In Brief

I've written a series of four lesbian detective novels, unimaginatively called, "The Detective Series." They are available for your purchasing pleasure on in paperback and Kindle versions and on for Nook. In addition, I like sunsets, single malt scotch, and some other thing that starts with the letter S. This blog gets updated once a week or so and usually has something to do with my experiences as a writer.

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Cover, Part 2

I heard back from Bella Books earlier this week about the image I submitted for the cover of my book, and they rejected it. I was quite disappointed. In fact, I still am. Now I wait and see what their design team comes up with. I sent them a list of things I would not like, and that's all I can do. They've said that they'll have the cover finalized in May. We shall see.

The issue of covers and authors is one that I personally find confusing. I guess the philosophy behind not letting authors have cover approval is that authors are writers and don't know anything about marketing. Marketing is the publisher's specialty, and authors should stay out of it. I think that many (maybe most) publishers consult with the author about the cover for his/her book, but when the chips are down, the publisher makes the call.

A prime example of this came to me from my friend, Kristan, who sent me a link to a post written by author Justine Larbalestier about the cover for her book, Liar. You really should click on that link and read the story in its entirety, but to sum up, the publisher, Bloomsbury, decided in their infinite wisdom to put a picture of a white girl's face on a book in which the protagonist is a black girl. Larbalestier, of course, disagreed strongly, but she ultimately had no say in the matter.

I can't think of a more telling instance of marketing and integrity going in opposite directions. 

You all know by now that I would like final approval of the cover of my book. You also know that, just like most authors, I don't have it. And the more that I think about the idea that I should accept this--perhaps even be happy with it--because publishers are some sort of experts at marketing, the more I am annoyed. You can't read an article about being a successful author and having good sales without reading about... yep, you guessed it, self-promotion. These days, publishers expect the authors to do a lot of heavy lifting in the marketing area, and if your book doesn't sell, they are quick to point the finger at the author who didn't do enough marketing on their own.

A successful book is a collaboration between author and publisher, perhaps now more than ever, and I don't think that the cover should be excluded from that collaboration.

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Reader Comments (12)

Because I only publish digitally, it's easy enough for me to change my covers. My first book is now on its 3rd cover, none of which have made it a smashing success. My second book is on its 2nd cover, and I think it's a winner, so I'm not changing it. In fact, I used that cover as inspiration for my 3rd book, which has not been popular, despite getting some great comments about the cover itself. Will it sell the book? I don't know. But I can change it in less than five minutes (plus design time). Stock photos are usually $25 and I can buy a new designer font for about the same. Print books don't have the luxury of making changes post-launch.

What's important to us authors is not that the cover is exactly what we imagined, but that it is GOOD and does the job. As long as they give you an attractive, professional-looking cover, I think you'll be happy (enough). The fonts are really the make-or-break of a cover. Bad font can make a cover look horrific. But fonts are also the easiest things to change. See what they come up with and take it from there. The work you've done so far has not been for nothing. They've seen what you like, and they won't easily forget it.

Covers can go in two basic directions: stand out from the genre or fit in. If the budget isn't enormous, I think the safer bet is to fit in. This doesn't feel great for us, to be put in the same school uniform as all the others. But we can wear rainbow socks. We can stand out from within fitting in. Sorta.

Graphic designers are often way ahead of consumers and they'll push for the next, upcoming trends. Consumers, however, are usually a few years behind. People are still buying chick-lit books with pink covers, because they know what that means and they know what they like. Imitating the styling of a book that was popular two years ago is not a bad idea.

But covers ARE important. They are more important than any of the words inside the book. You're not wrong to be concerned about this step of the process.

I'm blathering on, sorry. If I do have a point, it's that once there's something to work with, a sample of the design from BB, we can then work on making it amazing.

When I did web site design, I used to be annoyed (but professional) when I got design changes. I'd still buckle down and work on integrating the client's needs while keeping the site up to "my" standard. In the end, the result was ALWAYS better than my original thought.

I predict what will happen here is the end result will be great, a true collaboration between you and their designer, that will be better than either of you imagined possible.

Either that, or you can blow up the internet. :-)

March 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTamara Marshmallow

You and I have emailed already, so I'm not sure how necessary it is for me to comment, except to say that I can understand your disappointment and I sympathize. As writers, we are always dreaming about the next step, and it's usually with starry hopeful eyes. An agent, a contract, a cover, an audience. But things can go wrong -- or at least, less than perfectly -- at every step. And they usually do. Still we (writers as a collective) soldier on, because at our cores, we cannot stop pursuing the most important thing: the story.

