independent bookstore and they’ll order it for you.

If you have any questions or comments, I’ll be more than happy to help if I can, or just connect and share experiences, thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Leave a comment and share the post on your social media if you’ve found this interesting. That is absolutely the loveliest way to say thank you to a blogger!


Image credits: all images (apart from the book covers of my novels) are in the Public Domain and were sourced via the Creative Commons. Click on the image to reveal the name of the artist and the work in the address bar.

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  1. Drew Hackney
    Drew Hackney

    Sounds fantastic Austin!

    February 2, 2016
  2. Austin

    Thanks, Drew. Curious coincidence of surnames!

    February 2, 2016

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