Monday, March 14, 2011


by Earl Staggs

My guest today, Beth Groundwater, says, "I think it's vital to fight for good cover art." Here she talks about some of her battles.

Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series (A Real Basket Case, a 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and To Hell in a Handbasket, 2009) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The first, Deadly Currents, will be released March 8th. Beth lives in Colorado and enjoys its many outdoor activities, including skiing, hiking, and whitewater rafting. She loves talking to book clubs, too, and not just for the gossip and wine! Please visit her website at and her blog at

My Cover Story

I'm here at Make Mine Mystery today to talk about cover art. Unlike some authors, I've had fairly good luck with my publishers regarding the cover art for my books. And, when I haven't agreed with the initial cover artwork, I've had good luck in getting changes made.

The cover art for my recent March 8th release, Deadly Currents, is shown below. The mystery is the first in my new RM Outdoor Adventures series featuring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. Running rapids in rafts or kayaks plays a major role in the book, and I wanted the cover to reflect that. When Midnight Ink, the publisher, asked for input on the cover, I suggested they use just the type of photo they selected. I gave them links to various Arkansas River outfitters, so they could contact them about getting permission to use one of their photos.

I'm very pleased with the cover, because it illustrates the opening scene of Deadly Currents beautifully. The raft is about to plunge sideways over the precipice of a killer class V (extremely difficult) rapid and spill out most of its occupants. That prompts Mandy to initiate a deadly rescue. I love the contrast of the warm colors of the letters superimposed on the cool colors of the rushing water of the rapid. I don't know where the Midnight Ink art department got the stock photo from, and I really don't care. Even if it wasn't taken on the Arkansas River, it reflects the action you'll find when you run that river. When I saw this cover, I decided it was perfect and had no changes to suggest.

That was a very different case for other covers of mine.

When I saw the first version of the cover art for the hardcover version of A Real Basket Case, which was published by Five Star, I sat stunned in disbelief. My suggestion had been to show a wicker or straw basket flipped over on its side with a hole in it, blood dripping out of the hole, and a smoking handgun lying nearby. Instead, the cover showed a woman's hand holding a wire hand-held grocery shopping basket, and a kid's dart gun with stick-on darts scattered about. Huh?

After I recovered from the shock, I sent a detailed email outlining my concerns to the acquisition editor. She replied that she agreed with me and sent a request for revision to the art department. Thank goodness! The second cover, which was the one they used, was much, much better (see below). The bow makes it look like the book itself is a gift basket, and the gun is there to show that it is a murder mystery, after all.

A few weeks ago, I received the initial cover art design for the trade paperback and ebook formats of the same book, to be published by Midnight Ink in November. The cover's cartoonish design was targeted at the craft cozy market, and I thought it was very cute. There was only one problem. The book is set in Colorado Springs, which is located in a high alpine desert setting within sight of the Rocky Mountains. The view out the window of the book cover art, however, was of rolling green hills. Those don't exist in Colorado Springs! So, yet again, I suggested a change to the acquisition editor, though this time it was a small one—please put some mountains in that window view.

The revised and final cover art is below. I think the artist did a great job with the gift basket theme for the series--gift tag, bow, basket. Plus, the Colorado Springs setting is reflected in the mountain view out the window. And, the location where Claire Hanover, my gift basket designer, meets the future victim—a neighborhood gym—is reflected in the contents of the gift basket. The artwork and title font definitely have a craft cozy mystery subgenre feel to them.

Of the five covers that have been presented to me for my books, I've asked for a complete redo on one and minor changes on two. In all cases, my suggestions were listened to and the cover art was changed. Many authors say they have no control over their cover art. But I've found that if I present a good case for making a change and back it up with an explanation that makes sense, I've been able to convince the art department to try again.

I think it's vital to fight for good cover art, because it's so important. It elicits an emotional response in the reader when they see it. They can either hate it or love it. And, they get a sense of what the book is about and its genre. Those feelings and senses drive the buy decision. You would never think that Deadly Currents is a craft cozy or that A Real Basket Case is an adventurous soft-boiled mystery from their covers, but the reverse is certainly true.

About Beth's new one, DEADLY CURRENTS, just out March 8, 2011:

The Arkansas River, heart and soul of Salida, Colorado, fuels the small town’s economy and thrums in the blood of river ranger Mandy Tanner. When a whitewater rafting accident occurs, she deftly executes a rescue, but a man dies anyway. Turns out, it wasn’t the rapids that killed him—it was murder. Tom King was a rich land developer with bitter business rivals, who cheated on his wife, refused to support his kayak-obsessed son, and infuriated environmentalists. Mandy’s world is upended again when tragedy strikes closer to home. Suspicious that the most recent death is connected to Tom King’s murder, she goes on an emotionally turbulent quest for the truth—and ends up in dangerous waters.

If you’d like to see what the other stops are on Beth Groundwater’s virtual book tour, go to: , and if you’d like to order an autographed copy of Deadly Currents, go to the website for Black Cat Books ( and click on "Contact Us”. Either call the phone number or fill out the form with your contact information.

