by Robin Allen
Imagine being embarassed about your child's appearance. Not the color/length/amount of their hair or their low-slung jeans and silly t-shirts (well, okay, this one is clever), but the closeness of their eyes, the thinness of their lips, the de Bergerac-ness of their nose. You had no choice how they came out, really, but you have to live with these attributes for the rest of your life.
Same thing with authors and book covers. Our books are our babies. Whether the rest of the world grades them as A students or D, we think they're honor students. We believe we've written a beautiful story and we want to present it to the world in a stunning outfit.
Authors don't choose their book covers. (Unless you're Stephen King, I imagine, but some of his covers make me wonder if even he isn't consulted.) For the most part, the inside belongs to the author and the outside belongs to the publisher. The publisher can do anything they want. Anything. Black eyes, grotesque mouths that drool, ginormous hairy noses that leak into the drool. Unless you're Stephen King, you probably wouldn't be happy with that.
After I made my deal with Midnight Ink, after the contracts and the champagne and the congratulations (friends, family, self, etc.), I started to think about the cover of my book. I read horror stories (not written by Stephen King) about authors so distraught over their book covers, they fled the country or took a vow of poverty. I love both Texas and money, so the worst thing I could come up with was to draw a line in the sand.
Midnight Ink does great covers. (Lookie here. Or look at our covers on the right side of this blog.) I liked most of the ones I saw and didn't dislike any of them, so I knew I wouldn't be embarassed by mine. But would I love it? Would it represent the story? Would it be too precious? Would it feature a nine-toed baby even though there are no babies or toes in the story? Or worse--would it have a curlique typeface?
When my editor, Terri Bischoff, asked me what I'd like to see on my book cover, I knew a) that I loved her and b) exactly what to tell her: "I didn't write a pink book and I don't want a pink cover." I may have repeated myself two or three or eighteen times.
So, as you can see, my baby is beautiful, thanks to Desmond Montague.
The stock pot (= kitchen story), the skull and crossbones on the stock pot (= mystery), the steam rising into skulls (= danger, death) , the hot dog on the badge (= humor), the HowardJohnson color scheme (= I have no idea, but it takes me back to my childhood when my parents would take all four of us kids across town in the station wagon to eat fried clams).
It's funny that the saying, "don't judge a book by its cover" is so well-known and popular, yet publishers spend a lot of time, effort, and money on book covers.
I'm not a nihilist, so a clever title or interesting cover will make me pick up a book, but I'm also not a sucker. I'll always read either the first couple of pages or flip to a random page to judge the writing.
I do pre-snub covers, however, and am immediately warned off by blurred images (literary fiction = inordinant number of descriptions of things I don't care about) or children (coming-of-age story = 400 pages concerning things I don't care about).
What about y'all? Have you ever bought or not bought a book because of its cover?
Author of the Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop Mystery Series
If You Can't Stand the Heat
Now available on Kindle, Nook, and eBook
See my poem "A Friday Afternoon" in the 2012 Texas Poetry Calendar