Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Cardboard Coverlet


When it comes to covers for their books, writers are often left standing remote from the temporal space of the Art Department like the monolith at left - solitary, secret, lost, alone and anchronistic.

We are told decisions regarding the appropriate cover is out of our hands.
Told we have no voice or input.
Told marketing decisions and the publisher's imprint style and brand determine the face of the book and all those details of font for title and name.
Not your area of expertise, not your money, so shaddup.
And we've heard the howls and shrieks about bad covers, silly covers, blah covers, and covers that bear not the slightest resemblance to the story inside.
The horror stories. Like getting the author's name wrong.
The impotent - though seldom inarticulate - rage against the faceless, the machine.
We read seditious and entertaining blogsites - like Robyn and Missie's - which provide hilarious commentary on covers that tickle their fancy.
We've also read tales of wannabe/newbies providing an entire package to the slush, complete with five-colour illustrations drawn by their cousin who did really well in his upper school art course.
And there are writers who disdain any contact with the vulgar mechanics of trade, but are highly articulate banshees after the fact.

Beneath the screams of Idiots! Idiots! and other assorted cat-calls hurled across the battle lines separating the artiste and artists, one may find, now and then, a few quiet reasonable voices saying that those packaging minions and production types are not your enemy.
These voices suggest you politely converse with those responsible, present your ideas, your in-put and suggestions, but avoid arrogant hissie-fits if your ideas are not accepted.
Not even if they are dismissed out-of-hand.
At least you've presented yourself as a real, live, willing person, not a pile of pages.
Stop sucking on a corner of your bangie.
Some houses employ outside help. Connect. Don't be unavailable.
Read of one author of an historical novel who assisted the cover people by providing numerous illustrations from old manuscripts appropriate to the period. These, it was said, were welcomed with incredulous joy and greatly aided the cover illustrator.

For some of us, this sort of topic is pure chicken-counting.
On the other hand, searching out pictures that which condense or suggest the essence, the arc of your story, your characters, might serve as a diversion from your lamentable tendency to ambush the mail carrier or check Outlook Express every 56 seconds.
Or as relief and recreation from a red-hot keyboard.
Or as an optimistic pastime when faced with a dry-spell.
And sometimes, they might even be useful when those eggs finally hatch.

Thoughts?

32 comments:

Carla said...

Well, I found it quite fun coming up with a cover design for mine, with all the limitations of no art department, no designer and no budget. But that doesn't really count, does it?

Ric said...

What annoys me is when the cover has absolutely nothing to do with the book inside. Case in point - the Hard Crime paperbacks that are the hit of the season. Stephen King's Colorado Kid - cover had nothing to do with the book. As a reader, I really don't like that.

One would assume that the art department would accept my suggestions - having 15 years of advertising graphics behind me. But, we'll see.

Erik Ivan James said...

I wonder how much input the editor has toward cover design. I would think their's would be quite helpful to the "art" people.

Scott said...

All I can say is, that at my current progression, I would be happy to have a book at all, regardless of what the cover looked like. That said, once it came out, or if I already had a couple under my belt, I can only imagine the shock and disappointment of a shitty cover. I would probably be proactive, seeking out the illustrators in question and providing them with my ideas if they were open to them. In the end, unless they absolutely ruined the book with a bad cover, I would be grateful.

Dennie McDonald said...

gee - I don't quite know say 'cause as you stated the author get's input but in the end really has little to no say for what covers their work.

I have been lucky so far with Samhain - the cover artist who has done my books is also a writer - don't know if that really makes a difference. But he gets it right.

Gabriele C. said...

I'd like to have an input in the cover design. Of course, the artists know what colours schemes sell and how big the script has to be in relation to the images, but I want to be able to say: lovely cover overall but the cheek guards on the Roman's helmet are wrong; here's a pic how they should look - because it will be I who'll get the angry emails telling me the cheek guards are wrong, not the art department.

I don't even want to think about chicks in chain mail on my covers.

Bernita said...

I think the mental process counts a lot, Carla.
I like your cover, the clean promise of it, and the font for "Ingeld's Daughter."

As a reader it puzzles me. One wonders what factors trumped the usual expectation that the cover resemble the plot.
There's no question that sometimes authors are treated like maternity patients, Ric.

One would think so Erik. They are not only intimate with the book but also must have cover possibilities at the back of their mind.

We are told that, Dennie. It may well vary widely from house to house.
Yes, I think he got it "right."

