Saying Goodbye to My Corporate Career and Hello to My Calling: How to Judge a Book by its Cover

Saying Goodbye to My Corporate Career and Hello to My Calling: How to Judge a Book by its Cover
This is part 6 of a series by author Paul Attaway
Words by Paul Attaway

In my last post, I talked about the publishing options for a debut author and hopefully shed a little light on the subject. I decided to self-publish for the following reasons:

  • First, I doubted whether I could land an agent. I had neither an online following nor a social media presence which I could point to as likely buyers. Furthermore, I had never written a book and there was nothing about my previous career that would lead an agent to conclude that I could. Since agents get paid when they land their clients a publishing contract, they are motivated to partner with the sure bet rather than the long shot. I get it. 
  • Secondly, were I to go with a small publisher, I would still primarily be responsible for promoting the book. A publisher helps with distribution, i.e., getting a book into bookstores, but I would still have to tell the world the book existed.

Once I decided to self-publish, I had plenty of options. There is a cottage industry of consultants, associations, and companies serving the self-publishing marketplace. Much of the stigma of self-publishing has disappeared. But the availability of services-for-a-fee does not guarantee you will be happy with your final product. 

I researched and price-shopped several companies geared to helping an author self-publish. Upon narrowing my selection, I spoke with a happy client, and all looked good. I signed with a company and was off and running.

The first step was the cover design. I spent thirty minutes on the phone with one of their designers, and a week later I had a draft cover design in my inbox. I anxiously opened the attachment and looked at a design for a book I simply did not recognize. I showed it to my wife, and if the title had not been printed on the cover, we would have sworn they had attached the wrong file. The cover just missed.

Though professionally designed, the proposed cover didn’t give a potential reader any idea of what the book was about. Had I done that bad a job describing my book to the designer? I didn’t know what to do. I needed help.

About that time, I came across a consultant with a thirty-year career in publishing, and if she didn’t know the answer, she knew who did. She introduced me to several designers. I researched my options, checked out their work, received quotes, talked with them, and selected one. We were starting over.

But it was different this time. My consultant spent time drilling me about my book. What genre did it fit? On what shelf would you find the book in a bookstore? Who was my target audience? What keywords would we use when listing the book on Amazon and other platforms? And what about the title? Does it work? By the way, it did not.

By the time we were done, we had a clearer view of how to design a cover for the target audience—one that grabbed the attention of potential readers, fit within a genre, and provided a window into the story and the setting.

While the designer was working on a cover design, my wife, Lyn, and I were working on the title. We would sit at a bar and come up with as many potential titles as possible and then check on our phones whether a particular title had been used. One cannot copyright a book title, so you can certainly use one that has been used before. However, you run the risk of confusing a buyer. If we found that a title we liked had been used but had been used for an entirely different type of story and/or had been published years before, then we kept the title on our shortlist. If we found an original title, then all the better.

Our designer sent us three different cover concepts. We selected a small group of friends and family members who had read an advance copy of the book and asked for their input. This process helped us garner valuable feedback, which we used in making our decision. Our designer was a great partner because he wanted the book to succeed. He collaborated with us on some requested changes, and we finalized the cover design.

This process taught me an important lesson: One should never judge a book by its cover except when designing a book cover.

My designer explained that unless a potential reader knows the author, we have a matter of milliseconds to grab one’s interest. You hope the cover design and book title gives a potential reader reason to pick up the book, or click on it, and read the back cover and story synopsis and that the combined effect will lead them to purchase the book—a daunting task.

The payoff for our work was a title and cover design that fit the look and feel we envisioned for the book. Lyn and I were thrilled with the final product. We finally had a fully designed book, and we were ready to publish. 

Now, all we had to do was tell the world the book existed.


Paul was born and raised in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Paul and his wife, Lyn, met in college at Georgetown University and were married after Paul graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law. They moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1988 where Paul embarked on a thirty-year business career before retiring so he could write fiction. Paul and Lyn raised three children together in Phoenix and now split their time between Phoenix and Charleston, South Carolina. 

Blood in the Low Country  is Paul Attaway’s debut novel. Writing this book, along with the move to Charleston, is a coming home of sorts, a return to the South. The history and culture of America’s South is rich, complicated, at times comical, sad, tragic, uplifting, and inspiring. Paul hopes that his novels can capture even a small bit of this tapestry. Learn more about Paul Attaway, and purchase his book, here: Find the audiobook on Audible, Amazon, or Apple Books!