The Art of Suggestion

The Art of Suggestion

The Art of Suggestion

Guest Author: P.I. Barrington

You’ve sold your book or series of books, contracts are signed sealed and delivered, and your manuscripts revised with helpful suggestions from your editor. What’s next? If your publisher is an ebook publisher, you may be receiving what can be the most frustrating and most fun email attachment ever. Yes it’s the dreaded yet eagerly awaited “Cover Art Input Sheet.” This is the template you fill out with all sorts of fun questions your editor and cover artist ask to get an idea of how you picture the cover of your book. Wow, what a blast, right? Wrong.

Questions like “What does your hero look like?” might appear simple enough until you get to the details. “Does your hero look his age?” “How old does he look?” are the easy questions. “Any distinguishable marks, scars, etc.,” can stop you in your tracks unless your main character wears an eye patch and has a peg leg.

Here are a few suggestions on how to deal with this surprisingly complex questionnaire:

1. Hero/Heroine descriptions from age to build to eye color and manner of dress can often be handled with one simple solution:

–Cast your characters with photos. You can use actor headshots or find someone who resembles your character. Many authors now do this thanks to the Internet and I have found photos of people who embody a character who are not well known. Don’t discount pictures of ‘regular’ people and think you must cast an actor. (Remember you are not using the photo for the cover, only as an assist in describing your characters.)

2. Book and Website blurbs:

–Check out other books’ blurbs and teasers. Examine how they’re done and apply it to creating your own that will grab and entice readers almost immediately. One or two sentences should be able to give the premise in an exciting manner.

3. Pivotal Moments:

–This is for the visual impact of the book cover art. What three things could be depicted on your cover that hints at what the action is in your novel? Think of your plot as a three act play. What happens in each act that changes direction and action? Three pivotal moments are pretty much required; five is pushing it. Excerpts that show these moments can also be used for this section.

4. Theme:

–You know this or you wouldn’t be writing your book. What is your overall message or point? Is it good against evil? Are there personal demons or conflicts that must be overcome to save another or others? Is there growth or strength by running a gauntlet of obstacles? What is the message that must be shown from the beginning to the end resolution?

While all of this seems basic for authors, it can be difficult and time consuming when you have to actually stop and think about this individual breakdown of components. There are still questions that must be dealt with such as “Why are these elements important?” and “Which excerpts directly express the action, conflict, or theme of your novel?” This does take some thought on your part but not to worry; it does get easier each time you do it. Oh, and you’re not alone. Other authors experience the same small struggle and if you ask them, at least a few will commiserate.

Remember you’re explaining and describing to someone who must then try to coalesce the information into one piece of art that is the perfect cover for your book. They can’t get in your head to see the images; you must bring the images out for them to see. How? You do what authors do—you paint those images with words.

Imagine it, a visual artist and a word artist colliding into a gorgeous burst of art that will be the cover of your book!

Now, go fill out that input sheet!


After a detour through the entertainment industry, P.I. Barrington has returned to her roots as a fiction author. Among her careers she counts journalism and radio air talent. She lives in Southern California where she watches the (semi-
wild) horses grazing in the hills behind her house. She can be contacted via email: wordmistresses@yahoo.com and loves to hear from readers. Her website: thewordmistresses.com and you can check out her new column, Mental Mondays at Paranormal Wire.

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5 thoughts on “The Art of Suggestion

  1. Claude Nougat

    Very useful advice! Many thanks. Could you also consider book covers for e-books? I think the fact that they are often postage stamp size adds a new dimension (or rather removes the usual dimension!) from book covers. What I mean is this: they have to be catchy even though they’re super small and hard to read.

    How does one do that? Any ideas?

  2. P.I. Barrington

    Claude,
    I suggest selecting simple designs for the most striking covers. If you’re creating your own covers. Most of my covers were done by the publishers’ in house cover artist, one Jenifer Ranieri of Desert Breeze Publishing is a master at covers. But when I released my first self-published novel, Isadora DayStar, I picked the simplest cover design possible from Dara England, another cover artist and it’s beautiful in whatever size you view it. Also, it has high contrast in dark and light colors which make it easier to see in small size. Simple is always best in my experience.

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