Book covers are designed to make an impact, though sometimes they send the wrong message about what’s inside. Authors may love or hate their covers, but regardless, most authors have an interesting story to tell about the cover art for at least one of their books. There’s the romance clench with the extra or missing arm, the animal that doesn’t match the species in the text, the anachronistic piece of clothing that didn’t exist in the time period portrayed in the historical.
I have stories about both covers for my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series books, A REAL BASKET CASE and TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET. First, I have to say that I am very lucky to have a publisher that solicits ideas for book covers from the authors and encourages cover artists to design something that takes those ideas into account. Many authors have absolutely no say whatsoever in what their covers should look like.
Five Star Publishing has some excellent cover artists, and I had seen their work in the past and been impressed. So, when I was asked to give input for the cover of A REAL BASKET CASE, I thought I'd keep it short and sweet and let the artist's imagination fill in the blanks. Since the protagonist was a gift basket designer and the murder was committed with a handgun, I suggested the cover art include a handgun and a basket on its side with a hole in it and blood dripping out.
Here’s what the author representative sent me: An arm came in from the side of the cover, with the hand clutching the handle of a wire handheld grocery shopping basket. A child's rubber-tipped dart gun and plastic rubber-tipped darts lay scattered across the bottom of the picture.
Near tears and with my mouth hanging open, I gaped at this odd interpretation of “gun” and “basket.” I debated with myself. As a brand-new author with Five Star, did I really want to make a stink about this? But how could I let it go? A grocery basket had no connection with my gift basket designer heroine. And what was with the rubber darts?
After tossing and turning through nightmares of evilly grinning kids peppering me with rubber darts, grocery carts chasing me through store aisles, and editors shouting “off with her head,” I finally woke in a calmer frame of mind. I wrote a detailed explanation to the author representative why the cover just would not do. Trying to find something positive to say, I complimented the pinkish-orange background color, not a typical shade for a mystery novel, which I said would make the book stand out on bookstore shelves.
Thankfully, the author representative, who knew what A REAL BASKET CASE was about, agreed with me. She contacted the art department, relayed my objections and asked them to try again. A couple of weeks later, she e-mailed me another file, with the caveat that this was it, the production schedule would not allow for another round of modifications. With trepidation, I opened the file, slowly released the squint closing my eyes...and was delighted!
A handgun appeared, with the barrel pointed upright. (A romance author friend of mine said, “Nice phallic symbol you've got there!”) There was no basket, but a bow was wrapped around the book as if it was a gift itself, and a subtle texture to the background simulated a basket weave. Here's where the artist's creativity was evident, because I never would have thought of this “tie-in” to the theme of the book. This is the cover that A REAL BASKET CASE sports today, and I've grown very fond of it. I've also received many compliments on the cover. I am so, so glad that I spoke up and refused to accept that first cover.
Now, on to cover art story number two, the cover for TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET.
This time I gave more information to the art department. I wrote that the opening scene is set on a downhill ski run of the Breckenridge, Colorado ski resort, so there should be an open expanse of snow lined with evergreen trees such as lodgepole pines, spruce and firs. I specified that a pair of downhill skis should be positioned in an X vertical to the snow because this is the universal “call for help” sign to alert ski patrol when there has been an accident. And, that's what my sleuth Claire Hanover does with her skis when the sister of her daughter's boyfriend hits a tree on the slope.
When I received the cover art this time, I was very pleased with it. It was a beautiful, eye-catching, wintery blue, with the theme of the bow wrapped around the book as if it is a gift carried over from the first book. However, there was one small problem.
A pair of ski boots was still affixed to the X'ed skis.
Now, what skier takes off their skis—and boots—in the middle of a cold, snowy ski run and walks around in their socks? After a good chuckle as I realized this artist had obviously never gone skiing, I e-mailed the author representative again with a change request. I knew this one would be minor, because I figured the boots could easily be removed from the picture. I was right, because within a day, I had the revised cover for TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET.
I am grateful that Five Star's art department has been so responsive in listening to my comments and so talented in creating striking covers that I absolutely love. Yes, I have a couple of amusing stories about my covers, but the stories have a happy ending. Unlike many of my author friends, I haven't had to live with a cover that I hate. So, the next time you see a book with cover art that you can't stand or are mislead by, please don't blame the author.
A REAL BASKET CASE, Five Star, (2007), Best First Novel Agatha Nominee
Note about the tour:
If you comment this post, ask Groundwater a question during her visit today, or comment on her blog (http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/) anytime during her May 2009, blog book tour, you will be entered into a drawing for an autographed set of both books in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series: A REAL BASKET CASE and TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET. Good luck!