Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, July 30, 2009

What's in a Cover?

Book cover controversies have been burning up the Internet lately. A quick recap:

On her blog, Justine Larbalestier wrote what I thought was a remarkably even-handed assessment of what happened with the US cover of her novel. In Justine's words, the protagonist is "black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short." Which is why she and many subsequent readers were surprised to see this cover:

(The image has since been taken down)

Larbalestier relates the anecdotal experiences of other authors who have since been in touch with her, and touches on the fact that the cover choice could relate to the pernicious stereotype that "black" books don't sell. I don't necessarily agree with all of her conclusions, but it's an interesting post.

Meanwhile, over in the UK, the Internet has been calling shenanigans on the cover of Simon Kernick's novel DEADLINE. After glancing at the cover you may be surprised to know it's not actually by Dan Brown:



And finally, the artist of that bull statue on Wall Street is suing Random House for using the image on the cover of the book A COLOSSAL FAILURE OF COMMON SENSE, which is about the Lehman Bros. debacle.

What does all this cover business mean to the authors? A whole lot. What can they do about it? Not a whole lot.

In the US especially, author approval over the cover is kind of like a 100 year old bottle of Bordeaux wine that is only bestowed upon the truly rarefied authors among us who measure their book sales in the gajillions. Everyone else has to live with the cover the publisher comes up with. No approval. Publishers decide on what goes on the cover, sometimes with input from the major chains. And sometimes but not always with the author's input.

When it comes to covers they don't like, authors do have one solid tool at their disposal: the Agent Freakout, a time-honored tradition whereby an agent raises hell about the proposed cover, often (but not always) effecting the necessary change. (The Agent Freakout is reason #1,782,572,081 why you should have an agent, btw).

Otherwise? An author has to trust that the publisher will see the light or just breathe and remember that a bad cover is very unlikely to destroy your career.

But honestly, while these cover horror stories are memorable they're also somewhat rare. For the most part the art department comes up with an extremely good cover, and some authors luck out with a truly spectacular one.

For example. My client Jennifer Hubbard's amazing debut novel THE SECRET YEAR is about a high school boy who has been secretly dating a girl from the rich section of town - she has a boyfriend and they pretend not to know each other at school. When she dies in a car accident he's the only one who knows they had been together. Just as he tries to move on he finds her diary and it's full of unsent letters that detail how much she actually wanted to be with him, but she was too scared to send them when she was alive.

Does this sound incredible? It's incredible. It will be out in 2010.

Here's the cover, which perfectly captures the secret romance:



So yes: you don't have control over your cover. But don't worry. It all turns out fine.

Usually.






126 comments:

Natasha Solomons said...

Jennifer's book looks great. Stunning cover. I can't wait to buy a copy to show appreciation for your blog! (And because the book sounds awesome...)

T. Anne said...

Ahh to have cover issues.... how I long for that day.

sue laybourn said...

A friend of mine wrote a series of three books set in England during the Civil War and Restoration. The cover for the third book (US Edition) had a Victorian wedding scene 0_O. Bizarre.

Stephanie Faris said...

Wow. That Dan Brown cover is certainly bold. I would think Dan Brown might have a little something to say about that...

I find myself very disappointed when I am reading a book and part of the way through realize the picture on the cover looks nothing like what is described in the book. I was reading a book recently with a heroine who had short, spiky dark hair but guess what was on the cover? A woman with long, flowing blond hair. It always makes me wonder what happened.

Keri Stevens said...

This is the first I've heard of the Agent Freakout. Very cool.

Captcha is "reatorns"--which is what the cover mock-up looks like once it's sent back to publisher after an Agent Freakout, I guess.

RW said...

I've heard that author's rarely have control or veto power, but I've always wondered if the publisher is open to suggestion in advance anyway. Every once in awhile I'll see an art photo and think, "That comes close to having the vibe of my book," and I'll imagine the lucky day when a publisher is prepping my manuscript that I can say, You should check out this photographer's work. Are they just going to think that's annoying.

Ink said...

Kudos to everyone on the cover of Chabon's Kavalier and Clay - love the way everyone thought ahead and left lots of room for the Pulitzer Prize sticker.

Kristin Tubb said...

