Whooops!! My Misadventures in eBook Cover Design….

By: Shane Lambert

I completed a short story in early 2018. At first, I didn’t know what to do with it. When I started writing the short story, it was more like I was scratching an itch than thinking about a final product. However, when I finished it I definitely wanted it to be read by others. I self-published it at Amazon and part of this process involved creating an eBook cover.

I don’t know much about art, at least not the kind involving painting or drawing. All the marketing tips I read said that I should have a nice eBook cover to represent the book, something I agreed with wholeheartedly. So, I went to the freelancers online to try and create something that might ‘draw’ in some readers.

But, before I did this, I had to think of a cover design that I wanted to be drawn. I didn’t want an artist to have to read the short story and then think of a cover by himself or herself. That would be time-consuming and, I assumed, it would then cost more money to get the job done.

While I’ve made a lot of extra money over the years writing, as of yet self-published eBooks haven’t really brought me in that much. My writing-related income comes mainly from writing for websites. Since my first attempts at self-publishing back in 2012, I’ve only sold about 1500 eBooks. That doesn’t mean that the effort, for some of them, hasn’t been worth it but you can see how it has not really been a clearly successful venture for me.

Due to this, I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on an eBook cover. Instead, I decided that I would try to find a talented artist who needed to establish himself or herself, someone who would be willing to work for an hour on this project for something very affordable.

My short story, which can now be found on short-stories-online.com, is about a well-meaning man who decides to pick up a hitchhiker. Subsequently, he wonders if the hitchhiker, who is female, is suspicious of his intentions. That manifests into a concern that the man has that others, people the hitchhiker talks to at a rest stop, might actually think that the man is a serial killer.

In the end, the man develops what could be viewed as a paranoia over his image. Others might see the man’s concern as reasonable and not the result of paranoia. That’s a question posed in the story.

My question was how do I represent the short story in an eBook cover in a way that might intrigue people?

At one point, I thought that I could put anything on the cover and just let the reader run wild with metaphorical interpretation. However, I abandoned this idea when I found an artist that had some significant ability and was willing to work cheap. I described the scene to her that should be on the cover as follows.

Three people were to be illustrated as pushing a car off of a cliff. The vehicle was to have a terrified male driver sitting at the wheel. The three people doing the pushing were to be depicted as a female hitchhiker, a member of the public, and a police officer. In the background, I instructed that a Ted-Bundy-like serial-killer character is supposed to be engaged in sardonic laughter as the driver of the vehicle suffers for something he, the actual serial killer, did.

It was all was supposed to show, metaphorically, how four people were involved in stifling congenial behavior in society. The driver of the car stopped to help a stranded traveler as an act of kindness but this act was instead distorted. You may have to read the story to understand the point in view. But as for the eBook cover, to make sure we were on the same page I offered this juvenile sketch to my hired help:

The setting of the story is in the Canadian Rockies, as depicted by the rocky ‘waves’ in the background. The sign in the sketch is a common one that highway users see when they travel. That sign is a part of the story but I won’t get into that here too much. I just wanted to point out that everything in the sketch is relevant to the plot — nothing is arbitrary.

The next step in the cover design was getting some work back before the artist did too much on her own. She sent a first draft after both getting my instructions and seeing the simple sketch above. Importantly, the sketch below, while not completed, is far better artwork than I could draw myself.

What you are looking at is a man being pushed over the edge of a cliff in a car. However, my opinion was that the car looked more like a small pick-up truck and that was taken up with the artist.

The driver is the protagonist, someone I call “Fictional Me” because I often write fiction in the first person. The woman with the backpack on (pictured on the right) is the hitchhiker and she’s giving an ironic thumbs-up as she aids in pushing Fictional Me and my car over a cliff.

The man in the middle is a guy she speaks to at a gas station, ‘alerting’ him to the fact that Fictional Me is an individual who picks up female hitchhikers. He’s pushing the car with one hand and scrutinizing Fictional Me with a magnifying glass with the other.

The police officer is both finger-wagging and helping to kill Fictional Me. In the background, you can see the actual serial killer who is enjoying the mess that he created. The serial killer finds twisted humor in the fact that someone else is being tormented for what he, the serial killer, did.

The next draft looked like this:

Was this the final draft? At this point, I had some opinions — all of which were entirely irrelevant.

Part of me didn’t think the three ‘pushers’ looked active enough in pushing. I also didn’t think that it made sense that they could push so hard as to get a car through the rail on the side of the highway.

On another matter, I thought the outline of the car was a little wonky as it looks like the front is the back and the back is the front to me. Lastly, the mountains seemed red and arid while the setting of the story was in an area where the mountains were tree-covered and dark or silver.

