By Louise Ure
I’m down in Arizona this week to take care of my little bird of a 93-year old mother who fell and broke her femur at the hip. Her dementia, of course, makes recovery more difficult as she doesn’t remember that she fell and doesn’t know where she is when she wakes in the hospital.
In the meantime, let me leave you with one of my favorite topics: cover design in crime fiction. (I’ll be checking in from my iPhone. I guarantee typos all over the place in my replies.)
You’ll remember how giddy I was when I first saw the cover to Forcing Amaryllis. They nailed it on the first try.
I loved everything about it – the colors, the mood it evoked, the mystery it suggested. I built my website around the design, printed postcards and bookmarks, and only bought clothes that would look good when I was standing next to a display in a bookstore.
I didn’t realize then how lucky I was.
When The Fault Tree went into production, St. Martin’s Press took a different tack with the design. (I’d been with Mysterious Press for the first book, so this was their first outing with me, and their chance to brand my books the way they wanted to.)
The first effort caught me by surprise.
Yes, it’s a story about a blind woman, so the Braille images were appropriate. But ye Gods! It looked like a ransom note written by Helen Keller. And the Braille message stuck across the title didn’t read “The Fault Tree.” It said something like “East Chihuahua Tacos.” They even got the name of Laura Lippman's book wrong in the quote.
They went back to work. The second effort let me breathe a little easier, although I now envisioned buying only black clothes to wear on tour. “Not bad,” my editor said, “but we think it looks too much like a paperback.”
What exactly makes a cover “look like a paperback?” The only design element I’ve noticed in paperback covers is a tendency to put the title or title and author name higher on the page so that it can be read if it’s displayed in a rack.
I could have lived with it. I would have sat quietly next to that stack of black books at the signing table like a forty-year old on a less than satisfying blind date, offering it at arm’s length to interested readers, but not holding it close and whispering sweet nothings in its ear.
Bless their little mystery-loving hearts, St. Martin’s wasn’t content with that second design either. And happily, they asked David Rotstein to take a shot at it.
He got it. All of it. The ephemeral quality I wanted, the wistfulness, the danger. And he gave it a family look with the first book, even though this publisher hadn’t had anything to do with that first one.
So when cover design started for the new book, Liars Anonymous (April 2009), I knew I was in good hands.
Here was their first effort.
Interesting. A sense of mystery. A bit of play with the title. A color palette that would stand out on the shelf. “It looks like a romance novel,” my agent said. Uh oh.
St. Martin’s went back for another try.
More interesting. But aren’t two hands with fingers crossed a sign of wishing rather than lying? “It looks like a YA novel,” my agent said.
St. Martin’s, ever undaunted, asked David Rotstein for another try.
Isn’t that one fabulous? I, of course, have now redesigned my website around it (thank you Maddee!), made bookmarks and postcards, and bought only clothes in shades of turquoise and salmon that would look good when I was standing next to a display in a bookstore.
If it were I blind date, I think I would propose.
I’m very much behind schedule in preparing for this book launch. Left Coast Crime, little-bird mothers and life have taken their toll. But the early reviews are now coming in, and I’m breathing a sigh of relief. Not only did I get a great cover, but it looks like the reaction to the book is positive, too.
Here are some of the highlights:
– Michele Leber, Booklist, starred review
– Kirkus, starred review
– Library Journal, starred review
Please think some fine positive thoughts for my mother, my ‘Rati friends. And then tell me your horror stories or happy endings with cover design.
Louise, sweetie. What an emotional roller coaster for you right now! I’ve been sending hugs and warm thoughts to you and your dear mom. And squealing about the great reviews coming in for “Liars Anonymous.” love it love it!! and yep – love the cover!!! you’ll look divine in turquoise and salmon.
Very excited about the cover (though I admit, I liked the first Liars Anonymous cover as well). I think it will look great on the shelves. Sending prayers and wishes of Godspeed for your mom!
Good luck to your mom, Louise. Poor thing must be scared to death, and I know your being there helps.
