Monday, May 23, 2005

Judging a Book by its Cover

I recently found out that WHISKEY SOUR has been nominated for two Anthony Awards, Best First Novel and Best Cover Art. (www.bouchercon.net for info)

I feel excited, happy, humbled, and lucky, considering all of the great debuts released in 2004.

I also would like everyone to know that I deserve all of the credit for the Best Cover Art nomination. I gave my publisher a precise, detailed description of what I wanted my cover to look like, which they ignored. Had they gone with my suggestions, I'm pretty sure WHISKEY SOUR would have never gotten on the ballot.

Writers think about their cover art more than they're willing to admit. Usually a writer will have a clear idea of the image, color, and style they'd like. They're quick to point out the shortcomings they perceive in the artwork, and I've seen writer friends blame poor sales on the cover.

In fact, I've seen writer friends blame gambling debts, misfortune with the opposite sex, car accidents, and bad weather on their book covers.

Blameless, we writers be, and quick to point fingers.

Like my peers, I also felt I knew the elements of a successful cover. When Hyperion bought WHISKEY SOUR, I told them my high-concept, surefire cover idea. Since the plot featured a serial killer sending handwritten notes to the police, the perfect dustjacket should be black, like a chalkboard, with the title done in white handwritten letters, like chalk.

I even made a mock-up of the cover using Photoshop, a computer program that can fool the average Joe into thinking he has artistic ability. The dark, noirish jpeg I'd created was a study in minimalism, and from any distance farther that eighteen inches it looked like there wasn't a book on the shelf at all, rather an empty, shadowy space.

Hyperion chose to pass on my concept. Their cover was electric orange with bold yellow and green lettering. Playful, rather than scary. And bright. Very bright.

How bright is the cover?

Joggers have begun taping the book to their sweatpants to avoid getting sideswiped at night.

At several signings, folks have asked me how to change the batteries.

It can be seen from orbit.

As I said, it's bright.

It's also inviting, attractive, and seems to say, "Pick me up, I'm a fast, fun read." Which, hindsight being 20/20, is a pretty good thing for a cover to do.

I'm eternally grateful to my publisher for knowing better, and I'm wondering what other things they've also been right about. They seem to really know what they're doing.

Maybe I should listen a little more, and trust a little more.

Maybe all writers should.

3 comments:

Martha O'Connor said...

I wanna see the Joe Konrath Photoshop cover! Can you post it? As I told you elsewhere, HUGE congrats!

B. K. Birch said...

Congratulation on the Anthony nods. I agree with Martha, you must post your version of the WHISKEY SOUR cover.

Megalion said...

They knew what they were doing... I picked it up at the library because the cover jumped out and plastered itself to my eyeballs.

Black covers are overdone though I'd be curious to see what yours looked like.