Book Cover Design And Back Blurb For Prophecy Plus Giveaway

Exciting times! My next novel, Prophecy, will be coming out at the end of December (final edits still to come!) and I wanted to share the cover design and also the back blurb for the novel. I’d love to know what you think! It’s the next in the ARKANE series, kind of Dan Brown meets Lara Croft in a kick-ass thriller! Below I also share some information about my fantastic cover designer and a giveaway for print copies of Pentecost which I am soon to ‘un-publish’ in the current print form. See below for all the details.

Prophecy, an ARKANE thriller by Joanna Penn

“I looked, and there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Revelation 6:8

The prophecy in Revelation declares that a quarter of the world must die and now a shadowy organization has the ability to fulfill these words. Can one woman stop the abomination before it’s too late?

When the medieval Devil’s Bible is rediscovered, the malevolent Thanatos organization finally holds the power to fulfill the prophecy through demonic curses that lie within. All they need is the vehicle to take the curse to the masses and the pale horse of the apocalypse will ride forth.

When mysterious suicides in Israel draw Oxford University psychologist Morgan Sierra into the fray, she joins ARKANE, a secret British agency investigating paranormal and religious experience, for their investigation. Partnered with Jake Timber, the two must stop the Devil’s Bible from reaching Thanatos before destruction is unleashed.

From the catacombs of Paris to the ossuaries of Sicily and the Czech Republic, Morgan and Jake must find the Devil’s Bible and stop the curse being released into the world before one in four are destroyed in the coming holocaust. Because in just seven days, the final curse will be spoken and the prophecy will be fulfilled.

What do you think?

As you are all writers and skilled in language and imagination, any help with improving the back blurb would be appreciated. Please do leave a comment below.

Update 7 Dec: Based on your marvellous comments, I have removed this paragraph entirely: Ground-breaking neuro-theology brain research has enabled manipulation of belief so fundamentalists will enact violence in the name of God. As Abraham obeyed the command to sacrifice, so now the faithful are ready to obey what they believe is the ultimate authority. Paired with the curse of the Devil’s Bible, Thanatos intend to use it to kickstart an escalation of extremist violence and it seems a religious war will soon overtake the earth.

I also understand that this type of action-adventure/religious thriller is not everyone’s cup of tea but if you are interested in hearing more about Prophecy then you can sign up for the pre-release notification (and potential review copies) here.

Cover design

Unless you are a graphic designer as well as an author, you need a professional book cover design. Seriously, there is no argument about this anymore. You can’t afford not to.

The Prophecy cover has been designed by Derek Murphy from Creativindie Book Cover Design. Derek has done a great job for me and also for others I have recently recommended him for. He’s a writer and artist as well as a designer and was able to incorporate the themes I wanted in a fantastic way. With a series, it’s important to incorporate a similar design theme so the Prophecy cover uses elements of the Pentecost cover but changes the focus of the images. Derek helped me work through a number of iterations before we reached the final cover design.

I asked Derek how he goes about designing a book cover for a client and what the challenges are. His response as follows:

I start very generally and soft pitch a handful of cover ideas, basically focusing on the image(s) we want to use. I try to find something that evokes the main genre or idea of the book; hopefully something with a clever twist, with a strong, clean combination of images. It’s helpful if the client shows me some book covers they like. After a client picks a direction, I’ll tighten that design up into several mock-ups with different text and color arrangements. When the pick the best out of that, I’ll fine tune placement, font, until everything looks just right.

The challenge for me is that there are so many choices. I think sometimes it’d be easier to just pick the best design and focus on it, instead of playing around with so many options. However, my method lets authors be really involved in the process and so they walk away feeling empowered and involved; I think it also helps me to know that they are really happy with the cover, which is important to me.

The other challenge is I compare myself to mainstream book cover designers, who often commission custom 3D graphics, paintings or do a photoshoot for unique cover images. I provide a budget book cover design solution so I’m limited to working with royalty free images and photoshop; I’d definitely like to have the freedom to go further and do more custom stuff, but I’m happy where I am in the price range because I really think I’m filling a void and helping people.

