Adventures in Book Marketing: Mr. Ruins

Mike Grist Book Cover Design, Marketing 2 Comments

If you follow this blog, you’ll see I’ve been pushing my latest book, Mr. Ruins- which had a cover I poured all my ideas into, but people thought looked like a bunch of worms sitting on an eyeball. :(. It wasn’t meant to be that. So now I’m talking about the glorious misadventures I had on the path to make it, what it became, why it didn’t work, and the new design that has replaced it.


It started off with a clear plan. I had an artist, my old uni friend Alex McArdell, who did me proud with the Ignifer’s Rise cover. I had an idea, that would convey all the awesome stuff in the cover in one intriguing, bizarre image. Here’s what I wanted to get across:

– half the book is set inside a planet’s molten core
– that molten is actually a brain

It seemed simple to me. I had a cool tag-line:


Is it a cool tagline? I still think it is, but I can see that it is pretty much meaningless to any regular person. Perhaps it works after you’ve read the book, but not before. Marketing fail. Anyway, it took lots of money and failz to figure that out.

I pursued this idea of MIND/MOLTEN CORE with a vengeance, adding in the notion of a maze to complicate things further. I like it, it’s clever, but it’s opaque. OK reference images:


My books is weird science fiction, and I’ve liked the look of these China Mieville covers, so I thought I’d go with something similar. Top half is MIND, bottom half is MOLTEN CORE.

King Rat - Perdido - Scar<!--more-->

Here’s a brain.


Here’s a planet’s molten core. I loved this old-style schematic look, and pressed my artist to use it as a background.


Finally, here’s a book about a labyrinth. Like my book, it has two stories told that revolve around each other, but take place in different places/times. I love the simple labyrinth at the center. So, combo.


I gave these reference images to the artist, and here’s the progression we followed.


Alex started with putting everything together. I added in the fonts. It looks pretty boring, but it’s an intermediate stage.


I added my tagline, picked a different font, and added color to the molten core. It still looks kind of like a psychology textbook, but it’s all good.


This is the image I launched on amazon with. I spent some $200 to expose this book cover to many thousands of fairly targeted readers. I ended up with a total of about 70 sales. It would have been more efficient to somehow buy 200 copies myself, if that was possible with ebooks.

I loved it. I look at it, and I still kind of love it. It has a gorgeous maze, it has the brain, it has the molten core.

BUT, I see, if you don’t know that, it doesn’t mean anything. what am I looking at? What is this? Squiggly worms on an eyeball?

I posted this on the writer’s cafe on, and got feedback that it was turning people off. It was murky, dirty, hard to read, hard to see. I made the hard decision that I needed a new cover.

MR - 2500

I had to get new art, but tried to stanch the bleeding by simplifying the image, and cleaning it up a bit. However this led to no greater interest.


I cleaned it up even more, but it made no difference. Shame, but I can see that it just doesn’t draw people in. Afterwards my artist Alex said he thought going with a schematic was a very dry, odd choice. It certainly didn’t work for me. So, something different.



I needed something different. I went to look at bestselling covers in my genre, trying to learn how to better MARKET the book to people who had NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE. This is such an obvious idea, to appeal to what people know/like already, but I hadn’t thought of it that way. Turning a book into a product is one reason I had always wanted a publisher to do it for me. I didn’t know how to do it.

But I’m doing it myself, so man up.

In the bestseller lists of my genres, techno-thriller and apocalyptic science fiction, I saw this cover most prominently:


Wow, right? Who doesn’t love an upturned ship? And it just so happened I had a scene that could potentially trump this image- the godship cluster. Ritry goes to an ocean reef like a cruise-ship graveyard, strewn with massive wrecked ships that were tossed there by the global tsunamis. People repopulated them for a time, living in the ruins, then they too were wiped out.

Man, what potential. I have RUINS right there in the title, why not have RUINS on the cover? It makes sense, no?

So, that was the brief I gave to an artist. I want the godships, on a stormy ocean like this one:


I want a tone of grays, with a tiny character at bottom left, like this one:


And finally, I want a thriller font like this one, a bestseller in techno-thrillers.



I went on and put up my brief, received about 20 offers from interested artists, and picked the guy who looked best at apocalyptic scenes. This is the process we’ve gone through in the last week.

