Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Power to the People: Cover Art

So in an earlier post and its follow-up, I discussed the topic of cover art and its (potentially disastrous) effect(s) on book sales. Over at PubRants, Kristin has written a post on the agent/author cover review process and Brenda Novak's recent experience with cover art gone bad.

Now, while an agent is certainly not your personal genie (remember Disney's Aladdin? "Poof! What do you need? Poof! What do you need? Poof! What do you need?!"), remember that once you have representation, your agent's job is to do everything in his/her power to sell your book and make it a success. So, as I've said before and I'll say again, if you review your book's cover art and are displeased:

Breathe. The following steps will be of no use to you if you don't continue to do so.

Tell your agent as soon as possible. (Preferably during business hours.) He or she will be able to discern whether your concern is 1.) appropriate and 2.) something that can be addressed/fixed by the publishing house, and will then do everything he/she can to communicate the problem to the editor/publisher and get it fixed.

If, as in Brenda's case, your agent is temporarily unreachable, write an e-mail to your editor. Please calm yourself down before you do this. Don't send an e-mail or make a phone call in anger or panic. This is never a good idea.

Look on the bright side. Best case scenario: the publisher eats the cost of a cover adjustment and all is well. Worst case scenario: nothing changes and your sales may suffer as a result, but it's very unlikely your career will be tanked. Most likely, some in-between scenario will occur, and you're likely to emerge from it relatively unscathed. And if your book is coming out in hardcover, remember—there's always the paperback.


  1. Cover art is waaaaay down the road for me, but for some reason I've had this attitude that I'll trust whatever the publisher devises. I may feel differently after I've spent months/years pouring my heart and soul into my literary work of art. :) At this point, it's one of those "problems" I hope to have someday.

  2. Of course a really disastrous cover could earn you some extra free publicity. There was lots of buzz about the strange choice of cover art for Justine Larbalestier's book "Liar" last week.

  3. I found it interesting that Brenda Novak freaked out a little, even if she knew it was unlikely, that the cover would hurt her career (specifically, by lowering sales for the rest of her series, since people might not pick up the first one). She's pretty established, so from the outside, I can't see one cover hurting her that much. A new author, though? I'd probably be very worried if it were my book, since poor sales on the first could hurt my chances for a second, third, etc.

    You're right, though: best to stay positive, take a deep breath, and try to salvage/repair what you can.

  4. I suppose that's all you can do, once the damage has been done. Stiff upper lip, followed by a stiff shot of something, or a soothing glass of wine.

    Must be terribly frustrating though.

    I've seen some dreary cover art, generally in the bargain bin at book outlet stores.

  5. Is it safe to assume these same guidelines for how to deal with cover art you don't like should be followed for titles as well?
    I always thought the author got to choose the title of their book, but that was before I started writing and before I realized it's not about the few words on the cover but about the many inside it.
    Is it common for authors to disagree with the title others have chosen?

  6. Justine Larbalestier's, 'Liar' cover was an interesting experiment!

    Eric, do publishers ever hit booksellers with a cover prior to approval to illicit their response?

  7. Hi Reesha—

    In my experience, authors generally have a lot of say in the title of their work, so I think it's fairly uncommon for them to publish their novel/book under a title they dislike.

    Hi Chris—

    I don't think publishers generally ask individual booksellers their opinions on cover art for forthcoming titles, although cover art is reviewed by the account buyers as part of their sales calls with the various reps. So, no, booksellers aren't generally asked, but experts at each account do see cover art before titles go on sale.

  8. Thanks, Eric.

    Booksellers seem to be an under-utilised resource for that kind of thing. Especially when considering how often a bookseller must notice a particular book pulling in a customer.

  9. I'm interested in what covers have been most successful for their genre, before the big name. What is actually working?

    BTW: "Breathe. The following steps will be of no use to you if you don't continue to do so." I quite enjoyed that. :)

  10. Hi, Eric:

    I have a completely selfish and OT question.

    Last month, I signed a new two-book deal. They're middle-grades about--say--a ladybug dragon. I'm pretty convinced there's all this potential in the market for the ladybug dragon motif--a line of polka-dotted backpacks, a Sat. morning cartoon, a children's soap based on the character's obsessive handwashing, etc.

    Now, far as I can tell, my road toward the designer backpacks and branded face-painting kits is this:

    1) Make sure the books sell a million copies.
    2) Watch all this happen automatically.

    What I'm wondering is, can I try to establish some inroads into the world of plush toys and tie-ins before publication? If so, how? If not, is there anything I -can- do to try to fully exploit these books not just as novels but as marketable properties?

    Or do I have to just ... depend on the quality of the writing. Because I don't like the sound of -that-!

  11. I got lucky... pub'er let me design my own, front and back!

    Haste yee back ;-)

  12. I just read Kristin's post today about another book with a truly terrible cover. It had been put into catalogues, but the editor rang her to assure it wasn't the final cover. How would this affect sales to booksellers? Would you know that there was going to be a different cover?

  13. Hi Bron—

    The sales reps from the editor's publishing house would also be told the cover wasn't final, and they would communicate this to the buyers. (National account reps would tell big chains like Borders and B&N, indie reps would tell the independent stores, and so on.)

    While sales might be impacted very slightly due to the buyers not knowing what the final cover would look like (they get sort of skittish when they don't know what a cover will look like), they won't make their buy based on the terrible cover in the catalog.

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