I started writing Transfer Day, a historical thriller set in the Danish West Indies, in December of 2008 to fulfill a childhood
promise I made to write a novel that would capture the unique history and
beauty of St. Thomas, the island of my youth. Very few people know that
for 300 years Denmark had a sugar colony in the West Indies that
was rich in folklore and old legends about pirates, slave rebellions, sugar
plantations, and quirky characters like the exiled General Santa Anna and
Blackbeard the pirate, but no novels existed that were set in this unique
The story takes place during the tumultuous Great
War, when the Danish West Indies was transferred to the United States for $25
million in gold, mostly to keep Germany from invading the islands and setting
up their own West Indian colony in close proximity to the Panama Canal, where
they could wreak havoc on international shipping.
The novel involves a 16-year old island girl
who becomes embroiled in a German spy's plot to invade islands when she rescues
a deserter from a German U-boat. Their situation becomes tense when he is blackmailed by the local German Consul into committing acts of sabotage and espionage. I had written a real thriller! After several years of writing and polishing several drafts, I was ready to
start designing a book cover.
In the Spring of 2011, I hired a professional
designer and described my vision for the cover, which included blazing cannons,
Danish soldiers, and U-boat medallions. Here are the results:
I liked the covers, and I have no doubt I would have used one of them had it not been for a certain beta reader—a gentleman who owns a book store—who pointed out that the majority of book buyers are women, and for a book cover to work, it should reflect that fact.
This added a significant wrinkle to my situation. Since one of my main characters was a U-boat officer, I naturally thought that guys would be more interested in reading Transfer Day. I knew that to successfully market my book to women, I would have to change the girl's age, change several key scenes, and create a richer romantic subtext to the story.
I went back to the drawing board and, using Guru.com, hired a new book
designer from India to create a new cover that reflected this new image. The new cover we conjured
up was definitely designed to appeal more to females. Gone were the smoking
cannons, the unfurled flags, the shiny medallions. Instead, we inserted a beautiful
girl superimposed over an idyllic image of
Charlotte Amalie. This is the result:
While I generally liked the cover, I wasn't completely satisfied. I decided that the model was unsuitable, so I began to search through stock photo websites until I found a model that better reflected the WWI time period. This is the result:
I launched "Transfer Day" in June of 2012, never realizing that my journey was just beginning. As a thank you for sharing his expertise, I sent a paperback copy of "Transfer Day" to my European military consultant (who is also an avid reader) who promptly declared upon completing it that the book was a spy thriller. A spy thriller? I could feel my brow wrinkling. "That's impossible!" I argued. "This book is historical fiction. Look at the historical setting, the island vignettes, the international cast of characters." "No, no," he answered firmly. "Transfer Day is a spy thriller."
I accepted his assertion, but if "Transfer Day"
was a spy thriller, then it would need new title and a new cover to reflect its
new genre. I pondered this dilemma for hours, but I remained stumped. I couldn't
think of a new title. And then, right out of the blue, it hit me: "
Spy Island was the perfect title for my
book. After more intensive research, I designed a new cover to reflect this new
image: Spy Island
I was pleased with the results. But two months later, I got a big surprise. I had entered "
in a giveaway sponsored by a popular YA blog (since I was trying to break into
the YA market) and to my dismay, the reaction was lukewarm. The new cover
didn't seem to excite much interest. I was shocked because I thought the
title and cover would appeal to lovers of historical fiction and
action/adventure novels. But I was off the mark. Back to the drawing board.
This time, I delved deeper into the study of YA book covers.
Many book blogs contain in depth analyses about current trends in YA book
covers, and I studied these blogs for hours on end, analyzing hundreds of covers,
studying which images worked best to attract readers. After more research and
investigation, this is the new image I came up with:
While the new cover captured the essence of my main character and the tropical setting of the novel, the historical aspect was missing. After subjecting the cover to a focus group, the conclusion I came up with was that most people felt the cover projected a contemporary romantic look, not the sweeping historical espionage thriller I had written. I heaved a sigh and went back to the drawing board.
Late one night after everyone had gone to bed, I was browsing through Shutterstock, looking for the right image. Then it hit me. I found a picture of a beautiful Croatian model with a turn-of-the-century hairdo that was just perfect. I knew I had found my Abby.
|It took hours of searching to find this glamorous new model|
But what about the background? After more consideration, I decided to go back to my original background, the one that accurately captures the look of the island that I had used for the original Transfer Day cover. My cover artist put the cover together and for the first time in years, I had a feeling of total satisfaction. After all those hours of work, I finally achieved the desired results. The cover is attractive and intriguing, and conveys the historical feel of the novel. My job was finally finished.
After two years of hard work, I learned that designing a book cover is a complex subject best left to professionals. But if a writer is compelled to do it, you should be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them, as it is only through those failures that you'll learn to grow, adapt and change. The hardest lesson of all was accepting that what pleased me was not necessarily what the market wanted. I had to let go of my preconceived notions about what entailed a successful book cover and embrace the market's needs. Now that I've reached this new plateau, I feel like I've passed a crucial test. But when I look back on the journey, I'm grateful for all the help I received along the way. Mostly I'm grateful that I listened to the messages I received, and that I had the flexibility to act on them.
With the Centennial Anniversary of Transfer Day rapidly approaching in 2017, I decided to go back to the original title of "Transfer Day" and remake the cover in honor of the momentous occasion, which promises to be a high-profile international event in the Virgin Islands. Yes, it was time to go back to the drawing board. Here is a poster announcing the 99th Anniversary of Transfer Day on March 31st, 2016, just one year away from the big event:
This time I wanted to hire someone with a proven track record of success in designing book covers. I searched online for some high-profile Indie Designers and found a graphic designer who's portfolio impressed me greatly. He worked for all the major publishers plus some bestselling Indie authors. I also found a new model via Shutterstock who I thought best represented the novel's protagonist, Abigail Maduro:
|This model captures the look, the dress, and the age of my protagonist, but I decided her expression was too dour. I still hope to use her in marketing adverts.|