This is what the artist came up with first. The quality really made me happy, but it doesn’t look post-apocalyptic does it? Maybe sea adventure or similar. So I asked him to make a bigger ship, put it on an angle, maybe replacing the big gray rock jutting up. I also suggested he add in a cluster of humanity, with lights in tiny clinging slums.

When Ritry goes to the godships, everybody is gone. But that doesn’t mean the cover has to be 100% accurate to that. A few lights would help. Also I suggested add another tipped-up ship in the background.


This is what he produced. At this point was when I realized I was probably going to get the vision I wanted- and maybe even better than I expected. I love these slums. So much potential here. the artist has mad skillz. I love it.

I asked he neaten it up, give me more width at the side and more height at top and bottom, plus of course the figure in his speedboat.


Now we are really cooking. This image is gorgeous. He also prepared a back cover-


Works perfectly.


Next up was fonts. I added PINES-like fonts to the top, though I didn’t know how to make it look cool. Whatever, it looked cool to me, so I put this image on the writer’s cafe asking for critiques.


A few folks came back at once saying it was too clean. The fonts were too sharp, and looked like a crime book. the image needed to be grunged up. so, I rolled up my sleeves and tried to figure out how to do it.

I learned how to blend a layer mask in photoshop, how to apply clipping masks to text, and generally how to grunge things up. It took hours, but in the end I came up with this:


So, this is my new cover. My artist was Matias Trehen Rehold, from Chile. He’s great. He’s working now on the covers for books 2 and 3 in the Ruins Sonata.

What do you think? I love it. I can’t stop looking at it. It looks pro! It looks like something I want to read. for the first time on writer’s cafe, people were saying the cover was good, if not great. I’m so pleased. The book is now up on amazon under this cover, with a revised blurb, which again people on writer’s cafe were saying was attractive and drawing them in.

Here’s the new blurb:

The Arctic ice is gone, blasted apart in decades-long resource wars, and global tsunamis have scoured the world into ruin. Survivors hide in utopian cities behind vast flood-walls, or on lawless floating slums on the open ocean, living in fear of the next big wave.

Ex-Arctic marine Ritry Goligh doesn’t care. He lost more in the wars than anyone could understand. Now he lives in the slums, and spends his nights in an alcohol-soaked blur of violence and sex, until a shadowy figure with an excellent hat drops the corpse of Napoleon at his feet.

This is Mr. Ruins, a sadist and mass murderer. In the rusted hull of a belly-up cathedral ship, he offers Ritry a better life, built on the back of stolen thoughts. But he asks a terrible price, and Ritry must decide what kind of man he wants to be- predator, prey, or something wholly new, before Mr. Ruins steals the one thing he has left: his soul.


It takes me multiple passes to reach both a good cover and a good blurb. It was the same with Ignifer’s Rise, I launched with one cover, changed it once, changed it twice, also with the blurb. Maybe it just takes 2 or 3 rounds of editing to get the marketing right. And even for Ignifer’s Rise now, I think the cover could be better.when I release the second in the series, I may get the first re-done.

So so so! I will re-launch Mr. Ruins with some promo when I launch book 2, King Ruin, in a few weeks. Excited again!

Also- I’ll do a marketing post like this for all my books- starting with The Lost next, and then going back over Mr. Ruins (which has a new cover coming) and the others.

See other posts in the book marketing range here.

In the meantime, you can buy Mr. Ruins here:

Comments 2

  1. Nice looking cover.
    I have been able to read some of the books in between projects, sorry for delay and short responses. But yes after reading the troubles and tribulations it certainly is a labor of love,(why else would you go through that hassle).
    Definitely looking much more interesting, enough to go back through again with added interest. The say you can’t judge a book by its cover, metaphysically speaking yes but that’s is where it ends. I heard numbers of authors say that is precisely what happens. A good cover can help a mediocre book, a good cover can make a good book great.
    keep at it. don’t give up the ship just yet. no pun intended, well maybe a little.

    1. Post

      Thanks lonewolf! I’m glad you think it’s better, I absolutely think so too, but it took a while to get there. Expressing one strong idea, the ruin, is plainly better than the symbolic mix of ideas I was using before. I still like that, but it is completely opaque.

      And for reading, thank you for finding the time! I appreciate you commenting as well, that’s really great. I hope you like King Ruin, of course when you have the time 🙂 It’s free for the next 4 days (until Oct 11) so it’s a good time to grab it.

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