I don’t remember the first time I heard the admonition, Don’t judge a book by its cover. I have always felt I was open minded and tried not to be judgmental when evaluating an idea or meeting someone new. But when it comes to books, I think I do judge a book by its cover. And I’m not the only one.
I didn’t come to this conclusion until it was forced on me. There’s nothing like having someone point out the obvious for waking me up. And that’s what a friend did recently, when she pointed out that the covers for the Mellingham books don’t look like they’re part of a series. Really? Maybe that’s because someone who knows nothing about graphic arts designed some of them. Me.
I have had four publishers for the Mellingham series, four publishers with four different design groups designing covers in hard cover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, and large print. Coherence was not anyone’s goal, and it showed. Since I put the books up on Kindle and Nook, I had to produce covers for them, and these are the ones that have been hanging around for a couple of years. But no longer.
Thanks to a good friend and wonderful designer, the Mellingham series, two of which were published by Five Star, now have a set of covers that tell the reader/buyer that these books belong together, and in this order.
I have had to give up the belief that all readers are like me. If I want to read a book on a particular topic, or by a specific author, I don’t care what the cover looks like. But not everyone goes to the bookstore, or library, or on line, with a list of books to corral. But even I don’t do that all the time. I browse just like anyone else; I pull books off the shelves if I like the look of the cover.
A good cover tells the reader the kind of book to expect. No reader will find a buxom 1950s female form sprawled on the cover of a Mellingham book in the style of Mickey Spillane. Nor will a reader find what one editor called “the cookbook cover,” an array of little hints about clues, on one of my books. That isn’t me and that isn’t Mellingham. There is humor but it isn't the defining feature of the book. The stories move from light to dark and sometimes swing back and forth.
The new covers do exactly what a cover should do. The covers tell the reader that this is a traditional mystery story, set in a small New England town, with little blood or gore. It is not a thriller or a violent series. These are stories about place and the kind of people who live in small New England towns.
A good cover is the result of a designer who “gets” the story. My publishers have all had good designers who “got” the story, but after so many books and so many different designers, it was time to make the covers uniform as well as informative. And now they are, with grateful thanks to Kathleen Valentine and her many talents.
Presenting the covers here also brings me near to the end of a process that I've been documenting here on Author Expressions. The Mellingham series has offered me as a writer challenges--how to continue this series while developing a new one and writing other stories that are independent of both? How to keep the series alive without a publisher? How to promote a series in this new publishing world?
There are a few steps left, and I'll be reporting on those also on Author Expressions. But right now I'm enjoying the new look of the series and enjoying the feeling of a fresh start.