I agree - "bold" is certainly one way to describe that Dan Brown(ish) cover. Hmmph.

I lucked out with regards to covers - I love-love-love the one designed for my mg novel. And - bonus - I actually got to meet the model on my cover at one of my signings! She lives a mere three hours from me. Very surreal, to look up and see her standing in line after seeing her on the cover every day for nearly a year prior...

Love book covers! Also check out www.jacketwhys.wordpress.com. Great blog, exclusively discussing book jackets.

Nathan Bransford said...

RW-

In most cases the publisher will want to let the cover designer just do their thing. If the author then has input they'll usually hear them out and possibly make changes, but this is what the art department is there for. They know the comp titles, they do this for a living, etc. etc.

JaxPop said...

Anyone not checking out Jenn Hubbard's blog every day is truly missing out. She's talented, helpful & ..ready for this ... an extremely nice person. I can't wait to read her book.

Natalie said...

THE SECRET YEAR sounds like it'll make me cry a lot, but it also sounds seriously fantastic.

While most of the time I think covers aren't too big of an issue, it can be frustrating to a reader when they're misled (like that LIAR cover). When I picked up WINGS, the title and cover gave off a certain impression—one that was not met in the book.

As a reader, it really frustrated me because I had to "get over" my expectations from the cover to really enjoy the book.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

I'm gonna be so bloody PISSED OFF if some publisher decides to put a white chick on the front cover of my novel! It's total bullshit that we can't have the final say for the front cover.

Kat Harris said...

Uh, yeah. I'd like Stephen King's name in large print on the cover of my book when it comes out.

We'll just put my byline in itty bitty letters underneath.

Nothing against Dan Brown, but if I were Simon Kernick, I'd be a little insulted.

Bane of Anubis said...

The Dan Brown thing's not too bad -- a bit of smoke and mirrors, but not Enron level like the Liar cover (of course, playing DA, the pubs could probably say the cover reflects the title).

M. Gray said...

How about the latest cover blunder with Brenda Novak's book, The Perfect Couple? You couldn't even make out her name, the font type was so dark.

Poor Novak. She seems to have taken that one in stride, though.

Cadence said...

I know you have posted about it before, but I just have to reiterate how amazing the cover for COLUMBINE is.

Probably almost as amazing as the Agent Freakout. Are there workshops for that?

Ken Wheaton said...

Excellent post. I can send this around to people asking me how much say-so I had in my first book's cover. Answer: None. Still, I was thrilled with the way it turned out.

Anonymous said...

The UK loves bait and switch covers. Quick, look at this cover and tell me who wrote Wings.

http://cityofbooks.blogspot.com/2009/03/news-wings-and-forest-teeth-uk-covers.html

The First Carol said...

Pssst...I think the book is named DEADLINE (not Decline) either way delete this comment once read. I swore I'd never correct anyone online again...

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Agent Freakout! Oh, how I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that.
Love the cover for The Secret Year, and it sounds like a heartbreaker. I bet it sells well.
I am amazed that publishers let less-than-good covers go through because it will impact sales. Everybody sees the cover first and may reach for it based solely on that. After all the work to get it that far, why slack off at the end?

Nathan Bransford said...

first carol-

Thanks! Fixed.

Matilda McCloud said...

One of the covers of my undersea books came out really badly--so much so that my co-author and I had a major Co-Author Freakout, supported by an Agent Freakout. This mistake was a printers' error. The dolphins on the cover looked as if they were swimming in some dark cave. The result of all our freaking out? The book (which has already been printed) was reprinted right away with a beautiful new photo on the cover. The key to success? Only freak out when it's really important and be calm and reasonable 98% of the rest of the time--then people will listen to you when you have a real problem.

If I was the author of Liar I would have had Major Freakout. I'm sorry--that's just plain wrong, no matter how you look at it.

Dara said...

That first cover...just wow. I'd be irritated about it. She may be slightly correct on the stereotype thing, but perhaps companies should try and break that (if it does exist).

Nathan Bransford said...

Definitely agree with Matilda. Any and all Freaking Out should be as a last resort only.

Rick Daley said...

