Mysteries have thrived, author Richard Wheeler says, because the
authors, editors, and packagers have embraced diversity and allowed the genre to evolve in new directions. But westerns are dying because editors and packagers refuse to let the genre evolve…even if it means deceiving readers.
subgenres were allowed to flourish nor were any unorthodox stories
packaged truthfully. The packaging was often a lie, intended to deceive
the buyer. The novel might be a mining camp story about a gambler, but
the cover would be a cowboy with a gun. The novel might feature an
Indian warrior opposing western expansion, but the cover would likely
be a cowboy with a gun.
It’s a shame, because I think a lot of people who enjoy dark, gritty, mysteries would also embrace westerns if they could see past the cowboy covers (and they can’t). The westerns I’ve been reading lately are as noir as it gets (like Ed Gorman’s WOLF MOON and H.A. DeRosso’s GUN TRAIL). Scott Phillips’ COTTONWOOD, if it had been creatively and aggressively marketed, could have drawn noir lovers into the western fold…but, sadly, that didn’t happen.
I think the answer is to scrap the cowboy covers altogether. Aggressively market westerns not as westerns, but as novels. Forget they are westerns altogether. Banish the cover cliches of the genre…and reach for something different, images and designs that reflect the tone of the book and the unique story being told.