Clothes make the (wo)man

We are instructed not to judge a book by its cover, and yet we do all the time.  I once had a publisher tell me he initially rejected one of my books because he disliked the US cover, although later he adored the story.  And if a publisher falls for what a cover has to say, what hope do the rest of us have?

This is particularly of concern now that many writers are deciding to avoid the whole publishing formalities and put their books directly for sale as ebooks.  How to self publish without ending up with something that looks self-published? (and reads like one—although that’s a whole different question.)

I’ve been thinking about covers recently simply because I’ve had a bunch of them thrown at me.  Cover art has come through for an October collection of crime/SciFi stories I have a piece in (“Hellbender”) titled Down These Strange Streets:

Also for the December anthology Les Klinger and I are editing, A Study in Sherlock:

(And with every story in now but one, I can say in all honesty that it’s going to be absolutely fabulous.  Really, seriously, fantastic.)  The publisher’s original version had, as you might expect, a calabash pipe.  However, when Les mildly suggested that while the pipe was popular in stage and film adaptations, it was not purely Canonical, they went back and fiddled with various shapes of pipe, flipping them around.  They also tried single-colored lettering and other possibilities, but found that the balance went out the door with each change.  So this appears to be the cover—remember it for your Christmas list.

Then came the various options for September’s Pirate King.  The novel is about, as I’ve mentioned before, a film crew that is making a film, about a film, about The Pirates of Penzance. In case you’re wondering, no, this is not a solemn novel.  Silliness may occasionally creep in.  So I was pleased when the Random House art department picked up on that, and gave me humor.  We went back and forth on the final version—the problem being that my name and the book’s name have an unfortunate resemblance.  Short sighted of me, not to have changed my name long ago.  Rather than have the eye stumble across that King/King, they put my name in white:

Probably better than having me begin writing under a different name…

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  1. Tori on March 16, 2011 at 6:22 am

    Love it! The white text works perfectly.

  2. KarenB on March 16, 2011 at 6:32 am

    Very nice! It picks up that atmospheric look of the previous covers with the black outlines of a setting, while lightening it with the color choice and the pirate on the bowsprit(?) I think that’s what that thing is! And having your name in white does avoid the visual repetition. My psychologist mind is wondering why a repeated word in a different color negates the impact of the repetition. Hmmmm.

  3. Strawberry Curls on March 16, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Love all the covers, but have to say “The Study in Sherlock” is my standout favorite…love the pipes,and the use of the magnifying glass. The overall color is very pleasing and hints of times gone by, and “Sherlock” pops with the alternating colors.

    PIRA looks wonderful also, the silhouette of the towers whispers of foreign lands, and the pirate and movie camera promises something different from this tale. I can hardly wait!


  4. Mary on March 16, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Brings Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean” to mind…I am a big fan of his and a huge fan of yours, so it works perfectly!

  5. Margaret Wood on March 16, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    The Pirate King cover is fabulous!!!

  6. Sallie Hamilton on March 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    The cover might really make a difference in whether or not a book is chosen. However, when the author is already beloved (as are you!) then the cover has no power at all. The book is then happily and gladly snatched up and clutched close until either checked out of the library or purchased.
    What attracts me when I am looking at shelves of books is (when it is not an author I know):the title first and then the gender of the author.

  7. zumrut25 on March 16, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    The “Down These Strange Streets” cover makes me think you’ve gone down the track of another author and branched out into teen fiction. The red and black of the Sherlock one plays with my eyes and feels cold, but I would pre-buy YOUR novels even if they were covered with brown paper. The PIRA cover is very appealing and makes me hope it will go straight to film with David Boreanaz as a shirtless pirate! Can’t wait for the book.

  8. Lenore on March 16, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    “Probably better than having me begin writing under a different name…” (Not that you’d ever do anything like that, Leigh Richards! 😉 )

    “straight to film with David Boreanaz as a shirtless pirate!” Now, THAT’s a film concept!

  9. Aaron Paul Lazar on March 17, 2011 at 5:36 am

    Hi, Laurie.

    I’ve been going through a similar time with cover art. My pub and artist and I have been working up the art for my third mystery series (Tall Pines Mysteries) and we’ve been going over and over concepts and tweaking them here, shifting them there… I love the process, because we have a wonderful artist to work with, but it’s even more important than ever now that the little thumbnail you see on the Amazon screen shouts out “Buy me! I’m a fascinating read!”

    Of course, as Zumrut said above, I would buy your books wrapped in newspaper. By the way, I am crazy about the new strategy of covers on your Mary Russell series – love the honeycomb crossing over to each of them. Superb.

    Just my two cents worth – The anthology cover seems a bit Hollywoodish to me and possibly targeted at a young crowd? The Holmes cover is a bit, um, flat looking. I’d so much prefer a nice strong silhouette of Sherlock with a more artsy approach. But that’s me, so who cares? ;o)

    As for your Pirate cover – Yes! That’s a home run. The vibrant sunset colors – that gold and rose and peach – makes my heart sing. And the silhouette of the pirate and landscape below is lovely.

    Thanks for sharing these with us today!

  10. TheMadLibrarian on March 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I like the newest cover. It seems to tend more towards your non-Russell/Holmes covers, like Folly, A Darker Place, and Keeping Watch; more atmospheric and less representational. As much as I appreciate the honeycomb motif used to unify the Russell/Holmes stories, I’m not sure you can work it into this design without losing something.

  11. Sara on March 17, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    I’m a fan of the Picador edition covers myself….but I always love some stained-glass art.

    Excited for September! 😀

  12. Chris on March 19, 2011 at 7:05 am

    I think this is my favourite (US) Russell cover! The colours and illustrations really work well together. Will you be able to give a preview of the UK cover, too, when you have it?


  13. Megan on March 20, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Wonderful covers!

    Ms. King, have you seen the 1983 film version of the Pirates of Penzance, adapted from a summer production in New York? It stars Kevin Kline as the Pirate King (hilarious), and they borrow the matter song from Ruddigore. It’s brilliant.

    • Laurie King on March 20, 2011 at 4:54 pm

      Yes, the Kline role is great, and dear Linda Ronstadt is such a wide-eyed innocent Mabel…

  14. Kerry on March 21, 2011 at 7:57 am

    The PK cover is brilliant in more ways than one, and I can’t wait to see it live, in living color, in my bookstore 🙂 I like the Sherlock cover as well – to me, it’s a nice combination of straight-forward and whimsical, which seems somehow very appropriate for the material. As others have said, the anthology cover is very much in keeping with other urban fantasy covers directed at (slightly!) younger readers than myself — the only question I would have is whether or not that’s faithful advertising. But the bottom line is that I’ll look at the list of authors; that will be the deciding factor in whether or not I buy it 🙂

  15. Merrily Taylor on March 24, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    As someone said above, the cover is the most important when one is not familiar with the author – I’m the first to admit that I’ve been lured in many a time by a great cover (although if the first page doesn’t grab me, the cover alone won’t do it). However, they could publish your books in plain white wrappers with “Laurie R King” on the cover, and I’d buy them.
    Having said that, I think “The Pirate King” cover is very snappy and I like the exotic towers in the background.
    And the “Study in Sherlock” cover is both clever and well…perfectly Sherlockian.

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