Much my thinking, Scott.

Put that way, I think most art departments would listen, Gabriele.
Think time constraints sometimes cause defects in covers.
"Chicks in chain mail"... tarts in tabards...You've just evoked the latent fear of the serious historical writer.

EA Monroe said...

Now, the Big-Time Guys -- the "buyers," i.e. Barnes & Noble -- have a huge $$ impact with the publishers in what they want on the covers of the books they buy and sell. Maybe it's something "edgier," or if Neil Gaiman is selling, they want something "Gaimanesque."

Robyn said...

Chicks in chain mail. Aiee...

I like Sandra Hill's take on it. She knows she's gotten some bad covers- the Pull My Finger guy among them- and she'll laugh right along with us. She's got a great sense of humor about it.

Ric- did you know someone did a study of covers and found that if a hero and heroine are featured, 95% of the time the hero will have black hair, and the heroine will be blond, even if the characters are not described that way in the book!

I saw one with a lurid font that had "Tempting" in the title, and the picture showed a man with a 5 year old girl. NO ONE can tell me someone in the art department couldn't have caught that!

Carla said...

There was an interesting article in the HNS magazine by Elizabeth Chadwick on cover design, in which she described the design process at her publishers, Time Warner, in some detail. It's a pity it isn't available online. One thing that interested me was that the design department starts on the cover a year ahead of publication, working from a synopsis, storyline and sample chapters.

Ric said...

Robyn, that is terrible - funny, but terrible.

Gentlemen prefer blondes. Duh.

The whole process is a mystery - as Bernita so aptly pointed out.

"...seemed like a good idea at the time...." he said, pulling the porcupine quills out of the dog's nose. "At least he chased him away."

Bernita said...

Provides input on market popularity/taste with that elusive mass of readers, I suppose, EA, from those who can calculate it first hand.

I'm fortunate there, Robyn - made them dark and blonde, respectively.
But there's NO excuse for that last one.

Makes sense, Carla, and sounds efficient.
One cannot expect the staff, with hundreds of titles to produce, to read the entire book. (Even though to me, synopsis is a dirty, dirty word.)

MissWrite said...

I've worked with both, and I do have to say I LOVE the covers I had input on, be it actually creating the cover and having it accepted, or making suggestions and actually having the art department follow them.

The missive: don't send the whole package with your submission is still a pretty good idea, regardless of the type of house. Let them accept the manuscript first, then find out what their protocol is regarding cover art. If they're open to suggestions, or seeing your work, the send it. If not, well, you're SOL on that count.

If you're really lucky, the you'll love the cover your house creates (if they don't accept work from the authors in that regards). A lot of the time, you won't be though. It's just part of the game, I guess. It does seem that the larger houses are more adamantly against authors submitting cover designs. Lots of the smaller, and most of the electronic houses are open to it to some degree.

Personally, large house or small, I really think the author should have at least some say in the final cover. It's SUCH an important selling point. On the other hand, sometimes the author's really don't know what's best either. I've heard of some fairly wild suggestions. The people in marketing, and the folks in cover art, especially in the large companies, usually know what sells a book. Some times they miss though, right Ric? LOL

Savannah Jordan said...

I filled out an 'art request form' with Samhain for my December release. In that way, I feel like I got my two-cents in. Aphrodite's Apples put me in touch with their photographer, and we are currently working together to design the cover for my upcoming vampire erotica collection titled Primal Requiem.

I feel pretty lucky with covers so far, and with Aphrodite's Apples, I feel Blessed! My chickens have hatched and they are peeping sweetly. :)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Tami.
I think it is appallingly presumptuous for an author to submit a possible cover with a submission.
Wait until they ask you to dance, dingbat.

Wonder though, if playing around with ideas for possible covers on their own, checking out other covers, might help a writer focus their story arc.

Regarding input and approval, sometimes a writer's agent can negotiate changes if the author is sickened by the proposed cover.

Bernita said...

That's nice evidence of co-operation and co-ordination, Savannah. Thank you.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Mine's kinda easy...at least to me, but you never know what the powers-that-be will morph it into.

An erupting volcano says it all..."Touched by Fire"

But who am I to say. I quess if I want it published bad enough, I'd take just about any cover...er, except your picture from yesterday...ROFLOL!

Bernita said...

Think the volcano is terrific, Bonnie.

Um...would be happier if you said "THE picture from yesterday" - not "your picture..."

