Cover Story by Julia Chapman

One of the questions I get asked most is how much input authors have into the covers that end up on their books. To be honest, it really depends on the publisher as to how much they include the author in the final decision. But I’ve been blessed when it comes to the Dales Detective series.

I remember the day my editor at Pan Macmillan called me to tell me that they’d decided to ask Emily Sutton to come up with a design for the books. Born and bred in North Yorkshire, Emily was an ideal choice. For a start, she has worked extensively with the Yorkshire institution, Bettys Tea Rooms, her drawings on everything from tea caddies to mugs. And when she submitted her first sketch for the series, I knew that she had captured the heart of my fictional community, Bruncliffe.

From the iconic stone walls to the teapot and slice of brack that grace the cover of Date with Death, the prospective reader is pulled straight in and given a taste of what’s to come. But how does Emily get it so right, especially when she’s often working a full twelve months ahead of publication? Sometimes she’s working ahead of the books even being started!

This is how we manage it. Once I start ruminating on the next novel, I jot down ideas, pulling out the main heart of the story and isolating aspects that would work as images. I have to be careful not to include anything that might give the plot away, while still allowing enough of a reveal to be tempting. And also allowing myself enough wriggle room, should I decide to change the storyline!

When I’m happy that I have provided enough content for Emily, I send a short cover brief. And from that she works her magic! Here’s the cover brief I sent for Date with Danger, the latest in the series (don’t worry, no spoilers!):

Book 5: Date with Danger

Plot revolves around sheep rustling, blackmail and gypsies.

  • Season: Spring – mid-to late April. Blossom on cherry/apple trees, fells turning green, bluebells out, LOTS of lambs
  • Setting: Auction mart on the edge of Bruncliffe; Bruncliffe; surrounding fells

Other Features:

  • Sheep rustling – being loaded onto a truck by two men in flat caps…
  • Gypsies in traditional horse-drawn bow caravans travelling to Appleby horse fair
  • An isolated barn on the fells which features in blackmail plot
  • Samson’s Royal Enfield (cf cover Date with Death)
  • Tolpuddle (cf cover Date with Death for best representation of him)
  • Bacon butty and a big mug of tea as food – from auction mart cafe!

Not much, is it! And that was written when I’d only just started writing Danger and the plot was still hazy. Yet it was enough for Emily to produce something truly amazing, without her having read a word of the finished novel.

I think the true testament to Emily’s talent lies in the fact that my French publisher, La Bête Noire, kept her designs for the covers of the translated works – an unusual step, as the French have very different tastes when it comes to cover design. But the reaction from French readers has been amazing. Time and time again I get told by fans across the Channel that it was Emily’s artwork that attracted them to the series. Hopefully, it’s my writing that keeps them coming back!

Interestingly, La Bête Noire also made the decision to stick with the original comic-book-style combination of images while here in the UK, Pan Macmillan moved to a single central picture for book 4 onwards, wanting more clarity. This reflects the difference in shopping habits across the two countries, with online book buying far more prevalent here, hence the importance of clarity of image when potential readers are looking at small pictures as opposed to a real book.

While my heart still lies with the original style, I’ve conducted numerous polls with captive audiences at events I’ve been talking at and Pan Macmillan’s decision does seem to be borne out – UK audiences seem to prefer the more traditional cover of the English version. What do you think?

Personally, I think they’re both brilliant and a testament to the power of a good cover. And a gifted cover artist. Because, like they say, every picture tells a story…

To find out more about Emily’s work, visit her Facebook and artist page:

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