Friday, March 18, 2016

Book covers

One of our dear blog readers recently had her cover reveal for her upcoming book (it is really beautiful, seems to capture her story, and I love it). It made me think, though: covers are SO important. An embarrassing fact is that, way back when, I picked up the first Twilight book not because I'd heard about it but because of its intriguing cover. (There are actually a lot of embarrassing things about that sentence actually... moving along).

I DO judge a book based on its cover. I've heard other readers say the same thing on reviews (spanning genres). About a third of the books in B&N make me think, oof. Not something I'd want for mine, for sure.

I realize if you are commercial publishing, you ARE giving up some of these powers, I just don't know how much.

How much say does an author have on their cover? Can they give ideas to an artist or is this laughable and insulting to even think of such a thing? And then, is it ever appropriate to bring up the 'cover' issue when you are talking to a potential agent, esp. if all agents are different on these matters? I don't want to ever come across as insinuating that they (agent or artist) don't know how to do their job. But although a cover may seem like a ridiculous detail, it is so important to me.

The Twilight book cover is compelling, yes indeed.

Book covers are NOT something you talk about with an agent before signing unless you want to set yourself up for failure. If a potential client yakked on about how important "the right" cover was, I'd think not once, not twice, but three times about signing them.

I understand how much you care about your book, and how much you want it to have a good cover. I want that too. When you start talking about that before the manuscript is finished, before the book is on submission, before the book is sold, before the editor has done her edits, before the first marketing and publicity memos have been written, then what I hear is that you're obsessing about things before their time, and you're going to require a lot of education and handholding.

While this is not an asshat indicator, it's troubling. I prefer to work with clients who tackle the problems in front of them first and rely on their agent to advocate for them. Rest assured, I'm not going to say "make sure you put a godawful cover on that book."

More generally: Book covers are ENTIRELY the purview of the publisher. Most of my publishing contracts have cover clauses requiring "meaningful consultation" to "mutual agreement" but you'll notice that doesn't include "approval."

I'm sure if you sell eight gazillion copies a year you'd get cover approval if you want it but if you're selling eight gazillion copies a year, you've probably got a pretty good cover artist already.

Also: most authors have no clue what makes a good book cover. It's not just a pretty photo.

And forgive me for this skepticism: most authors who have strong ideas about what a book cover should look like also have no aesthetic taste whatsoever. To support this dire opinion just take a look at most of the self-published books you see.

While it's entirely true that some book covers from trade publishers are horrendous (and yes, I've had a few of those) generally you wait to see what you get before you start talking about what you want.

We all know book covers are important, crucial in fact.

But a smart author will know when to talk about that, and when to zip their lip.

Here's a terrific interview with a brilliant cover designer Chip Kidd.

(When I am Queen of the Known Universe and Absolute Monarch of All She Surveys, every contract I negotiate will mandate  Chip Kidd as the cover designer.)


Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Covers are far more important than people realise. It's probably the first marketing tool that gets most readers' attention. Unless you're looking for a specific author or title, what catches your eye the most? The cover.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Thought I'd mention The Book Designer's eBook Cover Designer Awards. People submit their book covers and The Book Designer will judge them, including telling them why they didn't win. Being told why you didn't win is a rather useful thing, even if one does not appreciate it at the time.

There's a whole lot more to a good cover other than slapping some text over a photo. The font of the title and author name are also design elements that need to blend in well.

LSS, once upon a time due to a scheduling snafu I ended up in a jr high craft class where all the stupid kids got stuck. It was a rather tedious time where they taught us how to hand-letter signs. (Now I understand why so many Greengrocer's Apostrophes end up on signs.)

The poor teacher spent the rest of the term trying to beat the importance of lettering design into my fellow students. At least with me the lesson sunk in and served me well ten years later in my graphic artist stint.

I might give my hand a go at constructing a book cover to see if I can create something beautiful and evocative.

Just on a whim, of course.

Adib Khorram said...

What an excellent interview with Chip Kidd! I've always been amazed by the work Storm Thorgerson did for Pink Floyd's album covers.

I've seen a few articles recently about how covers can "gender" a book—and how hiding covers can change borrowing habits at libraries. Granted those have been examining the young adult space. Of course, now that the moment comes, I can't remember what they were called well enough to Google them...

Any discussion of covers always reminds me of the scenes from THIS IS SPINAL TAP where the band is fighting with the label about their album cover—and finally winds up with a totally black album cover, so dark that you can't read a sharpie autograph on it.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Prior to becoming the amazing writer I am, (huh), I was an artist, (watercolor and acrylic). Won a few awards, (stored in shoebox in the my attic). So I have an artistic eye, whatever the hell that is. I've imagined covers but I admit it's not my forte. But I KNOW a great cover when I see it.
One of the best, hands down, is a bicycle on its side in the grass under a night sky filled with stars. Ron McLarty's, MEMORY OF RUNNING.
Stopped me in my tracks.
It spoke to me.
Bought it, read it, loved it.
Then I wrote my first book. His agent was the first I ever queried. Thank God JK was a gentlemen, and let me down easy, or I may never have tried for a title page again, never have discovered my niche, never have found my way.
All because of a cover.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so Carkoon Island has a library, who knew. Well I guess its not really a library as its only got two shelves and one book titled. "Welcome to Carkoon Island, your never Leaving Guide." Thankfully there is an old CRT monitor, Packard Bell Computer and a dial up connection, so I can read the blog. Yippeee!

Okay so on to the Cover issue of this topic. I am a pretty experienced Graphics designer as is my wife, we met in college, fell in love, had some kids and the rest is history. Well in my line of work almost all Software Engineers know something about Graphics design it comes with the territory.

