The Evolution of a Book Cover

I’ve been working this week with the designer I’ve hired to come up with a cover of my first novel. When someone says ‘cover’ we tend to think purely of just the ‘front cover’ but of course a cover is the front cover, back cover and the spine of the book. Each of these things must be considered separately because they each aim to achieve different things. But of course attention must first–and mostly–be paid to the front cover.

My designer’s name is Dan Yeager and his company is Nu-Image Design. I found him on and right away he seemed to understand the sort of cover I was after. Of course that’s all very well in theory but it’s not until the first concept comes in do you really know if you’re on the same page, or if you’re on different pages in different books on different shelves in different libraries.

When his email appeared in my inbox on Wednesday with an attachment I held my breath a little bit. Well, perhaps more than a little bit–I’ve been imagining holding a novel with my name on it since I was ten years old. So opened the email and clicked on download. What I saw were these two initial concepts. (You can click on the photos to see a larger view.)

I didn’t care much at all for the first one. I could see where he was going with the flowery/planty/leafy font for GARDEN OF ALLAH but it as waaaay to busy-busy and I really couldn’t imagine why anyone would want or need to use a font like that. Ever. BLEECH! But…the second one, now that I liked!

It had that faded glamour / sepia / old Hollywood/ 1920s feel about it. Yes! Exactly what I wanted! Weeeeelllll…close.

Firstly it was a little dark. My story isn’t a twisted tale showing the sordid underbelly of Hollywood life. If you want that sort of book, go read “L.A. Confidential” by James Ellroy…which I have…and I loved…but it’s not what I’ve written. So while the design captured the feel of old Hollywood, I wanted it to be a little lighter. Plus the building he used didn’t feel “old hotel” enough.

So I went back to Dan and said we’re on the right track but that I wanted to include two things.

My friend, Bryan, here in Southern California and my brother, Blair, in Australia both brought up the subject of including the word “Allah” in the title lest it conjure thoughts of Muslim terrorists and thereby turn off potential readers who have never heard of the Garden of Allah hotel (which I have to assume they haven’t). So I added “…a story of Hollywood” to the title–more of a subtitle, really–so that potential readers could tell at a glance that my book isn’t set among machine-gun-toting, infidel-hating jihadists.

Dan also mentioned recreating the Garden of Allah sign that stood out the front of the hotel’s main entrance on Sunset Blvd. I thought that sounded like a great idea because this is the first book of a series and I wanted some sort of logo for it. So I went back to Dan and asked him to makes those adjustments, and to lighten it up a bit. And this is what came back:

So now I’m thinking…I much prefer the font on the first one but I really like the logo on the second. But in the first one I now have the word “Hollywood” appearing twice AND together. OVERKILL! And I’m still concerned about the Allah = terrorists = bad = won’t buy this book thing. So then I think What if I change the title of the book? An alternate title has been bouncing around my mind lately: THE GARDEN ON SUNSET. What if I changed it to that title? It would take care of those pesky terrorists, I’d still have ‘the Garden of Allah’ in the logo which I could move to the spine and back cover and it’s also there on the front in the line across the top: Book one in ‘The Garden of Allah’ series. Plus I’d still have the image of the Hollywoodland sign to clue readers into this being a Hollywood story of old. (The Hollywood sign originally read ‘Hollywoodland’ as it was a publicity stunt/billboard advertising a new housing estate called Hollywoodland which featured houses being built in the Hollywood Hills, a new concept back in 1923.) Also, it would eliminate any confusion with the two other books listed on with the title The Garden of Allah. Oh, and for god’s sake, make my name a little bit bigger. I’ve been waiting to hold a book with my name on it for 39 goddamned years so sue me if I want to see my name in a larger-than-teeny font.

And this was the result:

TA-DA! The cover of my new(-ly rechristened) novel “The Garden on Sunset.” I’m keen to get your reaction. Do you love it? Do you hate it? Do you whatever it? Let me know what you think.


About Martin Turnbull

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels blog is by Martin Turnbull, a Los Angeles based historical fiction author writing about the golden era of Hollywood in his series of novels set at the Garden of Allah Hotel, which stood on Sunset Blvd from 1927 to 1959. Check him out at and Facebook: "gardenofallahnovels"
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8 Responses to The Evolution of a Book Cover

  1. Jaye says:

    I like it, Martin. I’d double-check how it looks very small (thumbnail sized) before I gave the final okay, though. Thumbnail is what browsers online will see first. Make sure your art doesn’t disappear into a blob.

    I’m very excited for you. Make sure you keep us posted on your pub date.

  2. Linda Mansouria says:

    Hi, Martin,
    I agree that Allah in the title does lead to Muslins and you don’t want that connection at all so I’m glad you changed the title of the book to “Sunset.” I like the final drawing. It is much better than the other designs. One question I have is the hotel now looks like a home. Is that the way you wanted it represented. I like the look of the home better, but is this more of a photo of what it may have looked like back in the day.

    Another suggestion might be to just show an entrance to a hotel with a grand staiircase and a porter carrying luggage. Just giving you another option to think about…..just in case it wasn’t thought of. Back in the days, the grand hotels always had a fabuous entrance as well as the posh hotels of today.

    • Thanks Linda! Yes, everyone seems to agree that taking out “Allah” was the way to go and I do too. Yes, the house was intentional because (a) the place started out as a house and (b) only the grandest of hotels (and there were VERY few of those during that period ) were built with a grand staircase, like the Biltmore Hotel in downtown LA (1923). Most hotels back then were very functional rather than build-it-and-they-will-come. Plus the foyer and the staircase of the Garden of Allah was actually quite dark…which makes a writer wonder…what secrets did those shadows hide…?

  3. Cheryl Walters says:

    Marty l am feeling pretty damn proud of you right now sunshine! I definitely like the final copy a lot better than the earlier ones and l am guessing that the picture of the house links in with the hollywoodland housing estate (which l didn’t know before l read your blog). One thing l do know is that l can’t wait to buy your book and read it. I have never met anyone who has written a novel so what you have done is pretty spectacular ❤ xx

    • Thanks Cheryl! Now that I have cover art, the whole thing is becoming quite real and exciting. The reason for the house is that the Garden of Allah hotel started out as a house – Alla Nazimova’s movie star mansion – it was never originally intended to be a “grand Hollywood hotel” (like the actual Hollywood Hotel which used to stand next to where the Kodak Theater and Grauman’s Chinese now are). Plus, to use an actual photo of the Garden of Allah would have cost me another 100 bucks and, quite frankly, this cover is costing me enough! But it’s exactly what I was shooting for (and in some ways better) so I’m very pleased. Someone said to me that they thought it was a tad too dark and not enough color. The people living in the 1920s weren’t living in a sepia world but from our 20th/21st century perception of it, that’s how it seemed so that’s what I was going for. But of course as the books progress through the years and the movie become talkies and the talkies become Technicoloured, my plan is for the covers to reflect that. Call it “Marty’s Grand Plan”…!

  4. Tony H says:

    I love the new title. Not only do you get rid of those pesky terrorism connotations, but I feel it gives it a slightly more modern feel, and also a connection and a reference to something real and still in existence.

    And the fact that it’s still the ‘Garden of Allah’ series, but the first one is called ‘The Garden On Sunset’ gives it an immediate indication that there’s more to come.


  5. Marlea Evans says:

    I enjoyed that so much! Riding over old Wilcox for years, I had no idea who he was. And especially the evolution of the cover. It is wonderful. The sharing of information is generous. i have bookmarked this entry for later when I decide to self-publish.

  6. Pingback: Cover art…the evolution continues | Are you there publishers? It's me, Martin.

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