Mystery Books’ Covers… Part 1

Do you think that you can judge a (Cozy Mystery) book by its cover?

A while back I got a letter from a Cozy Mystery Site reader who complained about one of her very favorite authors changing her book covers. She asked my why the author’s covers had changed. Of course, I didn’t know the answer to that question. That question, however, started me thinking about the whole array of  mystery book covers. I began to wonder if they affect us when we contemplate adding a new author to our queue of mystery authors. There are so many types of book covers, and some speak to us more than others. The good news is that every reader is “seeing” a different thing when they look at a book’s cover… which is why there are so many different illustrators and photographers designing the different book covers.

Well, I have to admit that I do think that the covers of books have a lot to do with whether or not we decide to “take up” with a new author. I know that when I am looking at the books of an author with whom I’m not familiar, I tend to be swayed by the covers of their books. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I make my decision solely on the book’s cover. Obviously, the first thing I do is to see the book’s cover but then I read the synopsis of  the given book AND I read what other people have to say about the book.

I have several examples of mystery books in mind. If you have the time, please click on the following authors and take a look at some of the very different types of book covers…

Robert Barnard        Nancy Atherton            Mignon F. Ballard

Donna Andrews       Nancy Fairbanks         Harley Jane Kozak

Carola Dunn             Jacqueline Winspear

Kate Kingsbury        Joyce & Jim Lavene

Donald Bain              Lee Goldberg

Jo Bannister              Kathryn R. Wall            Margaret Maron

Do you think that any of the above authors’ book covers would help you decide on whether or not you want to read the particular authors books? Do any of the above authors’ book covers catch your attention… making you want to know more about the books? If yes is the answer to either of those questions, then mission accomplished! The book covers have at least served the purpose of getting your attention.

Here are the other two parts of this theme:

Mystery Books’ Covers Part 2

Mystery Books’ Covers Part 3


  1. says

    Several years ago Bob and I attended the Cape Fear Crime Festival in Wilmington, NC. Author Sue Henry was one of the speakers. She told us authors have no choice in their book covers. I am sure there are exceptions to the rule but from talking with other authors most all of them tell me they have not control over what the publisher chooses to use for a cover.



  2. says

    Hi Barbara,

    How neat that you and your husband were able to see Sue Henry at the festival!

    That’s a shame about authors not getting a say in their book covers… after they have spent all that time writing the books, they really should be able to contribute something.

  3. says

    Lately I am noticing that I will look at the cover of a new-to-me author before opening the pages to read the synopsis. And like you I’ll read everything about the book including reviews and the author’s website before I make that final purchase.

    I also find that I may like a cover so much and not the story and vice versa. But the cover will be one of the factors in choosing what new-to-me author book I will buy.

  4. says

    Hi Dru,

    The author who the woman talked about had very “cozy” looking scenes on the first eleven books of her Cozy Mystery series’ books. Unfortunately, her twelfth book in the series went with a completely different look. I wonder how many people who were not familiar with this very popular Cozy Mystery author didn’t give her a chance because they saw books 12, 13, & 14 in the bookstores, and simply found the book covers so unappealing that they didn’t even bother to take a look at the back sleeves.

    (I hope that I haven’t given too much away! Some of you are probably familiar with the author who I am talking about…. It doesn’t seem fair that she might not have had a say about the publisher changing her book covers to the very UN-Cozy artwork they now display!)

    • BB says

      If an author changes publishers, there’s a good chance the cover template will change, as well, according to the graphic designer contracted by the second company.

      And, now with some authors switching to self-publishing, they are responsible for finding someone doing the art work. Unfortunately, that often means less beautiful covers since the funds are coming directly from the author.

      • Danna - cozy mystery list says

        BB, it seems a shame that a publisher who takes on an established author wouldn’t try to keep the same type of artwork.

  5. says

    I would think the book was one of their favorite or regular authors they would have read the book regardless of the cover.

    I’m so clueless, because I have no idea what author you’re referring to. But if I had a better hint, I could probably guess.

  6. says


    The woman who complained about this particular author’s new book covers continued to read her books. I just wonder if people who aren’t familiar with the bestselling Cozy Mystery series would be interested enough in pursuing the series if they just saw the cover of the new books in the bookstore.

