Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Claws of the Cat: A Debut Novel

It is my great pleasure to be part of my friend and crit partner Susan Spann's incredible historical mystery debut, "Claws of the Cat".

Susan is a transactional attorney and former law school professor whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. Claws of the Cat, her debut shinobi mystery featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori, released on July 16, 2013, from Minotaur Books (for more information visit her author page at Minotaur). Susan has a deep interest in Asian culture and has studied Mandarin and Japanese. Her hobbies include Asian cooking, fencing, traditional archery, martial arts, rock climbing, and horseback riding, and she keeps a marine aquarium where she raises seahorses and rare corals. You can find Susan online at, or on Twitter @SusanSpann.

Please welcome Susan to Once in a Blue Muse as she talks about the drop-dead-gorgeous cover for "Claws of the Cat."

Cover art can make or break a novel, but for the traditionally published author, this critical facet of the work is often totally out of the author’s control.

Sometimes, that results in a horror story complete with tears and terror. In my case, it resulted in an unexpected gift.

When I signed my contract with Minotaur, I accepted that the cover art was out of my control and I made a decision. Whatever my cover looked like, I would love it.

I told myself so over and over … “you’ll love the cover, you’ll love it, whatever it looks like,” and yet, some fear remained. My editor, Toni Kirkpatrick, “got” the book from the very beginning, which helped my fear a little. An editor who understands your vibe will direct the art department in vital ways.

Still, I didn’t know, and lack of knowledge always leads to fear.

Cover art sells books—and doesn’t sell others—especially now, when online traffic makes up a large percentage of overall sales. A cover needs to look good in a thumbnail size as well as on the front of a physical book.

Good cover art, like good novels, features motion, tension, and intrigue. A reader looking at the cover must want to know more about what’s inside. The issue, of course, is finding art which can draw the reader across all platforms, electronic and mobile as well as physical. Readers who can’t understand or relate to the image in thumbnail often pass on a book they might pick up in a store. That means lost sales—a thing no author, regardless of platform, can ignore.

A second important aspect of covers relates to their place in a series. My debut novel Claws of the Cat, is the first in a mystery series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Series covers usually feature a common style, and if that initial cover “jumps the shark,” the series may soon follow. Subsequent covers might improve, but the first one sets the tone for the ones to follow.

Minotaur bought my book almost a year before I saw the final cover. That’s a long time to wait for important news. And when I finally saw the cover, I actually cried.

I was one of the lucky ones. I loved my cover immediately and completely, and not only because it represented the book so perfectly.

It represented something far more important—and something that neither my editor nor the cover designer knew.

My father died six months before I started writing Claws of the Cat. He knew about my passion for writing, but did not live to see my work in print. He loved mystery novels, and history, and would have adored the bantering friendship that Hiro and Father Mateo share. It’s bittersweet that he couldn’t share my success.

But in addition to books, my father loved orchids--cymbidium orchids, to be exact. And of the cymbidium orchids, the ones my father loved the most were green ones with reddish-brown spots at the center … exactly like the ones which appear on the cover of CLAWS OF THE CAT.

Orchids which didn’t appear in the concept sketch my publisher sent me, and which I had no idea would appear on the final cover. It was those orchids that made me cry. Because, although my father cannot be here to help me celebrate the launch of the book this week, the all-important cover reflects his spirit, giving it an extra, secret meaning just for me.

And now, you know the story too.

I love my cover because it fits the book and draws the eye. I love it because my publisher understood the importance of images that translate into thumbnails. But most of all, I love it because it reminds me that the people we love are always with us to share our joy, even when we cannot see them there.

Lisa again, here: Not only is the cover beautiful,  but so is Susan's writing. You can find "Claws of the Cat" at all the usual places: Amazon, Indiebound, and Barnes & Noble.


  1. This is so beautiful, Susan. It's such a lovely reminder of how much he loves you.

    Wonderful interview, ladies!! :)

  2. That is so amazing. A little bit of your dad there every time you look at your cover.