Giveaway of print copies of the first novel, Pentecost

Pentecost sales are almost at 16,000 copies now and unsurprisingly, 98% of those have been ebook sales. It’s still ranking in the Bestseller lists for Religious Fiction in the US & UK and sporadically ranks for Action-Adventure. It currently has 57 reviews averaging 4 star in the US Amazon store & 16 reviews averaging 4 star in the UK Amazon store.

This means that a print book is basically a vanity project for me so I have something to give to my Mum & Dad :) I still want to do print books but because of the extra design & pro-typesetting I want to use, it takes more money than ebooks. I am also unpublishing the current print version of Pentecost soon in order to republish at a smaller size, 5×8 instead of 6×9 as for my shorter books, this just looks like “more value” to the customer. Weird, yes, but true! I also want to correct a few mistakes and also add a chapter of Prophecy at the end. So the current print version of Pentecost will soon disappear and I’m giving away 2 copies on Goodreads – click here for the giveaway (currently pending approval by Goodreads by shouldn’t be long!). Check out the video below as I talk about the reasons why I am un-publishing this version and come join the giveaway!

Please leave your comments and valuable feedback below!

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  1. says

    “the abomination” -> “this horror”. The definite article pairs nicely (I think) with “these words” from the previous sentence, helping focus the reader’s attention.

    Re: Republishing. I’m republishing (both paper and ebooks) “Unthinkable” (and including a couple of chapters from the upcoming “Seen Seen?”). I’m not doing the offset run for paper (as much as I’d like to) but going back to CreateSpace (so I don’t have to bother with order fulfillment, may Joe K forgive me). I reworked the cover, rewrote the back cover blurbs (book, author, added a series blurb), redesigned the interior, making the whole thing a lot stronger.

      • says

        Regarding “abomination” — it’s a nicely loaded word with a lot of theological depth you could exploit. Looking at the Old Testament usage of the term, abomination means something that is unclean because it mixes categories–thus, something that is an abomination is a ritual impurity and is horrifying, though not necessarily terrifying. HP Lovecraft’s horror is based entirely upon the abominable. In the current context, you’re using “abomination” as the semantic equivalent of “atrocity,” which isn’t really legitimate. However, having people attempting to do God’s work by doing his job for him would qualify as an abomination (as well as being an atrocity). This is all a long way of saying that I think you can probably get a lot more mileage out of the term if you massage its context and really milk it :-)

        And now, of course, knowing the kind of fiction I write, you understand why I call my site “Literary Abominations” 😉


        • says

          I like abomination too – it’s an evocative word and I want people to feel appalled at what the antagonist gets up to in the story, so I’ll be leaving that I think.

  2. says

    Joanna — The cover is awesome! And thanks for passing on the information about your cover designer too. Also, congratulations on finishing Prophecy. To think, had you gone the traditional publishing route, we’d have to wait until 2013 before we could read it!

    • says

      Thanks Joseph, I’m glad you like the cover! Derek did a great job on it. Once I have 3 books and have sold 50,000 copies then I may well approach traditional publishing, we shall see!

  3. Christina Mobley says

    Really love the cover and the blurp for the back. This cover would definitly make me pick it up on a shelf. Congrats.

  4. says

    Your description, I think, tells WAY too much of the story. (Don’t feel bad; this seems common among indie authors, who generally are not professional advertising copywriters.) You don’t want to TELL the story; you want to tell ABOUT the story. And questions such as, “Can one woman stop the abomination before it’s too late?” (the like of which I see time and time again in the descriptions of books by, especially, indie authors) always strike me as the worst sort of amateurish writing, as if we are watching a slide from an old silent movie or reading the advertising poster from a 1950’s horror flick. Below is what I would use, and, if I read this blurb, I would definitely want to know more about this book:
    “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Revelation 6:8

    The prophecy in Revelation declares that a quarter of the world must die, and now a shadowy organization has the ability to fulfill these words. Pitted against it is one woman, who races to stop the abomination before it’s too late.

    From the catacombs of Paris to the skeletal ossuaries of Sicily and the Czech Republic, Oxford University psychologist Morgan Sierra and her partner, British secret investigator Jake Timber, must find the Devil’s Bible and stop the curse from being released into the world before “one in four” are destroyed in the coming holocaust. Because, in just seven days, the final curse will be spoken and the prophecy will be fulfilled.

