When VANISH the paperback goes on sale in two weeks, most of you are not going to recognize it.Â The hardcover (above) was a gray-ish color, and it had a ghostly image of a pensive woman looking out through raindrops.Â I thought it was a splendid cover — mysterious, literary, classy.Â It sold well, hitting the NYT list at #7. Â
Most of the time, when a hardcover does well, publishers will keep the same cover for the paperback,Â because the design has already proven itself a success.Â The image is now familiar to booksellers, andÂ hopefully there’s some carryover from hardcover success to paperback success.Â
But VANISH the paperback is going to have an entirely newÂ cover:
It’s too bad the color doesn’t reproduce very well here.Â In reality, it’s an eyecatching, metallic blue-purple.Â The figure is a scantily clad woman, holding a blindfold to her eyes.Â
Why the change?Â Since the hardcover was a bestseller, why mess with success?
Answer: the author (me) begged for it.
My reason had to do with how I perceive the difference between the hardcover and the paperback markets.Â Â When I look at the respective bestseller lists, I’m struck by how much romance and women’s fiction shows up on the paperback lists.Â It’s much less snooty and literary.Â There’s far more popular entertainment.Â
I haven’t seen any actual research to back me up, but I suspect the paperback lists are driven,Â more so than the hardcover lists, by women readers.
When I took a good hard look at my VANISH hardcover design, and imagined it shrunk down as a paperback, I got this uneasy feeling that the image might “disappear” among all the other paperbacks.Â It’s too subtle.Â It’s also too “quiet”.Â I began to study the covers of bestselling paperbacks, trying to identify what it was about them that grabbed my attention.Â Some of them were just plain lurid, but… they sure got my attention.Â Many of them had women’s faces or views of women’s bodies.Â Many of them had immediate emotional cues: a look of terror, for instance.Â Â Some of them were pretty sexy.Â
And some of them were both scared andÂ sexy. If you can imagine the combination.
I began to suffer paperback cover envy.Â I wanted scary and sexy, too.Â I’d already had my subtle, literary hardcover.Â I didn’t want abstract art; IÂ wanted a touch of lurid.
Now, theÂ art director at my publishing houseÂ is aÂ brilliant guy with classy taste.Â He looked at some of the bestselling paperbacks I pointed to as cover examples and he just shook his head.Â They were crass and downmarket, he said.Â They screamed “slasher fic.”Â I think he may even have shuddered as he flipped through them.Â
But he did understand what I was asking for.Â Not subtlety this time, but somethingÂ a little more visceral and eye-catching.Â “I’ll work on it,”Â he said.
A few months later, I gotÂ a package from Ballantine.Â I opened it up, and slid outÂ this absolutely gorgeous, electric blue-purple image of the woman and the blindfold.Â IÂ felt like giving a shout of joy.Â This was exactly what I’d been hoping for.Â As far as I’m concerned, the art director nailed it.
In two weeks, I’ll find out if my instincts are right.Â I’m hoping the cover pops out on the stands.Â I’m hoping that the blue/purple isn’t so weird that it repulses male readers.Â I’m hoping that theÂ more visceralÂ image is offset by the reassuring words:Â “Edgar Award Finalist” at the bottom of the cover.
But you just never know.Â I’m like everyone else in publishing — I’m just feeling my way through this.Â And hoping I know what I’m talking about.