If you have been in a bookstore lately (and I confess, I have not…I seem to be hellbent on enriching Jeff Bezos, possibly even sending him off to space again), you will have noticed a relatively new trend in book covers. Some, especially cozy mysteries and romances, have been cartoonized (Yes, I know. Not a word.). Nearly every recently-released book has a colorful, almost child-like cover. Shelf after shelf look candified (also not a word).
My own Lady Adelaide mystery series is an example of such cuteness. After the first book (whose cover I love) came out, the publisher was purchased by another company. They did not like Book #1’s look, changed the fonts for Book #2 and threw Lady Adelaide into a roadster at night in sunglasses. I thought she looked dashing if a bit misguided, and didn’t mind much. I’m now humming “I wear my sunglasses at night…”
Then came Book #3. The first cover choice was pretty awful, with a smarmy, Fedora-ed, mustachioed man who bore no resemblance to my detective hero. My first thought: Snidely Whiplash has moved from 19th c. railroad tracks to a 20th c. nightclub. My editor and I both objected. We convinced the powers-that-be to get rid of the guy and let Addie drink tea alone instead of a bottle of hooch. That the tag to the teabag is dangling from her cup I tried to ignore. No proper Englishwoman—and she is every bit that—would permit such sacrilege. But if you look reeeally closely, there is a tiny skull and crossbones on the tag, which is a clever touch.
Book #4 is perfectly fine, even though there are autumn leaves everywhere and the story takes place in June. The characters appear to be wearing clothes with a 1930s silhouette instead of the 1920s, but perhaps some time travel was involved to get a glimpse into their future.
You can tell I’m a little picky, and probably most readers wouldn’t notice or care. Except…people who read historical-set books are usually very well-versed in what is appropriate for the relevant time period.
In my previous authorial life, I wrote romances. Some years back, I gasped in dismay when I saw the cover for Lord Gray’s List. It wasn’t because I’m prudish and don’t appreciate an anachronistic waxed and oiled chest. I’m only human. But here is Lord Benton Gray in 1820, posing half-naked in a button-down shirt that had not been designed yet, along with the Houses of Parliament.
Interestingly, the foundation stone for that building wasn’t laid until 1840, and the entire Palace of Westminster was finally completed around 1870. Lord Gray was a man ahead of his time, wasn’t he? I am just grateful that the art department didn’t throw the Gherkin and the London Eye into the skyline. And we won’t examine too closely where Big Ben has been placed relative to hero Ben. There is a certain lack of…subtlety.
For a while, there was a “headless” trend on covers, which suited me. I like backs-only too. I prefer to imagine the protagonists myself, and find it difficult when the faces on the front don’t match the vision in my mind. Blood spatters seem popular now—a grim sign of things to come, no doubt.
Do you pay attention to covers? What catches your eye? Does a “bad” cover ever turn you off from buying the book? I absolutely adore the look of the latest Lord Peter Wimsey editions. Very stylish!