Cover art can make or break a novel, but for the traditionally published author, this critical facet of the work is often totally out of the author’s control.
Sometimes, that results in a horror story complete with tears and terror. In my case, it resulted in an unexpected gift.
When I signed my contract with Minotaur Books, I accepted that the cover art was out of my control. I made a decision: whatever my cover looked like, I would love it.
I told myself so over and over … “you’ll love the cover, whatever it looks like,” and yet, some fear remained. My editor, Toni Kirkpatrick, “got” the book from the very beginning, which helped. An editor who understands your vibe can (and will) direct the art department in vital ways.
Still, I didn’t know what the cover reveal would actually bring, and lack of knowledge always leads to fear.
Cover art sells books—or, in some sad cases, doesn’t sell them—especially now, when online traffic makes up a large percentage of overall sales. A cover needs to look good in a thumbnail size as well as on the front of a physical book.
Good cover art, like good novels, features motion, tension, and intrigue. A reader looking at the cover must want to know more about what’s inside. The issue, of course, is finding art which can draw the reader across all platforms, electronic and mobile as well as physical. Readers who can’t understand or relate to the image in thumbnail often pass on a book they might pick up in a store. That means lost sales—a thing no author, regardless of platform, can ignore.
A second important aspect of covers relates to their place in a series. My debut novel, Claws of the Cat, is the first in a mystery series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Series covers usually feature a common style or elements, and if the initial cover “jumps the shark,” the series itself may follow. Subsequent covers might improve, but the first one sets the tone for the ones to come.
Minotaur bought my book almost a year before I saw the final cover. That’s a long time to wait for important news. And when I finally saw the cover, I actually cried.
I was one of the lucky ones. I loved my cover immediately and completely, and not only because it represented the book so perfectly.
It represented something far more important—and something that neither my editor nor the cover designer knew.
My father died six months before I started writing Claws of the Cat. He knew about my passion for writing, but did not live to see my work in print. He loved mystery novels, and history, and would have adored the bantering friendship that Hiro and Father Mateo share. It’s bittersweet that he couldn’t share my success.
But in addition to books, my father loved orchids–cymbidium orchids, to be exact. And of the cymbidium orchids, the ones my father loved the most were green ones with reddish-brown spots at the center … exactly like the ones which appear on the cover of Claws of the Cat.
Orchids which didn’t appear in the concept sketch my publisher sent me, and which I had no idea would appear on the final cover. It was those orchids that made me cry. Because, although my father cannot be here to help me celebrate the launch of the book this week, the all-important cover reflects his spirit, giving it an extra, secret meaning just for me.
And now, you know the story too.
I love my cover because it fits the book and draws the eye. I love it because my publisher understood the importance of images that translate into thumbnails. But most of all, I love it because it reminds me that the people we love are always with us to share our joy, even when we cannot see them there.
What’s your favorite “Cover Story”? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
*This post originally appeared at Once in A Blue Muse in July, 2013