Friday 15 April 2011

Cover Anatomy by Cathy MacPhail


I think I know something about covers, after all I have been lucky enough to have the covers of my books changed several times. And I say lucky enough, because I think when a cover changes it gives your book a new lease of life. It looks like a brand new book, for a whole new set of young readers to discover.

The cover of Run Zan Run, my first book, has been changed four times, and is going to be changed yet again in November. When I saw the original Blackie cover of Run Zan Run, a girl dangling from a beam, I loved it. It said right away,’ girl in danger’.

The same cover image was used for the Puffin edition, but Puffin let Run Zan Run go out of print, and to my delight, Bloomsbury reprinted it.

The first Bloomsbury cover for Run Zan Run was this one, a close up of the sole of a trainer. It was an image of someone in flight, of someone being chased, and readers loved it.

When Roxy’s Baby came out Bloomsbury decided once again to change all my covers to bright bold colours, with little stick figures on them.
The cover for Roxy’s Baby was terrific. Black with the stick figure pushing a pram. The black alone was menacing. You knew this book was a thriller. The cover for Run Zan Run was bright orange with the stick figure on the run. 

I was never sure about these covers. I don’t write bright colourful stories. But I trusted Bloomsbury, and they were doing this for me and for my books.And as time passed, I learned that for a lot of new readers these were the only covers they knew, and they liked them.
When Grass was published it was all change again. This time they were going for a stark black and white image. I loved these right off. They seemed to capture the mood of the stories I wrote. The boy cycling by the lake in Dark Waters, a full moon in the background.
The figure leaping in the dark in Underworld, the hooded boy looking up in Grass.
They all hinted at mystery and danger.

The only one I was not sure of was the original they presented to me for Roxy’s Baby. That was a girl’s hand holding a baby’s dummy. It looked like a book about teenage pregnancy, and I don’t write books like that. Roxy’s baby is a thriller, and I wanted the cover to show that.  The final cover included an isolated pram. That hinted at the story inside, ’Baby in danger’.

Another great cover for Run Zan Run. A girl running, with the shadowy figure of a man behind her.

My next book is Out of The Depths, a dark, spooky thriller, and I have to admit, I loved the original cover Bloomsbury sent me. It was so creepy. The hooded monk in the crypt, and all you can see are his steely blue eyes. I was so excited by that one. ( Mind you, I did have several people who thought it was a hoodie on the cover and not a monk at all!)

Then, it was all change again. Bloomsbury decided that when Out of the Depths came out, they were going to change five of my covers, including Out of the Depths.   The monk was given the old heave-ho, and in his place, there was a stark tree against a burnt orange background.

Run Zan Run is changing too, as well as Missing, Underworld and Another Me. I’m excited by these new covers, excited but a little apprehensive, as I suppose most of us are when we see the covers for our books.

Yet when it all comes down to it, does a cover really matter?

Think of your favourite books. Is it the cover you remember, or the story inside? I always loved Little Women but it has had so many covers and I can’t remember any of them. Salem’s Lot, another of my favourites?.....nope, can’t remember the cover of that either. Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Once, Millions, when these books are mentioned what are you thinking of. The fantastic cover? Or the fantastic story?

So, I'm going to look forward to seeing my books coming back out in November, all bright and shiny, and if they fail miserably I am certainly not going to blame the covers.

So, what’s your experience of covers? Do they matter?

OUT OF THE DEPTHS-First in the Tyler Lawless series-out Nov 2011
GRASS and MISSING see the Easter Kindle promotion on Amazon.


  1. Yes, covers matter. I have heard people asking for books in the library. They do not know the title or the author but they will tell the librarian "It has a blue cover with a picture of ... on the front and it is about..." It always amazes me how often the book is found!

  2. I think covers need to change every so often to keep up with the zeitgeist, but for me the most important thing is knowing which of the author's books are in a series, or similar, so that a reader can grab another with reasonable certainty they will like it. I only ever buy after reading a bit though!

  3. I think a great cover will make someone pick up a book, but will that make any difference if the blurb and beginning of the book don't make the reader want to go any further? I doubt it.
    When readers get excited enough about a books - or an author, to recommend them to their friends would the cover make much difference? Difficult to know.

    At least an exciting cover might make someone pick up one book instead of another in the first instance.

  4. Such an interesting post. I've just seen the German cover for When I Was Joe (renamed 'More then just a witness') and it's much more obviously a crime cover, with a big knife. I wonder how that will affect readers' perceptions.

  5. Covers matter a lot. When I think of a story I've read, it has its own inner landscape in my mind, with a definite colour theme (a bit like CSI. 'Miami' is always shot in soft golds, but 'New York' is cool blues and greys). The cover starts that process off for me, and if it's wrong I have to battle against it to enjoy the book.

    Size and shape matter too. I buy the whole series of books I really like, and place them proudly on a shelf. I love it when they are all similar, and hate it when there's a sudden change half-way through for no reason I can appreciate.

    One of the selling points of books, after all, like CDs, is that displaying them makes a statement about their owner. Will e-books ever do that?