Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Mystery of Covers

This is going to be a short blog.
Michael and I have been working frantically at my house in Knysna on the final tweaks to our third book.  Our UK editor, Sherise Hobbs from Headline, sent us her edits of our manuscript about a month ago, wanting the revised work back this coming weekend.  As usual, her suggestions were very helpful, and the changes have improved the book a lot.  But as you can guess, small changes have tentacles that slither throughout the whole book.  Everything is interconnected.  So every change has ramifications that have to be checked.  And rechecked.
As we sit across the dining room table, reading and re-reading the chapters, we occasionally stop and speculate what the cover of the book is going to look like.  As you know, covers do make a difference (so they say), so our interest is not just idle.
Which brings me to the focus of today’s blog – the mystery of covers.
HarperCollins hardcover
Our first Detective Kubu book, A Carrion Death, was published by HarperCollins in 2008.  They were excited by the cover they had created.  It was a photo montage of African themes - baobabs, desert, a Land Rover, and, true to the content of the opening scene, a hyena.  HarperCollins told us they loved the cover.  And what did we think, they asked?  We really liked it, but made a few suggestions, which failed to make the final version.

Headline hardcover
At about the same time, A Carrion Death was also published by Headline in the UK.  They decided to give the cover a more stylized, African look.  Everyone was very excited by how strong the cover was, how it would stand out on the bookshelves.  And what did we think, they asked?  We liked it, we said.  And we did.

HarperCollins paperback

Obviously, HarperCollins was disappointed by sales of the hardcover of A Carrion Death and decided they needed a cover with more vavoom.  So they dropped the photo montage and adopted the stylized Headline cover for the paperback.  It would stand out on the bookshelves, they said.
When HarperCollins was ready to publish the second Detective Kubu book (The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu), they decided to stick with the stylized look and produced another strong cover that would stand out on the shelves.  They liked it.  We liked it.

Headline, however, decided that the style of their original cover didn’t work for their market and decided to drop the stylized approach for the second book and use a photo-based one instead.  They also changed the name to A Deadly Trade.  So the switch was complete.  HarperCollins had gone from photo-based to stylized; Headline had gone from stylized to photo-based.

Italian cover for A Carrion Death
We were pleased when Sonzongo, our Italian publisher, asked us what we thought of their dramatic cover.  We like it, we said.  It’s very dramatic, but would it be possible to change the cat’s eyes for hyena eyes, since there are no cats in the book, and a hyena appears in the first sentence?  Our suggestion never made it into the final cover.  It’s probably a good thing we didn’t tell them that the beautiful row of trees at the top of the cover are Madagascar baobabs, not African baobabs!  The cover for the second book, which was published without us knowing (!) has a haunting cover, which we like.

Italian cover for A Second Death

A Carrion Death
Eichborn, our German publisher, produced a dramatic cover for their edition of A Carrion Death.  They liked it.  We liked it.  But is the creature on the cover a hyena?  They have also just sent us the cover to our second book –we like it a lot, and the symbolism is compelling.
The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu

If all of this is confusing to you, join the club.  It is clear that Michael and I know little about what makes a cover appealing.  But do the publishers know any more?  We have no idea which of the covers, if any, stimulate someone to buy the book.  And we often wonder whether covers make any difference at all?
What do you think?  Do covers influence your buying decisions?  Do covers attract you to a book?  Are there covers that really attract you?  Put you off?  We’d love to hear.
Stan - Thursday


  1. Funny you should ask.

    Book covers have never been as important as book titles. Blurbs don't mean anything. But what is written on the flyleaf is important. That can be a make it or break it thing.

    Now, in putting the blog together every day, book covers are very important because I need color to off set my run-on sentences. Google has everything and, very often, the covers of the European editions are more interesting and clever.


  2. For me covers don't matter much. I do read the inside cover blurbs though, and those matter to me.

    I choose books based on favorable reviews and friends' recommendations, and those on book websites/blogs which I like.

    I like the original titles and artwork of your covers. They do resonate with me. They feel authentic and creative, not Photo-shopped and digitally created.