However, the cover I designed here is not what I would want on my book. I am an ok artist, but my daughter is a real artist and I see her work. That's what I want. I want someone who's expertise is designing book covers to do my cover. However accomplished I may be, someone who spends their day doing covers, gets my vote, hands down, every time.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

One more thought.
Many of yesterday's covers do not relate to the tiny icons on websites today. Something else for woodland creatures to worry about, so why not leave it to the experts.
Where's Jon Gnagy when you need him. Hah, boys and girls, remember him?

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

It's funny, I've primarily heard of Chip Kidd because I picked up his novel, The Cheese Monkeys, during college. It caught my eye in the college book store, where I was seeking fictional succor away from my psychology degree nonsense. It's a great book, with a great cover (plus treat on the page edges when the book is closed) and I wish he hadn't written the sequel.

In general, I don't like book covers. I remove dust jackets from my hardcovers. I tend to really not like book covers with people on them. They frequently look creepy to me, and they frequently don't actually represent the characters in the book. There's more than one fantasy series I've read, then looked at the cover and gone "Now really, who is that supposed to be?"

It also makes me gnash my teeth when a book cover can't be bothered to represent the correct breed of the canine main character. Book with a greyhound in it? Lab on the cover (the book was pretty great, and I can't remember the title, but arg). Though when the breed is correct (Stuart Woods' Orchid Beach has a Doberman on the cover, but an....oddly rendered Doberman, if you've spent as much time looking at them as I have), the author doesn't necessarily utilize said dog in the most efficacious way. Sometimes both match up (Allie Larkin's Stay) and you end up with a far more satisfied Jen.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

One of the myriad of reasons I am chasing down an agent is to get with a well-established publisher that will get my book onto bookshelves with a cover that will cause obsessive book hunters like me to pick it up. This is the one area I am very happy to leave to the professionals.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

As QOTKU, AMOASS (inhale) wrote, one step at a time. First, the story itself, the writing, the characters, the main plot, and those chapters, paragraphs, sentences. Then acquire an agent or hire a cover artist, whichever direction you choose to go.

Opie, I'm with you in liking that deceptively simple cover design.

I work with an administrative assistant who creates cover images for our weekly worship bulletins. She also re-sizes and crops digital photos from parishioners to place in our monthly newsletters. I am in complete awe and admiration of her gift.

My daughter also has that same gift as a fine art student. They look for the way an eye travels on the image itself, if there's dynamic movement in the picture/photo. Something like that. Sorry. I don't have that gift. Someone else will be designing my covers.

Thank you, Heidi, that's the website name I couldn't remember.

Just Jan said...

Very interesting article. Thank you for the link, Janet!

AJ Blythe said...

I'm sure many indie authors never think about the devices their readers are going to be reading on. The thumbnail covers that show on my kindle are often appalling - can't read the title or author, or make-out what on earth the image it. And that puts me off reading them.

Of course I would love to one day have a cover that I adore. But a cover that everyone else adores would be even better!

Laura Mary said...

Carrying on the Potter theme from last week, there are some hilarious interpretations on various translations for the Philosopher's Stone. For my all time favourite, do a google image search on 'Italian Harry Potter covers' and look out for Harry, playing a game of chess against a mouse that is bigger than he is, while wearing a giant mouse head himself. It is possible they are both rats. The beauty is in the ambiguity.

Kitty said...

The book cover on Steve Hamilton’s A Cold Day In Paradise was the only reason I picked it up in B&N. I didn’t even notice the Edgar Award-winning Novel gold seal on its cover. It was the cold snowy night that got my attention. I read the first page and immediately bought the book, and I’ve read every book in Hamilton’s Alex McKnight series since then. Some of the book covers in that series were boring, forgettable even. But I was hooked on the characters, so I didn’t care what those covers depicted. Had I not spied that first cover, I might have missed the whole wonderful series.

And then there was Michael Robotham’s Say You’re Sorry. This was the first book I'd read in Robotham's Joe O'Loughlin series. I checked out the book because I liked the cover -- the contrast of red and black against winter's whites. To be precise, I loved the girl's outfit. So I opened the book and began reading. I was hooked from the very first sentence: My name is Piper Hadley and I went missing on the last Saturday of the summer holidays three years ago. Btw, several book covers in this series depict woman running away (from the camera).

Unfortunately, after reading a couple more in Robotham’s series, I discovered a disturbing misogynistic thread in that series and never read another book by him again.

Unknown said...

This post does beg the question what the heck makes for a good cover? I can make a good list (if not follow) rules for a good query. I have a pretty good idea of what I think makes for a good book, and maybe some idea of what agents might like. I now know at least something about contracts. But covers? Nada. Not sure I can even look at a good cover that I like, say twilight, and say what it is I like. Yikes.

Joyce Tremel said...

Carolynn, I remember Jon Gnagy! I had a drawing set when I was a mere tot.

I was shocked that my editor asked me if I had any ideas for the cover before the cover meeting (who knew they had cover meetings!) and she sent me the preliminary design for approval. I didn't suggest any changes for To Brew or Not to Brew, but I did for the next book--Tangled Up in Brew. It takes place in July and there were fall colors on the trees. They changed them to green. I love my covers.

S.P. Bowers said...

Mostly I just want my book to have a cover.

Colin Smith said...

First of all, Jason, look around you. Carkoon is an exile planet. You don't think Janet would exile people to an island where there might be a chance they could escape? Noooo. Go find the Fuzzy Print Literary Agency cave. There's a whole wealth of Carkoonian "literature" waiting for you. After reading that, you may wish you were stranded on a desert island... ;)

While I do okay at Pictionary, I'm no artist, and though I know what I like and what I don't like, I couldn't tell you why in words that would make sense to an artist. That means I'll be more than happy to leave the cover design of my work in the hands of someone else, but I'll have an opinion about it to be sure!

