I recently had an email discussion with my editor about the cover for my novel Dark Reservations, a mystery/thriller set in the Southwest. Originally, I had hoped to have a cover that reflected my own taste: simple yet startling. I had a design in mind, not a picture. I’d even created a mockup cover while working on my MFA, which prominently displayed a kachina (Native American spirit dancer). I had no expectation the publisher would use that cover, but it represented my sense of aesthetics.
I had conducted a lot of research on mystery book covers and had developed a list of pros and cons. My mock-up was based on that research. Only now do I realize the problem with that process. It was analytical. I was looking outward, instead of inward. I had arrived at a design based on where I thought my book fell in the marketplace instead of where the book came from within me.
I know that sounds like new age mumbo-jumbo that means many things while meaning nothing at all. (No offense to any gurus who might be reading this.) What I mean is the story I wrote was not based on any of those mystery covers in the market. I had set my story in the Southwest because the area had inspired me to write that particular story. When I moved with my family to Gallup, New Mexico, in 2008, we had all marveled at the landscape. The beautiful reds and browns and muted greens of the high desert touched us like nothing else we’d seen back on the East Coast, except maybe the ocean. And perhaps the desert and the ocean have something in common: vastness. I was inspired by what I saw, by the people who live there, by the mix of cultures in the small isolated city of Gallup, and by the hardship and tragedy that sadly co-exists with the beauty and majesty of the land. That is what touched me.
So when my publisher sent me a cover with an image of a particular land formation around Gallup, I, at first, wanted to dismiss it offhand because it was not what I wanted. But as I looked at the image, I began to feel what I felt when I had lived there. And I realized that image was exactly what my story needed: a cover to anchor the reader in that locale, among all that beauty and yet with a foreboding sense of hardship. It took a designer, far removed from my experience, to see through to the essence of my story. Hence, to see me. And I am grateful he did, because I think this cover will help transport readers to the fictive world of Dark Reservations.
I hope you agree.