Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Woe Is the Cover Image

Authors never like their covers. It's like a rule. I don't know how to work around it.

And let's face it--we ALL judge a book by its cover. This statement shouldn't apply to any of the mentioned book's metaphoric counterparts (for example, cf aforementioned dilectible Persian chicken dish that just LOOKS like a bowl of slop). But we all judge ACTUAL books by their covers. I've certainly bought books for no other reason than that I liked their covers. And it's not like I'm the only one (for example, has anyone else felt compelled to buy a copy of THE SOUTH BEACH DIET, even though they, like me, have NO INTENTION of EVER going on a diet in their entire lives? But oh the glossy metalic teal cover!! How I desire to possess it!!). And (I'll be strung up for saying this, but) you probably SHOULD just a book by its cover, since the amount of thought and money put into cover development is directly proportional to how much priority a publishing company is investing in a book.

Alas, there is a strange hierarchy within publishing companies as well, so it is often very difficult for the author, the editor, the cover designer, the production editor (who gets to determine things like the budget for special effects), and the marketing team to all be on board with the same image. Each of those parties brings a different expertise to the topic--and often these expertises are irreconcilable.

You, the author, are almost certainly going to be disappointed no matter what you see--odds are, you have the ideal dream cover somewhere in the back of your head, and you've probably had it there for years. Not only is it difficult to communicate a dream to an editor who then has to communicate it to the designer (by way of the marketing and production teams who approve any maneuvers) but then it is even more difficult for the designer, who surely doesn't know the book's content as well as you, the author, do, to perfectly recreate it.

Also, it is the frustrating but understandable role of the marketing and sales departments in any publishing company to basically nix all the best cover ideas, anyway. The sad truth being that no matter how excellent an author's vision is, it's more important that the cover image be appealing to the consumer. Who is a tricky, tricky beast.

Those are my thoughts. Dear author, be kind to your editor. She's on your team. But please, please, if you can, try to have an open mind about your cover image. Try to keep in mind that everyone at the publishing company wants the book to sell just as much as you do. Also, try to put forth your most very important points about how you imagine the cover before the design sampels come forward. That will prevent the wrong roads from ever being gone down (it's really hard to shake a "great cover" out of a marketing team ex post facto even if it causes the author to shed crocodile tears). This is even a conversation worth having with your editor toward the beginning of the editorial process.

Maybe you can all guess how I've spent my morning.


Kaytie M. Lee said...

I like your point about putting forth the most important things about the cover first (forgive my clumsy restating).

This is something authors can work out with their agents before going to the editor. I've heard great stories about covers where the agent and author hashed out their priorities and then got the editor involved, and the point was it was less stressful for everyone.

Of course, that depends on the relationship between author and agent.

(Incidentally, moonrat, I'm one of your new regular readers and just so you know, I tend only to post if I have something worthwhile to add. I really enjoy your blog!)

Maprilynne said...

I think you should only get in a fight about your cover if it is truly awful. Yanno, your heroine is tall with red hair and your cover features a virtual dwarf with black hair. THAT kind of awful (which are few and far between.)

I do know several authors who LOVED their covers. However, they are also some of the nicest people I know. Maybe there's a correlation?

moonrat said...

yay for nice authors, and nice blog readers.