I like dust jackets, and the aesthetic appeal of a series of books with a similar cover design on my bookshelf. When I buy a used hardcover, "no DJ" is a deal-breaker for me. Yeah, it seems petty, but I really have to want the book to buy it in HC without a DJ. Call me a prude, but I like my books clothed. :)

Pet cover peeves: half-naked men on YA novels. Okay, the issue runs a bit deeper than that. To make it more general: covers that are clearly marketing the novel to a particular gender and age group. Usually it's a gender and age group with which I have no affiliation. And 9 times out of 10, the cover doesn't really represent the story. Hunky half-naked guy is not as prominent a character as his cover dominance might suggest, and spends most of the story fully clothed. I see this as shameless pandering, and it ruffles my feathers.

OK, I'm getting down from my soapbox. To sum up: Covers good. Covers by me, not good. But I have opinions. :)

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

S.P. Bowers, your comment made me laugh. I mostly want that, too.

I've tried over and over to imagine cover art for the books I've written and just can't do it. Not really. It has nothing to do with any psychological mojo of not being able to visualize success or whatever; I'm just not good at visual/graphic arts. "I'm a writer, Jim, not a color, shape, and branding expert!!"

Book covers are hugely important, I think, but that is the one thing I am going to place my trust in those who know what they're doing. (*Please let it be awesome when the time comes*)

RachelErin said...

This is useful because I have also been thinking about covers - not so much in terms of general quality, but because I have been reading about "whitewashing" of covers, in addition to the hollywood casting issues. I knew not to bring up these up first thing, but seeing the list of aaaallllll the things that come first is good perspective.

Your advice to TRUST the agent to advocate makes sense to me. If I don't trust them to be on my side for these kinds of questions, as they arise in their own time, then we are not a good fit for each other.

One less thing to worry about for now!

Dena Pawling said...

At my local RWA meeting last Saturday, we talked about book marketing and promo, which mostly applied to self-publishing but many of the ideas would work for traditionally published authors too. One of the topics was the book's cover and what it should and should not include. Last year we had an entire topic on only the cover.

During these discussions we learned things like how the reader's eyes travel over the cover [something about a triangle and how to lead the eyes where you want them to go, I'll have to review my notes again], size and font of words, whether title or author name should be larger, the golden triangle in the top left corner, size of font and where to place awards, blurbs, etc.

One of the lessons was the change is sales figures [this part was mostly self-publishing] for how you categorize your book on Amazon [different key words absolutely make a difference], and changes to the cover. I specifically remember one series of slides where cover #1 had so-so sales, then the author changed it to cover #2 with better sales, then cover #3 where sales exploded. She said she had made no other changes, just the cover. We analyzed the three covers to learn why #3 was best.

It was very interesting. Covers do matter, even for e-books. Good graphic designers are amazing.

And I am definitely not an artist. A long time ago I played pictionary with friends, and I told my partner “I can't draw. Whatever my drawing does NOT look like, that's what I'm trying to draw.” I pulled a card, stared at it for a few seconds, then drew a rectangle on the paper. Julie said “What is it? Butter?”

Yep, she was right.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

How much say does an author have on their cover?

Lots, but not in the way you think, nor do they have complete and utter creative control.

I've had several books published with a reputable small press. After the contract for the book is signed, I have a handful of sheets I fill out.

It is my obligation to give the cover artist as much info as I can regarding my book. Her job is to create a cover that conveys the correct mood of the book. It is a cover, not an illustration. People often confuse the two.

One of these is the artist's info sheet regarding my book. I answer questions such as, "What does my heroine look like?" "What is the mood/tone of your book?" "What time of year does your story take place?" There's even a section for a brief outline of the plot. Many questions are asked so that the feel of the cover will match the tone of the book.

Still, the covers are a surprise every time. I honestly have no idea what they'll look like. I know some authors have certain images in their heads of what they want. I don't. In fact, I'm so laissez-faire about my covers, once in a section when I was asked about a particular detail, I didn't know, so I put "Whatever pleases God."

Personally, I'm happy to trust the artist to do her job. The last thing she needs is me micro-managing the cover.

Can they give ideas to an artist or is this laughable and insulting to even think of such a thing?

Absolutely they can. One of the questions on my sheet asks if there are any photos I'm favouring or other covers I think have the mood I'm looking for. I'm encouraged to give ideas to the artist. Doesn't mean she'll use them, though.

However, I do not have the final say on the cover. The publisher's marketing department has the final say. I've been lucky in that every one of my covers has hit the mood of my book just right.

I'm currently awaiting the cover art for my next book. It'll be interesting to see what the artist has come up with.

DeadSpiderEye said...

In the past I would've said, hire a really good illustrator for your book cover but the prevalence of exotic imaginary has increased to such a level, that it's effect is greatly diminished. Today the level of graphic expression rendered on the majority of book covers, is rather oddly, quite subdued, tame even in comparison to the exuberance of the past. I put that down to timidity, it's a case of choosing an image that won't find objection. That's not just avoiding the, Smell the Glove kind of controversy but avoiding anything that could stir even slight, negative thoughts or connotations in a potential purchaser. So have you noticed, that faces and figures that show a face are generally out? I've lost count of how many heads have been cropped off into the bleed.

Of course authors don't really have much say with a publisher, in the face of the received wisdom of the industry on this topic. Self publishing though, that's a different story, if I were to offer a suggestion, it would be to avoid typography in favour of bespoke lettering for the title and author's credit, unless you're using a plain cover with no picture.

Anonymous said...

Colin sorry, when I got here my head was a little rattled, I had deluded my self into thinking it was an island, so as not to lose hope of escaping. But now that you have shattered my delusion, its off to the caves for me.

