On Saturday, August 13th, I held a True Death book signing at the Barnes & Noble store in Ellicott City, Maryland. For a relatively unknown author, signings largely consist of waiting for people to notice you. A few will, and if you’re lucky you’ll sell a few books. Even so, I find that time passes quickly, and the handful of conversations and sales make it worthwhile. But will it make for an interesting blog post?
Instead, let’s talk book covers. One customer, looking at True Death‘s cover, remarked, “That doesn’t look like Howard County.” And he was right. It doesn’t.
The cover (it’s at the top of the right margin of this page) features a roughed-up woman in tattered clothing carrying a briefcase and walking into the distance. Some think the image is designed to attract male readers. A friend of one of my daughters jokingly asked, “What’s the next book called, The Girl With No Pants?” But no, that’s not it, any more than the landscape is Howard County.
The book deals with the death of Sandra Peller, Detective Lieutenant Rick Peller’s wife, in a hit-and-run accident four years earlier. Because she is central to the novel, I wanted Sandra on the cover. Because she died on a road, I wanted her on a road. Besides, an image of her walking down a road would symbolize her departure from earthly life.
So my wife Kathleen and I searched Dreamstime, an online image library where we have an account for our publishing company. Dreamstime and other libraries license images for commercial use royalty-free, charging a relatively small fee: tens of dollars as opposed to the hundreds or thousands an artist can cost.
We looked for women walking down country roads and found several possibilities, but none of them were quite right. And then Kathleen discovered exactly the right one: the roughed up woman trekking down a desolate road that stretches into the unknown. The stark landscape emphasizes the feeling of desolation.
No, it’s not Howard County, and maybe the lady appears pantless, but one couldn’t ask for a better image to introduce the story. And even though I can’t see her face, I’ve become convinced that, yes, that really is Sandra Peller.