Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

Obviously a book's cover can never convey what goes on in an entire book. Yet, if that image is done well, it gives the readers a hint of what awaits between the pages and entices them to peek inside and keep turning those pages.
     All writers have opinions about their cover art. Believe it or not, they are not always delighted with what the the publisher presents. I was lucky in many ways. My Crime of Fashion Mystery covers didn't look like everyone else's covers. My covers were effective, at the time, and people bought them and I am very grateful.
     I know how bad a book jacket can be from experience: I was once reading a friend's book on the Metro. Her cover looked a little like Gidget Joins the Symbionese Liberation Army! It was hideous, yet also quite effective in its way: as a deterrent. I caught a man on the Metro looking at me as I was reading it. Then he looked at the book cover--and then he backed away from me, slowly. Very slowly. Cover art: An unexpected weapon of self-defense.
     When I regained my book rights this past summer from my former publisher, Penguin Putnam, now Penguin Random House, I had to change the covers for the series relaunch. (While I have the rights to my words, I don't have the rights to the publisher's artwork.) This turned out to be a wonderful opportunity and I was able to take a second look at the covers and revisit the designs with my input. The new covers and overall book design are by the talented Bob Williams. They have plenty of my input.
    First of all, the key graphic image must have an impact. With so many books being bought online now, covers are first viewed in thumbnail sizes. A tiny image has to convey crucial information about the book. It has to be strong and easy to grasp. We kept that in mind.

  Different takes on Crime of Fashion Covers 

     As you can see in this post, the original Penguin covers were a little cartoonish, yet many readers liked them. The redesigned cover is on the right.
The Killer Hair cover for Penguin

Redesigned Killer Hair Cover
To be perfectly honest, when I saw the original Killer Hair cover, my first thought was: "Oh, dear! Judy Jetson gets a haircut!"  I got over it. The covers were cute and whimsical, and they were geared toward a "chick-lit" audience, which was fine at the time--until chick-lit went out of favor. The title also incorporated a can of hairspray into the type. Cute.
     My covers were better than some covers other writers I knew got. Most importantly, they sold.      Still I had quibbles. Although the books are Crimes of Fashion, the previous covers never really said fashion to me. For the relaunch of my series, I knew I wanted a distinctive visual style that would hint at more of the books' stories, subtext, and style. I also wanted bolder title type that would stand out in a crowd, as well as a more readable and elegant book design inside and out.
       Some readers are unsettled by the new look and have told me they originally picked up my series because of the cute cartoon covers. They don't think they would have picked up the new ones, because they look "more dangerous." Point taken. I understand. I really do. But shouldn't murder mysteries, even comic ones, be a little dangerous? I hope we can agree to disagree.
    On the other hand, other readers have told me they thought my books were much more sophisticated than indicated by the old covers. I thought so too. There's more to the books than cotton candy colors.
Designer Knockoff, Penguin cover
Redesigned cover Designer Knockoff
     For instance, I always thought the Killer Hair cover should concentrate on, well, killer hair! Fabulous, glorious hair! The new cover has that. It's also mysterious. Is she sleeping? Dreaming? Or something else? (Perhaps even murdered?) I am delighted with this new look. It's fashionable, provocative, and enigmatic.
     In the case of Designer Knockoff, the original cover's pale lavender title was particularly hard to read. On the bookstore shelf mixed in with other mysteries, the title was barely visible. It looked like a book about shopping. Certainly not a mystery.
     This new Designer Knockoff cover pops off the page and it really resonates with me. The story involves two intertwined mysteries,separated by decades, and in the cover art it feels as if one victim, via the skeletal hand, is reaching out to touch the other. The color known as "Morning Glory Blue" also figures in the book, so I am delighted to see it on the cover. I also like the vaguely vintage style of makeup on the woman because vintage is a very big part of the Lacey Smithsonian books.

Redesigned Hostile Makeover
Hostile Makeover, Penguin cover
     Recently relaunched, Hostile Makeover is the third book in the series. Again,the original cover didn't really hint at the story or its subtext. While the Crimes of Fashion books are satirical, this mystery explores the dark side of plastic surgery. The continuing action throughout the series follows the calendar year and this one takes place just before Halloween.
     The new cover has a touch of the macabre and the humorous. Her bandages are coming off, but what will she find beneath them? Hopefully, it poses questions and instills a desire to turn the page.
     Each cover requires an in-depth examination and Bob and I discuss the concept and how to accomplish it through the design.
     Currently we are at work on the cover for our next relaunch, Grave Apparel. Stay tuned for further details. The Kindle version should be out well before Christmas.
     Finally, though I am relaunching the older books, I am also working on a new Crime of Fashion mystery. Unfortunately, the new book keeps being interrupted by our work on the relaunch. But never fear, there will be more books, more challenges and more new covers ahead.
     These books are available on Amazon, and the trade paperbacks for Killer Hair and Hostile Makeover can also be ordered by your favorite bookseller.


  1. Thanks for letting me know, Lori. I appreciate it.

  2. You're so right. We do judge books by their covers whether we intend to do so or not! Thanks for sharing your views and your "before and after" covers.

  3. Glad you enjoyed the post, Nichole.

  4. Hi Ellen ~ I love the new covers! Killer Hair has a kind of 1940's pulp fiction feel to it. Congratulations!

  5. so glad you like t. That's what we were going for.

  6. I don't think you can judge a book by its cover, but covers definitely help to make things interesting or eye-catching.