Getting My Rights Back

I finished writing and editing what I often call my “Old Lady” book in 2011. A KILLER PAST is the story of Mary Harrington, a 74-year- old widow who for 44 years has been living a quiet life in a small Michigan town. It’s only when two gang members try to mug Mary that her situation changes, mainly because it’s the gang members who end up in the hospital. When Sergeant Jack Rossini investigates the incident, he begins to question Mary’s past. He soon discovers he can’t find out anything about Mary before she moved to the town. His prying, however, has put both Mary’s and his life in danger…and he’d better hope this seventy-four-year-old hasn’t forgotten her KILLER PAST.

I queried several agents regarding the book, and in 2013 found an agent who loved the story. She began shopping it around, but, alas, none of the big NY publishers were interested. However, there was a publisher in London, England who loved the story and wanted to publish it Internationally. At the advice of the agent, I signed a contract, and in 2015 A KILLER PAST came out as a hardcover and an e- book. Later that year it was also published in large print, but that was only available in the UK.

Reviews have been very good, and people continually tell me they love the story and love Mary Harrington; nevertheless, sales have not been that great. I might be wrong, but I attribute this in part to the price ($29.95 for the hardcover [recently discounted to $20.95 by Amazon], and $8.99 for the e-book) and that most bookstores won’t carry it because of the price and return policy.

This year, I began to wonder how it might do as a paperback. But, I’d signed away those rights. Still…

I have dropped the agent who represented the book, but last month I decided what the heck and contacted her regarding getting the paperback rights reverted back to me. She was very negative about the idea, but she did contact the editor. Her initial letter pointed out all of the reasons why I shouldn’t get my rights back, so I think she was surprised when the managing director said he thought it could be arranged. (A good lesson on why it’s better to ask than assume.)

My HAPPY news is on June 20th, I received the official confirmation that I have the paperback rights to A KILLER PAST.

The agent was also very negative about my chances to use the same cover (I think you can see why she’s no longer my agent), but again the managing director surprised her by saying yes, I can use the cover if I pay a use fee. (He quoted an amount I find reasonable).

NOW I have a decision to make:

This is the original cover (hardcover edition and e-book)

Original Hardcover

This is the cover on the large print version.

Large Print cover

I think I would like a cover that shows an older woman (I’ve always pictured Mary as looking like Helen Mirren) as the main focus with maybe a residential neighborhood behind her. Lighter in color than the hardcover cover.

What do you think? Should I change the cover or use the original?

Any ideas regarding a model/image if I do change the cover?

All suggestions welcome.

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46 Responses to Getting My Rights Back

  1. I always open your blogs, because I can tell you sincerely put your best foot forward into helping those of use struggling behind you. Blessings on your head and your endeavors.

  2. cjpetterson says:

    What a great sounding story. I love the idea of a Helen Mirren look-alike on the cover. Her acting roles have always been strong women including the tongue-in-cheek”Red” where she is a killer. Best of luck with it.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I don’t know about you, CJ, but it always helps me when writing to picture my main characters. Helen Mirren was a perfect fit for Mary Harrington.

  3. Your post is a good lesson in perseverance and relying on your own judgment. As for the cover, I like the hardcover one but it is a little too dark for me. I like your idea of a woman on the cover in a residential neighborhood. Not all women in their 70s look old, so pick one that looks strong and capable.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thanks, Susan. I’m leaning toward the type of cover you’re suggesting. Finding the right model will probably be the problem (and the right cover artist since this will be a wrap-around.)

