VANISH cover gets a transformation


When VANISH the paperback goes on sale in two weeks, most of you are not going to recognize it.  The hardcover (above) was a gray-ish color, and it had a ghostly image of a pensive woman looking out through raindrops.  I thought it was a splendid cover — mysterious, literary, classy.  It sold well, hitting the NYT list at #7.  

Most of the time, when a hardcover does well, publishers will keep the same cover for the paperback, because the design has already proven itself a success.  The image is now familiar to booksellers, and hopefully there’s some carryover from hardcover success to paperback success. 

But VANISH the paperback is going to have an entirely new cover:


It’s too bad the color doesn’t reproduce very well here.  In reality, it’s an eyecatching, metallic blue-purple.  The figure is a scantily clad woman, holding a blindfold to her eyes. 

Why the change?  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.  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.  It’s much less snooty and literary.  There’s far more popular entertainment. 

I haven’t seen any actual research to back me up, but I suspect the paperback lists are driven,  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.  It’s too subtle.  It’s also too “quiet”.  I began to study the covers of bestselling paperbacks, trying to identify what it was about them that grabbed my attention.  Some of them were just plain lurid, but… they sure got my attention.  Many of them had women’s faces or views of women’s bodies.  Many of them had immediate emotional cues: a look of terror, for instance.  Some of them were pretty sexy. 

And some of them were both scared and sexy. If you can imagine the combination.

I began to suffer paperback cover envy.  I wanted scary and sexy, too.  I’d already had my subtle, literary hardcover.  I didn’t want abstract art; I wanted a touch of lurid.

Now, the art director at my publishing house is a brilliant guy with classy taste.  He looked at some of the bestselling paperbacks I pointed to as cover examples and he just shook his head.  They were crass and downmarket, he said.  They screamed “slasher fic.”  I think he may even have shuddered as he flipped through them. 

But he did understand what I was asking for.  Not subtlety this time, but something a little more visceral and eye-catching.  “I’ll work on it,” he said.

A few months later, I got a package from Ballantine.  I opened it up, and slid out this absolutely gorgeous, electric blue-purple image of the woman and the blindfold.  I felt like giving a shout of joy.  This was exactly what I’d been hoping for.  As far as I’m concerned, the art director nailed it.

In two weeks, I’ll find out if my instincts are right.  I’m hoping the cover pops out on the stands.  I’m hoping that the blue/purple isn’t so weird that it repulses male readers.  I’m hoping that the more visceral image is offset by the reassuring words: “Edgar Award Finalist” at the bottom of the cover.

But you just never know.  I’m like everyone else in publishing — I’m just feeling my way through this.  And hoping I know what I’m talking about.




34 replies
  1. Angelle
    Angelle says:


    How interesting. Let us know how it goes. I think it’s interesting that some romance writers report that clinch covers sell better than non clinch. I have no idea why that is since I don’t like clinch…

  2. struggler
    struggler says:

    Tess, I like that paperback cover (for VANISH) – it’s much more representative of the story within. In my opinion, far too many books in general have ‘nothingy’ covers which are little more than abstract doodles and are of no emotional interest at all. The cover image should, in a way, tell a story of its own.

    Meanwhile I heard from Val McDermid recently that she had been provided with statistics that suggested that as many as 85% of paperback buyers are female. This may apply to the UK only, I am not sure. I always felt that the majority of buyers were female, but I was surprised to learn that the figure was this high. As a wannabe writer, it tells me that I must factor this into my writing style and content (etc) if I want to make a success of this!

    Can I ask you a possibly personal question? How many copies of THE SURGEON have been sold to date? Even an educated guess would be appreciated! Thanks in advance.

  3. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    tess/struggler-i recall seeing some paperbacks in bookstores with the same title in different colored covers-i can’t recall which authors,but it seems they were in the thriller genre-are there some behavioral psychologists at work trying to tailor covers to men,women,or other demographics??

  4. vividexpression
    vividexpression says:

    I’m glad your new cover is bright because I keep mixing up Harvest and Vanish.

    I’ve already finished The Surgeon, The Apprentice, The Sinner, and Body Double. Now I’m reading Harvest and will have to pick up a copy of Vanish.

  5. Peggy Payne
    Peggy Payne says:

    Thanks for the insight about differences in hardback and paperback covers. You seem to be unusually clear-eyed about what works in publishing–maybe it’s your scientific background.

    An architect on my hall in my office building took a look at one of my covers once and made all kinds of suggestions about moving things a half-inch, etc. I didn’t quite see that it was going to make any difference to a browser, but I could have been wrong about that.

