by Barbara Ross
I’ve gotten such great feedback on the covers for my Maine Clambake Mystery series I thought some you might be interested in how these covers come about.
I signed the contract for three Maine Clambake Mysteries in March of 2012. The first book Clammed Up was due December 1, 2012. In August 2012, I got an e-mail from my editor at Kensington, John Scognamiglio.
Can you email me by next Monday any/all cover ideas you might have for the first mystery?
And I e-mailed back–
The central image in the book is the empty Gilded Age mansion that belonged to the protagonist’s ancestors. It sits on a hill on the Maine island where the clambakes are held and is described as four stories high with dormers, made of stone with a slate roof. Size-wise I sort of modeled it on Edith Wharton’s The Mount.
The victim, the best man at a wedding, is found hanging from its elaborate staircase.
All that being said, people who know better than I say the best way to market all things Maine is with “lighthouses and lobsters.”
I’ve developed some Pinterest boards your people may find helpful as they work.
So happy to be asked for ideas!
As you can see, they went the “lighthouses and lobsters” route. That in itself is a bit of a story. Paul Doiron is both the author of the absolutely fabulous Mike Bowditch mysteries about a Maine Game Warden (and if you haven’t read them you should) and the former editor of Down East Magazine. He once said, rather cynically, “You can do focus group after focus group, but no one wants to see anything of Maine but lobsters and lighthouses.” He meant rather despairingly, I think, that no one cares about the poverty or the vast North Woods or the cities or lakes or mountains. But when I, a new author with a new series a no reputation, was asked for cover input, all I could think was, perhaps even more cynically, “Why would I swim against that tide?”
When I got the cover for Clammed Up, I was a little taken aback. Why were there crabs and bread at a Maine clambake? Which shows what I know, because the book went on to be a B&N in-store Mass Market paperback best-seller for five weeks. I get constant compliments about the cover.
I handed in Clammed Up on December 1, 2012 and started in on Boiled Over, due September 1, 2013. The request for cover ideas came in April. here’s what I wrote.
If Clammed Up was a book about the island, Boiled Over is a book about the town. Therefore, I’d love it if the cover of Boiled Over could include an iconic Maine harbor town.
I’ve created a Pinterest board I hope can provide some inspiration. http://pinterest.com/barbaraannross/maine-habor-towns/ (Note: Though I’ve included photos from every season, Boiled Over takes place at the height of the summer season.)
Also, I don’t know if you’ll have the same illustrator, but I also think it would be cool to have something that was a bit of a motif from cover to cover. The lobster boat on the cover of Clammed Up is a possibility. Or, the platter with the lobster, corn and clams from the bottom left corner of the Clammed Up cover.
As always, you guys are the experts. Thanks so much for asking.
And got this reply.
Thanks for sending!
What kind of food plays into this book?
I’m not sure if Sales is going to want to carry the food theme over. If they do, my worry is having the cover of book two looking identical to book one. Even though the titles are different, trust me, readers sometimes get confused.
So, are there any desserts featured in this new book? Types of fruit? Different types of seafood? Clams? Any sort of summer drink (lemonade?) or cocktail?
P.S. Yes, it will be the same illustrator.
To which I thought–argh, argh, argh–because I didn’t have the recipes nailed down yet. But I did know there was a picnic at the beginning of the book, so I wrote back
Still working on the food for Boiled Over, but there definitely is a picnic, overlooking the harbor, so perfect for the harbor town scene (and fireworks–just saying–I know this is sounding overly complex). Deviled eggs, which I think this illustrator would be great at. The other foods are lobster salad and potato salad which don’t seem particularly pretty and blueberry pie which does. It’s blueberry season and they feature prominently in the book.
As you can see from the cover, I got exactly what I wanted. I think you can even see the influence of the Pinterest board. The little deviled egg chicks were a surprise, but everyone remarks on them. Boiled Over was also a B&N in-store mmpb bestseller, so by now I was really feeling in good hands.
I handed in Boiled Over, and started work on Musseled Out. The request for cover input again came in April, which makes sense because Musseled Out will be published a year after Boiled Over.
I was ready by this point. Here’s what I wrote.
Thanks so much for asking me about cover thoughts for Musseled Out, Book 3 in the Maine Clambake Mystery series.
Musseled Out takes place in the fall. For an image, I am picturing one or two empty adirondack chairs on a beach or dock, looking across a body of water to the hills on the other side which are decked out in a riot of fall foliage colors. It would be great if we could have a lobster boat floating in the water as we have had on the last two covers, as that is part of the story.
I have put together a Pinterest board with cover ideas/inspirations. http://www.pinterest.com/barbaraannross/maine-scenes-for-musseled-out/
For food, this book includes a bowl of mussels (of course). The lobster recipes are scampi and also hot lobster dip. The dessert is pumpkin whoopie pies (state snack of Maine). Other appropriate food would include apples, apple pie, squash, pumpkin and a baguette.
Let me know if you need anything else. Will it be the same artist? I get such great feedback on the covers so far.
This time, as you can see, I got everything I dreamed of. You can strongly see the influence of the Pinterest board.
I finally asked John about the identity of my cover artist. He’s never credited in the books, but I wanted to put him in the acknowledgments of Musseled Out. He is Ben Perini, a fabulous fine artist/illustrator whose portfolio is worth looking at here. I wrote him a fan letter through his website, but so far haven’t heard back.
So thanks to all of you who hung in during this rather long post. What do you think of the covers? Do covers in general influence your decision to buy?