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Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Covers: An Author’s Perspective

A good book cover is crucial for successful sales. As an author, we want the very best cover, one that we think looks incredible and matches the story we wrote, and one that appeals to our tastes. After all, it’s our tastes that influenced the story, so doesn’t it make sense that our fans will have similar preferences?

The answer is: sometimes, but not necessarily. The harder answer is that creating great book covers is an art in and of itself, and though we may not want to admit it, authors are usually not good judges when it comes to knowing what will appeal to readers in a cover. (For those that are, you have my admiration and envy.) Sometimes that’s because we’re not talented in visual art. Sometimes it’s because our expectations are too high. And sometimes its simply that we’re too close to our precious story to see things clearly.

If a publisher comes back to us with a cover, it may look little like how we imagined. The people on it may resemble our fictional characters only slightly. The clothing may be of the wrong era. That hairstyle is late 14th century, and my story is in the early 14th century! The mood may be different than our story. The characters or scenery may have features that don’t appear in the story. One of my favorite books, Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, depicts the main character in an outfit I know she’d actually look on with revulsion, and though, she only has one tattoo in the stories, somehow, she ended up with more and more as each cover came out.

Sometimes an author gets lucky and ends up with a cover he loves. It may be just like he imagined. More often, it’s probably a cover unlike he imagined but fits so well with his vision of his story that it clicks. These moments are moments to treasure.

To some extent, an author needs to accept that publishers have marketing departments for a reason. These people do this professionally. Usually, they know what they’re doing. We hope they’re considerate of our wishes, but ultimately, the marketing department and publisher gets the final say. Sometimes, we need to swallow our scruples, especially if they’re over small details, and let the cover go as is.

However, there are times when an author should stand up for himself. I had a typo in an early version of my cover of Red and the Wolf. My publisher did not intentionally make this happen, but when I pointed it out, they were more than happy to fix it. So as an author, we should keep a lookout for things. A typo would have sent the wrong message to potential readers.

Another author I know received her cover, and it made her shudder. The cover was so unlike anything she would have wanted and was so inaccurate historically that she would have been humiliated to have it paired with her book. She went to her publisher and politely brought forward her concerns about the cover. In response, her publisher created a new cover that, while it didn’t make her dance with happiness, she was at least content with. If a cover literally make you want to bury your head in horror or embarrassment, let your publisher know. It’ll be difficult to promote your book if you don’t even want to look at it.

Whether your cover meets your wildest dreams or is a disappointment, the biggest thing to keep in mind is that a cover is not meant to be a reflection of your book. Rather, it’s meant to interest a reader enough to have them take an interest. It’s an advertisement, not a snapshot of your greatest scene. Keeping this in mind can go a long way toward understanding and approaching covers.

For authors out there, what have been your experiences with covers? For readers, which I assume is all of us, what covers grabbed you? What made you back away? And why?

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