I am really kicking myself for listening to Felix, Buttonweezer was the one who suggested I suggest an Anthology in the first place. If I ever get off this accursed planet, he and I will have words.

Meanwhile I will look at this snazzy cover of CHUM by Jeffery Somers. Oh Colin btw I found your Typewriter.

Celia Reaves said...

S.P. Bowers: Well said!

Kregger said...

We all agree you are the QOTKU without question. (genuflects with abeyance)
I'm not so sure about the Absolute Monarch of All She Surveys...other than it is a sub-genre of your Queenliness.

Now mind you, I've never googled a picture of you so if I bumped into you at an establishment that sells single malts it would be a total accident.

When our youngest attended the Collage of Wooster, his roomy wanted to buy a shirt for his mother with the school's initials. My wife told the young man, I doubt your mother would appreciate a shirt with "COW" emblazoned across her bosom.

The point being, if I bumped into a person with QOTKU displayed appropriately, it is one thing, but bumping into AMASS will yield slightly different results.

Also a mass in medical parlance is something to avoid or have removed.

Possibly consider, an Absolute Ladyship of All She Surveys.

I suppose it's more appropriate for the day after St. Patrick's Day?

End of Off Topic.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Oh Joyce, so glad someone else remembers Jon Gnagy, or is brave enough to admit they know of him.

DLM said...

James River Writers had Chip Kidd at our annual conference a couple of years ago, he is breathakingly talented, but also his presentation was entertaining and useful.

This morning is starting off with cover madness; one of my favorite blogs is the Caustic Cover Critic. He seldom updates, but lo and behold today there is a post!

Jason, your cover reminds me a bit of my friend Leila's cover for her debut ...

Janet, I understand that there is also the possibility that an author's chosen title may be changed. This is one of those warnings I used to hear earlier in my authorial education, but haven't run across in recent years; is it an urban legend - "Don't get too attached to your title, they'll KILL IT FOR MARKETING!" - or a genuine issue?

Mister Furkles said...

Alice Smith, my mother's college roommate, produced book jacket art, magazine covers, and book illustrations for years. She graduated from Parsons and the Paris School of Fine Art (École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts.)

We visited her in New York once. Alice's art would haunt your mind for years afterward. There was an implicit suspense about them. I still remember two book covers she'd just finished. The cover for a book with a title like “The Day the Money Ran Out” was of a fine bookcase with leather bound books. There was an empty whiskey glass and an overturned, nearly empty bottle next to it. Several of the books had fallen over. You wanted to know what happened.

Fine art is like literature. Ideas are worth nothing. It's execution that counts.

Theresa said...

Yes to all of this.

I rely on the public library for books. If it doesn't have one I want to read, I put in an order for it (to help with book sales, too). Then, if I absolutely fall in love with it and know I will want to read it again and maybe even again--and if it's a "pretty" book with a nicely designed cover--I will buy a copy.

With my own books, I've always left cover design up to the publisher.

Anonymous said...

DLM WOW! That book sounds awesome. Looks like I know what I'll be reading next!

The cover is nice I love dragons so I may be a bit biased.

Colin Smith said...

Diane's Links:

Megan V said...

Ah covers. A good cover is like a breath of fresh air, even if it's torn and tattered.

I like to keep track of cover trends—will the girls in gowns never end?—and I often find myself perusing store shelves to find a cover that stands out from what I've marked as a current trend. It started as a fun game I used to play with my nephew and nieces, now it's a habit.

In my case, thinking about a cover is putting the cart way before the horse. (Of course I indulge in daydreams where my manuscript is a published book gracing the shelves with a striking cover; what writer doesn't?). Yet, potential cover issues, such as whitewashing, stretch beyond what a writer wants for their own cover...

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Personally, I'm glad I don't have to think about a cover for the same reason I'm glad I don't have to come up with the finished title all by my lonesome. My working titles are usually really bland and I typically end up referring to them by the main character's name. "Oh, you know, the Juliet story."

Although writing high fantasy does have me a little nervous. I occasionally have nightmares where my book is slapped with one of the old Tor covers from the 80s. There was a LOT going on in those covers. Styles change though - maybe by the time I actually finish something, that style will be back in!

The Twilight covers have always been gorgeous to me (all of them). Given that I was smack-dab in the center of the target audience when they came out (I was just starting high school), I devoured the books. Although I have to say I prefer their French titles. Fascination, Hesitation, Temptation, and Revelation. They just really work with the covers.

Ashes said...

If you really dig around Meyer's website you can find her DIY covers for the Twilight Saga. Apparently she liked to dress them up before sending them off to beta readers. Check them out here:

I wonder how well the series would have done if she'd self-pubbed it with those covers? My instinct is it wouldn't have been the phenomenon it was. But then again, who knows?

Hugh Howey's Wool was self-pubbed with an originally not-so-great cover. Here it is:,204,203,200_.jpg

Wool still managed to find an audience (and eventually land a print-only deal with a publisher). Here's the current cover:

Karen McCoy said...

Not just good cover advice, but good advice in general. I know people who tend to run "Ready-fire-aim," and this is a good reminder to deal with things in their own time, as they come up.

Great article from Chip Kidd. My husband's a graphic designer, and I make no qualms that he has a much better eye for these things than I do.

I also read an article a few years ago talking about ebooks. It discussed how much harder it is to discern what other people are reading when they can't see a book cover on a device, and whether this might affect how books are marketed. I'm curious whether this is still an active conversation.

Kae Bell said...

Thinking on trends, always curious to see if a cover changes once an old book is rediscovered. A book from my childhood I adored was Tuck Everlasting. Just googled it and since it was made into a movie at some point, seems to have an updated cover.