The reason my opinions were irrelevant was because I’m a reasonable person and I knew that I couldn’t push someone too hard at revisions when I was only paying $25US. Unwilling to spend more, I was happy with what I got for what I paid, I left the artist a great review, and I put the eBook cover up as a better cover than the site-generated ugly ones. Even if I end up -$25US on the project, it definitely made me smile to work on it.

If you want to read the short story, it won’t cost you anything. It’s called “On Being Indistinguishable” and it’s on this website.

“We So Seldom Look on Love” – Barbara Gowdy Kept it Weird

Author: Shane Lambert

Necrophilia is a mental disorder characterized by sexual attraction that is felt toward the dead. It has a little bit of a tradition in literature, perhaps most famously represented in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” a poem where acts of necrophilia are implied. As far as clear representation goes, it was a major part of Barbara Gowdy’s short fiction, a Canadian author who often wrote about characters that were unusual to say the least.

Gowdy’s characters in her fiction included a mutant who had an extra pair of legs coming out of her torso. She also told a story of a set of Siamese twins, only one of which was born with control of ‘their’ limbs. He eventually attempts to use this advantage to kill the other.

If that strikes you as a bit odd, then note that bizarre characters were the flavor of the day with Gowdy — and why not? It doesn’t make her any less of a writer to use the bizarre to capture people’s attention. Her work might be called disturbing for some but then whose to blame for that? If the market is attracted to tales of twisted and strange people, then authors will have to bend that. It’s not surprising that her best known work of fiction focuses on a necrophiliac — a necro that had a bit of twist if we look into the history of necrophilia.

Necrophiliacs are usually, if not always, males, which kind of makes sense when you think about the nature of sex. An aroused male could penetrate a dead corpse but it’s hard to picture a woman giving a dead man an erection.

Returning to “Annabel Lee,” Poe’s poem, the necrophiliac was a male. The poem tells of a man and woman who are in love before the woman dies. Her high-class kinsmen then entomb her in a “sepulchre,” an old word meaning a small room where a dead body is laid to rest. That the male in the poem is a necrophiliac is suggested in the final stanza.

“For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee: —
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea —
In her tomb by the sounding sea.”

Read the full poem “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe

He says he lies “down by the side” of Annabel Lee which isn’t exactly mounting her. However, “(feeling) the bright eyes” does suggest a mounting position, I think. In general, this poem has been taken to describe necrophilia.

Does that make Poe a weirdo? One “Princess George” of Greece actually argued that Poe himself was a necrophiliac after performing a psychoanalysis of his work. That’s according to a short article I found in the August 6th, 1933 edition of The Birmingham News (page 24; no author of the article listed).

I’m not sure I would put much faith in psychoanalysis to be honest, especially when the analysis involves reading fiction which often needs characters that add shock value in order to be of interest to the public. However, if you want to digress for a moment, you can read the article below for whatever you think its worth. Personally, I think it’s good for nothing but a laugh.

Ted Bundy.

Real-life and known necrophiliacs are less poetic. It will come as no surprise to those familiar with the deeds of Ted Bundy that he was a necrophiliac. Other American serial killers also committed the act, including Edmund Kemper, Earle Nelson, and Gary Ridgway — all male necrophiliacs, of course, for the obvious reason already stated.

In “We So Seldom Look on Love,” Gowdy’s best known work, the protagonist necrophiliac is a woman. Perhaps that could only happen in a work of fiction.

In doing research for this blog post, I did find one possible female necrophiliac in history. Alleged murderer Louise Vermilya is listed among the necrophiliacs at Wikipedia.

However, her description there says she liked washing dead bodies which might be sexual but that’s not quite the same as the weirdo in “We So Seldom Look on Love,” a woman who devises a way to give dead men erections and then mounts them. In the newspaper articles I read of Vermilya, I found no reference to her being a necrophiliac. If anything, she may have been a murderer but the last article I read on her states that she was let go, perhaps for lack of evidence.

Quad-City Times, April 18th, 1915. Page 1.

In “We So Seldom Look on Love,” the fictional female-necrophiliac works in a funeral home, one where she has concocted a way to give dead men erections using a fluid in a syringe. Whether that’s creative writing or whether it would actually work isn’t a matter I know of. However, a character that is weird enough to be a necrophiliac is going to grab some attention, even if the character is a male. That the protagonist in “We So Seldom Look on Love” is unique among necrophiliacs due to her female sex makes the story doubly-intriguing.

How she commits her acts, I’ve spoiled. But why she does it, when she’s so pretty and could score easily, is a different matter. I won’t spoil this but, for me, the short story was a memorable one. I would say that “We So Seldom Look on Love” is not to be missed.

Are hitchhikers weird? What about the people that pick them up? Check out another short story where a hitchhiker and driver seem to be in a battle of wits.