Kirsten said...

Booksquare linked this piece in the Guardian a few days ago -- Lionel Shriver lamenting the effect of digital technology on book cover art.

http://books.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1835288,00.html

Personally, I'd like to think publishers hire cover designers who know what will inspire potential readers to pick books off the shelf. For that reason, I'd be likely to defer to a publisher's judgment . . .

Gabriele C. said...

Hist fic covers are tricky in one aspect I suppose the art departments won't see: if details in clothing and such are wrong, the readers, not knowing how little input the author has on the cover, will assume the book is badly researched.

That's why I'd like to have a say in the design; just to check if there's some glaring mistake. Best would be the designer got some pic of a Roman artifact/memorial stone or something. A bit like Scott Oden's covers. He's a lucky guy.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Heh...LOL...I guess if you claim it, you get to name it..."The picture from yesterday..."

See ya in a few days!

Bernita said...

An appeal for original art without the pixil chill, it seems, Kirsten.
Not sure whether he's lamenting declining taste or cost-cutting.
Some of the computer generated covers do look as if the characters/scene were/was made out of modelling dough - but others are very well done.

It's not a just a problem peculiar to historical fiction, Gabriele.
Have seen a men's action series where the iconic hero on the back cover has his combat boot laces flying in the wind.

Have a wonderful time, my Bonnie. You'll wow them and knock 'em silly!

archer said...

Sometimes the cover has too much to do with the book. I still have a mid-1970's paperback edition of Henderson the Rain King, and it looks like someone read the book very carefully and then turned it into a restaurant mural.

The J.D. Salinger covers are the best. I think they are that way because he wouldn't return any phone calls.

Rick said...

I know what I'd like for my cover - an image of my protagonist, done like a Holbein portrait. Including her head, please - I don't much like the "headless lady" style in historical or para-historical fiction covers, not to mention that when your milieu is based on 16th c. England a headless lady has ... unfortunate connotations.

On the other hand, what I'd really like is a cover that helps sell the book, and here I agree with Kirsten: A publisher probably knows more about that than I do.

So. I like daydreaming about my cover, and when the time comes I'd like to have some input, but ultimately it's not my call.

Bernita said...

Some of the older covers were pretty goofy though, Archer.
The pulp types were fun, looking back.
Find I don't go for the spidery, two-dimensional kind though.

Rick, that would make a fabulous cover to my mind, if done Holbein style - Anne of Cleves?
Betcha though, you'll get a courtley/mountain/ ships afire backdrop...
On the other hand, maybe it will go through numerous editions with a new cover each time..

S. W. Vaughn said...

Cover? What's a cover? Oh, it's those things they use to hide all the words. :-)

I'm only too happy to leave cover design to the professionals. I know my limits. Of course, if my gritty thriller series ends up with a cover featuring a unicorn ridden by fluffy pink bunnies with balloons tied to their bellies, I might object a tad.

Bernita said...

Been thinking about it off and on all day, Sonya.
Think I would be quite happy with a falchion or a woman in a green gown ( even if her hair was blowing the wrong way)or maybe a dragon..
My mind is quite tacky when it comes to covers.

Bunnies and unicorns on a cover for grit noir would, I think, justify a mega hissie fit.

Zinnia said...

I've seen some down right hideous ebook covers. However, there are some print covers that have me shaking my head too. I think the cover should convey the premise of the novel.

EA Monroe said...

What about the book rights picked up by a "foreign" publisher? Merline Lovelace tells the story about how she received author's copies of her "cowboy/civil war" novel and when she opened the box, the cover had a knight in shining armor. When asked, the foreign publisher said, "Knights in shining armor are what's selling in (insert foreign country) and what the readers want!"

Bernita said...

As a reader, Zinnia, I agree.

Thought that the writer had zero imput into covers of foreign sales, EA?

Bhaswati said...

I don't fully understand why the author's input on cover is deemed so insignificant. Yes, we may not be artists, but we scripted the entire book. We would know a thing or two about it, wouldn't we?

The whole idea of the author being nearly voiceless when it comes to the cover beats me.

Bernita said...

Think it may depend to a degree on both the house and the author, Bhaswati.
Have read that e-publishers are more open to input( Tami confirms this) and Savannah, Dennie, and Tami have indicated they are satisfied with their participation in the process.
While the author owns the word copyright, the publisher owns the cover as I understand it. So, ultimately, their money, their choice.