Judging a Book by its Cover

A or B. Which of these two covers below best addresses the question, “What does an old stuffed bunny have to do with a missing three-year-old and a religious cult?”

What does a missing 3 yr old have to do with an old stuffed bunny and a religious cult?


If your answer is “A” you agree with everyone I asked last Sunday



while signing at the L.A. Times Festival of Books at USC. “A” is the fantastic new Suspense Publishing cover for Last Writes, which was the fourth book in my forensic handwriting series (2010). The first four books were published by Penguin, who gave LW the “B” cover. After the rights reverted to me last year, I turned the series over to Suspense Publishing (the people who produce Suspense magazine). They had already published book #5, Inkslingers Ball, so I was delighted to have them re-issue all the books.


Despite the interiors remaining the same, switching publishers requires all new covers. Suspense editor and graphic designer Shannon Raab has done a masterful job of creating covers that talk about my stories in a way that the original covers did not, especially Last Writes.

Don’t get me wrong, the Penguin version is a fine cover—for a cozy mystery. Cozies are books without graphic violence, profanity, or sex. My books are not hard-boiled, but they’re far from cozy. Cover-wise, that means people who like cozies might be attracted to the “B” cover and pick up Last Writes, then be upset when they don’t get what they’re expecting (when I get negative reviews, it’s usually about the language). On the other hand, readers who enjoy stories of psychological suspense, which is what I write, are unlikely to pick up the one with cover “B.” Besides, the “B” cover has nothing to do with the story.

Shannon had been working on the new cover of LW for a while, but couldn’t seem to get to a place where she felt satisfied with her efforts. Finally, she sent me three choices, just to get something going. Note: this is where a smaller publisher beats a big one. The big houses send the author a note that says, “here’s your new cover, we hope you love it as much as we do.” And if you don’t love it, they’ll say it’s too late to make changes–even though earlier, they had promised you could give input. Anyway, on a whim, I went to google images and entered “little girl and stuffed bunny.”

Among the dozens of pictures that popped up I was excited to see one that I knew at once was perfect. Clicking on the photo took me to a newspaper story about a child named Ruby from England who had been visiting New York with her family. When she lost her stuffed bunny, Ruby was bereft. The article asked for anyone who found Bunny to let them know. Sadly, he never turned up, but I learned from the article that Ruby’s mother was a photographer with the not-so-common name, Zoe. A bit of research produced her Facebook page and with my fingers crossed I PM’d to ask if I could purchase the photo of then-3-year-old Ruby.

Zoe responded with the news that she did not own the photo, her friend Elizabeth, another photographer did. She also said she would love to have Ruby on the cover of my book. So Elizabeth and I entered a brief licensing negotiation and voila! The photo became mine to use for the cover of Last Writes. I turned it over to Shannon and the result is what you see above.sheila-usc

As we know from “B,” you can’t always tell a book by its cover. But hopefully, the compelling “A” cover will draw new readers to the book. After all, how could anyone resist wanting to know what happened to that missing three-year-old and her old stuffed bunny?

The next Claudia Rose forensic handwriting mystery is set for release August 2nd. I can’t wait to see what Shannon comes up with for OUTSIDE THE LINES.