April 10, 2015

Made It Moment: Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:49 am

Second Helpings at the Serve You Right Café

I love welcoming Tilia Jacobs to the blog because the two of us have been engaged in a rousing conversation about indie and traditional publishing over the course of several years now.  (Here is Tilia’s 2014 Moment). Now with her second novel just released, the conversation continues, this time about the perennially stimulating issue of cover art. Many indie authors feel that this is a special part of the self-publishing process, and as you’ll see it literally became Tilia’s second Made It Moment. What was eye-opening for me was that the experience Tilia describes had more in common with what I’ve seen on the traditional side than I ever expected. I think you’ll agree that both Tilia’s Moment and her cover make you want to check out her new book–they certainly did me. Here’s to Moments all around!

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

Question: Is a picture worth 36,000 words?

Answer: Sometimes! But it has to be the right picture.

One of the true joys of indie pubbing is the creative control it affords. Far from praying I will like the cover my publisher provides, I’m free to choose it myself.

After my publicist told me the cover of my first book stunk, I hired Asha Hossain for my new book, Second Helpings at the Serve You Right Café. It quickly became apparent that working with her was going to be a dream. She wanted to know everything about the book—practical things, such as the release date and eBook requirements; and artistic, such as genre and specific imagery I wanted. This too was layered with practicality: “Please keep in mind imagery should be ‘clean’ and easy to translate at thumbnail size, as that’s the size potential buyers will first see on sites such as Amazon.” Thus do both font and font size matter, and the cover can’t be so visually cluttered that lettering gets lost in the background.

Clearly, a multitude of factors contribute to a great cover, which is what makes the process so exciting. How will the verbal translate to the visual? Although every aspect of the story is limned in my own mind, right down to the scruff that’s not on my hero’s jaw (he’s clean-shaven), no one else can see those pictures. The perfect cover visually conceptualizes an invisible story—not plot, but mood, themes, and setting.

Asha sent me six covers, and I narrowed it down to two immediately. One showed empty chairs at a sidewalk eatery; the other, a blue-green cup on a cracked saucer, marked with lipstick. I posted them on Facebook and asked people which they preferred. The response was rapid and gratifyingly opinionated.

“My book cover intuition says the one with the blue cup and cookies is more eye-catching.”
“The one with the chairs makes me wonder about the place and the people who might come or might already have been there. The cup of coffee makes me wonder, ‘Do I need a cup of coffee?’”

“My vote goes for the turquoise cup version. The photograph speaks of physical desires and something slightly wrong, and the line breaks in the title make it easier to comprehend. The spoon even highlights the word ‘HELP,’ which is a nice touch.”

“I like the one on the right.”

“I like the one on the left, and I have left-leaning tendencies.”

Despite the voices of an impassioned minority, a near-consensus surged to the fore: the coffee cup was more eye-catching, the lipstick mysterious, and the cracked saucer hinted at doom (and who doesn’t love doom?). I told Asha, and in short order she sent me the hi-res image of the cover. I took a deep breath and clicked on the attachment.

It was perfect. I could see what the artist and others saw in my story: its mystery and romance, its lyricism and dark fear. The perfect cover gives a pow as satisfying as a tennis ball hitting the sweet spot.

And that was my Moment.

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs holds a BA from Oberlin College, where she double-majored in Religion and English with a concentration in Creative Writing. She earned a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a Secondary School Teaching Certification from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Tilia has taught middle school, high school, and college, and has won numerous awards for her fiction and nonfiction writing. She is a judge in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, and she teaches writing to prison inmates. Tilia lives near Boston with her husband, two children, and two standard poodles.


  1. Always informative and entertaining thanks Jenny. All the best Tilia, the information about book covers and thumb nails is so helpful. Wishing you much success on your journey. :)

    Comment by Jane Risdon — April 10, 2015 @ 9:30 am

  2. That is a great cover! Love it.

    Comment by Savvy — April 10, 2015 @ 10:04 am

  3. I also think this is a great image, there’s lots to like here. However, there’s nothing in the cover which tells me that it’s crime fiction.

    Comment by Theresa de Valence — April 10, 2015 @ 10:07 am

  4. Thanks, Jane and Savvy! I hope you like the inside of the book too. :-D

    Comment by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs — April 10, 2015 @ 11:01 am

  5. Theresa, you raise an excellent point! When I spoke to my new publicist about the cover–she being the same savvy person who hated the cover of my previous book–she asked me the genre. When I said crime, she said, “Only 14% of crime fiction readers will try a new author, but 50% of romance readers will. Is there any way to call it romance?” Since there is definitely a love story in Second Helpings, we are billing it as Romantic Suspense. But I promise there’s crime, violence, and a sleazy villain!

    Comment by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs — April 10, 2015 @ 11:15 am

  6. Great choice! Not only do I love the cover, but the title is great, too.

    Comment by Marja McGraw — April 10, 2015 @ 1:04 pm

  7. Thanks, Marja. For me the title is always the hardest part–almost everything I’ve ever written has had about fifteen titles before I hit the right one. I think you know it when you hear it.

    Comment by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs — April 10, 2015 @ 1:31 pm

  8. I love your book cover, it grabbed me immediately. Where does your story take place? Your cover makes me think of a seaside area, with the weathered wood table and the gray and turquoise color scheme.

    Comment by Lilly Faye — April 11, 2015 @ 12:50 am

  9. To: Jenny Milchman– excellent blog post, RDS (fellow MMA-er)
    To: Tilia Klebenov– very interesting post. Your designer Asha Hossain gave you good advice, and her cover is well-conceived, visually pleasing, striking in its composition and coloration, and legible. I think the crumbled, partially-eaten cookie adds greatly to interest. And I really like the sophisticated pun in ‘Serve You Right Cafe’. In answer to the question, Does the cover suggest a mystery? For me, it doesn’t. If I saw it on a table in a bookstore, I wouldn’t pick it up with the expectation that it would be a mystery. To suggest a mystery, the cover would need some sinister symbolism, something to hint the-world-askew beyond the crack in the saucer. On my website http://www.robertdsutherland.com I have a brief article on BOOK COVER DESIGN which is downloadable as a pdf file free of charge. You might want to check it out. WEBSITE > My Writings > Essays > On Editing and Publishing > BOOK COVER DESIGN. The cover of my mystery novel THE FARRINGFORD CADENZA (which I designed myself) is also present on the Website. Good luck in all your endeavors.
    Bob Sutherland

    Comment by Robert D. Sutherland — April 11, 2015 @ 3:42 am

  10. Tilia – I can’t comment on the percentage of mystery readers willing to try a new author, but I can assure you that this mystery reader is always attracted to a well-designed cover that conveys the genre. Sorry to have to tell you that your cover wouldn’t encourage me to peruse whatever fine print might let me know it was a mystery.

    One tiny suggestion: Add a skull of foam on the top of the cappuccino. Just that small addition would transform the cover’s message.

    One other thing – I noted that your cover artist Asha Hossain’s website isn’t “up”

    Comment by John Gordon — April 11, 2015 @ 9:52 am

  11. The cover definitely says “mystery” to me. The picture is full of clues — the lipstick, for example.
    It’s eye-catching.
    I’d pick it up and browse just on the strength of the cover.


    Comment by Polly Whitney — April 11, 2015 @ 1:01 pm

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