When I saw the cover for the hardcover edition of THE DEVIL’S RIGHT HAND, I said, “Hmmm. Nice. Atmospheric. But Keller doesn’t drive a 60’s vintage car like that. And why is (REM lead singer) Michael Stipe on the cover of my book?” My editor said “We’ll work on it.” Three weeks later, they came back…and the cover was almost exactly the same, just some of the colors in the background were a little deeper. I took the hint. I still think it’s a nice cover, possibly my favorite.
Kaye, thanks for all the positive thoughts. Coming from you, I know how powerful they are!
And Jake, l liked that “whispered” first cover for Liars Anonymous, too.
J.D. I adored the cover to The Devil’s Right Hand. It’s funny how little input authors have in cover design. Sometimes for the better? I’d probably overthink it, just like I do with word choice on every page.
I hope your mum recovers quickly, Louise.
I’m unpubbed (at the moment!) and look forward to the day I can agonize over a cover!
You do have some beautiful covers, I must say. I especially love the cover for your new book – I look forward to reading it!
Hi Louise – they’re great covers, and congrats on all those (well-deserved) starred reviews. You are a star among us.
I was very nonplusedby my early UK covers, but had very little say on any of them. But, I love, love, LOVE the covers my new UK publisher did last year for THIRD STRIKE and the mmpb of SECOND SHOT. They really hit the mark for me.
But I never thought of colour-coordinating my tour outfits to go with the book covers. Good job, too, or I’d have more pink in my wardrobe than I would ever possibly wear!
All best wishes to your mother for a speedy recovery.
Alli, I wish you all the joy of agonizing over your first book cover. It’s one of those exquisite kind of pains … where we can find a way to complain about something wonderful happening to us!
Zoë, I’ve always thought your books had such strong, identifiable branding. Maybe that was the U.S. versions?
And I joke (sort of) about matching my book covers with my wardrobe. I’m not exactly dressing in costume like some authors like to do. I just found myself drawn to those colors after I saw the final book covers. Thank God I wasn’t due to paint the house!
I love this cover for Liars Anonymous. And you didn’t mention that we can read the first chapter on your website … and now I can’t wait until April!
Covers are funny things. My first publisher nailed my first two books on what I believe was the first try. However, my second publisher tripped a little with my third book. It looked very cozy, and I was afraid anyone who was offended by the f-word would be a little freaked out and feel betrayed. Fortunately, they went back to the drawing board and gave me the perfect cover.
And I’m really excited about the cover for my tattoo shop mystery coming out in July. It’s gorgeous, looks like Japanese manja and is absolutely perfect.The only thing: I said they could do anything as long as it wasn’t pink. It’s pink. Really pink. But I love it so much that it doesn’t bother me now.
Louise, I’m sending good thoughts southwest right now – feel them? OOOOOXXXXXXX
I love your covers – and agree the end products are simply gorgeous.
I’ve been so blessed with Mira – they hit the mark out of the chute with Pretty Girls and never looked back. I love them. I know a lot of people who get overly involved in their covers and don’t trust the house, and some who HAD to get involved because the house didn’t get it. I’m so happy that I fell into the “they’re perfect” category!
Louise,Both my paternal grandparents suffered from dementia, so I have a pretty good idea of what you’re going throuhg and feel. The best advice I can give is to treat her as though she gets it all; if she’s paying attention in there somewhere, she’ll appreciate it. If she’s not, nothing is lost. I’m convinced my grandparents could always tell who loved them, even if they didn’t remember their names.
All beautiful covers, Louise. Very evocative of the story and characters inside the covers.
I do sometimes wear clothing that complement my covers at presentations! That way the book–and not me–takes center stage.
Really looking forward to LIARS ANONYMOUS. How our Santa Tom would have relished the opportunity!
Such a great cover, Louise.
And best wishes to you and your mom.
I love your covers, Louise–they are gorgeous and evocative and make me want to pick up the book immediately. Kudos to you for the stellar reviews! I can’t wait to read.
Hugs and wishes going out to your mom; she’s got to be scared and that’s so hard to comfort when it keeps being the same surprise every day. I hope she heals well and is home very very soon.
Oh my sweetie, I hope everything goes well for you and your mom.
And FOUR STARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GO LOUISE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Congratulations on getting another winning cover for your newest, Louise. Looking forward to reading LIARS when it comes out mid April.
Prayers for your mother to be comfortable and for you to be buoyed.
