1.26.2007

Cover Art

Hello Miss Snark,

I know this has been discussed more than once, but I have another question about cover art. (Hopefully I'm not a nitwit for bringing this up again.) I have recently met someone who does fantasy art and is familiar with book design. I know that being my first novel, I won't have any control over the cover art, but can I suggest using someone I know to do the art? Or, do the Publishers have certain artists they work closely with? I just worry I'll be stuck with a cliche cover with a woman and a sword. How much input do I actually have, or do they choose the artist, the design and show me after the fact?



You can certainly give your editor the name of an artist. Don't expect it will lead anywhere. Most publishers have their own art departments, or they have artists they work with on an ongoing basis.

Unless your agent can pull a rabbit out of the hat, cover design is entirely the publisher's decision. Most of the publishers I work with will show us designs but it's a courtesy. I don't use up my favor sticks on covers unless I have to.

And a bad cover design won't kill you (heresy I know). Anytime I see a bad cover I think of the wonderful and hilarious Harlan Coben who had to deal with a bleeding football on his first Myron book. Harlan is a smart guy and a savvy marketer. He called booksellers himself and said "it's a great book if you can just get past the bleeding football". They did, and a career was born. Booksellers STILL mention hearing from him about that first book...YEARS later. He was funny, and charming, but he got the job done.

Like damn near everything else in this world, you can get where you want if you don't give up.

20 comments:

Kimber An said...

I figure the best I can hope for is that I won't be so embarressed by the cover of my book that I'll want to hide under the table at book signings. That way I'll be delightfully surprised when the cover is good. Authors do get lucky and get amazing covers sometimes. I've been warned that every author has at least one book cover which makes them want to gag.

Sherry D said...

Mine is an unusual circumstance, so don't consider it normal. Working with a small press is different than with one of the giants. My publisher asked me if I had any ideas for the cover of my first book. Luckily, my sister is a professional artist and she had a painting I just loved that seemed most appropriate. I sent a slide of the painting to the publisher and she loved it too. it turned out great. This doesn't happen in real life, unless you're Maurice Sendak (or someone like him).

Kit Whitfield said...

If you don't want a cliched cover, that's something you can say to the publishers direct, whether or not they're prepared to look at this artist friend of yours. Good luck with it...

Kiskadee said...

For my third bok, my editor asked me if I had any ideas for the cover art. I did, and told her. She said it was a good idea and they'd consider it. The hardback came out with a completely different cover and everybody hated it. Then the paperback came out - EXACTLY as I had described it. So it can happen. This was with a major publisher.

Anonymous said...

Here's my story re: covers. My first book, a gift book that has now sold 100,000 copies (and, I admit, brought about a religious conversion for me re:the usefulness of B&N in my world...), showed up from the publisher with a great cover. I had held my breath, and fell to my knees with gratitude when I saw the cover design. I had no input whatsoever -- which made me crazy -- and I couldn't have hoped for a better outcome. Glory Hallelujah!

Five years later, I wrote a followup book, same format/copncept, although for a slightly different audience. I presumed that they would go with something similar to the original, since they were books in a series. By this time, the publisher had been swallowed up by an even larger house (one of Miss Snark's list of Big 10, if that's what the name of the list was!). They showed me the cover design in process and actually asked what I thought. Because I had a professional background in direct marketing, I had plenty of ideas. I thought it was all wrong! It was pretty, but did not fit the flavor of the content.Think of putting Miss Snark in a ruffled Laura Ashley dress and Mary Janes...

I suggested they incorporate some elements of the original concept -- and the (relatively new, young, inexperienced editor) took every single one of my comments to heart. I could scarcely believe it!! But when I saw the actual execution, it was abysmal. I wept. This particular book was DOA, and more than a handful of booksellers told me that they would not buy the book because of the cover. Truly, I didn't even want to show it to people! I wished they had never asked me...

I have been trying to retrieve the rights to this book for nearly two years -- and have had a horrendous time trying to make my way through the halls of XYZ Publisher so this material could have a second shot at life. Representation would have served me very well. Still would. My experience with finding it, is another saga...

Bonnie Shimko said...

Miss Snark's last paragraph is golden. It's the reason I've had a tiny bit of publishing success. A former agent didn't think my novel, Letters in the Attic, was salable, so I sold it myself. Then it up and won a major award, got published in China and will soon be published in Italy. My present agent rejected me twice. I kept working to get better and kept querying her and she finally took me on. Then she sold my second book to Harcourt. Nobody's going to hand you anything and sometimes the experts are wrong. If you believe in your heart that your work is good, get busy and do it yourself!

Terri Brisbin said...

