Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cover confusion

"Never judge a book by its cover." So goes a popular saying. But when it comes to a book -- specifically, YOUR book -- the cover is everything.

I recently had the chance to get a sneak peek at the cover for one of the books I have coming out this month. Because there's more than one book pending publication, I've had the chance to view quite a few book covers, and, in one case, quite a few variations of one particular book cover. (Don't get me started on how much work and strained patience there was for two certain people who worked so hard to get this particular cover satisfactory. They both deserve a good pat on the back for working so hard on it for so long!)

With one cover, however, it just didn't seem like the right one to use. I didn't think it did justice to what exactly the book was about. On a general level, I just didn't like the background, but on the specific level, I didn't think it adequately showed what the book is about. I even asked my daughter what she thought a book with that cover would be about and she said "haunted houses." There IS a haunted house in this book, and there ARE ghosts -- both of which are on the cover. But the book is not about haunted houses per se. And that's the thing that bothered me about it.

A book cover is not supposed to be about the author or what the author likes. It's supposed to be about the book; what it covers, a vague idea of what it's about, an image that captures the genre. You see a cover with two lovers passionately kissing and you know it's romance. You see a cover with a UFO on it, you know it's science fiction or about UFOs. You see a cover with a father holding his child, you know it's either a parenting book or a book about/for fathers.

Despite these opinions about book covers, I still felt bad rejecting this particular book cover. I tried to be subtle. I tried to be polite. I pointed out what I liked (the ghost) and what I didn't like (the background). I know people work really hard to create just the right kind of book cover, but an author should not have to feel guilty about saying the cover just isn't "right" for the book. After all, there are important factors to consider when it comes to a book cover, and the cover is THE first impression your book can have on a potential reader/buyer. An author should be happy with the cover that is plastered on something they worked so long and hard to perfect for publication. An author should feel proud of their book's cover. And if they're not -- if they're not happy with it, excited about it or ready to show that cover off to the world -- then the author should be given that chance to say something about it. Even reject the cover altogether.

I don't regret saying anything if a cover is not "right" but there is a twinge of guilt because when I say something, it can easily be seen as me putting down all the hard work that went into creating that cover. But it's not. I DO appreciate all that hard work. I will always be grateful for all of that hard work that goes into creating a cover for a book, even if I ask for a change or two.

Labels: , ,


  • At 8:46 AM , Blogger Angie said...

    It's definitely a matter of balance. [nod] In the small press world, or at least the part of it I inhabit, the cover artist usually gets $50-$75 per cover. That's it, no additional payment for expenses. If they need to pay fees for stock art, for example, that has to come out of their $50 or $75. I'm sure the hourly rate for the good artists is seriously ridiculous, and I'm reluctant to ask an artist to put in time making a lot of changes.

    On the other hand, this is my cover, and it's going to influence how well my book sells. I need to be at least somewhat selfish here. :/

    I've only had to do the cover thing once so far; most of my stories have been short and have come out with line covers. In a way, that's a bit more restful. [wry smile] And I lucked out pretty massively with my cover artist for the novel.

    Skylar Sinclair (great artist, highly recommended) went back and forth with me in e-mail, came up with something completely different from what I'd envisioned. (To be fair, I'd known going in that I was unlikely to get what I wanted, since my publisher didn't have a few thousand dollars sitting around to get Colleen Doran or Michael Whelan or whoever to do a custom painting. [cough]) I was still hemming and hawing, so she made some changes to it, sent me copies of both, and I slept on it. The next day, I agreed to go with her original cover. I felt a bit bad about that, as if I'd put her to all this trouble for nothing, but she was very cool about it, and even now, months later, I still love the cover.

    I don't know what I'd have done if I'd gotten someone who was looking to do the least amount of work for what is admittedly a pittance. I can understand where they'd be coming from, but I have to fight for my book.

    For my part, I see it as my responsibility to give as much info as I can in my art worksheet. The artists don't read the book, so all they have to go by is the information they get from the writer. Or at the bigger publishers, my understanding is that it's from the writer to the editor to the art director to the artist. O_O Wow, no wonder there are so many horribly inappropriate (although usually well executed from a craftsmanship POV) covers on New York books.

    See this example by Larry Dixon, who apparently submitted it to Good Show, Sir! himself. :)

    There are plenty of criticisms of small-press art, and many are very justified. But it seems that, examining the lower end of both, the choice is between a well-executed but bizarre or completely non-representative cover and a badly-done cover that actually reflects something in the book. Wow. I'm sure I even want to flip a coin there....


  • At 8:40 PM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Thanks for a very thoughtful comment, Angie. And thanks for that link! I had no idea that cover designers made so little. Ouch! I know of some who make nothing at all, working for micro presses. Their hearts are in the books they help create, and that's saying a lot. As for me, I have a personal policy never to pay an independent cover designer less than $100. For the BTMO book, I paid the cover designer $125 (which was a good deal, actually). Truth be told, cover designers would make more working independently than for a publisher.

    I agree, we authors DO need to be able to have some kind of say-so when it comes to the cover for our books. If anything, we can resort to designing the cover ourselves. That's exactly what my co-author did for the haunted houses book.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home