Tag Archives: Jack Olsen

A Twisted Image: Judging Books By Their Covers

Gregg Olsen, the Olalla author of fiction thrillers and true-crime books, was kind enough to send me the cover (above) for the paperback release next spring of his latest nonfiction work, A Twisted Faith. It is, to say the least, a pretty startling departure from the hardcover version that came out this spring (below). (Bainbridge Islanders, at least, will note that the church in the cover is most definitely not the church at the center of Olsen’s tale.)

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the hardcover says: “This is an ambitious work of literary nonfiction that stretches beyond the genre.” And that the paperback cover says: “Downmarket true-crime book-of-the-month fare.” (I’m not badmouthing Olsen here, by the way; like most authors, he’s not involved in the cover-design process. It’s my understanding that very few authors have that veto power.)

One can only speculate about what changed in the thought process at the New York offices of St. Martin’s Press between the selecting of the respective covers.

In fact, one can only speculate why publishers change the design from hardcovers to paperbacks at all. Seems like a needless expense, doesn’t it?

What happened with Gregg Olsen’s book also happened, to a less extreme but somewhat similar extent, with the late Bainbridge Island author Jack Olsen and his literary crime masterpiece, Salt Of The Earth, in 1996 and 1997.

Compare the hardcover (above) with the paperback cover (below).

Now, while I wouldn’t call this paperback cover “ugly,” I do think the term “downmarket” applies here as well. Note the hallmarks of the mass-market true-crime book here: The ripped photographs, the blood-red type and the much bolder title type. (And I’d bet a serious amount of money that Jack and his publisher fought like hell over whether the background color would be black or white … and that Jack won.)

And the change in quotes is quite telling, too. The hardcover features a lovely quote from fellow Bainbridge Island author David Guterson: “A literary achievement of the highest order.” For the paperback, the publisher switched to a quote from Salt Of The Earth‘s review in The New York Times: “Pulls you along irresistibly.” Note the change in appeal from the head to the gut.

Speaking of Mr. Guterson, as his former students at Bainbridge High School called him, let’s take a look at the contrast between one of his hardcovers and the paperback edition. Here’s the hardcover of his 1998 second novel, East Of The Mountains ….

… and the paperback cover.

If you’re like me, you’re thinking: “They’re both beautiful covers … but why did the change need to be made?” And maybe: “I wonder how much in royalties David Guterson lost because someone decided they needed to shell out for a new cover design for the paperback?”

Well, that’s why the geniuses all live and work in New York, and we’re just idiot readers in Kitsap who ought to keep our mouths shut and just buy books unquestioningly, right?

And lest I complain too much, let’s not forget that things could always be worse. Gregg, even the good-humored good sport, shared with me a blog post he wrote a while back on the worst book covers in true crime. And here’s one he missed ….