Love the cover!
I absolutely will be thinking good thoughts for both your mother and for you.
Karen, I know you’ve had some hiccups with covers along the way, but you always wound up in a great space. And yes, I forgot! The first chapter is on my website.
JT, your books are the first I think of when I talk about strong branding. They mailed it.
Dana, that’s good advice for life. Act as if everyone around us hears everything.
Naomi, I miss Tom so. But he asked for an ARC of Liars three weekhs before he died. That calms me.
Thank you Cornelia, Toni, Rae and B.G.
Low battery. More later.
OMG Louise, David Rotstein did my cover! I am crazy in love with it. He’s a genius. I must have been a good girl in a past life because I didn’t have any bad covers yet. Your new one is gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.
hugs to you and your mama.
Louise, my thoughts and prayers are with you this week.
Re: covers. Generally, I like covers with a separate color font for the title and authors name. If the image is at least 2 layers deep, it tends to look professionaly done. 3 layers can be too busy.
I don’t know if I like writing “a mystery” on the cover. Or “a novel.” The imagery and title should convey what kind of book it is.
If the average reader can’t tell it’s a mystery from the title and image, then the cover artist needs to revise.
My two cents.
Louise,I’ll light a candle for your mother as soon as I finish this comment.
Congratulations on all the wonderful praise for the new book. That’s wonderful.
And my cover story? Let’s just say that I couldn’t get a saguaro off of the Worldwide mmpb cover of THE CLOVIS INCIDENT. Anyone from AZ — or who knows where saguaro grow — will appreciate my frustration with that.
Louise, good thoughts are going to your mother as I type this.
Unfortunately, I have no cover stories as I’m still working on the old book, but I’m sure I’ll have some eventually.
Hello–Julie over at the ITW Debuts group recommended this blog today, since I was one of the authors moaning about book my cover problems. Being a first time author who did just about everything wrong, including accepting a cover that made a humorous mystery look like an erotic romance, I truly appreciate this posting of your saga. Learning who did what and why is so helpful. Your final covers are gorgeous. Congratulations on the great blurbs for your latest work, and thanks again for the post.
Stacey, I think I love you. It’s exactly what I’ve been saying (but you said it much better!) related to my own covers. (As I bang my head against the desk.) Nothing about my new covers suggests dark, violent romantic thrillers. But I lost that battle . . .
I love the cover, Louise, and it does have a mysterious feel to it, it doesn’t need to say “a mystery” to show that, but having the tag doesn’t hurt. Congrats on the fabulous reviews. I just gave The Fault Tree to my mom.
I’m praying for your mom, too. My heart goes out to both you and her. My grandfather was in a similar situation.
Louise, that cover is fantastic…as is that tantalising first chapter I just read. April can’t come fast enough now.
Also, I hope you feel a gentle balm soon from as much positive energy beaming your way from down under as timezones, and well distance allow.
Typepad is eating all my replies today. Stacey, you have a great eye. Sophie, send me a copy of your cover! Welcome, Alice and R.J., may mediocre covers be the worst of your problems. Thank you, Allison and Catherine for your sweet words.
Laughed out loud at “East Chihuahua Tacos”. That cover was bizarre. The others are great though. So interesting the different looks on each.
Oh, many blessings to Louise’s mom. We are all thinking about you. That’s a lot of good thoughts. (And, Louise’s mom, your daughter is a treasure.)
I’ve always thought Forcing Amaryllis was one of the best covers I’ve ever seen. And yes, JT, your covers are stellar. (My MIRA covers just arrived, and I completely love them, too. Stacey, they went from “mystery” to “novel”.)
Are covers like–clothes? I, too, match my clothes to my covers, hey, why not. I confess. But what I mean is–we worry about what to wear, at a certain level. And that, we can pretty much control.
But someone else is deciding what our books are wearing!
Allison, the love is completely mutual.
Pari and Naomi, I’m sorry that my iPhone ate my responses back to you. Know that your kind words are much appreciated.
Pam, I’m glad you were as outraged at that Chihuahua Braille cover!
But Hank, you’ve got the last word. Our covers as wardrobe. It’s perfect! So … what will your book be wearing this year?
Congrats, Louise. Tom would have been so proud.