Thursday, May 1, 2014

Cover It Up

The cover art for my next book, No Broken Hearts, arrived in my inbox recently. It took me two hours to get up the gumption to open the attachment. Previous experience has left me a bit gun-shy about cover art. I'll explain that in just a moment. 

Here's what No Broken Hearts, which comes out in September, is about. 

Screenwriter and amateur sleuth Lauren Atwill is not one bit happy. After signing a contract with major studio Marathon, she’s promptly loaned out to second-tier Epic. She’s convinced the super-superstitious head of Marathon has heard the whispered grapevine gossip that whenever she signs on to a picture, somebody dies. But then at Epic, she’s offered the chance to bring a thrilling, scandalous novel to the screen, a sensational story of corruption and a vicious killing. Things are looking up. Until fiction turns into real life. After Lauren finds a beautiful young actress brutally murdered, she discovers just how far the studio and even the police will go to protect a big star. If she won’t lie, her career is over. And maybe her life. In Hollywood, telling the truth is the most dangerous thing a woman can do.

It seems my publisher is weighting the romantic side of my books, and soft-pedaling that the series is ‘period’. The 1940s are, I concede, too often considered a man's decade, and too often readers expect fiction written about the '40s to be dark and without humor — unless that's dark too. I find the decade romantic and witty.  
An author generally doesn't have much control over cover art — the exception being the author with humongous sales. However, I did get to make a tweak. Here’s the original cover art, as it first appeared in my inbox. Can you spot the difference (besides the color tone)?

Now on to the tortured history of my experience with cover art.
Book 1 — Star Struck Dead (previous publisher)

When I saw it, I burst into tears. While my sleuth, Lauren, is a blonde, she’s not a cheap one. And her eyes match.

The blurb describing the plot was fine. But the picture...

When I recovered myself, I called the editor. 

I suggested that the artist might have been unduly influenced by the movie LA Confidential

I did not say that, if that were true, Kim Basinger should sue

I did point out that the cover looked like pulp fiction and that my book, while it certainly has noirish undertones, is also a traditional mystery with a strong romantic element. Male readers who were expecting pulp and a jaded point of view would be disappointed, I said. Women might not touch it. 

The editor promised they would fix it. 

They made the Hollywood sign bigger.  

However, recently, an Amazon reviewer began a very positive review of Star Struck Dead with “Ignore the cover!” Hallelujah. 

Book 2 — Good Knife’s Work (new publisher)

I had no complaints about this one. Compared to the first one, it was a huge relief. Only when I saw it on bookstore shelves did I realize there might be too much black. It disappeared into the dark wood, which is really not a good thing when your last name is York, and alphabetization-by-author already requires readers to crawl along the carpet to find your books. 

Book 3 — Death in Her Face

First, we have the original cover, which appeared on the advance review copies (ARCs) that went out to reviewers. I don’t believe it encouraged any of them to dive right in.

For starters, what is that plant doing, growing in the middle of the picture and maybe out of that guy's head?  Two, it’s the wrong decade. It's a pastiche of movie images from the 1920 and '30s. I pointed out these difficulties; but this is the cover that went out on the ARCs. 

The final cover is a big improvement, even if it is still the wrong decade. It hints that my book isn't depressingly dark and that it even might have humor in it.  

So we're now at No Broken Hearts. Did you spot the difference in the covers?

Yes, there’s a gun on the windowsill. I suggested that the cover needed something that said danger and a gun would be a nice, subtle touch. 

So the artist carefully positioned a muscular, modern-day semi-automatic on the sill. I pulled a .38 revolver from my picture files and sent it over.

It fits so nicely into a lady’s hand when she has to take charge.

I'm headed to the Edgar Awards in New York City tonight. I've cleaned off space on my night table for the free books provided by publishers after the event. Tables piled with the nominated books. How many can I grab without making a spectacle of myself? 

Then it's on to the Malice Domestic convention in Bethesda, Maryland. At 9:00am Saturday, I'll be on a panel called "It's Alive!: Mysteries That Bring History to Life". If you're going to Malice, please drop by. 

Sheila York
Copyright 2014  


  1. Hi, Sheila,

    You have my sympathies. Very few covers start out looking like what we'd hope for. Sometimes the publishers listen to input, but not all of them do. The cover for my latest Kim Reynolds mystery THE BAD WIFE is definitely noir, but it does catch the eye--hopefully it will draw readers--but one never knows!

    1. Thanks. So many things a writer can't control. I feel my lack of design skills keenly in cover-art season.

  2. Loved this post, Sheila! Thanks for sharing with us. Thelma

  3. Sheila, this is a great post. See you tonight and at Malice.

  4. Thanks, Annamaria & Thelma! I am packing for Malice right now. 3 days, 2 nights. Why do I have a big bag full of stuff??