...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Making of a Book Cover

Animals in Focus #1 won the 
2013 Maxwell Award for Fiction
from the Dog Writers Association
of America and was an NBCPetside
Top Ten Dog Book of 2012.
by Sheila Webster Boneham

Forget the maxim "you can't judge a book by it's cover," even if it's true. The fact is that readers do make initial, often subconscious, judgments based on cover art and design. 

Although some book covers fail miserably in their mission, many others tell us a lot about what we can expect when we open a book. Some of them scream genre. Bare-chested square-jawed muscle-bound fella embracing fair maiden? Romance! Smoking gun, shadowy figure in fedora, sprawed body? Noir detective novel. Cowboy on horseback riding into the sunset? You get my point.

Many readers don't realize that authors rarely have much, if any, say about their covers. I've been lucky with my mysteries because editor Terri Bischoff at Midnight Ink has given me considerable input into the covers that wrap the pages of my books, and the artists and designers have taken my ideas and made them work. 

The series now has a consistent look that is, I think, attractive, and that says "mystery, animals, amateur sleuth, sports." Each cover shows the animal activity that is central to the book, and each shows at least one of the animals who take a leading role. The dogs are realistic, and as an award-winning writer of nonfiction about dogs and cats and a long-time rescuer/breeder/ competitor/animal advocate, that was important to me. Are the covers perfect? Of course not. I think the logo (it's the lens of a camera, if you can't tell - I couldn't for a while!) should be bigger. The dogs in the background of Drop Dead on Recall aren't quite right. But I love the brightness of the covers, and don't the dead bodies just howl "mystery"?

Since blogger extraordinaire Lori Caswell was kind enough to reveal the cover of Animals in Focus #3, Catwalk, last Monday, I thought I would tell you a bit about how that cover came to be. To set the scene, here's a summary of the plot....
Animal photographer Janet MacPhail is training for her cat Leo’s first feline agility trial when she gets a frantic call about a “cat-napping.” When Janet and her Australian Shepherd Jay set out to track down the missing kitty, they quickly find themselves drawn into the volatile politics of feral cat colonies, endangered wetlands, and a belligerent big-shot land developer. Janet is crazy busy trying to keep up with her mom’s nursing-home romance, her own relationship with Tom and his Labrador Retriever Drake, and upcoming agility trials with Jay and Leo. But when a body is discovered on the canine competition course, it stops the participants dead in their tracks—and sets Janet on the trail of a killer.
Because Janet will be competing this time with both her dog, Jay, and her cat (her cat!) Leo, I wanted to include both of them on the cover, and I wanted the cover to "speak agility" to my fans who know the sport. Because the title, Catwalk, is a play on "dogwalk," a canine agility obstacle, and because the plot involves feral cats and a feline TNR (trap-neuter-release) program, I wanted a cat on a dogwalk. I also wanted a dead body in an agility tunnel, and a dog sniffing it. But how could I convey my mental image to the artist? 

Clearly, I needed photos. And how do we find the people who can help us these days? Social media! So I posted on Facebook - "Does anyone have a photo of a cat on a dogwalk?" and a mini-minute later, I had a message from photographer Brenna Spencer asking what I needed and offering to stage the photo. She grabbed  Rhonda Calhoun Mullenix, her business partner at Lumos PhoDOGraphy, and here's what they came up with: 

How fantastic is that? Then I needed an image of an Australian Shepherd sniffing at the corpse, so I asked again on Facebook. Voila! My long-time friend Nita Gandara sent me this photo taken by Doug Smith of Wysiwyg Photography in Arizona: 

Jay, the lead dog in the series, is based on my own beloved Jay (with more than a few traits borrowed from other Aussies in my life), so naturally I hoped that the dog on the book would look like the real-life Jay, pictured here:
My beautiful Jay.

Jay competing in obedience.

In addition, Leo, animal photographer and amateur sleuth Janet MacPhail's cat, is an orange tabby, not a tortoiseshell. He's inspired by the cats of my life, especially Leo and Malcolm. 

Real-life Leo.

I sent the images on to Terri, and she passed them to illustrator Gary Hanna, who translated the photos into art, and cover designer Lisa Novak, who did a brilliant job of putting it all together. And, in case you haven't seen it yet, here it is!

Personally autographed copies of Sheila’s books, including pre-orders of Catwalk, are available from Pomegranate Books in Wilmington, NC. Order online at http://www.sheilaboneham.blogspot.com/p/autographed-books.html or call Pomegranate Books at 910-452-1107 to place your order.
Also available online:
Powell’s Books
Barnes & Noble 


  1. All three covers are beautiful and fun and informative. As a reader/buyer, I appreciate the fact that your cover is a mini synopsis of the book. I have found that a cover really can turn me off of a book or attract me to it. I did not realize the logo included a camera lens. Keep up the good work writing and your artist, please keep up the good work illustrating!

    1. Thanks for your comment - I'm always happy when people like the covers (and the books!).

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Sheila. Yes. I think covers draw you in to the story and yours do it well! My cover is in the works and I was asked for ideas up front. I love your idea of asking for pictures on Facebook. I am beginning to put my school presentation together and need red-merle puppies, playing, that will draw in oohs and awws from the children. Then I plan to present my story and conflict.
    You always have great ideas!!

    1. Not always, Sheri! But this one worked out well!

  3. Terrific covers. She did an amazing job with the cat on the catwalk. I went through over 50,000 clip art images to send on to my cover artist. I then wrote a blog post asking people to choose between 4 different covers for the third book in my series. Over 350 people commented. Who knew people would be so invested in cover art? I actually ended up going with a different cover than I originally selected and made modifications per everyone's suggestions. I swear my book covers sell my books. Congratulations on such a great series!

    1. Thanks so much, Cindy! And I'm glad you got such a great response!

  4. I love your covers. They really made me sit up when I first saw them. They're very different to mine, which are moody and hint at something, but don't even whisper, let alone shout murder. That's the glory of the genre of mystery and thrillers, I guess. I didn't have a hand in my covers; wouldn't know where to start, to be fair.

    1. Thanks, Nina. I think the artist and designer did a lovely job.

  5. This is an interesting conversation in that I am finishing up my first cozy mystery and am thinking of cover designs. I know that there have to be several factors. The story includes a fashion show which has handlers and dogs on the runway together, there is showing in breed, and there will be the head study of the protagonist's GCh. Samoyed. I have always done my own covers for my series of knitting books for dog lovers, but this is a whole different ball game.

  6. Peggy, is your book with a publisher? I've been fortunate (and a tad pushy :-) ) to be able to have so much input with my Midnight Ink mystery covers. If you're self-publishing, then of course you have full control. Good luck!