Cover art…the evolution continues

I was lucky enough to get a good amount of feedback on the cover art for my novel which I unveiled in a recent blog. The consensus was that I was right to exorcize the word ‘Allah’ from the book’s title. In the mind’s of nearly everybody who wrote to me Allah = Muslim terrorists which would be fine if my novel was about Muslim terrorists…but it’s not. Not even close. So ‘Allah’ was out, and ‘The Garden on Sunset’ was in.

People also commented–approvingly–on the old Hollywood/sepia feel of the cover saying how it captured the feel of the era. Of course, the people living in the 1920s weren’t living in a sepia world but from our 21st century perception, that’s how it seems. And I think my designer, Dan, and I managed to come up with a cover that both captured that feel and established a ‘look’ for the future books. As the subsequent books progress through the years and as Hollywood evolves from 1920s sepia to 1930s Technicolor to 1940s film noir to 1950s Cinemascope, my plan is for the covers to reflect that. Each of them will use the same format of artwork but with a different color scheme so that anyone can glance at a cover and exclaim brightly and enthusiastically, “Oh! That’s a Martin Turnbull book!” But none of those grand plans will amount to a hill o’ Bogie beans if the first book lays a big, fat turkey egg. All the more reason for me to get this first book as right as I possibly, possibly can.

So the cover art for The Garden on Sunset was declared a success …but…but…but…there was still something niggling at me. It was the bungalow Dan had used. I was kinda sorta happy with it but then someone commented that it looked like just some California bungalow stuck in the Hollywood Hills, and not a hotel. Dan and I talked (read: emailed) about it and he said that he hadn’t just used some random house but it was, in fact, a house designed by the original architect of the Garden of Allah. Color me impressed! And for a while that satisfied me. And then it kinda sorta didn’t.

I’ve been doing some reading on various indie writer websites and a common thread seemed to emerge time and time again: the vast majority (well over 90%) of the books sold by independent (i.e. self-publishing) authors are sold in eBook format, and the vast majority of them are sold on Amazon’s Kindle eReader.

That means potential buyers don’t have a whole lot to go on when deciding to take a chance with an unknown, untested, who-the-hell-is-this-person-anyway author who they came across on Amazon but can’t remember how because who the hell remembers half the things we click on? They’ll have the synopsis/blurb, maybe some reviews (hopefully positive) and the cover of the book. This seems to suggest that a sizable part of any potential buyer’s decision to buy my book (assuming of course you’re not related to me and/or are not my Facebook friend and/or are on the receiving end of birthday cards) falls largely on the one part of the book they can actually see: the cover art.

So, I decided, I ought to have a cover that I’m perfectly happy with, as against quite happy with. And given that this book–and the series to follow–takes place in, at, and around a hotel that actually did exist, it made inarguable sense to include a photo of that hotel on the cover. I would have to pay for the image’s copyright but as a writer friend of mine pointed out: the pain of a credit card bill subsides at the end of the month after you’ve paid it but a book cover is forever.

I had amassed a pile of photos of the hotel and narrowed it down to four. Ironically, three of them had the GARDEN OF ALLAH HOTEL sign in them but the one we decided on didn’t. However it had the right angle, and light, and the feel. It’s the feel of the era I was going for and this shot of the hotel looked very much like the sort of place you’d come across as you were motoring up Sunset Blvd in your snazzy, fire engine red Studebaker roadster en route to some dark and smoky speakeasy down the wrong end of Hollywood Blvd that your pal, a set designer over at Warner Bros., told you about over poker last week.

And this, gentle readers, was the result: (you can click on the image to get a larger version)

"The Garden on Sunset"

"The Garden on Sunset"


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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4 Responses to Cover art…the evolution continues

  1. Caitlin says:

    I love it!!!!

  2. Linda Mansouria says:

    Hi, Martin,
    This is it!!!!! You nailed it here.

    I like it a whole lot better because it resembles a mansion and more welcoming than the cottage your designer placed on the cover. I also like the palm tree as it also designates Hollywood. I remember as a little girl driving down Sunset Blvd. the number of Palm Trees that I would see and I knew automatically I was in Southern California instead of Northern California. I aslo like the front steps leading up to the building as it is so much more inviting than the original house design.

    Thinking through the process of color for future books is also relevant. I like your approach about bringing different color into the cover as you advance in years. I’m currently reading a series of novels by Nora Roberts (4 books in the series) and the covers all have her name and font in the same place on the book, a different cover photo (all related to a bride, i.e. dress, floral, cake, etc.) and different color hues: one is light brown, one yellow, one pink, and one lylac). You are definitely on the right track and thinking positive. I have no doubt you will reach your long term goals of selling lots of books.

    I happened to think about your rationale about how I purchase books (both e-books and hardback) and the cover is extremely important and has to draw me in to read the book. When I go to a bookstore, I look at the covers first and when I download my books, I look at the covers first and then the synopsis. The cover needs to grab a readers attention and a reader should be able to gather a clue about what the story is about.

    I definitely love your end result! You’ve captured the story.

    • Thanks Linda! And yes! I agree! I think the cover captures the story perfectly so I’m very happy.

      And yes, with a project like this, you have to think long term. I pictured the books lined up along our bookshelf and realized that I needed to come up with a certain “look” to them otherwise they’re just a bunch of books, aren’t they?

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