Also, how visceral covers can be. I read a book when I was very little called the Country Bunny and the Little Golden Shoes. Then I forgot about as I moved away from picture books. Freshman year of college, before Easter, I walked by a bookstore window in Ithaca and there the book was in the window display. I had not remembered the title but the unique color palette was burned on my brain, all these pale pastels. Evoking memories more of the pictures than the words, since before I could read, I could see.

LynnRodz said...

Book covers are extremely important. When I'm browsing in a bookstore, it's the cover and the title that gets that book into my hands. And by the same token, there are books that I probably would've loved, but I passed over them for the very reason the cover or the title didn't appeal to me.

Like 2Ns, years ago I used to be an artist, but canvases, paints, and brushes are expensive, so I stuck mostly doing charcoals and pastels when I was traveling. (Unlike Angie who has her work at a gallery here in Paris, my work hangs in my apartment.) That said, I have a good idea what I would like my cover to look like. It's taken from the story. I think even though some writers won't admit it, most have an idea what theirs would look like as well. I don't mean when you first sit down to write, but when you're near the end of your WIP, you can't help but visualize what your book may look like.

I think the reason why Chip Kidd is so good at what he does is because he takes into consideration what an author has in mind. As the article states, "He likes it when an author has definite ideas about the cover and shares these upfront." And I love when he says, "I would rather talk directly with the author at the beginning. It's his book and his book is more important than my design."

That said, I won't mention a thing until the time is right.

Kae Bell said...

Next, on authors ceding control on cover design, a childhood friend who is some kind of big mucky-muck at MacMillan Pub also is an author. Interestingly, even he, who likely could retain creative control, seeks out cover artists to work their magic. Seems like it is about having the humility to know what you are best at. Or halfway decent at. Or better than the average Joe, etc.

Joseph S. said...

I think of what I'd like the cover to my book to look like.

Interestingly, I've not worried too much about the front cover but I have a great idea for the back cover I hope gets implemented.

Cheryl said...

I've never bought a book just because of the cover (although like most I've rejected them because of it), but I have gone out of my way to buy not-American editions because I liked the covers better. The Canadian editions of Harry Potter (which had the Bloomsbury covers) and the Australian edition of Justine Larbalestier's Liar come to mind.

I've also bought books I already own simply because new editions came with covers I like better.

But I despair of any cover my current WIP might have. Romance is one of those genres with some atrocious cover art. Some of the self-published authors actually have better (simpler, less representational) cover design than the big publishers.

Unknown said...

I absolutely do judge books based on covers. In the past I tried not to do it and even denied that I felt the urge to do so, but now, I at least own up to it. Indeed, one of the reasons that I'm actively avoiding self-publishing is so that I can hand the cover decision straight over to a publisher. You know, one day.

Colin Smith said...

Ashes's's's's links:,204,203,200_.jpg

To pick up on what Joseph said, I know what I don't want on any back cover of mine: a full-page color author picture. No thanks. We want to sell books, not scare people away. :)

Cheryl said...

And I just realized how judgmental most of my comment sounded. Apologies.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I saw a cute trick at Barnes and Nobles this week. They had a section of books where the first book in the stack was covered with brown paper and the first two/three paragraphs were glued onto the paper. Once you read the paragraphs, you could look at the book behind it to see the cover. It was really cool.

That said, I absolutely judge books by their covers. I shouldn't, I guess, but I like pretty books. :)

Mary said...

My publisher let me choose which design I liked the best and because the title is The Geography of Water, they somehow printed it in a waterproofy type paper (that is very scientific I am sure). The cover was the least of my concerns but I have been surprised by how many people mention it as readers.

Cindy C said...

I love book covers, but designing one is definitely not a skill I have, so I'll be happy to leave it to the professionals.

Talking about covers does remind me of this example of how font matters. This has been around on the internet for a while, so some of you may have seen it.

Christina Seine said...

I was at the grocery store yesterday in one of those alternate reality scenarios when there are empty lines and the cashiers are standing in front beckoning you to their line. Trust me, it almost never happens when I'm there. I was heading toward a checkstand, but stopped dead in my tracks, mesmerized by a gorgeous hardcover book on the endcap right in front of the aisle next to the beckoning cashier. I couldn't help myself! I said, "Sorry, just a moment," and opened the inside flap to read. It turned out that the book was not really my cup of tea, so I wasn't going to buy it. But I couldn't put it down. The cashier said, "Are you ready?" and I was like, "Yes, yes, just a minute. I have to gaze at the cover of this gorgeous book." I even held up the gorgeous cover so they would see and understand, but alas they were obviously not of the race that knows Joseph and simply rolled their eyes. I SO wanted that book to be something I would read that I actually considered buying it anyway! Is that sad or what! But such is the power of book covers over us we mortals.

Which does not really address the topic at hand at all, but I knew you guys would get it.

Colin Smith said...

Here's Mary's Novel, THE GEOGRAPHY OF WATER at Amazon

And here it is at Barnes & Noble

(I presume we can allow this exception to the "increase bank accounts" rule?)

And here's SiSi's link:

Christina Seine said...

See, I was so wounded that I left the e out of wee.

That is going to bother me all day, dang it.

Jennifer S. Brown said...

I think I was pretty lucky with covers. My novel is coming out next month from NAL/Penguin, and I felt totally included in the process. It started with my editor asking me what style I liked: painted, photograph? Single object, people? She told me to look at other covers I liked and to send her links to them. I picked three I loved and sent them. I mentioned that I personally prefer not to see a face on the cover--I like it when I can imagine for myself what a character looks like. With all I gave her, she came back with two options for me, and I chose the one I liked best. It really was true to what I had said I liked. I was able to pick and choose a bit ("I like that cover, but prefer that font") and ended up incredibly happy with what I got. They even gave me choices of color for the fonts! Maybe this is unique, but I was (am) pleased as punch.

