Friday, December 12, 2008

Between the Covers

John Gilstrap

With the publication of No Mercy looming in just six months, I finally saw the cover art for the first time last week. If I knew how to insert pictures here, this would be the perfect place to do so, but alas, there lies the limit of my technical ability. So, please indulge me and visit my website via the link above. You don’t have to linger, but the new cover is proudly displayed there.

Sure, now’s fine. We’ll wait.

Thanks for that. Welcome back. Pretty cool, huh? I love the creepiness of it. When you consider that the primary purpose of a cover is to get a potential reader to pick it up off the shelf, I think it accomplishes its goal.

But I haven’t always been so lucky. In fact, early in my career, my covers ran the gamut from kinda weird to just plain boring. At All Costs, for example, featured a cityscape in the background, which I probably would have liked better if the book had taken place in a city. As it was, it was mostly set in remote, rural America. When I asked my editor at the time why they did the city thing, he told me it was because they couldn’t come up with anything better. Does that breed confidence, or what?

Nathan’s Run is a story about a 12-year-old boy on the run for murder, even as an assassin is on his heels to do him in. HarperCollins at the time saw fit to create a hardcover jacket that featured a sepia-colored image of a curve in the road. That’s it; just a road with stripes on it. It was certainly artistic, but I vastly preferred my British cover, which showed the image of a bad guy in whose sunglasses we could see the reflection of a boy running for his life.

The point where I am right now with No Mercy defines the stage of book-writing that I find most frustrating. From here forward, I am virtually powerless to affect the future of my labor of love. The manuscript is done, and with that final edit, I’ve handed the process over to the team of professionals who have to make all the other parts of the puzzle fit together. If the past is a predictor of the future, I’m in good hands; but it’s still hard to surrender control.

One of the great clich├ęs of all time is that you can’t judge a book by its cover, yet all of us do it every day. So, what do y’all think? We’ve talked gender bias and age bias. We’ve touched on genre bias. What about cover bias? I confess that I’m a practitioner. Are you?


  1. That is a great cover!

    I don't necessarily buy books if I like the cover, but a good cover will definitely make me pick up the book and read the jacket or the back cover.

  2. Nice cover, John. They did you proud. And yes, I am cover bias. I tend to shy away from books with kitty cats and puppy dogs on the cover. Not big on people with fangs. And if it says that it includes recipes, I move on to the one with an Apache helicopter or the U.S. Capital in the background.

  3. Yep, I've always been a sucker for the "big book" type of covers. I can't stand the overly artistic Edgar Sawtelle-types. Just not my thing. Give me a bold title and a lasting image (White background, black background, or maybe a blue/green) and I'm good.

    Start throwing in yellow, orange, or gray backgrounds, and sepia-toned anything, and I will usually move on. There are some exceptions, like JD Rhoades's BREAKING COVER, but for the most part I'm consistent.

    Some of my recent faves are THE DECEIVED (Battles), THE BODIES LEFT BEHIND (Deaver), DEVIL BONES (Reichs), TRIGGER CITY (Chercover), THE MARK (Pinter), BONEYARD (Gagnon), THE HARROWING - UK Cover (Sokoloff), and THE WATCHMAN (Crais).

    Which of course means that, should my novel about the present-day hunt for a contract killer posing as a religious nut ever get published, the cover will feature a sepia photo of a victorian woman lying dead on a sofa with a sword in her chest, on a cloudy grayish background, the title in illegible white brush script at the very bottom. And my name spelled wrong.

  4. Dude! Creepy is right. Whatever the place is pictured on the cover of that book, I don't want to visit there. Of course to find out what place it is, I'll have to read the book to make sure I don't stumble into that town on my next foray across the country. And Graves sounds like an interesting soul. In other words...the cover works.

  5. And thanks, Jake, I loved the Boneyard cover too. My recent favorites are the ones done for Chelsea Cain's and Tana French's books.

  6. Love your cover, John.

    I may be the king of bad covers. Pizza slices with action happening in them in bold colors for the Massey books. In fact my publisher's art department's only change in the Massey series came when they can out of primary colors and tried to get me to agree on apple green. The next cover was as bad, or worse, much worse. The new cover is the only one of seven that I like. The UK cover of my first book was my all time favorite until this coming one.

    We all get the letters accompanying the artwork that reads: "We know you will love this cover as much as WE do."

  7. I do really like that cover. I especially like the way I absorbed the nature's image first, then refocused and "saw" the eye. Nice effect!