I have been absent from the writing game for a while. For three years I was trapped in a contract with a corrupt publisher who never paid any royalties. I’m sure you have encountered these types of publishers. If not, then be aware. They are out there. Do your homework before signing anything.
Marketing for my latest novel, King of Sorrow, had only just begun in South Africa and I am right back into the controversy because of my cover design. E-book sales have increased the world over and it is clear that the publishing world is changing. But a book cover will always be a book cover and there are criteria and lines one should never cross.
I’m aware that cover designs vary from UK to US versions. For instance, if you are targeting the UK market then rethink that cool design with blood and guts below the title. In fact, rethink the colour red altogether. Unfortunately blood on my cover design could not be avoided as it was vital to the content of the book.
Great care was taken by Paul, my cover designer, to mute the harshness of the image. The blood on the character’s body had been darkened to simulate the blackness of it in moonlight. Only the blood on the panga, a crude home made machete, kept its colour. Paul, a legend among cover designers, did his very best to intrigue the potential reader, and I was satisfied with the result.
So why the controversy in South Africa? Unfortunately the answer is one that has to be dealt with delicately because it strikes a nerve close to home. The novel touches briefly on the topic of farm attacks in SA. For those not in the know, a farm attack is the strangest form of racial genocide encountered, primarily committed by young black men and the victims mostly being white farmers, even American farm managers. The nature of the attacks were usually very brutal, details which I will spare the reader. Needless to say, the full extent of the killings are often covered up and never fully conveyed to the media in fear of a Global reaction.
Over the years the situation has gotten more and more out of hand. The fact that SA statutory law never defined “farm attacks” as specific crimes simply added to the concern of local farmers.
Politicians claim it is sheer coincidence but it has been shown that the attacks are performed with precision and planning. The attackers have a plan. For now it seems the plan is to exterminate or to chase away the farmers. It is a senseless strategy but there are no indications suggesting any other reason for it.
This is a good example of where the crime author sees opportunity to tell a story. We exaggerate the truth, some more than others, and pour it onto paper. We use relative topics and current events, then we point out the obvious. We want to say, “Look here. This is what is happening. And this is what could happen if we are not careful.”
Back to the book: it seemed like the perfect idea for a story. Think about it, what would be the best way to get away with murder in South Africa? Killing someone on their farm and making it look like a farm attack! If the nature of the attack was always covered up to stop a racial conflict then it would be grounds for the perfect crime. In fact, shortly after finishing my novel, something very similar happened with the infamous Griekwastad Murders. Later a 17 year-old youth was accused of the murdering his entire family and making it look like a farm attack, all to cover up a rape and to receive the inheritance. Initially there was an outcry from white South Africans about the incident, but no one thought about the possibility of non-racial intent.
Now the question is whether I should change the cover to soften the blow for the SA customer? The victimization of white farmers is disconcerting for the country where the term Apartheid was put on paper. But would a gentler cover really solve anything? I write fiction. Crime and mystery and intrigue are my only vices. The cover design accompanies the tale. It is my way of showing what energy, fat and minerals my product contains. There are leaner safer options in the reading market, and those individuals on a strict sensory diet, should consult the family section.