Evolution of a book cover: Joe Robbins in a Fateful Greed

When I started writing Hill Country Greed, I had no idea of the marketing imperative of securing a great cover. I didn’t know anything. I was too busy learning how to write an entertaining story to worry about marketing. But after I had invested five hundred hours in the story and was ready to share it with friends and family, I wanted a visual image to accompany the manuscript.

The first book cover, inspired by the prologue

The first book cover, inspired by the prologue

The working title was We Happy Few, a snippet of Shakespeare that appears several times in the novel.

My vision for the first cover was inspired by the nightmare described in the prologue. I sketched that vision with pencil on pad and asked my daughter Alex to turn it into a full-color image. Alex produced this cover in about an hour, and it was distributed to eight beta readers.

My beta readers encouraged me to keep writing, and I invested more hours in polishing the manuscript. I also began to research marketing a self-published book and learned of the importance of a compelling book cover.

A dramatic scene at the Driskill Hotel

A dramatic scene at the Driskill Hotel

I had heard from several readers that the dramatic Driskill Hotel scene was the hook that compelled them to read the entire book. Hoping to capitalize on that sentiment, I hired a professional cover designer and asked him to create an image of that scene.

By that time, my working title had changed to Beware the Brass Ring.

I found too ghoulish for my story. My beta readers felt the same way.

Over the course of writing the book I took several day trips around Austin to do scene research.

Climatic scene occurs at bluff overlooking the Pennybacker Bridge

Climatic scene occurs at bluff overlooking the Pennybacker Bridge

On one of those trips I took several photos from the Overlook above the Pennybacker Bridge. That location is important to the story, and I thought the view might make a good cover. For the second time I asked Alex to help. The title had changed again and was now: Hill Country Greed: An Austin, Texas Mystery.

I really like this cover.  Alex did a fantastic job; she created the clouds and changed the hue just enough to give the cover a suspenseful look.

Meanwhile, I continued to research book covers and learned about the importance of visibility of the title on the Thumbnail-sized photos that are shown on retail websites. The title was too small on the third cover, and I couldn’t envision how to make it bigger with the bridge as the central focus.

Final cover photo is from the Overlook

Final cover photo is from the Overlook

So I hired a second professional designer–Jason Alexander of Expert Subjects, LLC. To begin, I gave Jason several photos I had taken from the Overlook. The next day he gave me three different cover concepts to consider, including what would become the final cover. At first, I found the different font sizes of the words in the title and the bubble-effect of the letters strange, but they grew on me day by day. The first edition of Hill Country Greed was published with this cover.




One year later, a marketing expert told me this cover was not suitable for a mystery. He thought it looked more like a non-fiction book, so I hired a new designer and republished the book in late 2016 with a new cover.HC Greed ebook final v4 1.8MB


Finally, in 2017, I rewrote the entire Joe Robbins series, with new titles and new covers. Here is the cover for A Fateful Greed.AFatefulGreed_eBcov_FINAL



A Fateful Greed is available on Amazon.









Joe Robbins reviews Sarah Bird’s novel How Perfect is That?

How Perfect Is ThatHey! Joe Robbins here, free-lance CFO, amateur boxer, and occasional sleuth living in Austin, Texas.

I don’t often review books, but Sarah Bird is one of our best hometown authors, and her novel How Perfect is That? is as funny as a great SNL skit. Check out this paragraph:

“Bankruptcy? Who am I kidding? I was bankrupt when I married Trey. I believed he would rescue me. But his succubus of a mother sliced my oxygen hose and left me gasping on the ocean floor.”

Meet Blythe Young, the heroine of Sarah Bird’s novel, How Perfect is That?

Blythe is having a bad day. Not long ago she was riding high, married to Trey Dix of the famous Dix family, one of the big names in Pemberton Heights, Austin, Texas. Then one day, Trey moves on, and Blythe finds herself ejected from the family with nothing, all because of the disastrous pre-nup the succubus forced her to sign.

Now Blythe has sunken to catering to her old society friends in Pemberton Heights.

From Susie 3

But the business is not going well. In fact, it’s going so poorly Blythe resorts to faking the food:

“Kippie Lee yanks open the compactor, and her mouth drops in horror as she reads the name on the wrapping I was trying to hide. ‘Sam’s Club?’ She points to the trays of food waiting to be presented to the cream of Austin society. ‘This is what you’re going to serve?’

“‘No, no, of course not.’ I pirouette to shield the trays of Sam’s taquitos I’d planned to slip through customs as Petites Tournedos Béarnaise à la Mexicaine.”

I could go on with these quotes all day. Maybe I will.

This novel is the perfect vehicle for Sarah Bird to poke fun at the well-heeled Austin crowd:

”AH, PEMBERTON HEIGHTS, the creamy white filling squirting out of Austin’s exclusive Tarrytown Twinkie.”

Everything is fair game for ridicule in How Perfect is That?: wives, husbands, diets, drugs, politics, sycophantic interior decorators, even the shoes:

“Shoes? The Christian Louboutins, of course, with their ultraexclusive sliver of red on the inside of the heels. I want to broadcast class, not go Sex and the City with Jimmy Choos. I want to get paid, not laid. But which ones? Are the berry peep-toes accessorized with a Swarovski crystal the size of a golf ball too much? I think not.”

This is classic stuff here, folks. Honest, I laughed out loud while reading the novel, many times.

Blythe’s troubles keep piling up: she loses her client and has to run from an IRS inspector who is hunting her for tax evasion. Desperate for a place to hid, Blythe seeks out her college friend Millie. Just as her van runs out of gas, it coasts to a stop in front of the Seneca House.

Seneca House is the ramshackle residence for college kids where Millie is housemother and spiritual guide. Blythe’s actions soon alienate all the residents, including Millie, and she finds herself with a different set of problems. As the story unfolds, Blythe must pay her dues, wrestle with her conscience, and learn hard lessons to have any hope of redemption.

Sarah Bird was voted Best Austin Author four times by the readers of the Austin Chronicle.Bluff View 010

Sarah Bird has several novels set in Austin.  With scenery like this, who can blame her?


Best, Joe.




Disclaimer: Joe Robbins is a fictional character. Even so, his opinions leap from the keyboard unbidden, and thus, out of necessity, the author and the publisher disavow any responsibility for his words.



Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.