    • says

      Hi Peter, thanks for the tips and I see what you’ve done there. I guess I wanted to use hyperbole in the action-adventure sense of going really over the top. It’s frankly that kind of book!
      I think you’re right about it being too long though & perhaps telling too much. I shall look at paring it down after some more feedback. Thanks.

  5. says

    I like Peter’s version of the blurb, but I would go with “ossuaries” rather than “skeletal ossuaries” – I guess you could have a skull-only ossuary but it seems redundant and makes the reader pause for a moment …

    • says

      Thanks Liz – you know they say the average (adult) reading age is about 14 so perhaps I was trying to explain too much. But clearly the readers of this blog are all seriously smart cookies!

      • says

        Maybe “catacombs and ossuaries full of bodies and bones” would work if you wanted to explain it; “skeletal ossuaries” will, in my opinion, confuse people who don’t know what one is, and amuse people who do …

  6. says

    I like the cover although I’m not convinced by the white horse. It doesn’t quite fit in with the ominous prophecy bit. I would try a black horse with less hair and perhaps a sky with thunderous clouds behind. And I would like to see a fleck more colour, maybe a ruby and an emerald in the cross.
    In my opinion your blurb is too heavy and too wordy. I think you are trying to say too much. I would get rid of a lot of the adjectives e.g. “Ground breaking neuro-theology brain research…” if it’s research it is ground breaking. If it’s to do with the brain it must be neurology; although neurology is actually nerve physiology so presumably someone is cutting open brains and doing something with the nerves in them (my wife is a neuro-surgery theatre sister).
    I would cut 75% of the words cutting out a lot of the explanation. Stick to simple sentences. All you neeed say is

    “Psychologist Morgan Sierra and agent (or whatever he is) Jake Timber must stop Thanatos, the malevolent organisation from getting hold of the Devil’s Bible ) or a religious war could start which might envelope the whole World.” Then a sentence on how powerful and mighty Thanatos are; “Thanatos has the backing of some oil rich middle eastern countries and the third richest man in the World, the mysterious Russian oligarch Ivan Ivanovitch.” Then a sentence on why Morgan and Jake have no chance of success like “Morgan is blind and Jake has a broken leg” or whatever and then mention they have only seven days.

    Sorry for the suggestions but I am trying to be constructive. I always think it’s like going on a first date. You need to interest the other party just enough to make them want more. It’s always worked for me…. 😉

    Good luck with the book whatever you decide; it looks like it should be successful it’s a fascinating story. :)

    • says

      Hi Christopher – thanks for your considered response, I always appreciate the effort people put into their comments :)
      * the horse is meant to represent the ‘pale horse of the apocalypse, so I can’t really make it black as it’s part of the story – we did try a lot of horses and backgrounds before we got to this one. Last year I had a vote on the cover for Pentecost but this year, I fell in love with this option so have just adopted it!
      * I think you’re right on the wordiness, others have said the same. I am giving too much information – I shall pare it down for the final version. Thanks so much.

  7. Anne Arbuthnot says

    I like the elements of the cover but would change where the reader puts their focus by bringing the title, horse and cross to the front and receding the skulls to the back. It’s an emphasis change between the cover’s layers and I think it would draw readers into wanting to know more. A suggestion for you to think about anyway Joanna.
    As for the back cover blurb you’ll be able to pare it back and keep the interest high given all the earlier comments.
    Thanks for sharing your process too.

  8. says

    RE: the cover design, I’ve got two basic gripes:
    First, though it does look (very!) nice, it doesn’t feel of a piece with Pentecost at all. I’d be tempted to rework it with a B&W background and one or two hero foreground elements in vivid color (probably the horse and the cross, and maybe make a skull or a rack of skulls the BG element.

    Second, the white horse doesn’t work–your readers who are familiar with the passage will recognize the white horse as the horse of Peace from a different part of the apocalypse narrative. A pale horse is a palomino, not a gray (i.e. white)–it might seem nit-picky, but it’s one of those little details that’ll throw both your horse lovers and your biblical aficionados. Also, the pale yellow of a palomino will set off the blue background nicely, where the white horse feels very much like a paper cutout at the moment.