(A note on Tamara's comment, much of which I agreed with and enjoyed: Actually, even in traditional publishing, covers can change. From hardcover to paperback, from one printing to the next.)

March 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristan

I hear you. I hate my covers so much I don't even post links to my published books on my website. I think at this point you should follow Tamara's suggestion and push hard for an acceptable font. An original, expensive-looking font. It's probably where you'll have the most control, will make the biggest difference, and is something the publisher will allow you as a pat on the head. You have to take what you can get sometimes.

March 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAveril

Tamara, Yes, if they give me a good, attractive, professional-looking cover, I will be happy even if it is not exactly what I imagined. RE: "I predict what will happen here is the end result will be great, a true collaboration between you and their designer, that will be better than either of you imagined possible." I hope you are right!

Kristan, I guess what it comes down to is that I'd rather go down in flames with something I love than float along in a lifeboat covered in shit. I've talked about money with you before because IT MATTERS. You and Tamara have both made more money with your self-published books in the last six months than I am likely to make with book #1 over the course of YEARS. What am I getting for what I am giving up? I don't know. When I find out, hopefully it will be something really good.

Averil, I can't see myself getting worked up over a font, but I'll try!

March 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterSonje Jones

The post you linked to surprised me, though it shouldn't have. I had the naive idea that Black characters weren't made white until at least when the book was made into a movie.

"I'd rather go down in flames with something I love than float along in a lifeboat covered in shit." I hear you. Besides, I can tell you from experience, those flames don't burn as badly as some.

Also, I think your final point should apply even more with a small publishing house, since I would assume that in some areas (marketing budget, advance) they offer even less than the majors. As Stephen Watkins pointed out recently, publishers demand a lot, considering the compensation they offer.

March 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Lee Collins

My February earnings have been less than stellar. Every peek at my sales report is a kick in the ribs to work harder and put out the next one.

I say get a pen name and eat both cakes.

March 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTamara Marshmallow

Anthony, Oh, I'd say that the advance is certainly less than you'd get from a Big 6 publisher. Meghan Ward did a survey where authors put in how much they got for their advance and then she put forth all these numbers: . The lowest number she reported on a graph was $20,000. Let me assure you that my advance was NOWHERE NEAR THAT NUMBER. NOT AT ALL. WHY CAN'T I MAKE THIS FONT ANY BIGGER IN ORDER TO STRESS HOW MUCH SMALLER MY ADVANCE WAS THAN THAT NUMBER?

Tamara, Nonetheless, I suspect that you made more from your books in February than I have from mine.

March 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterSonje Jones

I can imagine how a poor cover could hurt a books interest/sales, but I have a little trouble believing that a really good cover can improve sales by much more than a fraction. Yes, I know there are some people who judge a book by its cover, but if that cliche has any truth to it, it is that such people are idiots. Is all of the anguish worth it? (I ask that honestly; I don't know about these things.)

March 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Paul, I guess it depends on how you come to buy a book. If you buy books solely based on word of mouth or reviews or recommendations by friends, then the cover is probably not that important. But I know that, frequently enough, I go to a bookstore just "looking for something to read," and what makes me pick up one book from the shelf vs another book is the cover. Of course, then I read the flap or the back, and I might reject the book at that point, no matter how much I like the cover, but if I don't pick up the book to investigate, it's got no chance whatsoever. Same is true when I glance at what amazon recommends to me. If I like the cover, I might click on the book to learn more about it.

Now as for me and my cover in particular. I want it to be something I like looking at because it's going to be on my shelf forever. I probably won't re-read very often. But I'll likely look at it frequently. At least in the beginning. It's important to me that I like what I'm looking at. But it might not be important to everyone.

March 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterSonje Jones

The cover is the single most important thing about the book.

I am an author. I write books. And still I am swayed in the book store to buy books I didn't intend to buy because of the beautiful covers and my desire to own them. Even ebooks, where the cover is virtual.

It makes no sense at all, until you remember than human beings are not rational.

March 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTamara Marshmallow

I'm still reeling from the Justine LarBalestier link. Wow. I knew authors didn't get final say on covers but that story is unbelievable.

Belated thanks on getting a publishing deal!

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDownith

Downith, Yes, that cover is impossible to understand. It really makes no sense. I would not have kept my mouth shut about it as long as JL did.

As for the belated thanks, you're welcome! ;)

March 7, 2012 | Registered CommenterSonje Jones

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