Critique Corner: Mystery / Detective

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Cover Critique: Cellphone Mystery by James Copeland


Private Detective, Frank Hawthorn sits in a jail cell wondering why! He didn’t know the people he had been accused of killing nor how his fingerprints had gotten on the gun, even though it was his gun that did it.

In desperation, Hawthorn sees he has to solve the crime he is accused of… from behind the bars of the New York City Jail.

Genre: Mystery/Detective


ProfileCritique Corner courtesy of Tamian Wood:

Thanks for participating James. Sounds like an interesting story. I'm intrigued by your elevator speech as to HOW your protagonist is going to manage to solve a crime from behind bars... Curiosity ensues...

So, let's jump right in and see if we can't help this cover attract a bit more intrigue as well. Right now, it's looking very DIY, and that's never a good thing.

There's a lot to cover here, so, hang on to your hat.

One of the biggest things that will jump out to book browsers as very DIY is the white background. You almost never see a professional cover with rectangular images on a white background. For one reason, as you can see above, when it lands on a white page, (like it will on any online sales page) you can't find the edges. It looks as if your images are floating in space. There are other ways around this (giving it a drop shadow, making the white slightly grey) but in this case, since white doesn't really suit the subject matter anyway, you will want to have your image fill the space (If you ever plan to go to print you will also need a 1/4" overlap for bleed, so keep that in mind.)

Next, let's discuss that image. Your story is about crime. And the image you chose does say "crime." Or, at least the end result anyway. So, your instinct was a good one. BUT... I'm pretty sure you can't legally use that image because you need permissions to use images of recognizable buildings and copyright permission to use logos (NYPD) and I'm pretty sure you can't publish an image with an actual existing license plate.

But it's ok, because this one was a little busy, and "snap shot-ish" anyway. So, while your instinct was good, this image doesn't work on many levels.

I'd challenge you to look for something more... conceptual than literal. You can find very reasonably priced images in many of the stock photography houses like,, and, to name a few. You can type in a concept (like Crime, or NYC Crime, even Mystery/Detective) into their search bar and tons of images will be at your fingertips.

The downside to using a single stock image is that others can use it too. That's why designers, like me, take a number of images and meld them together to create new unique images that no one else could use.

But, if your budget doesn't allow, then at least no one will have the same image with the same title, and they certainly wouldn't be using your author name. So from that perspective it would be unique.

Be sure to choose something without a lot of busy details, and something that has some copy space at the top and bottom so you can place your title/author name without any obstruction.

Caveat: Don't go for anything "Editorial" because they can't be licensed for what you want to use it for. They would likely say "Editorial Use Only," so it shouldn't be too hard to avoid. In fact, in most stock houses, you can filter out the editorial images, so you don't even get tempted.

A few quick points about fonts and font colours. Using black (or primary colours), center justifying all the same size text, and using a system font (Times New Roman, Ariel, or Helvetica) are all dead giveaways that the cover is homemade.

The colours you choose should compliment the image. The words should fit the space. The font should be interesting, without being Kitchy. Here's a quick, down and dirty sample image that I grabbed and worked up to show you what I'm suggesting.




See how the cover has a boundry? How the text fits the space and the colours compliment the image? The title is a dark blue from the buildings and the author name is an orange from the sky. The image says "city" so your sub title could say "crime." For example: "A Detective Frank Hawthorn Crime Novel" (or something of the like.)

Moving on to the spine: Your cascading spine text treatment is almost never done, mainly because it's hard to read. That text should be written out straight then rotated into place like I've done on my moc up. Note: The blue line along the spine in my sample is only there as a visual guideline to show where the spine would be, and how the spine text sits within it.

A couple notes on the back cover and I'll stop. Since you already have "Cellphone" in the title, the floating cordless phone on the back is unnecessary, and also a smidge inaccurate.

And finally, I can tell that your author image is stretched wide. It shouldn't be. It just looks like you were trying to take up space. I would recommend that you unskew it, and crop it in even closer so there's not so much extraneous background around you.

If you need to fill the back cover space, you could do so with more of the cityscape (or whatever the front cover is) and perhaps a bio about you to go along with your "un-stretched" picture. And don't forget you need to leave room down at the bottom for your bar code.

Whew, that was a lot! Thanks for sticking with me. I hope these comments are helpful.

And thanks again for participating James. If you use any of my advice, I'd appreciate credit as your consultant. 🙂

If you belong to any writing groups, please tell them about this blog.


Tamian Wood
Graphic Designer
Beyond Design International
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