  4. I vote for the large print version. It carries a sense of menace that’s intriguing.

  5. Most covers with “people” on them involve models, which in turn usually ends up very expensive. I have looked into this myself. Models have to be paid and sometimes flown in for the cover shoot, etc. And it’s very hard to find a model who truly fits what you are picturing. That “just right” look is very difficult. Been there – done that. A “scene” is much cheaper and much easier to work with. The beautiful scenes in my reissued Savage Destiny books absolutely fit each story perfectly and were done by Hot Damn, who are very reasonable. In your case, I LOVE the original hard cover one – the darkness only lends to the mystery, at least for me. I think it’s the title (in the case of this book) more than the scene that makes you want to read the book, especially with that quote on the front. Personally, putting an older lady on the cover, no matter how strong and attractive she might look, could possibly turn off some readers. I think once they start reading that exciting opening, the reader won’t care about age. Why not keep it a mystery until they actually start reading the book? After that they won’t want to put it down; whereas, if they see an older woman on the front, they might have doubts and might not buy the book at all. Hate to say that, since I’m an old woman myself, but most readers don’t want a heroine who is over 40 years old, unless they have “grown up” with that heroine since she was young through a series of books. An older woman on the cover might hurt sales from readers who would otherwise be surprised what a good book it is once they start reading. Just my opinion, but I do like that original cover – dark, mysterious, a catchy title and a great one-liner. And I am thinking that if the book does well, it could lead to a book or books about Mary Harrington when she was young. Good luck!

  6. Melissa Keir says:

    Wonderful that you got your rights back. Looks like you have some choices. You can contact a cover designer and get their thoughts. The price for ebook and print is about $125-150.

    Of the two covers you showed, the print one is lighter which is nicer than the dark of the top one. I like to make my cover as small as a thumbnail so I can see what it would look like on Amazon. If I can’t read it or see it, then neither are the readers.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Melissa, I didn’t and won’t get the e-book rights, but the price Crowood quoted for the original cover is in the range you mentioned. I don’t know if I can get the lighter cover. Different publisher for large print, but if I decide I want that one, I will contact them.

  7. Louise Reiter says:

    Maris, so glad you got your rights returned to you! I have graphic designer experience from many years ago (too many for me to mention), and if you had to choose between the two, I would recommend the large-print version for your cover. It’s more interesting and full of mystic. That would be a lesser expensive route than hiring a model that would be just “perfect” in your mind.

  8. I agree with Rosanne, and I’m a senior, too. I love the original hardcover. The threatening atmosphere, the light and dark contrast, the way the title stands out, very intriguing. I also think it looks more up-to-date. The man on the large print cover could be just strolling by, his posture doesn’t seem menacing to me. I vote for the original hardcover. I also wish you’d get back to Mary’s latest story 😉

    • Maris Soule says:

      Well, Elizabeth, I think you helped me make up my mind. There is no connection between a man strolling by and the story itself. The darker cover, if looked at very carefully (and if you’ve read the book) has a definite connection. Thanks.

  9. Glad you got back your rights.
    How much did you have to pay to get cover rights?
    And publishers usually say you have to practically rewrite the book to pub again. Just wondering.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I won’t have to rewrite, Samanthya, but I’ll have to change the punctuation from the British style to the American style, so it will take time.

  10. Gina Conkle says:

    Hey Maris, yay(!) for you getting the rights back and facing a nice crossroads of “what to do with my book?” I like the original hardcover. It has a clean look and my impression (without knowing story description) is that of a cozy town and someone with a past.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Gina, that’s the impression the cover needs to convey, so it sounds like the publisher of the hardcover edition had the right idea. Thanks.

  11. Joe Novara says:

    I like the large print version but wonder if it couldn’t have an older woman, looking back at the reader. Shouldn’t be a model problem. Hell, I’ll wear a dress and wig if you want, as long as the face is in shadow.

  12. Paula says:

    As for the cover choice, I have always liked the hardcover one which you’re saying is “dark.” While the large print version may come off better on website pages, I still like the one with the midnight blue and the houses with the lights on. We tend to see something like that when we imagine a neighborhood with “trouble” in it. And your little town in Michigan certainly had its share of trouble. (not spoilers here, okay?)

    As for the choice of making it different altogether and including a woman who resembles an established actress, I would not like that at all. When I read a book, I create an image in my mind of what the characters look like–and quite often, the author’s description helps a lot–and I don’t want that spoiled for me. With no disrespect for Helen Mirren, I’m not so sure this would be helpful in getting a reader’s attention. The image of a neighborhood and at night with no people present gives me the impression of what might be a quiet setting and a good place to raise a family. However, thinking along the lines of film/TV, which is something I naturally do with my background, it’s something to remember that many “thrillers,” if they don’t start with an establishing scene like this, get one in shortly after those opening credits.

