ELDERCIDE, my second mystery novel, has been out since the summer. The response has been gratifying from those who've bought and read it, but the title and cover art have definitely scared some people away. When I showed it to my family doctor, he studied the cover and pronounced it "ghastly." And one independent bookseller of advanced years declined to stock it because she hates the word "elder." Other authors have also advised me that the word "elder" may be a turnoff. So I've decided to retitle the book EVENING FALLS EARLY.

I'm going to create a different cover too - not difficult since I'm the illustrator as well as the author. I love the illustration, which reminds many people of Munch, but it's a little too lurid for some. It depicts the killer holding a hypodermic needle above the bed of an elderly woman while her Jack Russell terrier barks in terror nearby. But the needle can be misread as a knife, and it suggests a level of violence above and beyond what's actually in the book. My husband thought the first version was too tame, and he posed for the villain - next time I'll follow my own muse exclusively.

In the past few months I've participated in several panels and signings with the Mavens of Mayhem, our upstate New York chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the experience was invaluable in terms of getting face-to-face feedback. (I actually sold more copies of my first novel, MOOD SWING: THE BIPOLAR MURDERS, than of ELDERCIDE. Evidently the topic of mental illness strikes people as a "fun read" compared with the subject of aging and death.) With my print-on-demand publisher, it won't be hard to make the changes - the novel itself will stand as written. And yes, it still involves eldercide.

What do others think about cover art - how scary should it get? I'd love to hear from you.

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Comment by Julie Lomoe on January 1, 2009 at 4:33am
Hi Brian,

I think you're right - thanks for the feedback. As an artist, I got a bit carried away with my own cover illustration and lost sight of whether it was really in tune with the mood of the book. My new version is going to keep the same overall composition, style and color scheme, but the woman and her dog will be sleeping peacefully and the killer will be watching off to the side, minus his over-sized hypodermic needle.
Comment by Brian Kavanagh on December 29, 2008 at 8:40pm
Like Dana, I think it depends on the genre. If you look at how films are marketed they provide a fairly good guide as to what to expect. The same could apply to books. Essentially the cover should give a clear idea of the mood of the book and hopefully, catch the reader's eye and interest. A friend of mine who is a retired bookseller, always maintained that books with a green cover never sold. I'm not game to test the theory!
Comment by Julie Lomoe on December 29, 2008 at 6:37am
Hi Dana,
Good comment, thank you. I love the phrase "old-fashioned pulp noir," and I had this style in mind when I did the cover, but you're right; it's not what I'm going for. My novel is suspense, not horror. The majority of readers who show up at the Mavens' talks and signings tend to be middle-aged women, and quite a few, including my fellow mystery writers, tell me they're turned off by too much violence. So yes, there was some cognitive dissonance at play with the title and cover as compared with the book's content. There's a killer who's offing elderly home care clients, but he's actually fairly gentle and considerate when he does away with them. In a way, he feels he's doing them and their families a favor.
Comment by Dana King on December 29, 2008 at 5:32am
It depends on how you're marketing the book. Is it horror? Then scarier is better. Is it suspense? Then setting a mood may be more important. A lurid cover may put the reader in mind of an old-fashioned pulp noir guns and broads and booze story, which may not be what you're looking for at all.

What's on the cover should depend on who you want to open the book. That's the taste you want to appeal to.

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