“Eye of the Beholder”

52 Pick-up 2.0, #51 – 12/22/2020

“I was wondering why the artwork on the covers of your books have changed?”
-John Zabell

Hi John,
They’ve actually changed a number of times.

One thing you might not know is that most beginning author contracts only have one thing in bold print—the author will not have final say in cover selection. Kind of gives you the feeling they’ve run into trouble with authors along these lines, huh? I’ve always figured they had entire art departments and probably knew what they were doing back in New York, at least for the most part.  

When I first started out with The Cold Dish back in 2005 in hardback, Viking decided to go with a photographic cover design featuring an ominous-looking copse of snow-covered trees to represent, I’m assuming, the Bighorn Mountains here in Wyoming. The only problem? There was a sidewalk, and I had to explain to the folks back at Viking/Penguin that most of the Bighorns aren’t paved. They corrected that, and the first book went out.

When it sold well enough for us to start thinking of doing Longmire as a series, the publisher sent me portfolios of about twenty artists and let me choose. I picked a marvelous painter out of Kentucky, Gregory Manchess, who had done a lot of movie posters, stamps, book covers and even sixty for Louis L’Amour. I’ve still got his cover painting for The Cold Dish paperback hanging in the kitchen here at the ranch.

After three covers, Penguin got antsy again and wanted to change once more. They sent me another set of artist portfolios, and I picked out Greg Molica who does the Nashville Music Festival posters because his stuff looked like old WPA artwork from the ‘30’s. His designs stuck for ten more books until we got to The Western Star when Viking/Penguin thought that with the success of the TV series, we should try to establish some kind of synchronicity that wasn’t getting done by the little medallion on all the books that read A NETFLIX ORIGINAL SERIES: LONGMIRE.

We introduced them to TJ Scott and Dennys llic at Cinematic Pictures Publishing and their Longmire coffee table book. The publisher liked the idea, and we went with versions of those, mostly with Robert Taylor either in the distance or with his hat covering most of his face so as to not disturb the image that non-TV watchers might have of Walt. We’ve been using those from book thirteen up through Next To Last Stand, the sixteenth book in the series, even if that one’s just Robert’s profile and in silhouette.

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion the art department back in New York is getting itchy, so we’ll see what happens with Daughter Of The Morning Star, which will be out in September of 2021.

I realize it’s frustrating for folks who want their books to all look similar on the shelves, but generally, the only way that happens is after the author has passed and the publisher goes back and re-issues the entire series.

I sure hope nobody’s rooting for that…

See you on the trail,


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