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What makes a good book cover?

Front cover Who to BlameFirst and foremost, the cover is a sales tool.  In a flash, it must convey enough information to grab potential readers.  An appealing cover communicates the book’s genre as well as the age and gender of its readership.  Is it a laugh-out-loud coming-of-age story?  Or a dark cyberpunk fantasy?  The artwork must be harmonious with the type font and size and needs to be unique but not out in left field.  A well-designed cover conveys a broad concept rather than fine details.  It must be legible even when viewed as an Amazon thumbnail. 

My publisher supplied me with four options.  I quickly learned that asking the opinions of friends merely complicated the issue.  Their opinions were scattered all over the map.

 Ultimately, the three covers below didn’t make the cut.


 4 covers 6.16.16 1 4 covers 6.16.16 3   4 covers 6.16.16 2                    



Reapers Alexei Venetsianov 1820s As a reader of fiction, I often find myself wondering, “How did the author come up with THAT story line?”

During my initial research on Russia's  serfs, I stumbled upon the Russian Orthodox prohibition of a person marrying the child of his or her godparents.

“Hummm….interesting," I thought. "That fly-in-the-ointment might weave into an engaging story line.  It provides conflict as well as a moral choice. Plus it’s a little known fact.” 

The complication ended up being the common thread that held fast from the page 1 to page 301 of Who Is to Blame?.


Oil on cavas painted by Alexei Venetsianov in the late 1820s


Four thousand miles from where President-elect Abraham Lincoln was counting down the final hours before his inauguration, Czar Alexander II rose before dawn and stood contemplatively by a window in the Winter Palace. This morning he would grant freedom to Russia’s serfs, one-third of the Empire’s population.

Alex II and LincolnAbraham Lincoln is regarded as the Great Emancipator; however, Tsar Alexander beat him to the punch by liberating the serfs in 1861, two years prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Russia’s emancipation freed 23 million serfs, whereas Lincoln’s actions liberated 4 million slaves.

Due to the sheer power of the Autocracy, Russia’s milestone incited few and relatively minor cases of civil agitation. Compare this to the situation in the United States where a great civil war claimed the lives of an estimated 620,000 men (2% of the US population).

Both Lincoln and Tsar Alexander were killed at the hands of assassins. On March 1, 1881 – nearly 20 years to the day after freeing the serfs, Alexander was riding through St. Petersburg in a closed carriage when two young radicals hurled bombs. The Emperor died just a few feet from the spot where he had signed his decree of liberation.

 Reading of Emancipation

Reading of the Emancipation, painted by Boris Kustodiev in 1907