I've noticed that the style for crime fiction covers these days seems to be vague and inoffensive. Soft-focus landscapes or city scapes, roads, bridges, shadowy figures - seldom anything that overtly portrays or even suggests violence. To me, these covers seem boring. Do they really help sell books? Are the publishers afraid of being tasteless or shocking?

I did the cover illustrations for both my books, and they really grab people's attention. I was a visual artist before I became a novelist, and they're in an expressionistic style which often reminds people of Munch. But I've decided the second one, for Eldercide, is just too frightening, so I've decided to tone it down a bit. (I have this option because I work with a print-on-demand publisher.)

I'm also retitling the book Evening Falls Early, but that's a topic for another discussion, and you can read more about it on my blog, where you can also view the illustrations. But I'd love to hear what others think. How much say do you have about the covers for your own books? And do you think the publishers play it too safe?

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Good for you! I'm looking forward to SWITCH. At first I read SIND SIE BEREIT FUER IHRE FAMILIE ZU TOETEN? as "Are you ready to Kill your Family?" (it's "for your family"). It seems to me there's a future plot here. :)
DIE STIMME DES DAEMONS is the title Heyne decided to go with, which translates roughly as Voice of the Demon or The Demon's Voice. This seems to have very little to do with the original title of SWITCH, especially as there are no demons in the book. However, the plot of the novel does involve an anonymous voice on a cellphone who challenges the main protagonist to complete certain tasks in order to save his kidnapped family.
The second image is a teaser postcard that Heyne is distributing with the ARC of DIE STIMME DES DAEMONS.
Right. I was careless. I read German. As a rule, foreign publishers don't want any input on titles and covers. Frequently, this is true for the original publisher also.
Hi Julie,

In general, I'm tired of the general abstract covers -- graveyards, tombstones, etc. I think a lot of readers are too. The original cover art that's done for Hard Case Crime books, for example, I'm sure it did a lot to boost the appeal of the books -- and convey the philosophy behind the books. I mean, you just don't see that kind of artwork that often. The publisher who handled Linda L. Richards' book, DEATH WAS THE OTHER WOMAN, and the one who does Megan Abbott's books -- they're showing originality, also.

Sometimes, it seems that the bigger an author gets, the less effort they put into making a distinctive cover. The author's name just gets larger (literally in terms of the font size on the cover), and the artwork degenerates into some pastiche of vague cliches (dark shadows behind trees, tumbled down farmhouses, etc.). I guess the publisher figures that the author's name is enough to draw readers.

I did my own cover work for DARKNESS AND THE DEVIL BEHIND ME. I'm not a trained artist but wanted something different, something that evoked the period of the 1920s. Here's the image: If I could've done something "lurid" like the Hard Case Crime novels, believe me, I would've done it. I love that stuff!

Thanks to all of you for your insights and ideas. And thanks for the idea of uploading an image - I never thought of doing this! Above (I hope) is the cover illustration I've been discussing. I have more feedback on your comments, but first I'm going to see if this works! Happy New Year to everyone on Crimespace who happens to read this.
I just received 4 prototypes for my forthcoming novel "Bleeder." It concerns a stigmatic priest who bleeds to death (hence the logline, "A miracle? Or bloody murder?") . I've had two novels published before and I had little-to-no input about the cover art - or the title, for that matter. I didn't see the cover to my second book until I was in a radio station for an interview and the host walked in with a copy. I didn't like it a bit; it looked like the cover for a romance, and it was a medieval crime novel. But with this small house, I've been asked for my reactions. I've posted the covers at my web site (www.johndesjarlais.com) and invited friends and my students to offer their views.

Covers are a marketing tool, and so publishers might want to play it safe and not risk offending anyone. It's like music on the radio - they don't program really good music or really bad music but mediocre music that keeps listeners tuned in for the next ad. At least Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine has been running those good ol' pulp covers. Anyway, I'm rather pleased with the options for my new book's cover and I'm glad they kept the first title I suggested.
Hi John,
Thanks for opening this thread again. I just checked out your website and the cover prototypes. I much prefer the one at the upper right, with the intertwined fingers. The contrast is good, the fingers contain a lot of tension, and the murky face behind the fingers is intriguing. Some of the others look too serene and lack drama.

This month I swear I'll get back to my cover revision for Eldercide, soon to be reissued as Evening Falls Early.
I also like the one with the intertwined fingers (the one on the upper right). It's dramatic and elegant. Professional and very sharp. If I saw it in passing, I'd stop and pick it up.


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