Can You Tell a Book by Its Cover?

Kate Flora: As I am on the cusp of publication for my tenth Thea Kozak mystery, Death9781644570395 Comes Knocking, I’ve been reflecting on the challenge of author vs. publisher in the matter of what cover goes on my books. A quarter of a century ago, when my first Thea Kozak mystery, Chosen for Death, came out, I didn’t know what the cover would look like until the book arrived on my doorstep. I liked the cover but my publisher decided it looked too much like a true crime, and redesigned the cover for the paperback. The paperback cover was/is so awful, I’ve never been able to look at it.

Things got for better with the next few books, even though I often despaired because the covers didn’t do much to reflect the contents of the books. Death at the Wheel does reflect the fact that the book involves those weekend warriors trips to the race track, but the prominently featured woman doesn’t look much like Thea. When And Educated Death arrived, I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but the double image effect was popular in school pictures then, and the book takes place at a private school.

Scan 6

Then along came Death in Paradise. Definitely has a dark-haired woman on the cover, but the story takes place at a conference on single-sex education in Hawaii, and Thea’s challenge throughout the book is to get a moment to get outside in her bathing suit. At least it happens on the cover, right?

On the other hand, my stand-alone suspense novel, written as Katharine Clark, is an all-time favorite, capturing that moment when the boy riding home from school on his bike is snatched and disappears.

By the time my publisher was giving me some input, the book was Liberty or Death. Since the plot involves the day Thea and Andre are to get married, and he doesn’t appear, I wanted a wedding cake on the cover without the groom on top. What I got was a blurry photo of a man and a woman. I got luckier with a subsequent publisher for the paperback.

I also got lucky with the cover for my co-written true crime, Finding Amy. The publisher used an actual police photo of the night of the search for Amy’s body that I had photoshopped. It captures some of the drama of that night.

On the other hand, the original design for the cover of my first Joe Burgess police procedural, Playing God, was dreadful. I didn’t love what I got after pushback, but at least it showed the book was about police. Again, I got lucky with the cover of the second Burgess, The Angel of Knowlton Park. For that, the publisher was willing to use a photo my friend Joe Loughlin had taken. It may be my all-time favorite cover.


Another downer, and some pushback, on the original cover for the next Burgess, Redemption. In the end, the color schedule reflected Reggie the Can Man’s military service and suggested a man on the street, so I think it worked. And I am very happy that my publisher got a great cover designer for And Grant You Peace.

And God Grant

As I have ventured into indy publishing, I’ve been able to work more closely with my publishers to design covers that I think suit the stories. It doesn’t always work. I don’t love the cover for the paperback of Stalking Death or Death Warmed Over but I am very happy with the cover for my crime story collection, Careful What You Wish For, and it was fun to work with a designer to match the cover of my mother’s first mystery, The Maine Mulch Murder, with the cover of the unpublished book she left behind when she died, The Corpse in the Compost.

Sometimes book covers are just plain fun, so different that browsers just have to pick them up to see what they’re about. That is very true of the two anthologies from Three Rooms Press I have stories in, The Obama Inheritance and The Faking of the President.

Readers, I’m curious. What makes you pick up a book and look more closely?

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3 Responses to Can You Tell a Book by Its Cover?

  1. I think covers work better for the more casual reader. As a hardcore book lover, the author and the plot description hook me most often. However, family loyalty aside, I definitely read yours.

  2. kaitlynkathy says:

    It’s always a crap shoot, isn’t it? Even on the few where we hire the artist ourselves, finding the perfect image, and having it also be something that attracts new readers is . . . challenging!

  3. kaitcarson says:

    Always a challenge! These days most of my reading is on Kindle – book covers do not influence my purchases as much as in the past. I tend to buy more by author and word of mouth.

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