What do I want in a book cover?

First of all, I want it to evoke the book without giving away the plot.

(Garment of Shadows: young woman in Western clothes gazes at a vaguely North African landscape: check.)

Then, it needs to catch the eyes from across a crowded bookstore—or as a 2” version on a screen.

(Rich glow of color; a bit of sharp contrast; legible font: check.)

It must reward a closer look (or click) by revealing some intriguing subtleties.

(Moroccan buildings; arabesque frame around the edges; pair of figures at the top—one of whom can only be Sherlock Holmes.  Definitely a check.)

Those revealed subtleties must add up to a sense of the unexpected: a slight jolt of surprise is what makes the reader’s hand reach out and pick out the book from a display.

(Demure clothing at odds with the setting; crisp dark colors against hazy warmth; the figure’s stance suggesting that she feels out of place.  Check.) 

The cover can’t be green.  The people who work in the sales department are clear on this: Green Covers Don’t Sell

 (Okay, orange is comfortably across the color wheel from green, so yes, a check here.)  (And yes, this is a joke.)

Although if it is green, it has to be really, really green.

A touch of humor is great, whether the dust jacket encloses a comic or a solemn book, since people read for pleasure—even if it’s only the masochistic pleasure of a grim political tome.

(There’s something decidedly humorous about that paired silhouette at the top, showing Holmes and a woman facing off through a magnifying glass: her upraised chin shows that she is undaunted by his deerstalker.  I may never have heard of Mary Russell, but that silhouette tells me there’s a quirky element here.)

Basically, I want my book’s cover to reach out and convince a mind-boggling variety of would-be readers that they will love this novel, that they will consider their hard-earned dollars well spent, if only they will open the cover and read the cover blurb…

Where they discover that the story is about a young English woman who is married to Sherlock Holmes, and how she finds herself standing in a Moroccan city, bewildered but undaunted.

A simple task, really.

Garment of Shadows: check.


  1. Chris on July 28, 2012 at 6:09 am

    I’ve probably said this before, but I do love this cover – it is the best I have seen on a US Russell! Still awaiting, with baited breath, the UK cover – Allison & Busby have really brought the whole series to life with their striking designs…!


  2. Kate on July 28, 2012 at 6:14 am

    Just two words: Can’t Wait

  3. The Bold Flying Officer on July 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    A well-argued case, with which I approve – tiz a visually attractive composition. Sadly the same cannot be said for the cover of your UK issue of ‘God of the Hive’ – can’t comment on the US cover. As you might imagine from my monniker, I’m very much into aviation and the cover in question showed the silhouette of a Handley Page HP.42 Heracles-class airliner, which entered service in 1931 – and not the light aircraft featured in the adventure.
    However, not yet appreciating this illustrative hiccup, I was prompted to pick up the book in our library and so discovered the second age of Sherlock Holmes and his wife. Granted, I was a little disappointed that the HP.42 did not participate in the plot but, that apart, it did bring me to the adventures of Miss Russell and the second age of Sherlock Holmes.
    So, well done you – I trust “the leetle grey cells” continue to generate further adventures.

    Mike – TBFO

  4. Cleo on August 11, 2012 at 9:45 am

    How much say does an author have in the design of a book cover? I had assumed that it was all up to the publisher’s marketing department…

    As for my opinion, I like the current cover very much, but would also like to see some reference to Holes in the cover, perhaps in the background… perhaps his pipe in the background?

  5. Laurie King on August 11, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    The author has little input, although if there’s something I really dislike they’ll change it. And the silhouette up at the top has a touch of Holmes, although it’s hard to see in the small version.

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