Colin Smith said...

Jennifer's novel, MODERN GIRLS, is available to pre-order from Amazon and Barnes & Noble and other purveyors of fine literature.

(Here's hoping I haven't booked myself a return ticket to Carkoon for this shameless promotion. Tidy up my old office there at Fuzzy Print, Jason--I might be needing it!)

nightsmusic said...

Tl;Dr on the comments because I've been sick and am so very late today, but, I am not ashamed to say I've bought books based on their covers before. If I hadn't, I might never have found Pendergast!

That said, I have a multi-published friend who has explained the control or lack thereof with cover art. Her one major complaint with most of her covers is not the content or composition per se, it's that the hero and heroine rarely have the right hair color. It's a small thing, a minor thing one would think, but it bothers her because she feels that most readers look at her as having all the input on the design and if she doesn't know her characters enough to remember their hair color for the cover, will she know them enough to write them fully in the story.

Back to the bathroom...

Jenz said...

I used to design CD covers, and I bet working with authors on book cover design would be the same kind of special hell that working with musicians was.

Don't get me wrong, they're wonderful people. :) But clients with deep emotional investment get fixated on the parts they love most instead of what a broader audience will fast connect to.

I'm capable of doing book cover design, but I'd still rather have a solid specialist do it for me. I think my emotional closeness to the project may interfere with my ability to objectively brainstorm the kind of concepts that will effectively sell the book.

Christina Seine said...

Colin - I don't know if Janet minds or not, but I appreciate the links. I have a bunch of new books to buy, yay!

nightsmusic - hope you feel better. We passed that one around earlier this week, and it isn't fun. Drink lots of water!

nightsmusic said...

Tablets and phones are wonderful things...Christina, water, tea, Pedialyte...I'm going to either dry up or float away. Haven't decided yet. I do know I feel like s&*t...

Susan said...

I'm a sucker for aesthetics and very much a "feeling" type personality. Those two qualities pretty much translate into everything I do in life, including the books I choose to read. When it comes to covers, the ones that capture my attention first are the ones with the aesthetics and that "feel" like a book I'd want to read (I can't explain it exactly, but it usually ends up working out).

When I was self-publishing my first book, this especially came into play. I had an exact vision of what I wanted my cover to be--not so much for the look, but for the feel. I wanted it to capture the essence of the story--a bit dreamy, wistful, like you're lost in a memory of lazy days and summertime. My designer and I ended up finding the perfect image that matched a metaphor throughout the book, and since the book is set in 1979, we layered a gold filter over the image to create that nostalgic feeling that the story inside encompasses. So, hopefully, when you see the cover, it sets the tone for the story as a whole.

Seeing a cover, at least to me, is like meeting a stranger--it's that first spark of a connection between you and the book, and the authors know their book and its essence best. Yes, covers are used as a marketing tool, but I think they're also their own form of art, hinting at a story before you get to the story, a "psst, come closer and peek beneath my layers." Like literary foreplay.

And with that analogy, I'm out.

Lennon Faris said...

OP here - thank you Janet! The Chip Kidd interview was very fascinating. I sort of figured this was a big no-no but just had to ask. Am very glad to know it's not an ass-hat indicator but I will keep my mouth shut and just look for a really good fit for an agent. I really appreciate the depth of the answer.

Thanks, everyone else, for your awesome input! I loved looking at the examples of what some Reiders liked.

One of Colin's points is my fear - in YA, I get tired of seeing all those pained, melodramatic faces of half-dressed men (or troubled girls with their hair blowing), looking at the camera. And yes, girls in gowns. I don't mind them but sheesh there are a LOT.

Heidi (Your Grace), it is very relieving to hear that the artist wants to get input as far as the tone, time of year, etc. at least in your case!

Time to re-focus on the story again, I guess :P Once more thanks, Janet!

Colin Smith said...

Lennon: Thanks for asking! A good question. :)

I hesitate to do this because it's a link to my blog. But it's relevant. One of my all-time favorite cover designs is the 1975 Pan Edition of H.G. Wells' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. It's so atmospheric, and striking, and lovely! :)

Kate Larkindale said...

I was lucky with my publisher and they gave me a lot of input into my cover design. Guided input. They gave me a selection of photographs to look at and I chose one that I thought worked, and she then worked her magic on it. I loved it! Shame the rights to the artwork didn't revert to me the same way the book did when the publisher closed....

Anonymous said...

Collections of terrible book covers:

Of course, as in so much in art, YMMV. I actually like a few of these covers, especially on the third site.

W/ a self-published book, one should absolutely judge the book by its cover. If the author has low quality standards for the cover, how high will the standards for the writing, editing, proofreading, etc., be?

Donnaeve said...

Ah, the cover reveal. That was an exciting time and the responses, wonderful. I absolutely love my bright, beautiful cover.

For those who didn't see the cover reveal, and if Colin is still in a linkifying mood:

"But clients with deep emotional investment get fixated on the parts they love most instead of what a broader audience will fast connect to."

A resounding yes, yes, yes to that Jenz. There was one little thing we wanted changed with my cover. I spoke to my agent, and he approached my editor. Unfortunately, it couldn't happen. It's fine, I'm very happy, no matter what!

I hope I rank in the category of smart author, :) I never thought of the cover until I signed a contract. First things first, and all that, ya know?

So, yeah, talking about covers before A, B, C is a little presumptuous and sounds overly eager.

