How Can You Tell If Your Work is Good?

This morning, I ran across what has to be the single most objectively bad book cover I’ve ever seen in my life. Someone I follow retweeted it to help out the author. And even at the ass crack of dawn with an hour and five minutes of sleep (an actual Fitbit reading, not hyperbole) I could tell that this cover was slow down and look at the train wreck bad. It’s not pardon me, your slip is showing. It’s more… Hey, your bikini waxer missed a spot.

The book in question was a BDSM romance in the vein of 50 Shades. The adver-tweet, itself said BDSM romance, and yes, I actually followed the link to more description on Amazon. No, I can’t remember a dang word of what Amazon said.

The models on the cover were the requisite well-built and shirtless man(cropped at the neck), and a blonde woman who was pasted over him at a rather odd angle. You got the impression that some other background had been removed, and the original furniture didn’t really have the same contours as a hard six-pack. The whole thing was very clearly patched together.

She also had an expression on her face that didn’t really suggest a consenting adult. I’m very serious when I say that my first thought was that she’s dead. In the sense of… well, that’s a very life-like makeup job. Literally dead. (This is partially the weird angle she was at, and partially the expression on her face.) Dead. Overdosed. Vapid blow-up doll surprise. Best case scenario, she looked like a vulnerable adult.

And yet… someone not only decided that collage of images was sexy… they chose it to represent their book.

The cover had absoutely nothing to suggest BDSM or any other part of the plot. The only thing that made me notice it at all was just how awful it was. Who the hell is sending me this crap?

Writers are not artists. Most of us don’t have a lot of graphic design background. I get that.

I still found myself looking at this cover and wondering just how it happened. Author designing their own cover to save money? Probably. But still. How objective do you have to be to catch that your female model looks dead or intoxicated? Author not getting or not trusting feedback on the cover picture? Probably that, too.

And of course, to some extent, I’m guilty too. After all, I didn’t pull the author aside and send them a nice note that says… hey, uhm… did you know?

I have a writers’ group on line–an actually fairly large forum–where people can post titles, cover copy, and cover images for feedback. You get to vote as to which thing you like best, and then you get to comment about why. And the longer I’m there, the clearer I am getting about sorting out the objective–this is just wrong–information (Such as The cover model is a blonde Caucasian, but you described the character as a pretty Afro-Caribbean) from the subjective. (I like the blue one.)

So, the question is… how do you find the friends who will say hey, your slip is showing, your breath stinks, and you can’t for the world tell the American spelling from the British one?

How do you know when what you’ve done is actually good, and how do you develop the taste that lets you know the difference?

One thought on “How Can You Tell If Your Work is Good?

  1. A.S. Akkalon says:

    I have to say, I’m morbidly curious to see this terrible book cover now. Not that I haven’t seen plenty before. For some reason there’s a tribe of people living way back behind the library shelves who still think Comic Sans is a good font for a title.

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