Thursday, October 27, 2011

Judging a Book By Its Cover

During my 2009 Blog Book Tour for the hardcover release of To Hell in a Handbasket, the second book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, I wrote a guest article for the Murder By 4 blog titled "You Can't Judge a Book by its Cover". In that article I wrote about how I was able to get the cover art changed for both that book and the first book in the series, A Real Basket Case.

Why bother, you might ask. Isn't what's between the covers, the novel itself, what's most important? Yes, but first readers must be enticed to crack open those covers and actually READ the novel, and the cover art is often the enticement. That's why authors obsess over their covers, especially when the art doesn't match the story inside. For instance, when the hero/heroine pictured on the cover has the wrong color hair or skin (yes, it's happened--to author friends of mine!)

Some of the large presses give their authors absolutely no say over their cover art. It's take-it-or-leave-it. I'm very lucky in that my mid-sized presses (Five Star Publishing in the case of that 2009 article and Midnight Ink for this article) both solicit author suggestions for cover art that get passed on to the art department. They also give authors a chance to comment on the cover art mockup before it goes final. Because of that, I've been able to influence the artistic concept and get some changes made that resulted in better covers.

Below is Midnight Ink's cover for the November trade paperback and ebook re-release of A Real Basket Case. The acquisition editor and I discussed putting a gift basket on the cover with a gun inside, which is the murder weapon. The art department added the gym-themed elements, because Claire Hanover meets the victim in a gym class. They also added the gift tag series logo, which will be carried on to each book in the series.

The one element I disagreed with was the view out of the window, which was of rolling green fields. I suggested they make the scene out of the window a view of mountains, since Claire lives in Colorado Springs. There really aren't any rolling green hills in Colorado Springs, since the city is located in a high alpine desert. And, you can see that they took my suggestion!

The next cover is the one that Midnight Ink created for Deadly Currents, the first book in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series. My suggestion to the art department was to illustrate the first scene in the book, where a raft goes sideways over a raging rapid and dumps its occupants, forcing my river ranger Mandy Tanner to go to the rescue. As you can see, they did just that. Plus they added a very cool blood-in-the-water effect. I was so excited about that cover that I had no changes to suggest.

And below is the latest, my brand-spanking-new cover for Wicked Eddies, to be released next May, which will be the second book in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series. It continues with the theme of an outdoor river-based scene and here the blood-red color is in the sky versus the water. It also contains the oval series logo, which is the logo of the outfitting company created jointly by Mandy and her lover Rob Juarez at the end of Deadly Currents.

My suggestion to the art department on this cover was to picture a river eddy (whirlpool) since that was in the title. Unfortunately, the eddy shown on the first cover art concept looked more like clouds swirling around mountain peaks than like water swirling around rocks. So, based on feedback from me, that concept was nixed. I'm very happy with this "Plan B," though, as are my blog readers, whose comments included:

"Absolutely beautiful...and a little sinister too. "
"It looks suspenseful...and yes, perfect!"
"The cover is stunning! Gorgeous colors. "

I agree!

So, Inkspot readers, have you been influenced by a cover to buy a book and then later felt that the book didn't live up to the cover? Or that it did? Got any cover art stories of your own? Please share in the comments.


Vicki Doudera said...

Yes, a book cover entices me to pick up a book, but for me it's the jacket copy that clinches the sale. Love your new cover, Beth -- it's a winner.

Jess Lourey said...

I also am immediately drawn to covers and have bought books (Inkheart comes to mind) simply because I loved the cover so much.

Your cover for your new book is a beauty!

Sebastian Stuart said...

covers are a big influence. Your last two are fantastic!

Alan Orloff said...

Covers are soooo important! Midnight Ink does the best covers in the business (ok, maybe I'm a little biased). I love your Outdoor Adventure covers! They make me feel I'm right in the middle of the action!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Vicki, Jess, Sebastian, and Alan, for your comments! Yes, I agree, Alan, that Midnight Ink creates the best covers in the business. I think the covers they've done for DEADLY CURRENTS and WICKED EDDIES are especially beautiful, and many of my Claire Hanover readers say they like MI's cover for A REAL BASKET CASE much better than the one done for the original hardcover.

Lois Winston said...

A cover is what first draws someone to pick up a book. The wrong cover can spell disaster for a book, but in some cases, it can become a much talked about book simple because the cover art is so wrong. Case in point-- my former publisher once published an historical romance where the heroine had 3 arms! No joke. No one caught the error until the book was in bookstores. You can probably still find it somewhere by Googling "Dorchester" and "book cover with 3 arms."

Darrell James said...

The cover quite often influences my buying decision. I've had the chance to provide input into my covers with Midnight, but the artists always seem to exceed my imagination. They are terrific at what they do.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Lois and Darrell, for your comments! Darrell, I agree, that the cover artists' imaginations often far exceed what our writer's brains can conjure up. They work in that medium, after all, and we don't.

Darrell James said...

Beth- By the way, the cover for Wicked Eddies is awesome!

jennymilch said...

I find that flap copy influences me more than covers, though I definitely appreciate the wide range of yours, Beth--and how that says so much about you as an author.

T. L. Cooper said...

I've been obsessing for months over the covers for my books of poetry. I know exactly the mood I want to convey, and it does. I just hope they're well received and the general public gets the message as well as my focus group did... We'll soon see!
BTW, I like all your covers. Very nice!!