(Apologies for double posting. Thanks to Pepper Smith's help I got the image up, but then the text refused to appear on the same page.)

The subject of cover design has become a fascinating topic for me, possibly because I have some background in art and used to paint. But in this case, the issue is more specifically the appearance of books people will want to buy.

I’ve not been entirely happy with my American covers, and hated some of the foreign ones. My problem is a little different from those of other mystery writers. I write historical mysteries set in a specific exotic culture. Presumably, readers buy my books because they are interested in the setting. They are often quite knowledgeable about history and culture and have some fairly predictable taste preferences. All of this affects their reaction to book covers.

Meanwhile authors have no input in cover design. They take what the publisher gives them, even if it’s entirely the wrong design. The only way I can make my displeasure known is by not putting a bad cover on my web site. I have exercised this option only once (the cover was the subject of another blog). On my site are many covers that are quite wrong for the time or the content. For example, woodblock prints from the nineteenth century that depict prostitutes and actors in their theatrical roles are highly inappropriate to the Heian age or to Akitada’s position or his formality.

Take note: cover artists don’t read the books or do any research into the period. They don’t even access the author’s web site for information.

I’ve had one editor who sent me an angry e-mail when I made suggestions to the artist (who did not read English well enough to read the books) for an upcoming cover design. She pointed out sharply that the publisher pays for the cover, not the author !, and that I was to stay out of it.

The fact is that the author does “pay” for poor covers, if people don’t buy the books. A recent comment on a blog has alerted me to the fact that a reader rejected my books because the Penguin cover looked “cartoonish” to her, and she didn’t think she would like the book. It’s true, the artist – who is really very talented – comes from the manga tradition, and that does give the wrong flavor to my books.

So, given these experiences, I have started taking a hand in this cover design business. I’m totally new to this, and haven’t had much time to learn, but I enjoy this kind of work. I know what I like for my books and have a better knowledge of the history and of Japanese designs than artists who are assigned haphazardly by publishers.

The cover above is my choice for the next book. Whether it will be used by the publisher is another question.

I should add that self-publishing requires an author either to pay for such work or to learn how to do it himself. I have also started doing covers for a historical trilogy that I hope to put on Kindle this year.

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Comment by I. J. Parker on March 13, 2010 at 4:01am
Thanks, B.R. You're right about the name needing to be bigger. The rest I like pretty well. The issue of the name brings up another grudge I have toward my Penguin covers: my name is tiny and nearly illegible in some cases.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on March 13, 2010 at 1:39am
Good looking cover. But just two suggestions: 1. Make your name much larger and in a different color that would compliment the overall design. Get more potential readers to recognize your name.

2. Expand the artwork to cover most of the page. I agree with you, in my opinion it's the artwork that first grabs someone's attention.

There are only suggestions only, I.j. Do as you please.

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