armageddon texasThis week we’re celebrating the cover release of Tommy’s next book in the Messiah Trilogy, Armageddon, Texas, forthcoming from Atticus Books.

And may we say: DRAGON!!

It’s an awesome cover, and inspired a great conversation about book covers. Congrats, Tommy!

Click here to see more of the cover and to read an excerpt of Armageddon, Texas by Tommy Zurhellen.

About this week’s show:

We’re all told: Don’t judge a book by its cover. The truth? Hell yes, we judge a book by it cover.  Judge it quick as a Snake Sweater.  Judge it hard as Simon Cowell.  It may be sad, but writers need to know it’s true.  Everybody judges a book by its cover.

This week on the show, we crack open the story on book covers. Tommy tells us about how his Messiah Trilogy covers came together; we talk about the intricate tango the cover has to dance between the story itself and the marketing, genre-promising, and reader base of the book; we hash out ways that the cover positions (and sometimes taints) the book for readers; we pick apart cover tropes such as shirtless cowboys with abs like small boulders; and lots more.  

Also: Don’t judge a podcast by its show notes.  Just sayin’. 


  • Tommy tells us how the covers for his trilogy came to be, through the work of artist Jamie Kenan, and his development of the map motif across the Messiah Trilogy
  • Jamie actually reads the books before he designs the cover–and that’s a rare thing in publishing, actually (as weird as that is…it’s totally true).
  • Tommy saw the latest Dragon cover, and worried that the cover was gonna be better than the book.
  • We’re always taught the cliche to not judge a book by its cover, but the fact is, people DO judge a book by its cover.  It’s an important and emotional part of luring the reader into the story by what it signals.
  • books most often tagged "librarians"

    Jody tells the story of seeing the cover of her first novel, Summer in the Land of Skin.  Funny communication gap.

  • Some publishers want your input and feedback, and other publishers just send you the cover and say, “Hope you like it. If you don’t, too bad.”
  • As authors, we can’t always judge what the best cover for marketing purposes would be.
  • There are a couple of issues when designing a cover that must be answered: Do the book and cover reflect each other absolutely? And what’s the cover that could pull in the widest number of readers?  The answers to those questions are often very different.
  • And because of this, there are tropes like the shirtless cowboy on the cover.  Tommy wants a shirtless cowboy riding a dragon.  Then there’s also the headless teenage torso or prom dress trope for YA fiction.
  • These are by design, to signal to the reader exactly what kind of book it is before the reader reads a word.
  • Tommy wonders if the author has the right to claim the book as his or her own when it goes through the publication process.  It’s a collaborative creative process, and the book belongs to the world more than the author.
  • The cover is more about marketing, finding the right audience and also the widest audience.  It’s a delicate balance.
  • We shift to talk about the self-publishing dilemmas and the advantages with covers. Baker has done his own, through his training in work in publishing houses and work with marketing departments and art departments.
  • One advantage of self-publishing with covers is that you can change the cover easily, to help the book grow and find an audience, even years after its initial release.  With traditional publishers, they have one shot and one print run with the cover.
  • But if Baker had lots of money, he’d pay someone to do the cover.  It takes lots of time and creative energy that could be going into writing the next book.
  • The back cover is also important, like a secondary stage for hooking a reader.  Blurbs from other writers endorsing the book help sway readers to check out the story; but sometimes its hard to get authors to give you a blurb, as Jody tells us.
  • And the ol’ author photo.  What a strange, but important, part of the book cover.  Baker tells a funny story about a former professor who’d dress up as fictional characters from the book for the author photo.
  • We talk about some all-time favorite book covers.  Some that come up are:
  • Catcher in the Rye–classic, simple, text-only.  Maybe simple is better.
  • Or branding for a specific author, when book covers have a similar look and layout, so that readers can see that they are linked together.
  • The original Great Gatsby.  Always a great.
  • But lots of classic books have kind of crappy covers.  Like the old Faulkner books, that college students have to buy, so the covers don’t matter.
  • Jody brings up an interesting point about how covers can sometimes affect the attitude toward a book.  There’s lots of great fiction written by women that is not taken as seriously, or is even discounted, because of the shirtless guy on the cover, or the pink-infused font and book jacket, or whatever.  Sometimes what sells and reaches the greatest number of readers isn’t necessarily what garners a writer the most respect.
  • As Jody says, “I just wish I didn’t have to choose between respect and sales.”
  • Some of the best covers of late buck these trends, like Everything is Illuminated, The Fault in Our StarsLife of Pi, and even Twilight.  What’s powerful with these is that they use imagery and fonts, rather than putting a concrete character and person on the cover to fence in the reader’s imagination.
  • Tommy’s covers use maps in that same way, to encourage a vision of the book but not be too directive.
  • The professional, well-designed cover helps the reader see that it’s a high-quality product that’s going to be a good experience and it’s worth spending the money on it.
  • Check out Tommy’s cover over at