Monday, July 30, 2012

Observations — Telling The Book By the Cover, And An Inept Self-Promotion

I love book covers.  There are a number of places to take a look at the old pulps and a number of blogs will put out a great gallery of cover art.  Seems to me that once a year someone puts out a poll on nominated mystery book covers.  And Rapsheets editor J. Kingston Pierce has another great blog called Killer Covers you should check out.

As a writer who has very little say about what my book covers look like, I have a few I really dislike and a few that I really appreciate.  In my years with St. Martin’s Press and Severn House, I’ve appreciated a number of covers, but two really stand out.  Unfortunately both are out of print.

The first is from St. Martin’s Press and was a stand-alone.  My editor there was the late Ruth Cavin, who responded to my request to take a look at Janet Woolley as an artist for the submitted mystery.  Ruth, after making me change the book title from The de Chirico Landscape to Eclipse of the Heart, agreed to pursue my choice of artist for the cover.  I had no additional input on the art, but I was incredibly impressed with what the artist did. I think it holds up to this day. She had to have read the book thoroughly to get the nuances she did.  The book, which featured a gay protagonist, didn’t get very far though through gay circles. The gay press ignored it completely and my own hometown newspaper at the time, The Indianapolis Star, ran a positive review without ever mentioning the main character was a gay.  The character’s sexual orientation figured significantly in the plot.  Though I have made it a practice to never talk to reviewers, not because I dislike them, but it might come across as manipulative and my one-on-one communication skills need some sharpening. In this case, I was curious enough to make an exception. I contacted the reviewer and asked him why he hadn’t mentioned what I thought to be a key element of the book.  His response was that had he done so, the story would never have seen print…and I suspect the reviewer might have had to turn in his professional spectacles. He had been brave just choosing the book to review. The Indianapolis Star was notoriously conservative.

The second cover that I am very fond of is from the professionals at Severn House for a book in the Deets Shanahan series, Asphalt Moon.  What I appreciated was the bold image of a smoking shotgun, close up. It was not only a powerful image, the art director manifested the very specific horror of the story. It was a simple but also profound reflection of what was between the covers.  Apparently another art director somewhere found the image to be strong as well.  Not too long ago, I came across another book, Blood Men, by Paul Cleave.  And there was my shotgun on his book cover.  It was a great cover as well, but the same damn shotgun, smoke and all. No harm really.  I liked that cover too.

Now, it would be great if I could do a blatant promotion of each of these books.  Both are, in retrospect, among the ones I’m most proud of — and not just because of the covers. I feel really good about the stories.  Reviewers were also very good to these two. But they are both out of print and were published before the e-Book phenomenon.  Then again, maybe something can be done about that.

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