Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Judging a Book by the Cover

Tom Schreck

I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was at the Baltimore Bouchercon sitting having beers with my buddy and mystery writer extraordinaire, Henry Perez.

"I read 'On The Ropes' and damn, Schreck, you can write," Henry said.

"Wow, thanks, Henry," I said.

"Yeah that was some dark shit."

"Dark? People usually tell me it's funny," I said. I hadn't heard "dark" before.

"A coerced mother-daughter internet sex ring isn't dark?" Henry said and took a sip off his Sam Adams.

I guess he had a point. Then he said something shocking.

"You gotta lose the dog on the cover, though. That's going to kill you."

"What? I love the hound." I thought everyone did.

"Yeah, he's great, Schreck, but you put a dog on the cover and everyone thinks you're a cozy writer. Let me tell you, you ain't a cozy writer." Henry took a self-congratulatory pull off his draft.

Fast forward six years and Thomas & Mercer releases the fourth in my series, "The Vegas Knockout." My editor told me when he signed me that we were losing the hound. I was bummed.

For a little while.

The book was released at the end of April.  On July 1 it was the number one rated hard-boiled mystery on Amazon.

The cover is a close up of a fighter getting punched in the face and spitting out his mouth guard.

Well, I got my rights back to my back list and in a joint effort with my literary agency, Irene Goodman, we're re-releasing the books with new gritty covers. In the first week "On the Ropes" with no advertising or buildup made it to the top 50 of the mystery sports genre six years after its original

What do you think about covers? Which of my covers do you prefer and why? Even if you like the doggy one which one would you be more apt to buy?


  1. I discovered how important titles and covers were when I tried and failed to give away my futuristic thriller. After I revamped both, it started selling.

    I read and write gritty crime stories, so for me, the new covers are a good move. I shouldn't say this in public, but I've never bought a fiction novel with an animal on the cover (or in the title). With the exception of PS Your Cat Is Dead. :)

  2. And congratulations in getting your rights back and making the bestselling lists! I'm happy for you.

  3. Covers are the first part of the "contract" with readers. Cozy? Horror? Romance? It all starts with the cover. If a dog is on a cover and it's not a cozy or a romantic comedy, then I'm worried the dog is gonna die and I'm not buying the book.

    Congratulations on your new covers and your sales, Tom. Very cool.

  4. Echoing L.J. and Peg, congrats on the covers, the sales, the lists and getting your rights back.

    Covers, like titles, are an art and a narrative unto themselves. One of the websites I visit did a column/blog on cover design - asking different cover artists to design a cover for the same book. The results were fascinating.

    This raises, of course, the perennial question: Should we judge a book by its cover? And if we don't judge a book by its cover, maybe we shouldn't judge a cover by its book.

    (Maybe it's the wrong breed of dog. Or just the one that didn't bark.)

  5. Covers draw you in or push you away. They should give a flavor of the story inside. I tend to like covers with people on them because faces are interesting. I think you made the right move losing the dog on the cover - and cpngrats on your success.


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