Folks, I have exited from H.E.L.L. I'm not sure I'm completely in the clear. I have discovered I can't take Tamiflu. It was like being poisoned. So. On top of high temperature + coughing, I took my pill like a good patient and lost a day.

This is when I thank God for overall, general good health. This is when I think about those with a chronic illness or some debilitating disease for which there is no cure. This is when my heart goes all mushy for those who suffer day in and out. You're stronger than me.

Colin Smith said...

An Abundance of Linkies!

Dellcartoons's terrible book covers links:

Donna's lovely lovely lovely cover:

Donna: I'm so sorry you've been sick. I hope you're feeling a lot better.

Anonymous said...

Collin, uh... your desk is like super messy, and theirs spaghetti stains on the unfinished MS you left here with a sticky note from Felix B.

This place is starting to get me down, there's no Alcoholic beverages, and the guy who runs that Tiki Bar keeps asking me if I want a shot of Nodka and I asked him, "what's that," and he said non-alcoholic vodka. I'm pretty sure he has been sent here to torment me.

Colin Smith said...

Jason: Uh... those aren't spaghetti stains. After my departure to LAX, I believe my office was occupied by a rather over-zealous editor. Just have the cleaning staff deal with it. They have the stomach for such things. Stomach, or palate..? :-\

BJ Muntain said...

I don't know why, but I've always been skeptical about what things look like. I don't trust book covers. I've never bought or not bought a book solely because of the cover. The recommendations of friends who know what I like? Yes, especially if they're really excited about it. If I meet and like the author, I'm more likely to buy it (even online - I've bought some of Bill Cameron's, Jeff Somers' and Gary Corby's books because I met them online.)

That said, I know two cover artists whose work I recognized immediately (even if I didn't know their names at the time) because they'd done covers for some of my favourite authors. Maybe it's the familiarity, but I bought books from new authors because of their work. They would be Josh Kirby, who did the fanciful, colourful British editions of Terry Pratchett's books, who sadly passed in 2001; and Darrell Sweet, who did the cover for several fantasy authors, who left us in 2011.

And a nice book cover doesn't guarantee anything. I know two people with books published by small presses who had different success. One has a gorgeous cover but the publisher overpriced it and it's just not selling well. The other did not like her first cover, so learned as much as she could about cover design and created her own covers for the second and third books in her series. She's sold much better, but she's also more of a marketer. In neither case did the cover help or hinder their sales, from what I can see. Marketing practices seem much more important.

A while ago, an artist friend asked if she could do a practice cover for my novel. I thought, why not? She did. It was not at all what I would have originally considered... but it was perfect. I now know that I can't do justice for a cover. I don't know what to put on the cover. But a talented person would.

Craig F said...

When I get there I am going to lobby for a culture bottle and an assault rifle on my cover. Little sparkles in the culture bottle should be able to draw enough attention and the assault rifle should let you know it is a modern western (thriller). Not sure about the background color yet but probably something dark with white copy.

I hate cartoony crap and misleading covers. I think the color should somewhat go along with the general jist of the book. If the book is light then light colors are appropriate. If it dark then dark colors seem better suited.

Colin Smith said...

BJ: My brother bought me the first two Discworld novels with the Josh Kirby covers. Exquisite. Wonderful covers. Unfortunately, I've had to collect the rest of the series with the US mass market covers which are not terrible, but dull dull DULL in comparison. :)

Here's a sampling. A feast for the eyeballs: THE COLOUR OF MAGIC; THE LIGHT FANTASTIC; EQUAL RITES; MORT--my favorite of the series so far.

Joseph S. said...

I'm with Colin. I don't want my picture on my book's back cover (I don't want his picture on my book's back cover, either.).

But I'll demand they put my name on the front cover.

Ashes said...

I loved looking through all the covers linked, even the bad ones.

If book covers were trading cards I would collect them all.

BJ Muntain said...

Well *I* want Colin's picture on my book. *note to self - hire Colin as stunt double*

I agree Colin. In Canada, most of the covers on the earlier versions were the Kirby covers. Since Kirby died, though, they've been going all black with a picture from the story on it. Not bad, but not as imaginative as the Kirby ones. Though I did like the one for Thud! It had a very murder-mystery feel about it, which was a big part of the novel. And the black worked especially well because the novel introduced us to the various 'darks' of the Dwarfs, including the Summoning Dark. If you haven't read Thud! yet, and if you like the Vimes/Night Watch novels of the DiscWorld, definitely read this one. (It also introduces us to Is That My Cow?, a children's book read to Young Sam, and which was published as a children's book a year or so later.)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

For those of you who want to see it, Chip Kidd also gave a ted talk on book design:
The Hilarious Art of Book Design

Joseph S. said...

Janet Reid,
If you read my WIP when it's published and see "Let's worry about getting off the island first, okay," know the sentence was inspired by today's post.

Kalli said...

Yep, agree with her Sharkliness - many of the writers I see with very definite ideas about the cover design of their novel have very little clue about what makes a good book cover - and often little clue what's important when it comes to writing a good book either. Mainly because such obsessive ideation is only the symptom of the disease, which is a more general tendency to focus on completely the wrong thing.

I used to suffer from this kind of fixation - when I was 10 years old, I remember excitedly colouring the cover of my selotaped together 'novel,' ignoring the fact that it was 4 pages long and didn't even have a proper ending. But OMG, the cover was SO COOL and it represented the very ESSENCE of the story I didn't actually tell inside it.

Nowadays, even though I still paint and draw, I have no particular opinions when it comes to either my cover, or even my title - at least until the book is ready to go to print. Until then I have far bigger things to worry about - like selling it to a publisher in the first place.

Jed Cullan said...

I'll admit, I bought the first Game of Thrones book because it had a dragon on the cover. The rest I bought because it was so good.

nightsmusic said...