    RE: The cover copy…

    It feels a bit over-written on two counts:
    First, you’re showing too many cards at once. Like the trailer for Snake Eyes (an otherwise great thriller), so many of the twists are revealed that I’m left feeling little interest in seeing how they play out.

    Second, as someone with a very solid background in New Testament history, languages, and theology, as well as in gnosticism and the other mystery cults of the ancient near east, I’m left with the distinct feeling that you’ve over-egged the pudding.

    To explain:
    The entire religious/occult thriller genre (from King Solomon’s Mines through the Indiana Jones movies and The List of 7 and Dan Brown) is a genre of the completely preposterous rendered pulse-pounding and plausible by nesting the preposterous elements in a context that makes them highly exciting. It turns on the unlocking of secrets within secrets, hidden agendas, etc. I’ve thumbed through enough of Prophecy to know you know this, and to put good money down on the fact that the elements you mention in your blurb here are sprinkled throughout the narrative like good spices, with one gimmick leading to the next in a way that creates the excitement of a Russian doll locked inside a puzzle box.

    Unfortunately, the blurb doesn’t do that. It dumps the gimmicks and tricks on the table like tinkertoys, and it’s frankly confusing. I’ve got a deep familiarity with many of the different things you’re talking about here (neurological research on belief, medieval witchcraft, secret societies, gnostic approaches to the apocalypse, doomsday cults, gov’t occult research programs, etc.), and the traditions you’re drawing from, but I’m reading this blurb feeling like I’ve just walked through a kaleidoscope. If it’s confusing me, it’s gonna confuse a lot of people.

    Because of those two things, I suggest the following:
    Pare it down. Distill it. Drop a lot of the buzz-words and biblical references (not all of them, just most. Even most Christians don’t read the Bible enough to recognize what you’re on about). Aim for something about half the length.

    Also: For the Revelation quote, pick a different Bible translation. The NLT is owned by Tyndale, a very conservative Evangelical publishing house who may be reticent to grant copyright permission to what they’ll see as a heretical book. Also, the language doesn’t have quite the timbre of doom you’re going for. The KJV, on the other hand, is more culturally resonant (as its language forms the basis of much of our idiom), is in the public domain, and rolls off the tongue more easily. For example:

    “And I looked, and beheld a pale horse. Its rider was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” Revelation 6:8
    [KJV, which I punched up just a bit to tune it for modern ears.]

    FWIW, I hope it helps!

    • says

      I think Dan is correct in a lot of his assessments. The passage that Joanna used did not seem to have the force that I remembered. I agree that the King James version, especially as he has written it, is much better.

    • says

      Dan, I really appreciate your feedback both as a writer and also as a theologian :)
      I’ll be making a number of the changes as you suggest – I am so grateful to have such a brilliant crowd-source community to work with (and luckily my ego was smashed into dust a while back so I am learning to take criticism :)

      • says

        Hey, don’t feel bad–I suspect you’re selling WAY better than I am 😉

        Also, worth keeping in mind…
        As with bad reviews, you wouldn’t be worth criticizing if you weren’t operating on such a level as to be worthy of people’s time. This is fine-tuning the professional presentation, and it’s really difficult stuff (speaking very much for myself here as well). Hell, I hang around here to help figure out what it is I’m weak on!
        Looking forward to the next iteration
        All the best!

  9. Doug Lance says

    Tell your cover designer to fix the pixelation of the horse logo and to match the color balance of the cross with the rest of the cover!

    I can’t wait for it to come out. :)

  10. says

    This type of thriller is definitely “my cup of tea,” so much so that I wrote one myself and am working on the second in the series. And my heroine has seven days to save the world, too. I wish we could meet in person, Joanna. I’ve been struggling with similar decisions on cover design and back copy. I agree with other comments that you’re telling too many story details. I would have Morgan Sierra drive the copy. Readers will be hooked by her. Also, use quotes from positive reviews of Pentecost. And I included a “From the Author” paragraph, a personal note on why I wrote the book. If you like, I can share my back cover copy with you. It’s certainly not the best, but since we enjoy writing this type of book, you might like to see it. Best of luck and many congratulations on your pending publication of Prophecy. You continue to be an inspiration.
    Pamela Hegarty
    Author of The Seventh Stone
    Host of

  11. Lynn Johnson says

    Hi Joanna

    After reviewing your first novel, I’m looking forward to reading the next. I think the blurb, as it stands, is a little wordy and repetitive in places. I like Peter’s summary. The blurb should reflect the pace of the novel.

