Judging a cover by its book – reprise
August 20, 2007
Judging by the page views on my previous cover art post, it’s a topic of interest. Here is my 9780778326175_fireside_fc. My friend Karen posted a question about cover art on my web site message board.
“Why doesn’t an author have more input? ….it’s YOUR work and I would think…the author would know best. “I’ve passed over books that had terrible covers on them before…only to have them sent by a book review club that I belong to. Authors and books that I NEVER would have read because of a cover…were GREAT! So? What’s the mindset?”
I gave a talk at a library recently, and we touched on this in the Q&A. Covers matter to readers. We writers might wish that it’s all about story and voice and our unique view of the world, but readers are quick to say that reading a book is about more than words on a page. And so often, the writer’s preference isn’t the best choice for the book. One case in point is the Lakeshore Chronicles covers. I favored a really contemporary, more graphic look for the books, but my publisher kept coming back with this peaceful, nostalgic retro scene. And they were right. The look fits the books, and it draws the eye of the reader most likely to enjoy this type of story.
Sometimes the writer isn’t always the best judge of what her book should look like. I’m not saying she shouldn’t get to voice her opinion, but ultimately, it’s a packaging and marketing issue. I’m not a marketer. There are things I understand about marketing, but I feel better knowing it’s being handled by professionals.
On the other hand, authors can be really influential–and boy, can they ever be right. A famous example is the great LaVyrle Spencer, so hugely popular in her time that she was able to influence her cover designs. She wanted to be rid of the embracing-couple look on her books, because she knew that what went on in the bedroom between her characters was not the most important element of the story. It rarely is in romance novels, despite what critics (most of whom have never read one) like to think. [Note: My own books average around 400 printed pages. The sex scenes take up maybe five pages of that. ]
You could see LaVyrle’s covers change as her popularity grew. She went from a classic bodice-ripper look to covers completely dominated by her name, which was the main selling point, anyway. Ultimately, LaVyrle’s publisher found a great look by giving her a bouquet of flowers, with the illustration of the couple on the inside. These were among the first “step-back” covers and readers loved them–a romantic outer cover on the outside and a picture of the characters on the inside. LaVyrle has always been one of the smartest authors in the business.
The degree to which the author is involved in her cover design process varies a lot. Some of us have “cover consultation” specified in our contracts. However, “consultation” can mean anything from major input to simply receiving a picture in e-mail and being asked, “How do you like this?”
An author might be granted the right of “cover approval” in her contract. This might sound desirable, but do you really want to take ultimate responsibility for book design? In my case, no, not anymore than I want an art director telling me how to write my book.
I can think of one writer who would probably disagree with that–James Bernard Frost, a first-time novelist, who caused a bit of a kerfluffle when he publicly and vociferously objected to his cover art. It so happens that his publisher, in my opinion, creates some of the best artwork in the business. According to his blog, he was so hugely unhappy with the art that he took matters into his own hands.
The original version (above, left) was beautiful and evocative. I might have picked it up, but according to the author’s blog, he didn’t care for it. I understand that every author has a vision in his or her head of what the finished book will look like. In my case (and apparently in this author’s as well), it’s a collage of images from the story. Well, guess what? These images don’t always add up to the perfect cover. Sometimes, you have to allow that, in a crowded market, a single, stark image will make your book stand out. If that image doesn’t literally nail the book’s content, so what? That is not the goal. The goal is to get the book into the hands of the reader most likely to enjoy your book.
The second version of the Frost book, created in response to the author’s objections to the first, didn’t appeal to me, but I might not be the reader for this kind of book. Finally, the clearly frustrated author had an illustrator create a sticker to cover up the publisher’s art. I wonder how that’s working for him. The tagline of his blog says “The life and opinions of an agentless novelist.” Agentless? Maybe that’s a clue. My literary agent has extremely good judgment when it comes to things like cover art.
On the other hand, this author’s blog post about the whole kerfluffle shows passion and commitment on his part. In the hopes that this dramatic flair will come through in his fiction, I submitted a patron purchase request for his book to my local library.
[COMING UP: How does a good book wind up with a bad cover? Check back for more in a future post.]