Answer: A cover designed by Jayson Kretzer .
I'm only partly kidding here. Jayson does great work, as you can see on the cover of my new novel, "Capt. Gideon Argo and The Flying Zombies vs. The Lost Lemurians ."
But looking at books as a whole? What should they all have? How about a coherent story with a satisfying conclusion. Asides that have bearing on the plot or serve to deepen the characters in such a way that their actions match their experiences and motivations. Is that too much to ask?
Part of this leans into something I still believe, which is that you don't have to explain everydamnthing to your reader. Give them context, give them developed characters, let them put clues together or pick up on your themes on their own. Trust the reader. Most readers are pretty smart and will be offended if you, the writer, talk down to them, over-explain, or preach.
But first you have to get them to pick up the book. That means all books need a good cover. So see Jayson, and he'll make it happen.
I'm debuting the print version of this novel TODAY, 2-4 p.m., at the Palms Conference Center in Panama City Beach. I'll do a short presentation on a personal history of the pulp genre and a reading, and we'll have a couple of giveaways. If you're free, come hang out with us (I'll be joined by my Syndicate pals Jayson and Mark).