It was amusing to read in the Guardian Review John Dugdale writing about the trend for copycat book jackets, especially as three of my recent titles fall into one of the categories. The Single Female Eye. The book jacket is phenomenally important; it’s what makes the reader pick up the book in the first place or click on the listing. Though sometimes publishers seem to coy about the notion of imitation. My first book Looking for Trouble, a private-eye novel, was published by Crocus, a small press, as a result of winning a competition. On a shoestring, they produced an effective, three-colour cover (black, white and red) featuring a woman in a car watching a typical Manchester street in the rain. When I got contracted to a much bigger publisher for my next title in the series, Go Not Gently, they designed a brand new cover. It featured a woman in a car watching a typical Manchester street in the rain. ‘Great,’ I said, ‘you decided to stick with the same design.’ There was a flurry of disavowals and denials. This was four colours, it was a different angle, it was nothing like the first jacket. Hmmm.
People sometimes ask how much say authors have a cover design. It’s minimal in my experience (apart from that very first time). A standard letter goes out along the lines of, ‘We think this is delightful, we hope you agree.’ And that’s that. To be fair, most of the time it is delightful and I do agree and when I have on occasion raised concerns, which tend to be about the cover not reflecting the tone of the book, I have been lucky to have publishers who have addressed them. But involvement in the process, chatting with a designer, or thinking up ideas or motifs? Nope, doesn’t happen. The most bizarre jackets tend to be foreign translations where one can only assume that cultural differences account for the bemusing designs. For example the Chinese edition of The Kindest Thing, my novel about assisted suicide, shows a woman in a billowing white dress, face obscured by windblown blonde hair, standing in a wheat field. But they must know what sells for their market. Meanwhile I’m waiting to hear about design ideas for my next novel – I’m betting on another Single Female Eye.