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The Question of Covers

Readers are always surprised to find that authors have no control over the covers that appear on their books.  (The exception is small press.  More about that in a moment.)  It's a terrible feeling to open the package that arrives from New York with your cover flat in it, and to feel your heart sink to your feet as you realize you have a really, really bad cover for the book you've labored over, hoped for, counted on.

I've been luckier than most.  My wonderful editor at Ace did her best, for the most part, to provide my novels with covers that represented the tone and nature of my writing.  I was especially grateful for the gorgeous John Jude Palencar covers for The Terrorists of Irustan and The Child Goddess.  Still, my first hardcover had a most unfortunate cover, and it was almost a career-breaker.

There were other issues with the book:  It came out the year after 9/11, and it began with a terrorist incident.  It was my first hardcover, and the reviews were mixed, though not negative.  Its title, The Maquisarde, was hard to pronounce for most, and even harder to spell.  Still, the cover seemed to be the biggest issue.  A bookseller told me, "I can't sell this book because of the cover."  I wish I could tell you I'm paraphrasing, but that sort of statement burns itself into your hard drive forever.

My newest book, the omnibus edition of The Singers of Nevya, has a gorgeous cover.  That book, a reissue of my first trilogy, is coming in a couple of months from Fairwood Press, an independent publisher.  In that case, I had all sorts of input, and my editor gave me options for the art and the cover fonts. I have no doubt the lovely cover art will help to attract readers' attention.  Fairwood also did my short story collection, Absalom's Mother & Other Stories, and gave me one of my favorite covers.

Agent Kristin at Pub Rants blogs about covers today:  http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-difference-cover-makes.html  It's worth a read. And think about what makes you pick up a book in a bookstore.  There used to be a saying in publishing that no one ever picked up a book with a green cover.  That's a joke, of course, and it just means it's hard to know what will entice a reader.  Romance readers are supposed to like pink, and vampire readers like blood on their covers.  Literary covers are often nonrepresentational.  Do you think you know what works with you?

And just so you can judge for yourself, there's the cover for The Maquisarde, the Kindle edition. Would you have bought a book with that cover?


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At first glance, it looks like one of those knock-off, assembly line Star Trek novels: all that deep space blue, and the hint of a uniform collar. Also, I think there's a strong argument for not putting a full-frontal head shot on the cover (unless the subject is a famous person); it really interferes with the reader's right to imagine the characters for themselves.

A small press published my first novel, and I was invited into the cover design process. I tried to balance my veto power (a courtesy, mind you, certainly not a contractual right) with plenty of praise for what I liked in the artist's early sketches. I was not 100% thrilled with the result, but overall it captured the mood of my adventure novel, and at least the characters' faces were partially turned away, leaving something to the imagination!

Good post, Louise!

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Good points.

I completely agree about the full-frontal face issue--except that in the two Palencar covers I mentioned, the faces are so intriguing--and fantastic, in the real sense--that they were perfect.

It is indeed one of the joys of publishing with a small press that you have more input. The sorrows, of course, include distribution, but more and more authors will be turning to small presses as the large ones focus on bestseller models.