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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You know, I think someone with enough time and resources could probably see trends in cover design, especially for crime fiction. The early pulp novels I've seen were lurid, but very mild PG, with lots of sinister figures, femmes fatale and the occasional "good girl" but little overt violence and/or sex, but then they got more and more graphic from the late 60s through the 80s, with skulls, blood, and increasingly scantily clad vixens, and then everything kind of shifted to more abstract/expressionist cover art.

Could it be sensitivity? Political correctness? Or just popular tastes? I don't really know. I'm sure someone out there is knows more about this than me.
I've become bored with the eternal use of cropped black and white photos from the masterfile of dreary street scenes. There is no art involved and the person who selected the picture hardly deserves to be listed for cover "art." More embarrassingly, different publishers frequently use the same picture by accident, so that two books come out with the same cover during the same year -- which suggests that the list of options is pretty narrow. Couldn't they at least pay a photographer to go out and take an original photo? My own preference would be to use reproductions of appropriate paintings, prints, or water colors from museum collections and historical sources.
I had this happen to me: It involved two different publishers, though. Since my mystery was set in the 1920s and was meant to highlight the work of the Harlem Renaissance, I wanted cover art that reflected that. I suggested the painting "Blues" by Archibald J. Motley, painted c. 1929, and the publisher agreed. A couple of years later, Diane McKinney Whetstone came out with a book set in contemporary times and had the same artwork on her cover. What made it even more hilarious is that she and I ended up doing a joint signing! She and I laughed over it and the readers didn't mind.

It really does depend on your audience. Here are two examples of covers for my debut novel Switch. One was designed for the UK market and the other was designed for the German market. Two very different takes on the same book.

Your publisher did an excellent job in understanding the different markets. I lived in Munich for 15 years and I can say with confidence that while the artwork for the German cover is excellent and more in-tune with what German readers expect to see on their covers.

Don't misunderstand. I love both covers. I'm just so impressed by the willingness of your publisher(s) to go that extra step and make a special cover for each market.

I also like the fact that the British cover is specific and does show an individual on it. There's a lot of atmosphere there.
Umm, surely two different publishers are involved: the American one and the German one.
Yes, two different publishers. Bantam in the UK and Heyne in Germany. I'm also looking forward to what the Canadian edition (from a different publishing house) will look like.
Yup, you're right. Heyne is an excellent publisher. Very big. And their covers are usually kickass. Congratulations on being with them!
Thanks, Persia. I must say that Heyne has been terrific. I just received a copy of the ARC they produced and they went full out with embossing and varnishing to make the blood pop. They also produced a gory little postcard for booksellers that has more dripping blood and the phrase: "Are you ready to kill for your family?" I can't wait until it's released.

Das ist so Geil!
Right. UK. Sorry, I should have checked your original place of publication. The thing that gets me is that all the English-speaking countries insist on their own publishers with separate contracts, rather than trading all books in the English language interchangeably. Surely the current system is more expensive.

And (grumble) the UK is tighter than a tick when it comes to publishing American authors.
It is a crazy/frustrating game isn't it?
My book is set in the U.S., and I'm still waiting for that U.S. deal. (It's coming though, I can feel it.)
I was born in Scotland, live in Canada, set my book in the U.S., and had it debut this month in Australia. It's next launch is the UK in July, Germany in August, and Canada in July, 2010.


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