Saturday, November 23, 2013

You CAN Judge A Book by its Cover

by Susan Santangelo

Everyone knows that old saying – you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, I beg to differ. At least, as far as my own Baby Boomer mysteries are concerned.

The designer and the cover artist for my books both make a concerted effort to make each book cover truly reflect what the story is about.  And believe me, that’s a lot harder than it sounds.Please don’t misunderstand me. 

The first thing is always to write the very best book you can. Professionally edited. No typos. (Even some of the bigger publishers seem to be miss typos these days.) Next comes the back cover blurb – a huge selling point to attract potential readers. And good reviews from a respectable site, and other readers, are also very important.

But in the age of what I call “click lit,” with so many readers choosing their books online these days through a variety of publishing platforms, an author has about a millisecond to attract a customer. And, even more important, convince them to click and buy.  An attractive cover that grabs the reader’s attention and, even more important, tells the story of the book, is essential.

My book covers have gone through a series of transformations since the first title, Retirement Can Be Murder, was published in 2009. That cover was actually taken from a photograph of two white rockers on a front porch. The book takes place in the summer, so there’s a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses, plus a little something extra, on a table between the chairs. The rockers were chosen because they often symbolize retirement. Because there are two English cocker spaniels, Lucy and Ethel, in the book, the original idea was to have our dog Lucy sitting on one of the chairs. But Lucy had other ideas.
Every time we put her on a chair and told her to stay, she gave us a look that clearly said “Nothing doing,” hopped off the chair, and took off. We finally gave up, and the book designer had the brilliant idea of putting Lucy on the back cover, not the front. And a series of paw prints were sprinkled along the bottom of the front cover, leading to the back and Lucy’s picture. By the way, even though Lucy has gone to her heavenly reward, she’s on the back cover of all the Baby Boomer mysteries, and also plays an important part in every book, along with her sidekick Ethel.

The cover for Book 2 in the series, Moving Can Be Murder (2011), was done by a wonderful Cape Cod artist, Elizabeth Moisan. She used our English cocker spaniel, Boomer, as her cover model, and he became Lucy and Ethel. (He’s not too happy about posing as two females, though.)
Boomer continues to be featured on every front book cover, along with clues to the story, and Lucy reigns supreme on the back. I’ve had readers e-mail me to say that they were first attracted to my books because of the covers – they just love the dogs. There are lots of dog lovers out in the universe!
I’m a ‘seat of the pants’ kind of writer, so Elizabeth can’t start to conceptualize  the cover until I’ve finished the first draft of each book. Why? Because we put the murder weapon on the cover. 
Where is it on each of these covers? Can you guess?
And why does Book 4 have three dogs on the cover instead of the usual two? 
I’ll never tell. You have to read the books!  

Susan is giving away a print copy of her novel, Class Reunions Can be Murder, to someone who leaves a comment here. Be sure to leave your email address at the bottom of your comment.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Welcome back to Mysterious Writers, Susan. It's good to have you visit here again with yuor terrific series.

cmgren said...

Looks like my kind of read.

cmgren said...

Looks like my kind of read.

Patricia Gligor said...

I totally agree. Book covers are so very important. I love your covers!
For my first Malone mystery, "Mixed Messages," I agonized over the cover image. My publisher and I spent hours before we agreed on the final cover. For my second book, "Unfinished Business," I knew exactly what I wanted and I love that cover. Wish me luck with the third, "Desperate Deeds," which will be coming out in early 2014.

Susan Santangelo said...

I'm so lucky to have such a terrific (and patient!) cover artist.

Thanks to you, Jean, for giving me the chance to blog today!

Susan Santangelo said...

Best of luck with book 3, Pat!

marja said...

Love the cover you used on the post. I saw a spilled drink and couldn't help wondering if the weapon of choice might be poison. Anyway, I believe I'll have to give your books a try. They sound like my kind of books. Yes, a good cover attracts me to a book, too.
Marja McGraw