THE ROCKY ROAD OF COVER ART
By Nancy Martin
Last year, I published the first book in a new mystery series starring Roxy Abruzzo, a streetwise tough girl from Pittsburgh who helps people who can’t go to the cops when the chips are down.
Let me be honest: The book didn’t sell as well as everyone hoped.
Why not? Lots of reasons, I think. We’re hitting the re-set button for Roxy in 2011 with a re-packaged paperback of the first book (re-titled, new cover, new blurbs) and a second book in the series in which I made some writerly changes, too. The main thing the publisher wanted to change was the cover art.
Here’s the first book, in its first incarnation, which you can see they tried to package as if it were a big novel by a brand name author:
Brand name authors are authors whose name alone sells the book. (When you browse bookshelves in airports, all you see are the author names. No cover art shows at all.) Who cares what a Robert B. Parker cover looked like? It was his name alone that sold his books. Although, I gotta say, I loved some of his simple, high concept cover art--a single image on a colorful background--such as this one:
And here’s the re-package of OUR LADY, in trade paperback. (And due in stores next Tuesday, January 18th.) As you can see, the publisher decided my name was nice enough, but maybe not sufficiently well-known to sell books the way our beloved Mr. Parker did:
What do you think? I like this cover because it’s clearly a book written for women, which it is. (Is a man going to pick up a pink book?) Plus I love the dog, and cute dogs sell, right? This cover also conveys a certain sense of humor without screaming; “We think this author is just like Janet Evanovich!” Which is a lovely sentiment, but not remotely true because there is only one Janet Evanovich. May she reign forever.
Covers are tricky territory for authors. We don’t usually have any input in cover art. (Not unless you’re working with a “small press” where cover approval is one asset that doesn’t cost the “publisher” any money at all and therefore is given—uh---freely.) At traditional houses, editors usually send you a pdf file with your cover along with an accompanying email that cheerily says, “We love this cover! We think you will, too!” Which, if you open the pdf file and groan with dismay, doesn’t give you much room to disagree. Besides, when you’re new at a particular publishing house, you don’t want to blast through the front door shouting, “This cover stinks!” You want to be a team player. You want to let the experts to what they do, and you hope for the best.
Over the summer, though, I did voice my dismay at some of the attempts at cover art for the second book in the series. Politely. But firmly. Making my case, being very specific about what didn’t work, not being insulting because, after all, I’m a writer, not an artist. (But because I’m a writer, I’m also a little obsessive.) My agent got involved. (The Rottweiler. She’s firm. Really firm. And maybe the savviest person I know in publishing. I’d trust her instincts anytime. And I do.) During the negotiations, my editor ran interference with the art department, the sales department, the publicity department, the paperback division, plus assorted executives—all of whom had opinions. She had a tough, tough assignment remaining friends with everybody and getting the job done. In the end, everyone was really pleased with the results.
If the book fails a second time, the fault lies with one person: The author.
When I realized OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION (which is now called—for better or for worse—FOXY ROXY) wasn’t exactly a hit with readers, I immediately began tinkering with the second book, which we titled STICKY FINGERS.
The publisher made an honest effort to re-think what kind of brand they wanted Roxy to be and how to convey that with the cover. I did some re-thinking, too. Gone is the multiple POV in favor of (my preference) first person, which I believe makes a character much more intimate with the reader from page one. The second book isn’t as dark as the first. It has more situational comedy.
Gone also is the element that icked out most cozy readers—Roxy’s eagerness to take off her panties. (Am I revealing too much, do you think? Heck, we’re all writers, right?) No, she’s not a new character, but she did have a hell of a wake-up call in Book One, so her change is well-motivated. If her character is going to grow and change in a believable way—a trend among mystery protagonists that I prefer--this was one important place to start. Readers, I’m sure, will be very quick to let me know if you think I handled it in a way that works.
Meanwhile, what’s your opinion on covers? Have you chosen a book lately, by cover alone? I chose this book—by an author I didn’t know at the time—simply because of the cover:
How about you? Do you very buy because you like the cover? Tell, tell.