book cover art::harder than you think
February 09, 2015
So after telling you about the process of writing a novel, I promised to talk about cover art. How does a publisher get that sucker all spiffed up and ready for the bookstore?
Oh, so carefully. Most publishers have an entire dedicated art department whose sole purpose is book design–the image, the fonts, endpapers, you name it.
Back when I was self-publishing, I designed my own.
Because it matters so freakin’ much. It’s the reader’s first glimpse of your work. You’ve got a split second to grab her attention. And in that split second, you have to convey that a) this is YOUR kind of book and b) it’s a particularly great read and c) she should just ignore all those other books on the shelf nearby that are vying for attention.
How does a book get from the mess on my living room floor…
…into the reader’s hands?
You need not just a beautiful cover, but the RIGHT cover. For example, this cover is beautiful:
…but it doesn’t scream “sweep-you-away-historical-romance” the way this one does:
They’re all nicely done, but guess which one sold the best? Yep, the one that looked the most romantic, dramatic and compelling to the reader most likely to enjoy that kind of book.
After the original edition of The Drifter was published, the art department took another look at what my books were about and what my readers love–romance, fantasy, passion. So my next book, THE CHARM SCHOOL, went through a major transformation. Here is the cover-in-progress:
I sent my editor a little thumbnail image from a book of clipart. I just thought it was pretty. The main character was a bookworm with a rich fantasy life, and this image made me think of her:
Thanks to my very smart editor, she got this sketch out of the art department, and I knew we had a winner on our hands:
I was hoping it would turn into a pink valentine of a book because, well, we readers love pink valentines. And Lo:
Flowers, purple foil, generous endorsement from iconic romance author. It even had a peek-a-boo window with a glimpse at the illustration inside. And although the real Isadora looked like this:
…she got a makeover for the cover art. This image is inside the front cover. It’s known as a “step-back.”
I’m proud to say, The Charm School was my first national bestseller. The book got good reviews, won some awards, made some best-of lists, but I credit the sales to the right cover on the right book.
Oh, and here–with apologies to the redoubtable Erik Larson–is my nomination for the worst book cover ever. On one of the best books, ever.