Showing posts with label book covers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book covers. Show all posts

03 September 2013

Sing Me a Siren Song

Dale Andrews' very enjoyable piece on the Hardy Boys from last Tuesday evoked a lot of memories for me.  My first completed story, written in the sixth grade, was an thinly disguised Hardy Boys mystery complete with illustrations.   I still have the one and only copy, and it's conclusive proof that my taste for run-on sentences is a congenital condition.

Motif the First
Motif the Second
Even more evocative than the book excerpts Dale included were the book covers he reproduced.  The Hardy Boys editions published in the 1950s and early 1960s had wonderful covers, siren songs done with a brush.  Those covers were always snapshots of some suspenseful moment, often night scenes.  Two recurring motifs were "Hardy Boys Observing Something From a Place of Concealment " and "Hardy Boys Engaged in Foolhardy Enterprise While Someone Sneaks Up Behind Them."   Examples of both types are reproduced here.

A favorite subject of discussion among mystery book authors is book covers.  I could just as easily have typed "subject of complaint."  Bestsellers can complain about the way their books are translated onto film.  The rest of us have to be content with complaining about how our characters are depicted on book jackets.  That's not to say that every author dislikes his or her covers, but it's a lucky writer who's never been let down once by a cover designer.

When my Owen Keane series started, St. Martin's commissioned covers that were dark, moody, and, I thought at the time, rather artsy.  Keane is a failed seminarian whose investigations often involve metaphysics, so I couldn't exactly blame them.  I liked the covers, but I still felt a nameless void.  I didn't diagnose it until Worldwide began bringing the books out as paperbacks.  Then I realized what I'd been longing for:  Hardy Boys book covers.  With the Worldwide editions, I got them.

Compare the two covers for Live To Regret.  They're very similar in subject and composition, but the cover on the right is recognizably from the Hardy Boys school.  The second figure, the follower, is represented only by a shadow.   The implication is that the first figure (a very small one at the top of the boardwalk) has someone sneaking up behind him, as in Hardy Boys Motif #2 described above. 

The sinister shadow would appear often on my subsequent Worldwide covers.  It's an authentic variation on Hardy Boys Motif #2, as the cover on the right demonstrates. 

Hardy Boys Motif #1 (see example on the left) was also represented in my Worldwide editions, by the cover for The Ordained.  That's Keane concealed behind the tree.  It could easily be the cover for The Twisted Claw or The Hooded Hawk.

I had one more brush (no pun intended) with a Hardy Boys cover, and that was when Hayakawa brought out a Japanese edition of The Lost Keats.  Its cover shows Keane leaning against his faithful Karmann-Ghia, which looks showroom new despite being described in the book as being equal parts rusted steel and body putty.  Keane doesn't look like his description, either, but when I saw him, I smiled.  He looks like a close relation of Joe Hardy after Joe had gotten his late '60s makeover.  Come to think of it, Keane is a relation.  Maybe a first cousin, once removed.  

Owen Keane returns to a book jacket this fall.  It will be wrapped round his first book-length adventure to be published in fourteen years.  I'll have more to say about that adventure, Eastward In Eden (and its cover), in a later post.  For now, thanks again, Dale, for the Memory Lane trip.  And, Frank and Joe, look out behind you!

01 September 2013

Criminal Book Covers

by Leigh Lundin

I have a nice kitchen stove with digital temperature, slow pre-heat, glass top, USB and firewire ports, automatic transmission, and other features I'm sure. I also own pots and pans and a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil. Just because I have them, doesn’t mean I should attempt to use them.

When it comes to vanity publishing, I’m of the opinion just because some have the weapons to write a book, doesn’t mean they should. Indeed, 98% should refrain.

A blog called Lousy Book Covers applies my opinion to book covers using the motto “Just because you CAN design your own book cover doesn't mean you SHOULD.” It made me realize if one can’t or won’t use an artist, they sure as hell won’t pay an editor.

My friend Deborah used to point out the Ellora’s Cave covers that looked like sixth-graders had discovered Smith Micro art programs, software putting the S&M in Poser, creating oddly stiff mannequin figures committing unnatural acts in unnatural positions.

Later in a LinkedIn discussion on self-pubbing with the attendant interpersonal drama, one ‘historical’ writer became a hysterical writer, attacking a friend and colleague, calling her a slut for writing sex scenes while insisting his were tasteful. He was bent on pushing his Civil War ‘true-life’ story which cover featured an ultra-busty plastic Poser babe dressed in six-guns and a plunging leather vest. He claimed the cover had cost him a thousand or so, but it still looked like it was cobbled by a hormonal driven teen in a hurry.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that thin-skinned 'indy' writers are equally thin-skinned about their pride-n-joy covers. But, as one observer said, “If you can't take the heat, stay out of the Photoshop.” And oh, Lord… vanity press book covers have become internet cannon fodder with sites like the Caustic Cover Critic, Judge a Book, Bad BookCovers, More Bad Book Covers, Awful Library Books, WTF Bad RomanceCovers, Something Awful, of course Lousy Book Covers and more!

If you can stand the crimes, here are a few mostly ‘indy’ self-published books and their covers flogged on an unsuspecting internet audience.

Being a crime writer, my first thought was severed heads in a field… but why are they smiling so strangely?
Burning… Hey! Not literally, it's a figure of speech. Like a hunk'a hunk'a burning love.
Critics agree… Athink thith ith one of the ghastliest coverth ever!
I suppose this is supposed to be an administration-hating, art-hating, literacy-hating book. With all the out-sourcing, shouldn't they depict an Indian elephant for true symbolism?
Now we know where the extra heads in the first book came from. Usually the number one rule in graphic design is leave the heads on people.
Seriously? This is for sale?
I think this is about head, but I'm not sure it's in a good way. Could this be why those in the first book are grinning?
This is a literary oxymoron, with an emphasis on the last two syllables. What? Half of you don't mind?
Really, doesn't Michigan have enough problems? And don't blame it on the Upper Peninsula. Or Detroit.
What? Starting with the title… no, belay that, I'd rather not. Insane eyes? The phallic arrow? 'Double Penetrator' action? What could be so wrong?
Granted, this isn't a new book or indy, but it speaks volumes about cover design.
Uh, I know this isn't politically correct, but aren't all younger sisters sort of …? Well, you know what I mean.
Whew! Poser and Photoshop and talent. And what a concept for Stuart Little.
A truly abominable snowman. There's nothing to fear except clip art in the hands of a noobee Poser/Photoshop user.
At last! Combine Poser models for that perfect androgynous look!
What is it with Nazi romance novels?
One of the worst covers ever. Even on Earth, I never liked Charlie's Angels.
Some people shouldn't be allowed crayons.
I don't so much object to this cover on aesthetic grounds, but grammar. "Beneath your Beautiful what?" The mind stalls, just like the phrase.
This scares the hell out of me.
   I can't add a thing.