Don’t worry! I won’t be shirtless on my book cover

(It’s hard to believe 60 cents worth of writing advice has been dispensed since Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing first began appearing every Friday 12 weeks ago. One reader described the impact of NWOW on his writing this way:

“Can you break a nickel?”

And the accolades go on. Suffice it to say, with those kids of testimonials, it’s no wonder the IRS has targeted my Nickel’s Worth for a full audit…)

image We’ve all heard the adage about not judging a book by it’s cover. And while that’s a terrific sentiment when it comes to people, let’s be honest in admitting the cover of a book is the first thing we judge. There’s a reason the heroine on a romance novel looks like a hair products model and not someone from an anti-drug campaign. Taking it a step further, from a woman’s perspective, would you want to thumb through the latest issue of Playgirl if Pee Wee Herman was on the cover?

OK, fine. Two of you would. Obviously, choosing a book is the least of your problems.

However, after conducting a random poll of 10 women in our office, they unanimously agreed, given a choice, they would rather see me than Pee Wee Herman — which doesn’t really say as much about my masculinity as it does about our need for better vision coverage. Regardless, I will claim that as a victory.

Getting back to book covers… I will be on one this October. I’d like to tell you it’s on a Harlequin Romance because they said they were looking for the next Fabio, “except without all the rugged good looks and muscles that distract from a book’s title. If less is more, Ned Hickson gives us more than we imagined possible.”

That’s what I’d like to tell you. But the fact is it’s MY book and, because it’s humorous, the publisher felt my face would be the perfect selling point. For obvious reasons, I was concerned that my anti-Fabio-ness would indeed prove so compelling that no one would notice the title. Or the book, for that matter. Kind of like those really funny commercials during the Super Bowl that no one remembers what was being advertised.

“I saw a book with this guy on the cover. MAN did he look funny!”
“That sounds great! What was the book?”

Because of this, I think we can all agree deciding on a book cover design is one of the most crucial decisions you’ll make as an author, right along with your book’s title, what photo to use for the author bio, and whether to wear socks with your Penny Loafers during book readings. (For the record, as an Oregonian, I wear hiking boots 90 percent of the time. The rest of the time I am sleeping. However, I keep my hiking boots next to the bed just in case I sleepwalk.)

Obviously, the objective of any book cover is to catch the eye and distinguish itself from the hundreds of titles on the same shelf or eBook scroll bar. In the end, it really comes down to two main decisions:


While there are literally a bazillion different kids of fonts out there (seriously, I counted them), they boil down to six main categories. The basic rules with fonts are 1) never use more than one font from the same category, and 2) always use two different fonts on your cover. This will ensure clear distinction between the title and the author’s name or tag line. Using three different font styles begins to look confusing. Especially when translated into Chinese; particularly if you don’t read Chinese.

Choose fonts that capture the feel of your book but that also compliment each other by distinguishing themselves from each other. In short, when picking font styles, you’re looking for the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West of the font world.

Next comes deciding between an illustration or photo image for your book cover. Again, it really depends on the feel or “mood” you are trying to evoke. Romance covers tend to look dreamy with handwritten-type fonts from the Script and Old Style families. Images are generally graphic illustrations that leave something to the imagination of the reader. Young adult designs are edgier, with stark color contrasts and crisp font styles from the Decorative or Modern families. The main focus of YA covers leans toward a strong female image. This is opposed to Romance covers, which almost always feature a muscular, shirtless male looking as though he just found a woman while making the bed.

In my case, I have decided against going shirtless on the cover. Nor will I be holding a woman wrapped in any kind of lacy robe or bed sheet. Given that the title is Humor at the Speed of Life, we’ve decided to go with a photo, taken at a local speedway, where I will be poised to race a pair of dragsters with my mini van. Probably while pushing it. That pretty much sums up the top speed of my life. The photo will be black and white, with the title and byline in color.

Will this be eye-catching enough? Will it stand out from the other books out there? I can’t say for sure.

But maybe I could get Fabio to help push start my van.

Next week: More tools for thought… or food for your toolbox… or something like that.

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

65 thoughts on “Don’t worry! I won’t be shirtless on my book cover”

  1. Congratulations! (I think you should ABSOLUTELY be pushing the van!)

    And, do you think there’s any chance that I will find a man while making the bed? I need to move something rather heavy later and I could use a hand.