  7. Jeannie says

    The cover (and spines) of a book will at least help me pull it off the shelf. When you’re wandering through B&N or Borders, the cozy mysteries are usually easy to spot because they tend to be lighter in color, often in pastels. Cozy mystery covers also seem to be related to whatever subject the cozy is about – that is, if it is a craft mystery, the craft is depicted or if it is a cat mystery there’s a cat on the cover, etc. So if I’m in the mood to read about cross stitching or making candles, I might look more closely at the book. If I don’t want to read about car racing, I might return, say, Hooked Up. My final decision is made by reading the blurb on the back. So the covers are important to me – at least to get my attention among the many books vying for it.

  8. says

    You sound like you go through the same process I do, Jeannie. That’s why it is odd to me that an author hasn’t got much say in the cover. It just doesn’t seem right that an author spends so much time doing the actual work of writing the mystery, and then a publisher can ruin the book’s appeal by putting the totally wrong artwork on the cover, as well as the wrong blurb on the back.

  9. Stephanie says

    Of the links you’ve posted, I’m drawn to the covers of the books by Robert Barnard, Harley Jane Kozak, and Nancy Atherton. I guess I’m just drawn to the cutesy-macabre.

    I think that covers might compel me to buy a book at a store as an impulse purchase, but with more and more of my purchasing happening online through, I find that the covers have very little influence on my buying habits these days. I care more about reader and critical reviews, which are available at the click of a mouse.

    Still, those covers are pretty compelling for me!

    As for authors not having their say on book covers, my impression is that authors can at least influence their works’ covers, if they feel particularly inclined to do so. One of my favorite authors (albeit a very popular author in a different genre) refuses to have detailed pictures of his characters on his covers. He thinks that character portraits take away from the reading of the book because he deliberately leaves many details of a person’s description unclear, which allows the reader to project their own image of what particular characters can look like. I do realize that typically authors do not totally dictate covers; it’s the publishers who do that. Still, if an author had really strong feelings about his/her book covers and carried enough clout among publishers, I’m fairly sure that they could at least influence the design somewhat.

  10. says

    Stephanie, I love Robert Barnard’s mystery book covers’ artwork! Every time a new book is published, I look forward to seeing what that crazy skeleton will be doing!

    One of your favorite authors has the right idea. I like to imagine what a character looks like, and if the descriptions are too clear, it sometimes ruins the illusion. When an author describes a character down to every last detail, it is not left to our imaginations.

    Something along those lines, but clearly not in the exact vein, is when an author describes characters and then they produce the author’s novels for TV. It took me several years to warm to the Sgt. Havers depiction in the Elizabeth George TV series AND the televised Hamish Macbeth is nothing (either physically or personality-wise) like the Hamish in the M. C. Beaton novels.

  11. Alicia says

    I once picked up a series based on the fact that (at the time) all of the covers featured a cat. (The synopsis was appealing, too but the cat was what made me pick it up). My favorites are cat mysteries. In this series’ case, while the heroine did own cats, they were not involved in the mystery and were barely mentioned in the book. I did/do like the books and continue to read the series, but have always been a little disappointed about the lack of ‘cat action’ based on the covers. The newer covers don’t feature the cat anymore.

  12. says

    Berkley Prime Crime does some wonderful work for their mystery covers. We’ve always been very impressed. We have started having a little control on our covers. At least they ask us what we think now, and add or subtract when we have a good point about a cover. We love it when the cover really shows something from the book, like our new cover for A Corpse for Yew, the 5th Peggy Lee Garden Mystery coming out in May. The little lizard on the waterfall is in the book!

  13. says


    It’s always nice to hear from an author who is listed on the Cozy Mystery site! I just added your new book (A Corpse for Yew) and must agree with you about your wonderful artwork…

    I try to limit the number of book covers on each author’s page to coincide with the space that is used on the author’s book list. There are some authors’ pages that make it difficult to decide which book covers I need to delete in order to make room for the author’s newly released books. The more I like the artwork, the more difficult the decision. Your books’ covers are all so nice that it’s really difficult to decide which covers have to go to make more space!

  14. Ann says

    I loved the covers of Aunt Dimity from the beginning until they were changed and I didn’t like them anymore. In fact, after a few, I quit buying them. Now, one of my favorite authors M C Beaton had her covers changed on her Agatha Raisin series. They look exactly like the same type as the ones on Aunt Dimity books! Does the same person do both covers? Sure look the same and I don’t like it! Could you or somebody out there tell me? Of course, I won’t stop reading Agatha and I have the complete series in hardcover of her Hamish Macbeth.
    Haven’t noticed any hardcovers with these ugly covers, but not sure about the paperbacks…. Gee, I am awfully picky I guess..:)

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