In the October 1, 2020 issue of Booklist Magazine, I have a review of Lucy Snyder's excellent story collection, Halloween Season. In that review I callout the "stunning cover." Seriously, the cover [see below] will grab your patron's attention. The stories shouldn't need a good cover to entice readers, but that is the reality of our world.
This thought and my general RA advice that we should judge books by their covers as we help readers, led me to contact Lynne Hansen, the cover artists for this specific book and for many others, to ask her to be my first ever horror artist for the "Why I Love Horror" series.
Below Hansen shares her love of the genre but also how carefully she crafts the cover to represent what readers will find inside. She uses Halloween Season as a specific example.
So keep judging books by their covers for general RA purposes and read the first ever cover artist entry in my "Why I Love Horror" series below.
Why I Love Horror: Finding the Right Book
by Lynne Hansen
One of my earliest memories is curling up to watch the Acri Creature Feature with my dad on one side and my big brother on the other—and my mom clear on the other side of the house. Not every kind of horror is for everyone, but the genre is so wide that there is something for everyone here.
As a horror artist, I have the very best job in the world. I get to read amazing books by fantastic authors and then create art around my favorite parts. I get to help authors and publishers connect their stories with the right readers, just like librarians get to help readers connect with the right books.
My first drawings as a kid were of monsters. Acri Creature Feature had an art gallery segment every week where they would slowly pan across a wall filled with art sent in by kids. When I was five, I drew a picture of Bernie the Talking Skull and my brother helped me mail it to the television station. One week, I saw my creation on the screen. Sure, it was only for a split-second, practically subliminal, but I was hooked!
When I started school, my first stories were of monsters. I remember writing one about how when I wasn’t around, my stuffed animals would get up and have adventures—but not normal Toy Story type adventures—SCARY adventures.
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s—BG, Before Goosebumps—so when I wanted something scary to read, well, there were mysteries like Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. And I read a ton of fantasy, devouring Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, but as far as scary books for teens, the only thing I ever found was a series called Dark Forces where teens battled the supernatural. The covers usually featured a shocked or possessed student, and they were only available at our local bookstore—never the library.
At school I read Edgar Allan Poe, and was so excited to find stories that creeped me out and could still be part of curriculum. I made a book report diorama for “The Pit and the Pendulum,” complete with rope-gnawing rats and a real working tin foil pendulum. I can still remember exactly which shelf in the library housed Poe’s books. (Fourth shelf down on the bookcase to the left of the window, and I read every book there at least twice.)
So there weren’t scary books for me growing up, just movies. But in 8th grade, I made off with a copy of Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews, thinking it was my best friend’s book, only to discover it was her mother’s. Probably not the best choice for a 13-year-old, but it started me down the path of reading adult horror. When I hit high school the next year, I got to read Stephen King’s Carrie and Clive Barker’s Books of Blood collections and I never looked back.
What I loved about horror, and still do, is the roller coaster ride it takes you on. When the lows are so low, the highs are even higher, and the adrenaline rush is amazing—when you find the right book.
It’s just so important to find the perfect match for a particular reader, and luckily there’s a great variety within the genre to choose from.
When I started out as a cover artist, 11 years ago this month, I would create art for whatever kind of book you needed—horror, of course, but also mysteries, young adult, sci-fi—even spicy romance. But my roster was always much more on the horror side. A little over two years ago I decided that I only wanted to make art for the genre I loved. If that meant I had fewer clients, that would be fine by me because at least I’d be doing the work that was most important to me. Wonderfully, I didn’t lose work—I got more. And more. And more after that. I’m so insanely grateful.
I think it has a lot to do with being a lifelong horror fan. I know that there are nuances to horror, and although we horror fans love our haunted houses and creepy skeletons I know that putting a generic version of one of those iconic symbols on a cover isn’t enough to connect the right readers to the right book.
Most book covers first reach out to readers as a tiny thumbnail, whether the reader is seeing the book online or across a crowded library. At this point, a good horror cover has to be readily identifiable as belonging to the genre. Even if a potential reader isn’t familiar with a particular author, they still have to think, “Hey, I like that kind of book! Let me take a closer look!”
And when the reader clicks the cover or crosses the room to pick up a book from a display, the reaction needs to be more than just, “Oh look, it’s bigger!” There needs to be a bonus element, a special detail that makes the reader say, “Oooh! I didn’t notice that! Now I want to know more about this book!” (I call this the “lean in” moment.) And hopefully they’ll flip to the back of the book and read the book description and be unable to put the book down until they reach the circulation desk.
Take for example the cover I created for Lucy A. Snyder’s collection Halloween Season from Raw Dog Screaming Press. [Click here to access it.] When you first see that book in thumbnail, you see a giant pumpkin house with excited trick-or-treaters about to ring the doorbell. Potential readers conjure fond childhood experiences with the holiday. Then they lean in to learn a bit more and discover that all is not all soft-focus nostalgia. There’s a silhouette of a man with a knife in one window, and in the other, we see a pair of little hands calling out for help. And is that a zombie crawling out from beneath the porch?
Most importantly, the cover mimics the range of stories you’ll find inside Snyder’s collection, which includes tales that will fill you alternately with love and dread for the Halloween season. If the cover to Halloween Season connects with a reader, so will the stories inside.
And as an artist, that’s all I ever want—for readers to find the authors and stories they’ll love if nudged in the right direction, kind of like I did. I couldn’t have a better job.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynne Hansen is a horror artist who specializes in book covers. She loves creating art that tells a story and that helps publishers and authors reach the audiences they deserve. Her clients include Cemetery Dance Publications, Thunderstorm Books and Raw Dog Screaming Press. She has illustrated works by New York Times bestselling authors including Jonathan Maberry, George Romero, and Christopher Golden. Her art has been commissioned and collected throughout the United States and overseas. Art-Haus Gallery in Atlanta will be hosting her solo art show “Lyrical Nightmares: The Art of Lynne Hansen.” For more information, visit LynneHansenArt.com or find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @LynneHansenArt.