Additional Reasons to Visit New York

I reached New York (read: Manhattan) for the first time on the Monday night of the Memorial Day Weekend, 1993. The next morning I set off in a taxi (admission: in fifteen or more visits over the intervening years, I’ve never yet been on the subway) to the Flatiron Building and St Martin’s Press, to meet the editor I’d been working with and talking to over the phone for the past eighteen months.

Ruth Cavin, then in her mid seventies, had plucked A Grave Talent out of the stack of the great unpublished and given it a home. It came out in January, 1993, and sold well enough to go into three or four printings by the time I showed up in New York, but it was still four months away from receiving its Edgar nomination, and eight months from its win: In other words, one more first novel among hundreds of others.

Ruth and her assistant Elizabeth (now long gone out of publishing, sensible woman) welcomed me, showed me around the offices, introduced me to various Terribly Important People whom I promptly forgot, and then Elizabeth proudly handed me a color Xerox print of the proposed cover for the next book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

“Oh,” I said.

“Isn’t it great? We just love it. I was so glad it came in before you got here so you could see it. Here, you can have this copy, take it with you.”

I will pause for a moment while you examine this. Closely.


I went back to my hotel room, set the page up on the table, stood back—and started to cry.

Oh my God, what could I do, I was a nothing author and they were My Publishing House and the cover was awful, just terrible, ugly and creepy and jumbled and…

Oh dear. And I am not good at confrontation, never have been. But in the morning I summoned all my New Yorkish In-Your-Faceness and made a phone call to Ruth, and after agreeing that it had been great to meet her and that yes, we must do it again soon, I cleared my throat and screwed up my face and, making a tremendous effort to keep my voice steady, said, “Um, about the cover?”

“Yes, it’s striking, isn’t it?”

“Well, I suppose. But really, I don’t think it…says what you want to say about the book.”

“Hmm. Do you think so?”

“Oh yes, I really do. It really doesn’t. It doesn’t capture any of the—”



“You may be right. I’ll send it back to the Art department and see what they can do.”

“Oh. Well. Thank you.”

 Then I stretched out for a while on the floor and breathed quietly.

 Note–the much-improved final version of the cover, as it appeared on the original St. Martin’s edition:


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  1. Roxanne on May 9, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    “And I am not good at confrontation, never have been.”

    Nor am I. Never have been. I have come to accept that, at this stage of the game, I probably never will be. I laughed to myself upon reading your previous blog entry. I was thinking how, although I enjoy NYC to visit, I would never be able to survive there. As my DD says, I’m just too nice.

    But I am very glad that you were able to confront your publisher about the book cover. How in the world, as a new author, did you gather up the courage to voice your dissatisfaction?

    Is it me or, on the original BEEK cover, is …? What …? Oh, never mind. I am just very glad that this cover, for a variety of reasons, was never used!

    Oooh. New bright caveat. Well, my comment will be awaiting your approval. 🙂

  2. nkk1969 on May 9, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    Eeeeeeew! The Holmes on the original cover looks like he’s leering at the woman’s (Russ’?) shadow, waiting to make his move…or worse. And that flocked wallpaper reminds me of a cheap hotel room. Cheap hotel room and a perv-ish Holmes? Yeah, I must have a dirty mind. 😉


  3. nkk1969 on May 9, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Okay, the first look at the original cover was through the eyes of a Holmes/Russell fan. Here are the impressions gleaned for the mind of a woman with a degree in printing production and graphic design:

    This is wrong on so many levels. This would get any freshman design student a failing grade for sure. It is too busy–there is no strong focal point and what focus there is draws the eye to the left of the page and away from important information. Good design should be balanced, have some semblance of symmetry, good use of contrast, and an easily read typeface. Even if we discard the fact that they reversed the type in the main title and reversed the last letter in apprentice as well so that it looks like they forgot the last ‘e’ (almost no contrast from the background to the light lettering), they still chose a horrible typeface for the author’s name. A new author needs to get their name noticed. The flourishes on the capital letters make it difficult to read the name. Ditto with the alternate title. You have to turn the book sideways and squint to make out the words.


  4. nkk1969 on May 9, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    P.S. I just noticed they used the same typeface for your name on the real cover. I can’t believe that!

  5. azureavian on May 9, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    ok, the reason i don’t like the original cover (since everyone else is) is that it puts too little evidence on Russell. isn’t the book really about *her* and *her* relationship with Holmes? that cover makes it look like just another Sherlock Holmes book (assuming there is such a thing, which i don’t). altho–the leering opinion? yeah. eww.

  6. noBel on May 9, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    Well, that’s just … awful. It’s cheap dime novelish muck at it’s worst, though I may be insulting cheap dime novels. And muck.

    Thank goodness you found your voice. I believe the book could have risen above the muck on it’s own merits, but luckily that theory was never put to the test.

    *scowls back at Holmes*

  7. Bachi on May 10, 2008 at 12:32 am

    It’s too bad their orig. choice was so bad. The idea to include some indication of SH was probably meant well and if done well, could have stimulated interest, but IMHO the apprentice should have been showcased & not in shadow (is that who is in the honeycomb on the selected cover?- image seemes a little old to me) with maybe a pipe & violin & possible deerstalker (I know- that’s not accurate – but you must admit it is quite effective for implying SH).

  8. Sara on May 10, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    My first copy in 1996 was a red and black paperback copy, with two silhouettes on the cover, of Russell and of Holmes. But of all the covers I’ve seen, I think the new Picador edition is my favorite. It is stunning, all stained glass and symbolism.

    As an art major, when perusing the books in the store, covers get my attention. There are categories of books that have a certain style, be it good or bad, but it indicates what you are about to delve into, and spend your hard-earned dollars on. Covers are a tricky thing.

    I would guess (deduce? :)) that the original cover was not created by an art department who had read the book well enough.

  9. Strawberry Curls on May 10, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    I agree with everything that has been said about the original cover and must add they have Holmes not only in a deerstalker (I hate that) but it appears he is in his mouse colored dressing gown as well. OK, in what scenario would he have his country hat and his dressing gown on at the same time. Is it because he is having a pipe? I wish people would take the time to really know something about Sherlock Holmes before they just go for all the stereotypes perpetuated by the movies.

    I also agree, wholeheartedly, that the entire cover gives me the creeps and looks like some lurid cheap novel. Great call to find the spine to stop this travesty. I’m not sure I would have bought the book with that cover and look what I would have missed.

  10. tangential1 on May 11, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    To be fair to the poor art department people, I don’t think any book I own from the 90s has very attractive cover work. Book cover graphic design must not have come into it’s own until the current decade; Photoshop being God’s gift to graphic design;)

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