I must admit that I’ve been very lucky with my covers. Artist Bruce Timm did a cover for Hardboiled magazine based on my story, “The Bandit Wolves.” I think that was the first time I’d seen my work represented on a cover. I thought he did a magnificent job.
The cover of my first novel, A Killing Frost, has an interesting evolutionary story. The publisher was kind enough to ask for my suggestions. I talked it over with my writing partner, Julie Hyzy, and we came up with an idea for this nourish, blue-black image of a solitary figure running along the darkened street, but as the street extended it becomes the barrel of a gun. I thought it summed things up pretty well and would attract a lot of attention. I sent the idea to the publisher and they e-mailed me a workup of the cover based on my suggestions. It was a total disaster. The figure was silhouetted against a huge, full moon and seemed to be running through the air, or leaping over a tree top. Now I’ve always been a fan of Ray Bradbury, but this cover looked more suited to a sci-fi novel than a mystery.
I immediately e-mailed back expressing my concerns and asked them to change it. They did, and came up with a great cover featuring a sinister black liquid leaking out of an overturned oil drum and forming the shape of a skull and crossbones. It fit the theme of illegal toxic dumping perfectly.
I was ecstatic. I thought it was perfect. Ironically, when I made several subsequent appearances in various places to promote the book, the unused sci-fi cover kept popping up on poster advertisements. I’ve never been able to figure out how that unused cover made it to the Internet since it purportedly was discarded. But I have to admit, it’s kind of grown on my through the years, and I even have the image of it on a mouse pad.
Ideally, a cover should attract a potential reader’s attention and also project a symbolic representation of what the book is about. When I’m thinking about buying a book to read, the cover inevitably enters into it, unless I already know the author. I always enjoy reading the book and coming to the scene that’s pictured on the cover. Sometimes this doesn’t quite work out though. Take the novel, Deliverance, by James Dickey. It’s probably one of my all-time favorite books and is as dynamic and adventurous as they come. But the cover for the edition pictured above makes the story look like an outward bound experience on a nature trail instead of a trip into hell on earth.
Pictures sometimes work well on covers. Lt. Colonel Anthony Herbert, one of the most decorated soldiers of his era, used a photograph of himself on the cover of his riveting autobiography, Solider. And Sebastian Barry’s cover for A Long, Long Way gives us a vivid glimpse of the horror that was in the trenches of World War I.
I was very happy with both versions of the covers for my novel, The Heist. It features two Marine Corps vets who return from Operation Desert Storm and run afoul of the Outfit trying to get rich quick. The book was just released as an e-book, with an audio and trade paperback version to follow.
I was equally happy with the cover of Dead Ringer, the novel I co-wrote with Julie Hyzy. It features my formidable PI, Ron Shade, teamed up with her intrepid reporter, Alex St. James. The publisher was very gracious about the design, and even allowed us some leeway in changing Alex’s hairdo.
You’ll note how John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee changed his hairstyle too, as the cover illustrations of the hero evolved. I always imagined McGee looking something like that, but I don’t know about the longer hair. All I remember about McGee saying about his hair was that he kept it short and toward the end of the series had less of it. I can relate to both of those. Hair today, gone tomorrow I guess.
I’m particularly proud of the two newest covers featuring my works. One is for the third Leal and Hart novel, Sacrificial Offerings. It’ll be released in September. The other is for The Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine, which features my short story, “Time Factor,” as a back-up piece to “Way of No Way” by the great Andrew Vachss. Artist Geof Darrow did the illustrations for Andrew’s story and Gary Gianni drew the ones for mine. Now is that a great cover, or what?
So like I said, it’s really a matter of pot luck with covers. Sometimes an author’s “great idea” works out great, and other times it doesn’t translate quite so well into a visual representation. So the best we can do is hope for the former rather than the latter. But the anticipation of waiting to see what your cover will look like is always something to relish. Imagining it is half the fun.