  6. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    Love the new cover. I bought it in hardcover of course, but I will be sure and tell people (while I’m standing by the book section at Wal-Mart, etc) that the “Vanish” book isn’t a new book (because some people may think that it is a new book) and is a very good book. Maybe your sales will jump! Good luck Dr. G!

  7. Craig
    Craig says:

    I was told by my booksellers that there is a new trend in bookselling–releasing a book in hardcover and softcover simultaneously. I was eagerly awaiting the third mystery by one of my favorite authors last month and saw the softcover on the shelf but no hardcover and this was a new title. I had to order the hardcover. I was told that some of the publishers are doing this–something to do with libraries buying the bulk of the hardcovers. The hardcover lists for $24 and the softcover lists for $14.

  8. Peggy Payne
    Peggy Payne says:

    I hope this trend takes over and lasts, Craig. It has always seemed a shame to me to get all the press for a book when it’s so expensive and then hardly any when it’s more reasonably priced.

  9. Tess
    Tess says:

    Craig, I wasn’t aware of the trend in releasing hard/soft simultaneously. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me.

  10. Peggy Payne
    Peggy Payne says:

    I hadn’t heard of a trend either. But a few years ago I had a story in an anthology that came out in cloth and paper simultaneously. It was God: Stories, edited by Mike Curtis of the Atlantic Monthly, and published by Houghton Mifflin.

  11. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    anybody notice how quickly dvd’s are available of theatrical releases nowadays?it used to take quite a while(of course some great films of the past never seem to make it to dvd but that’s another story)

  12. Craig
    Craig says:

    Tess and Peggy: I’m not so sure it makes sense to me either. All I know is what I’m told. It wouldn’t be appropriate to mention the book and give another author a free plug on Tess’ blog but I can tell you that the publisher is Simon and Schuster and the imprint is Touchstone. It was my booksellers who thought this was a trend. This could just be an experiment.

  13. Bertine
    Bertine says:

    As an avid reader (paperback/hardback/glossies/paper/telephone book/whatever – as long as I can read), I don’t really look at the cover, at least not at first, I look at a description of the story. If that appeals, the cover must be really, really bad for me to put it down again. If the story appeals just so-so, the cover might (on occassion) pull me in, but I usually put it back on the shelf. I started with reading The Sinner, to this day still don’t know what the cover looks like….. After that, I didn’t need to look at the cover anymore, I just look for books by Tess Gerritsen (an awfully Dutch name by the way).

  14. RobGB
    RobGB says:

    LOVE the new cover, Tess. I just got my own cover art and had mixed feelings about it until everyone told me how much they loved it. It has grown on me to the point that I love it, too. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with the paperback.

    I notice that the new version of yours is more in line with your previous paperbacks than the hardcover version was. Like another post said, I often get VANISH confused with HARVEST because of the cover. I’m glad to see you insisted on the change.

  15. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    You know, I’ve always wondered why some authors have blogs and others don’t. Dr. G has this nice blog site that is easy to navigate, is fun and entertaining, and leaving replies is no hassle. Stephen King, on the other hand, doesn’t have a blog. It seems to me that Super-Authors would have blogs, just so they are writing when they aren’t writing (as in between projects, etc). I don’t know, maybe some authors are busier than others…or less computer savvy. Just food for thought.

  16. struggler
    struggler says:

    I know this isn’t really anything to do with the subject of cover designs, but I thought it might be interesting nonetheless. A certain gentleman by the name of David Hasselhoff likes to boast that his name appears rather frequently if you do a search for it on Google – over 12 million times in fact. So I decided to see how some well-known writers fare on the ‘Google-ometer’ and this is what I found:-

    First and foremost, our First Lady (Tess!) almost joins the exclusive Millionare Club with a highly impressive 992,000.

    Others –

    Stephen King 18.3 million
    JK Rowling 17.2 million
    Dan Brown 15.5 million
    Tom Clancy 12.3 million
    Agatha Christie 7.6 million
    James Patterson 5.1 million
    John Grishham 4.6 million
    Paulo Coelho 4.0 million
    Michael Crichton 4.0 million
    Patricia Cornwell 2.3 million
    Kathy Reichs 1.0 million
    James Ellroy 984,000
    Jeffery Deaver 915,000
    Harlan Coben 905,000
    Ian Rankin 870,000
    Thomas Harris 853,000
    David Baldacci 681,000
    Alice Sebold 659,000
    John Connolly 604,000
    Frederick Forsyth 518,000
    Karin Slaughter 480,000
    Val McDermid 418,000
    PJ Tracy 138,000
    Mark Billingham 133,000
    Jilliane Hoffman 109,000

    Forgive me for posting this ‘data’ but I thought it might be of interest to Tess and others. I’m not sure what can be deduced from these numbers, if anything, but it does demonstrate that at least four writers have out-googled the dubious talents of the egocentric Mr Hasselhoff…

  17. Peggy Payne
    Peggy Payne says:

    Craig mentions above that it’s inappropriate to mention another writer’s book on a blog. Is this blog etiquette? I never heard it. I thought the point of litblogging was to talk about books. And publishing. And writing, etc.

