The Crime Readers' Association

Have You Got It Covered? by AJ Waines

1st September 2016

The cover for AJ Waines’ new psychological thriller, Inside the Whispers, was recently revealed. Here Alison reveals how it was put together:


The Design

I’m very honoured to have an excellent cover designer, Christa, at Paper & Sage in Kentucky, who manages to put together exactly what I’m looking for. I usually have a strong idea and image in my head for each book and that’s how it was with Inside the Whispers. The story involves an incident on the London underground, so I wanted an image to reflect that: a Tube train coming into a station, surrounding by billowing smoke… Is it a bomb? Is it a fire? Is it on the train or in the station? Stop the questions right there – because this story is NOT what it seems..! (I like to involve a deep mystery and twists in my stories and you’ll certainly find that, here).

I find that a lot of books have similar covers (especially psych thrillers!), often involving a lone young woman looking vulnerable, her back to camera, in the misty distance. I prefer to have covers that give more of a setting for the story and the focus here is on the ‘thriller’ aspect – although the title, Inside the Whispers, has a curious, chilling angle, too. After all, in psychological thrillers – the biggest threat comes from what is going on in the mind! It can be the mind of the lead character or the baddie(s), or both. This leads to uncertainty, doubt, then a sense of vicarious jeopardy in the mind of the reader! That’s the nail-biting edge-of-your-seat feeling we all love.

More than anything, the cover needs to be eye-catching and has to SELL the book. This means it must be simple but striking, especially at thumbnail size. The image mustn’t shrink to a blur once it is reduced to the size most readers will see when it’s advertised in an email ad, blog post or Amazon listing. Too much detail gets in the way and adds clutter.

Covers for different genres

Ebooks don’t ‘need’ covers, of course, but they all have them, so that you get a snapshot of the feel of the book when you’re browsing online. Penguin book covers from the 1930s (the iconic green and orange covers we all know so well) relied entirely on the title and author to grab the reader. There was no image; the jacket was more about the brand of the publishing house than to entice you into the story. Nowadays, covers give distinct visual cues to indicate book genre. Take chick lit, for example – the font style is curly, the colours are soft and pastel, the image is jaunty. Thrillers (especially in the 70s) are hard-hitting using angular shapes, often in metallic colours. The cover for a psychological thriller needs to show the suggestion of what might be in store. There is a hidden element, something unknown and scary, covert, to be discovered.

The Brand

Producing books with a similar look is important for writers. Readers want to glance at a cover and know immediately it’s the latest one written by their favourite author, regardless of the content of the story. The font becomes a trademark for many and when I first suggested a lower-case font for the titles to my designer, she came up with the brilliant distressed font I use for all my books.

The original cover of Girl on a Train in 2013 was chosen from limited stock photos. It’s got an erroneous old-fashioned feel to it; maybe it’s a little chilling, but it doesn’t tell us much about the story. When I re-released the book in 2015, I was able to give it a revamp with my own ideas! This was part of my brief to the designer:

I’m looking for an image of a ‘worried woman looking out of a train window’- it’s June, but raining…

Christa came up with this excellent cover, which really says to me that the passenger has ‘seen something that worries her’ out of the window – you can see the component parts here.

I like having a tagline on the cover, too, a little teaser to draw the reader in. For Inside the Whispers the tagline is:

     Where the most dangerous place – is inside your own head…

– and that pretty much sums up a psychological thriller to a tee!

Inside the Whispers is available now to pre-order on Amazon at all outlets worldwide.


AJ Waines has sold over ¼ of a million books worldwide and topped the UK and Australian Kindle Charts in 2015 with her number one bestseller, Girl on a Train. She was a psychotherapist for fifteen years, during which time she worked with ex-offenders from high-security institutions, gaining a rare insight into criminal and abnormal psychology. AJ Waines is now a full-time novelist with publishing deals in France, Germany (Random House) and USA (audiobooks).

Her fourth novel, No Longer Safe, sold over 30,000 copies in the first month, in thirteen countries. She has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and The Times and in 2016 was ranked in the Top 10 UK authors on Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).

AJ Waines lives in Southampton, UK, with her husband. Visit her website and blog, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


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