The Crapshoot of the Cover Lottery

In a perfect world, all books would be judged equally. It wouldn’t matter what was on the front or back; all that would count for anything was the good stuff in between.

So, OK: it’s not a perfect world. And a lot of people -- most people -- at least begin judging books by what’s on the cover. That being the case, authors hope that, in the vast crapshoot of cover lotteries, they end up with a good one.

And make no mistake: unless you’re self-published and have control of every teensy aspect of the production of your book, it is a vast crapshoot. You hope against hope that your publisher’s art director isn't having a bad day or month when she first hears about your book -- that her dog isn’t sick, that her rent didn't get hiked -- and that everyone who could give your book a strong pitch did so and that the art department A/ understands what your book is about and B/ cares enough and is talented enough to execute something lovely.

I have been lucky in the cover craps
hoot. From the very first blush, I was delighted with the covers of all three of the Madeline Carter novels, especially the cover of The Next Ex, which seemed to embody the themes of that book so well. Even so, I was unprepared for the wonderfulness that was St. Martin’s first run at a cover for Death Was the Other Woman, which will be available from Minotaur January 8th, 2008.

That first cover was amazing. Truly (though I’m clearly not unbiased) one of the nic
est covers I’d ever seen.

A woman stood in an office, a gun in her hand, a cascade of golden hair falling over her shoulders, a ribbon of golden light on her face. A rumpled looking man sat behind a desk, a butt in his mouth, pouring something strong-looking into a coffee mug. It was a gorgeous illustration, but for someone else’s book. I could see at a glance that these people weren’t from my book and that the clothes they were wearing were from 15 years or so after the events in Death Was the Other Woman take place. Someone had done a terrific job capturing the feeling of noir, of hard-boiled at the time when -- for one reason and another -- a lot of contemporary noir films take place. But the world happening on that cover wasn’t taking place in the early 30s. You could see that at a glance.

I have to admit, I was heartbroken. I liked the cover so much that I even -- for a moment -- considered wading back in and moving the story from 1931 to 1946. But it really was just for a moment: the fact that Death Was the Other Woman takes place near the end of Prohibition and the beginning of the Depression dictates so many aspects of the book. It would have been like moving the story from Los Angeles to Hong Kong: not unthinkable but, in the end, it would have b
een a different book.

So my editor went back to the art director who went back to the illustrator who went back to work on a new cover. I know all of this only by second and third hand, of course because, as is appropriate, my editor is my direct line of approach to the house.

Apparently some Photoshopish attempts at rescuing the first cover were made early on but taking a pitch perfect mid-1940s illustration and redressing everyone in 1931 style proved too huge a challenge and everyone went back to the drawing board. Quite literally.

I spent a couple of bad months. For me, that first cover had been so perfect, I felt as though nothing they could ever do would top it, no matter how correct for the era it might be. My larger fear, though, was that they would wash their hands of the whole affair, opting to not do an illustration after all, but to do some sort of object art, or something based on a stock image. Either would have been perfectly acceptable, but not nearly so exciting.

So when a couple of days ago the new cover showed up I was more relieved than I can say. Not only was everyone appropriately dressed for the era, the new cover was more tightly composed and more sharply executed than that first had been. And it was just that much darker and at the same time, more dynamic. In a word, it was better.

I’ve included both covers here for your comparing pleasure. It seems real now, somehow. And it certainly seems close. And I feel strong about it. Confident. How could I not? I think I won the cover lottery. Not once, but twice on the same book.


Anonymous said…
Ooh! The new cover is beautiful. And it looks like a real departure from your earlier novels. I am looking forward to reading it but I really enjoyed the Madeline Carter books. When can we expect another one?

Suzanne in Tecumseh, MI. (I'm not on blogger so chose to post anonymous).
Sandra Ruttan said…
Nice cover Linda - and definitely original!
Thanks for your comments, guys. Though I'm not ruling out doing another Madeline Carter novel and while there are lots of things Madeline could do and might like to do, I'm currently working on the second Kitty Pangborn novel and it's taking up most of the space in my head. Minotaur has bought the book for publication January 2009 and it's still in progress. Since the series are very different, there's certainly room for both Madeline and Kitty, but there are a bunch of standalones waiting to get out, as well.

Thanks for asking!
Bill Crider said…
You're lucky to win once. But twice? Very cool.
Jeff Wong said…
As an illustrator (and book collector), it's always exciting for me to see a nicely illustrated cover that will leap out from the formulaic and forgettable stuff on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. More power to you for pushing for the revision; it was well worth it (even though the first version was no slouch).
Clea Simon said…
I like 'em both and am frankly envious.

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