    On the cover – I like the idea of pale horse and skulls in the background with the cross and the title prominent. This would follow style of Pentecost – I like the style to continue in a series. Maybe think about the same title font too?

    Well done on getting the second out so soon. We won’t have long to wait!

    • says

      Thanks Lynn – the title is the same font just a little bigger – we’ll be retrofitting Pentecost to match it so there is continuation. Thanks so much for your interest!

  12. Gail Owens says

    I like Peter’s version a lot. Just one comment – the editor in me noticed a subject/verb tense is incorrect in the paragraph starting with, “Ground-breaking…”

    Not trying to be nit-picky, just helpful. Would love to read this book!

    • says

      Scary is a good thing as the book is quite dark, I’m still getting opinions on where thriller morphs into horror :) I still think I’m in the thriller category since violence is generally an important part of it, but we’ll see!

      • says

        Thrillers are based on fear. Horror is grounded in disgust. There’s a broad overlap, but generally if the fear and adrenaline are out front, you’re in thriller territory, where if you bring the disgust and moral elements out front, you’re in horror territory.

        Hmm…I seem to have spent far too many years trying to figure this stuff out… 😉

  13. says

    I’m so looking forward to this book, Joanna!
    On the blurb, I like it, but agree you should pare it down as it gives away too much of the story. On the cover, I also agree that the horse should not be white, but ‘pale’ – definitely that creamy, pale yellow of a palamino.
    The horse, cross and skulls seem at odds with each other. I’d like to see the skulls in the background and the horse and cross given more prominence. Also, the horse has rather sharp lines and the other images are softer in their lines. That makes it seem the horse doesn’t fit quite right. It’s a nice image if it were used alone, but has too much contrast to the other images.
    Good luck digesting all the input from your commenters! Whatever you finally decide upon, I’m sure will be just right…just as Pentecost was.

  14. says

    From Ruth Lawler on email (posted with permission)
    I don’t know why, but I don’t like “malevolent” Thanatos. My first impression was that it was an over-used melodramatic word. Old hat. “Satanic” would not conjure up such thoughts and there is probably a better word too.

  15. says

    Comment from another email:
    “You might want to somehow indicate on your back cover that the book is not anti-religion. This is a sensitive issue in Texas, because over here, people are not allowed even wear a crucifix to school (unless it’s hidden). So they might half expect your book to be anti-religion.”

    This is an interesting point and I definitely do want to show the book is not anti-religion. I think it is respectful for Christianity but it is certainly not a Christian book in terms of it will not edify your faith by reading it. That is not the intent. I’ve had a few 1 star reviews on Pentecost by people disappointed that it’s not Christian enough, so I need to be specific about this, so as not to set false expectations.
    I consider one of my influences to be Frank Peretti who writes on the border of Christianity and the paranormal, certainly not orthodox Christian books but still in that grey area between what is biblical ‘truth’ and what could be considered by some to be fantasy elements. I want my books to be enjoyable by Christians and non-Christians alike – as a good story!

    • says

      Hi Amanda, yes it is?? It’s open to all countries, I checked all the boxes – I’m in the UK so definitely wanted this to be for the Brits too. It’s GB on the listing so you’re in – did you click to try it?

  16. Kannan says

    Hi Joanna,

    Congrats on your new book! The cover design is pretty good. The quote from bible is a nice hook, it got my attention. However I don’t understand if the four paragraphs that follow the quote are four choices for blurbs to choose from or are they all part of one single blurb? If they are all part of one single blurb, it’s just way too long. Also they failed to attract my attention. Hopefully you can come up with something more interesting. I suggest a rewrite, but that’s just my opinion. Good luck!


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