          1. LOL — I’ll be sure to send you the bill for the summons I will inevitable receive for the “nuisance call”…

            1. We had an old woman in a retirement home here who purposely burned her popcorn in the microwave two or three times a week so the fire department would show up. After a few weeks, the retirement home started giving her pre-cooked popcorn in bags 🙂

  2. I, for one, can honestly say I have gotten my full sixty cents’ worth out of you NWOW posts. Especially since I haven’t actually paid sixty cents! I love this one, particularly, being an ardent fan of cover art and actually having bought the occasional book based simply on that alone. (How shallow am I?) Frankly, I can’t wait for your book to hit the shelves, and I promise I will FIND it, no matter what’s on the cover. (Though Wizards would help. I’m quite fond of the Dresden Files covers. Do you think you could get Harry Dresden to help you push your van? Complete with long black duster, blasting rod, and rune-covered staff? (Oh, lord…she said “staff.” What has she started now?!)

    Thanks again for a fun post that actually taught me something: Most books actually have writing on the cover, in addition to the sexy, bare-chested guy holding the sheet-draped woman. Who knew?)

      1. Well…my DOG is named Hairy Potter. Does that count? But Dresden is actually named Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden (with the Harry referring to Houdini). Wizards of a sort, all. And I really, really think a wizard would be just the ticket for drawing readers to your book. Nothing says Humor at The Speed of Life better than a wizard in full wizarding gear. Okay, pretty much everything says Humor At The Speed of Life better than that, but work with me here. A WIZARD! All of the sex appeal, none of the tacky bare-chestedness. Great dark and mysterious presence without fangs or sparkles. Power, prestige, pretty hair. Ooops. Got carried away. I do love that Dresden Files cover model.

        Just think about it. That’s all I’m sayin’. A humorist who hangs out with wizards. What could be better? No, really.

          1. Now yer talkin’! I knew you would see the light! And don’t forget the werewolf. Furry people are pretty hot these days, y’know. I’m all excited now. Roll on, October!

    1. I bought Joan Rivers’ book because, judging from its thickness, it was just the right height to prop my computer monitor at eye level on my desk.

        1. Don’t feel too sorry for me, I do have an iPad, but my computer in the newsroom is about 11 years old. Sad but true! Switching back and forth between the two is like driving a Fiat then jumping into a 1986 Yugo.

  3. I dunno, I kind of like the cover you put up here. Maybe strike a pose while wielding power tools? Chicks dig guys who can use power tools. Even if you can’t use them, who cares—it’s the illusion we’re after.

        1. I’ll get that to the cover design department right away. Maybe I could be pinching a Whoopie Cushion with them, you know, just to make sure people won’t actually think it’s a romance novel.

        1. Lol! First time I saw him without a hat was in his “Key Lime Pie” video. I thought to myself, “Oh, now I know why he’s never seen without a hat.” I think he fired his image consultant after that.

          1. I’m telling you…he is a one tree forest without that hat. I wouldn’t tap that. No sir. Sing? Yeah. But take that hat off? My ICK FACTOR goes right through the roof. Rob Thomas?
            HELP. ME. JESUS.

  4. How about the mini van is stranded on the side of the road, and you’re jacking up the chassis with multiple copies of Joan Rivers’ books to change the tire . . .

    1. Hahaha! I need you on my promotional team. Not that I have one, but you’d be the first. Now I’m thinking I need to add a section: “Things You Can Do With Joan Rivers’ Book Once You’re Done Pretending You’ve Read it.”

        1. His “My Ticker Took a Licking But Kept on Ticking” cover had him as both angel and devil. He did it after his heart attack. Guess I’ll have to wait for mine.

  5. At the very least, burn the pic attached to this post. You look terribly constipated in it. And facial constipation does not make me want to buy your book.

    1. It’s my impression of teen angst from watching Twilight movies with my daughters. Or, maybe that’s just how I look when I’m watching them? Or better yet, is there a difference?

    1. Thanks! I think what makes it work is the squirrel I apparently have hidden in crotch of my deer skin pants. I’m refering to the image, not getting the book contract.

    1. Many thanks 🙂 I think it’ll be fun to do. Especially if they let me get in one of those racers. To be fair, I’ll let them in my mini van.

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