    There’s my two cents worth on your question. And you know I was excited to hear you obtained those paperback rights. You rock, Maris. Hashtag: tenacity

  13. Vicki Batman says:

    The first cover is intriguing to me. Congratulations on getting those rights. I’d like to have some returned one day.

  14. Tracy Falbe says:

    I like the large print cover with the person on it the most. Congratulations on getting your rights back.

  15. Annette Briggs says:

    Good job, Maris. Hope your Killer Past gets new life.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I’m hoping, Annette, that a paperback version, available here in the US, for a lower price will do well. I loved writing this character and I want her to live on.

  16. The hard cover appeals to me more than the large print. I agree an older woman on the cover might put some readers off, unless you somehow show the ‘younger’ version of this character as well. Good for you getting your rights back. Never hurts to ask.

    • Maris Soule says:

      The “Never hurts to ask” part is what I believe, Margo. I couldn’t believe that agent was so ready to forget even trying. Then, again, that’s one more reason why she’s no longer my agent.

  17. Maris,

    Glad you got your paperback rights back. Will the publisher charge you to use their cover art? If so, you might be better off choosing your own. I like your ideas.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Yes, Jacqueline, the publisher will charge, but the amount he quoted is actually less than what I was charged to use the cover on THE CROWS, after it went out of print and I put it out as a trade paperback. And finding the right model might not be easy. I just went through that for the cover of an e-book reissue of one of my romances. Looking for the right image is a job.

  18. I would go with a cover like that of the large print edition, with a figure in the foreground perhaps looking anxiously over her shoulder (symbolically, because of her killer past). The large print cover has a dark, ominous air of menace about it. You can sense something bad is about to happen. The original cover is too generic-looking and doesn’t convey the book’s tone. That’s my impression. Congrats on getting the paperback rights back! Nicely done, Maris. 🙂

  19. I would do a new cover entirely. The hardcover one is too dark and not appealing. The large print one is better but the figure looks like a man. An older woman would work, and maybe add in a weapon to indicate her killer past, and perhaps a residential street with a bit of creepiness.

  20. Shannon says:

    The second cover is very striking. The first cover could use a refresh. Congrats of getting your rights back!

  21. DMac says:

    Congratulations on getting the print rights back! (The publisher is hanging on to the e-book rights?) I like both covers but prefer the hardback — seeing the cozy house lights surrounded by darkness is very ominous and the title makes it clear there is danger & mystery. (Also the title stands out nicely against the dark b.g.) I don’t particularly like the figure on the large-print cover (I certainly didn’t think it was female — maybe if I look closer it could be, but the distinction would be lost in thumbnail size) Personally I would avoid a cover with an older woman, it will be a turn-off for some who would otherwise enjoy the book. Assumptions, etc. Plus I don’t usually like recognizable figures on book covers anyway — would rather use my imagination. But they are very common for romances and YA–it really depends on the genre. What do the covers of top-selling books in your genre look like?

    • Maris Soule says:

      Deb, the covers of top-selling books really vary, especially since the author has a lot to do with their sales. That said, I don’t like the figure in the lighter version, but I think I’ll try a silhouette that’s more female looking. Thanks for your comments.

  22. Brenda Hill says:

    I’m attracted to the large print cover. While most of my covers are dark, the hardcover, to me, doesn’t have enough contrast to draw my attention.

    Your story sounds intriguing, so I’ll keep watch for your paperback edition. Any ideas who’ll print it for you? Createspace?

    • Maris Soule says:

      Brenda, I’m looking into 3 possibilities for the paperback version, CS being one of those. I’ve been happy with my CS copy of THE CROWS.

  23. Carole Price says:

    I love the original hardcover only a little lighter. The intrigue would still be there. Congratulations on getting your rights back. Perseverance does work.