Publishers handle the issue of author input in different ways, but the bottomline that has been imprinted on my poor author brain is that "titles and coverart are marketing decisions and not under the author's control".
When I was publishing with Berkley/Jove, my editor called and asked if I had any ideas about coverart, colors, imagery, etc, for each of my books. Some of my requests made it through, but the marketing dept. had final say. One funny example (well, to me) is my request for a plaid/tartan containing blue on the cover (directly tied to the story, blah, blah, blah...). Marketing said that Scottish plaids are red, Irish plaids are green, so no blue plaids on my cover.... I've always wondered if they asked someone who approves the plaid designs if that's true? ?!?

At Harlequin, authors fill out an art fact sheet which asks about characters' appearance, scenes, imagery and even other books that the author thinks got it right for their type of book. Then the art and marketing depts go to town and create a cover...

Overall, I've been blessed with good covers....but, I've also reconciled myself that I have no control at all over that and try to focus on what I can control -- the story, the writing.

BTW, Miss Snark mentioned Harlan's bad cover. Suzanne Brockmann faced the same thing with the cover of her book, GET LUCKY. Terrible cover but she used it in marketing the book and it sold like crazy.

Terri

Sally said...

Must see image of bleeding football.

Rashenbo said...

It's always interesting to see these discussions on cover art. I'm not near the point so this will probably become more important to me later on... but as a reader, I know that it's usually more the theme of the cover that draws my eye rather than the actual details. If I'm in a fantasy mood I'll just look for covers that have a fantasy feel to them... then I read the back. It seems the cover just helps me find the right category... it doesn't really impact my final decision. After all, I spend very little time ever looking at the cover.

Kara Lennox said...

Romance author Christina Dodd once got a cover with a three-armed woman. No one caught it until the book was on the shelves. You could easily look at the cover and not notice, but once you did, it was very obvious.

She got a lot of mileage out of that cover. Sold a lot of books. It's now a collector's item.

Suzanne Brockmann once had a book from Harlequin, GET LUCKY, on which the hero looked like he weighed 300 lbs. In his dress Navy uniform he looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy. So she started marketing a "Get Lucky Repair Kit" (or something like that) with a sticker you could put over the roly-poly face. She also got a lot of mileage from her bad cover.

What's worst than an awful cover is a mediocre cover. At least you can make a joke of a bad one.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you! I will start crossing my fingers early in hopes that when I get published I will be blessed with a wonderful artist whose vision for the cover is similar to mine. If not, well, at least I'm getting published, right? I'll work with it, and maybe, just maybe, someone will love the idea of using my artist friend. One can hope.

Anonymous said...

"I just worry I'll be stuck with a cliche cover with a woman and a sword."

In my opinion the cover should reflect the story. If your heroin is a sword-totin' woman and you think that is cliche on the cover . . .

BernardL said...

Cover art is critical if you don't want your finished material flogged over at 'Bam Cover Snark' or 'Smart Bitches'. :)

Anonymous said...

On the cover design, I basically get to have an opinion. The publishers don't have to pay any attention to it at all. I don't think they'd have had any problem with me suggesting, 'Hey, would you take a look at this artist's work and see if you think it might work for the cover?' - as long as I made it clear that I wasn't going to turn into Nightmare Author From Hades if they didn't use it.

(Fortunately for me, the cover over here is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life. I carry a photo of it around and show it to people, like a ridiculously proud new parent.)

ORION said...

The publisher asked me for any ideas that I had...
I dutifully responded.
The cover should be done soon. I have not seen it yet.
Tick.
Tick.
Tick.

Judyinthejungle said...

Not only is Harlan Coban a great speaker and a witty man, he's one helluva good writer, too! Thanks, Miss Snark, for reminding me of that great line of his regarding the bleeding football. I gave me my first grin of the morning. (Well, maybe my second. I always grin at the scowly little mutt.)

Killer Yapp said...

mutt???????



WV: chomp

Anonymous said...

I had heard that authors have no say in cover art, but my publisher checked in with me every step of the way. As it turns out, I adore my cover. The artist captured the essence of my book perfectly, far better than my original vision would have. I'm for trusting the publisher on this one--see what they come up with first.

Good luck and congrats!

Tish Cohen

Karen said...

I love Harlan Coben ~ I would buy his books no matter what the cover looked like.

Anonymous said...

I recently saw a collection of Jack Kerouac's "rediscovered" artwork including oil paintings, sketches, etc. The art was definitely not produced by a Maurice Sendac, but neither was his prose. It's too bad they were never paired. Imagine a Kerouac illustrated Dharma Bums. I'd buy one.