  18. Tess
    Tess says:

    wow! I never thought to compare myself to anyone else on Google!

    And feel free to mention other writers — or other books — here. As long as everyone plays nicely, this is your place to meet!

  19. Craig
    Craig says:

    Peggy, I was just expressing my own personal opinion. Tess went to a lot of hard work to get this blog up and running and I personally would feel funny mentioning other authors. I wasn’t trying to be dictatorial. My apologies.

    But that’s not why I’m posting. Since we’re quoting statistics, Tess, I thought you might like to know that the Oklahoma County Library System has pre-ordered 66 copies of The Mephisto Club.

  20. Jen
    Jen says:

    I love the new cover a lot! Its definitely an eye catcher!!!

    As I already mentioned – I bought your first book in London, cause it caught my eye!

    I thought i should let you know that I like the British covers a lot…

  21. Peggy Payne
    Peggy Payne says:

    A message to Craig of comment 23. No problem at all. I just didn’t want to blunder on blog etiquette.

  22. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    peggy-i’m glad you brought it up because i didn’t know either and now tess has graciously cleared tings up for us(as if we should be surprised):)

  23. Craig
    Craig says:

    I would like to pass on two of my favorite websites. The first is the website for The American Booksellers Association at If you click on to the first link, latest news, you can get some of the inside information on what independent bookstores have to go through to survive. There are all kinds of marketing strategies. (One of my favorite stories is about a bookstore that had a Harry Potter Party. They put a casette deck in the restroom and had Moanin’ Myrtle wailing away.) It’s a very interesting site and I visit it on a weekly basis.

    One of my other favorite websites is a dandy research tool–fantastic fiction at The author’s writings are listed in chronological order with a less than reliable link concerning availability. In the case of Tess Gerritsen there are 33 entries beginning with 1985’s Adventure’s Mistress. There’s also a link to this website plus an announcement and release date for The Mephisto Club. I can’t think how many times I’ve fallen in love with a new author and used this site to pick up earlier titles. Tess, have you checked this site to see if it’s accurate.?

  24. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    craig-the second site you mentioned is a goldmine of information-thanks for putting it out here for us-i know this is a little off topic,but i found a site called Movie Review has over 300,000 reviews covering thousands of films

  25. Craig
    Craig says:

    So I’m at my bookstore yesterday and they already have the September issue of Book Pages. Guess what’s on page 20? A review of The Mephisto Club by Bruce Tierney. For those of you whose bookstores don’t receive Book Pages I’ll pass on a few quotes, but delete the synopsis.
    “Boston Medical Examiner Laura Isles and police detective Jane Rizzoli are back once again in Tess Gerritsen’s adrenaline-infused The Mephisto Club. . .The villain is as amoral as any in recent memory, a product of a complicated childhood, but with that special extra quality that cannot be attributed simply to abandonment issues. Flawlessly melding the forensic work of, say, “CSI,” with the religious iconography of The Da Vinci Code, Gerritsen has crafted an eerie and compelling mystery, with a chilling and thought-provoking denouement. P.S.: this book demands a sequel!”

    Oooh!! I like eerie. What I like most about Book Pages, though, is that they have the attitude that there are far too many good books being ignored to waste space writing negative reviews and the Book Page people certainly like you, Tess!!

  26. Tess
    Tess says:

    wow, thanks for that. I didn’t know the September issue of Book Pages was already out.

    “CSI meets Da Vinci Code” has a nice ring to it!

  27. Tess
    Tess says:

    Also for Craig —
    I checked out the site “Fantastic Fiction” and the only inaccuracies have to do with dates of release (Keeper of the Bride, for instance, was a 1996 release) and some confusion as to which is a collection and which is a novel.

    Also, Adventure’s Mistress (romance) was released in very few outlets and is long out of print, and Love’s Masquerade (romance) was never released at all, as the publisher went out of business before the book was published.

  28. Craig
    Craig says:

    Joe, thanks for the heads up on that movie website. Another good one is the IMDb–the Internet Movie Database. It’s great for people like me who can’t remember who’s in what movie. It has great quotes from films and movie stills.

  29. mattpowell
    mattpowell says:

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