#10: “They’re Riding Shetland Ponies”

26 Pickup, The Half-ton

Just an observational question. Why is Longmire’s head always down on the cover of the books?
-Kathy Golden Frisch

Hi Kathy,

It’s interesting you should ask in that I’m sitting here in my kitchen at the ranch looking over at the original cover painting for the very first Walt Longmire novel, The Cold Dish. Well, not the very first cover… The prototype Viking cover in 2005 was a photograph that had some snow-covered trees in what was supposed to be the Bighorn Mountains along with, of all things, a sidewalk.

In the original Penguin version that hangs on our kitchen wall, Walt is trudging up a snow-covered hill with the Wyoming landscape in the background. The artist is Gregory Manchess and the painting is one of my prize possessions since I had requested a painting for the cover art just because it gave another artist work.

In it, Walt has his head down, and his hat is covering most of his face.

This was at my request because I didn’t want a definitive face for the character, preferring the readers to fill in the blanks with the face they saw from reading the book. This was a motif we continued until the cover design changed a number of years later with the photographs from the TV show. Once again, I asked that we not have close-ups in that I didn’t want Walt’s appearance to be so concrete. The original posters and ads for Longmire also had Walt’s head down, and I can only guess that they took the cue from the books.

It’s interesting to me how often publishers change the cover designs on a series, and it seems that if you keep the same design for more than five years you’ve really accomplished something. I guess its all in pursuit of sales and since I’ve been lucky enough that my books have increased in that department for the last eighteen years, I don’t have much to complain about.

Another point of interest is that the only portion of my initial contract with Viking/Penguin that was in bold print, was the statement that the “The author will not have final say on cover art…” which led me to believe that publishers have had a lot of trouble with writers along those lines. I can understand it in that you work on a book for twenty years and you’ve probably got an image in your head as to what, exactly, the book should look like. That having been said, most authors don’t have a hoot-in-hell of an idea about the publicity and marketing involved with selling a book, which is one of the main purposes of a cover. I always listened to what the publisher and sales reps had to say on the subject, figuring they must know more than some cowboy from a town of twenty-five.

The only time we ran at odds was when they sent me the rough draft of the cover and had spelled my name wrong.

The books have been translated into about thirty languages, and interestingly enough, the foreign covers have mimicked the design where Walt’s face is somewhat hidden. It even got to the point during the filming of the TV show that they had a competition with people doing “a Longmire,” head down the way it always is.

I didn’t win.

See you on the trail,


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