I just want to get to the part where a publisher is showing me a picture of my cover...

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Ooh, Bethany Elizabeth, I love that brown-paper-first-paragraph idea. Reminds me of Blind Date with a Book.

Also reminds me of a twitter I saw a few weeks ago. An indie author was tooting his horn. He had a graphic up with his book cover (which was passable) and an excerpt of couple of paragraphs. Oh, the writing was terrible!

The cover might have enticed me in, but that very-unedited sample of writing was a total turn-off.

Still, it was a good marketing idea, and a way of circumventing Twitter's 140 character limit. I might have to give that a go sometime.

Craig F said...

Ahh, Kalli, I... no, I don't want to go that way.

Six or eight careers ago I designed signs. Nothing can make or break a company more than the sign they put in front of their building. Before I got bored with the miracle on demand business of sign design I designed six signs that became classics. We ended up having to keep a stock of those signs because people would steal them within a week of a new one going up.

One of those signs we planted in the middle of a pond. Since it was in Sarasota that pond was full of gators. None of those signs lasted more than a week before it was stolen.

Now I am focusing on my writing. I can do at least as well as a writer as I did in designing signs. The reason that I can do that is that I have been able to build up my writing for some time. I am almost ready to unleash it on the world. If my experience can point the cover in a good direction I will do that.

Colin Smith said...

For the non-Brits in the audience, Kalli made reference to Sellotape, which is a UK brand of sticky tape, like Scotch Tape in the US. Or "sticky back plastic" as they used to say on Blue Peter. Ahhh... nostalgia... :D

CynthiaMc said...

Another lifetime ago when my then-partner and I were working on what I hoped would be our Civil War trilogy, a couple of strange things happened. He ran across an artist (whose name escapes me but the name of the painting was Moonlight and Magnolias). There was a party we had written about, our heroine and her dashing Army officer were kissing off to the side. The painting came out while we were working on the book. Our heroine was exactly as I pictured her. She was wearing the dress I had written about. Looking at the crowd we could see our main characters and several supporting ones just as we had described them. The only difference was the Navy brother (who otherwise entirely matched what I had written) was a Marine in the painting. My partner made a mockup of the cover for me (which was also what I had told him I wanted the cover to look like) with our title on it.

Another freaky thing. My heroine was a blockade runner and I wrote about hers being the last boat to slip in before the Battle of Mobile Bay. My partner was an Army lieutenant colonel who had access to the military archives. He found either a battle report or a journal entry talking about the last boat to slip in being a blockade runner with the same name of the ship that I had written. He was miffed. He was the researcher and thought I was infringing on his territory. I was working full time (2 jobs then plus doing theatre plus both kids were in middle school). I didn't have time to research where I left my shoes. We had things like happen a lot.

JulieWeathers said...

I'm behind on everything. I've been sick and sleeping my life away.

I confess I'm one of those shallow people who are drawn to good covers. I detest cartoon covers. I might buy a book with one, but only if it's highly recommended.

Years ago, I read an interview with a woman who had written a mystery in Oklahoma starring a dead cutting horse trainer ala the Tony Hillerman mysteries. It was pretty good, but gads that cover was hideous. They had the most gawd awful yellow boots with cacti, birds, bucking horses and hats. His jeans were tucked in this revolting boots of course. These boots were sticking out from under a cactus in a desert scene where the dead trainer had been killed.

Oklahoma isn't desert country. As the author said, she nearly died when she saw the cover. "No self-respecting trainer would be caught dead in those boots. Well, I guess mine was." For one thing, yellow is bad luck. No one wears yellow boots in the arena. Moving on from that, they were just ugly dude boots.

Before Tony Hillerman became an overnight success, his covers were pretty ugly. IMO. The publisher republished his books with great new covers. I loved them.

I love Diana Gabaldon's covers. Clean, neat, simple.

Very few authors have much control over covers. It's one reason authors sacrifice virgin peeps to the great gawds of writing.

Kate Higgins said...

In my "real" life as a graphic designer, I've done my share of book cover designs mostly for non-fiction. I would never do one without reading the book or at least examining it for tone and researching its target audience.

I am amazed at the variety of covers that are poorly done, generic images or pulled off some template page. Once computer programs came out that allowed anyone to "design" and offered 100's of fonts; some tried using all of those fonts at once because they were there. The consequences were bad designs the general public became immune to.

When a book cover design shows up with some panache they, become irresistible to a vanilla world. So if you think your book is worthy, talk to your publisher about using an experienced designer. If you are a DYI self-publisher find a real designer with experience (no nephew art, please). I can't really attached pictures to comments but use your imagination; which would you rather pick up and read if you were say, a CFO, looking for book about your job of balancing company assents with a cover picturing:
A) A pencil and a calculator on it (really obvious)
B) An Inuksuk (if you don't know what it is, look it up on Google images. :)

A good book cover needs to tantalize the mind regardless of the content.
The content is left to the writer to do the tantalizing further... even if it is with numbers.
I did a cover like the one above, is was a best seller for that niche publishing company.

nightsmusic said...

Kate, I see Inuksuks everywhere where I live in Michigan. I have no idea why, but holy cow, you can't drive a mile without seeing one. We just moved to this area a year ago so maybe it was some kind of competition or something. I wonder every time I see them though.

Kate Higgins said...

Inuksuks were the icon for the Winter Olympics when hey were held in Vancouver BC Canada. They appear all over the area and originally were associated with with the native indians of the area. They are made completely of rocks in the shape of a human so that's why I used them. Balanced humans = accounts (more or less). I live near Seattle and can see the mountains near Vancouver BC from my house.There is a stacked stone Inuksuk on the top of the Whistler mountain that is easily 20 feet high.