What do you think, readers of Make Mine Mystery? How are you influenced by covers when it comes to choosing a book? Do particular colors or styles of cover art turn you on—or off? And if you're an author, do you have a particularly juicy cover art story to relate? Remember, everyone who comments will be entered into a contest for a free copy of Deadly Currents.


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Hi, Beth, I definitely agree with you. The cover art is very important. I once had a book about a little girl with dark hair, it was important to the plot, the little girl they put on the cover had light brown hair. Many, many people made a comment about that.


Earl Staggs said...

Beth, the cover of DEADLY CURRENTS is fabulous.

I hated the first cover of my novel and absolutely loved the second cover when it was republished. Had I not been such a novice the first time, I would have fought for a better cover.

The best feature of the second cover is a picture of a real pair of eyes at the top. When I asked my editor whose eyes they were, she said, "Uh, they're mine." I thought that was so cool.

Another interesting thing about the eyes is that one is brown, the other one blue. Could that be a clue? I ain't talkin'.

Tempewytch said...

I think you are right to fight for the type of cover you want, I have looked at some books and just thought *huh?* as they cover bears no resemblance to the book!

Mario said...

Great post. You are so analytical. And a great writer.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Marilyn, Earl, Tempewytch and Mario,
Thanks for your comments!

I'm surprised your publisher didn't change the cover art. The hair color should have been an easy fix. Did you ask?

I think it's interesting to know who is behind your cover art--the artist, the models, etc. I'd love to know on what river the photo was taken for Deadly Currents! Makes me want to raft it. :)

There's a lot of things I think an author should fight for. There's no harm in asking--politely--and who knows, you might get what you want!

As usual, you are such a charmer.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Very nice cover for Deadly Currents.

Earl refused to use a picture of my eyes on the cover for is book, because not only were they normal, he felt that they looked too smart. It is a stigma I have come to bear.

(smart eyes, smart mouth....)

Betty Gordon said...

Interesting blog, Beth. Re question on how important cover art is -- MAN, OH, MAN, IMPORTANT!!
Before I became a writer and before I had favs, I'd go to the bookstore and peruse books based on the covers and most of my decisions to buy came both from the cover and blurb on back.
"Deadly Currents" definitely looks deadly.
Betty Gordon

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, Kevin and Betty,

Glad to see your sense of humor is still intact!

And yes, Betty, I agree that cover art can make a big difference to someone who is just browsing the shelves to see "what looks interesting."

Shannon said...

I have a horror cover story but my publisher is great and in the end, despite the angst, I love my cover. Like you, Beth, I felt it was very important it look right.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Nice piece on cover art but also on how writers can work with the publisher to get the best possible cover and book. The covers are very attractive, and I do think cover art matters--perhaps more than we want to admit as writers.

Susan Oleksiw

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, Shannon and Susan.

I'm glad that you, too, were able to get your cover art changed.

Thanks for the compliments on my covers!

Dru said...

I'm definitely a visual person so the cover is the first thing I see and will determine if I pick up a book.

Beth, I love the new cover for A Real Basket Case.

Anonymous said...

Yes, as an avid reader, the cover and the thumbnail are what catches my eye and I like your covers. The water shots are great. Also, here's a tip: If you need a cover designed, check out Stephen Walker (writer Rob Walker's son) at his graphic arts web site. He did my Recipe for Trouble cover on Kindle because I couldn't use the previously published one (and I like his best :-)
Jackie Griffey

Morgan Mandel said...

Cover art can make our break a novel. I love the cartoon cover art on Basket Case. It is totally cute, a real eye catcher.

Morgan Mandel

Shannon Lawrence said...

It's definitely good to know that you can work with the art department and make a case to have a cover changed. I've heard horror stories about cover art being terrible and having no power over it. Now I know that isn't necessarily so. Shew.

Shannon L.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Love your new rafting cover, Beth. I've insisted that some of my covers be redone. In fact, one of them, for Diary of Murder, was created at home with Photoshop because I didn't like the one from the publisher.

Sheila Deeth said...

We're going to be discussing how covers and titles attract us at our writers' meeting this week. Can I mention your experiences? It would certainly give us something specific to focus on. And I really enjoyed this article. Thanks.

Beth Groundwater said...

Wowzer! Lots of posts since I last checked in. Thanks for your comments, Dru, Jackie, Morgan, Shannon, Jean, and Sheila.

I'm so glad you like the new cover art for the paperback version of A Real Basket Case, Dru and Morgan.

Yes, please do mention my experiences with cover art at your writers' meeting, and give them the link to this article to read.

Margaret said...

Looking forward to reading the new book, Beth. I agree that the cover of a book can be a deciding factor in whether I buy a book from an author that I am not familiar with. It's not so important if I know the author and like to read her/his books. I do like political thrillers, and everytime I see a cover that has the Capitol or some Washington scene on it, my hands automatically pick up the book and I read the book jacket and the blurbs to see if it interests me. Anyway, much success with the new series.
Margaret Franson

pharmacy reviews said...

Nobody say it was an easy job, so I agree, you must fight to get a special cover, or at least a good one.