If I saw the Dan Brown cover I might pick it up out of curiosity (which is probably what they are hoping for) but I would never buy it. If they tried to dupe me with the cover, I'm going to assume that the rest of the book is also a farce. Plus I think that's an unfair deception point.

(Get it? Deception Point is a Dan Brown novel. Me so funny.)

Suzanne said...

I believe cover art is incredibly important to sales as it is the first thing that will get me to pickup a book and at least read the back cover. Once it's in my hands, it's up to the author to sell me on the purchase.

I'm surprised that authors have so little say in their cover art. Perhaps publishers have the perspective 'just leave this to the professionals'.

Emilie said...

Look - I'd let a publisher put a naked baboon's but on the cover of my book - just so long as they would agree to publish it.

Genella deGrey said...

A misleading cover is like false advertising, IMHO.

If I owned a publishing house, I would make bloody sure the details were seen to such as short brown hair vs. long red, blue eyes vs. green or the absolute worst— a contemp cover on a historical and vise versa.

The picture on the cover is just as important as spelling the names of the characters correctly in the back of the book blurb.

G.
Jumps down from her soap box*

Anna said...

I just shared the end of this post with my sixteen-year-old daughter; we both agreed this will be the big teen movie in, say maybe, 2012...

Or perhaps not only for teens... I want to read Jennifer Hubbard's book!

Teen daughter returned to her own thing, then had to ask... Where did I get this info? I had to smile; only the agent blog I read daily. Nathan, thanks for raising my status, if only for today.

Jenn said...

LOL..."The Agent Freakout".

Is that trademarked? ;)

Yat-Yee said...

The Agent Freakout: to be filed away in toolbox.

Thermocline said...

I get the point that this is what the Art Department does, but it seems like it might help to hear from the author before creating a cover. Call it Being Open To Inspiration rather than Post-Design Approval if that makes everyone feel better about guarding their turf.

Marsha Sigman said...

Emilie: I love this-
'I'd let a publisher put a naked baboon's but on the cover of my book - just so long as they would agree to publish it.'

You could title it 'Zoo Tails'.

I am in complete agreement but I would freak on the name thing. After working so hard to get to that step, you better be able to tell I am the author.

Allison Brennan said...

I tend to freak out about covers. I've been happy with most of my covers, but there were a few I really didn't like. I don't have cover approval, but they usually ask my opinion. Once they made changes that I wanted and the cover turned out fantastic, and they agreed that it worked better than the original. Once they didn't make changes that I wanted. I still cringe when I look at the cover. And then sometimes they get it right the first time and I'm stunned speechless, like with my first supernatural thriller that comes out next year.

They want books to sell--they want to make money. They put the best package they can together, taking into account genre, placement, format, target audience, marketing, sales, who your editor is, who your agent is, who you are, where you are on the list with your publisher, what other authors are coming out that month who are bigger than you (i.e. what cover treatments they have), and the discretion of the art director. Was he having a bad day? Then there's different visions for the book, different ideas of what is selling (or what WILL be selling 6 months from now) and the buyers (i.e. major accounts like walmart, target, BN, borders buyers who often have sway over cover treatments.) It's amazing that they get it right as often as they do. And it's amazing that when we all THINK it's the best cover on the planet, sometimes the book tanks. Or one month suddenly every cover is blue and the one that's red sells like hotcakes.

Mary said...

An edition of Wuthering Heights was recently released in the UK with a cover that looks just like part of the Twilight Saga. Next to which it is conveniently positioned in a major supermarket, labelled “New”.

It’s sure to sell. But I imagine quite a few readers will feel mislead and be somewhat surprised by the story.

Margaret Yang said...

Wow, you and I have completely opposite tastes as to what is a "stunning" cover. The ones you linked to aren't to my taste at all.

Funny old world, isn't it?

A Paperback Writer said...

Secret Year looks great! :)
And the whole cover wars thing just makes me think that authors are going to rebel over this sometime soon....

sex scenes at starbucks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'm totally offended by that DAN BROWN in monstrous font on someone else's book. Especially cuz I don't love Dan Brown. His name is not a huge selling point for me personally. I also suspect it's that way more to reinstate Dan Brown into the mindset of the marketplace than to sell that book. (Pretty sure he has a book coming out soon?) But hell, maybe the author won't care, especially if it sells a ton of books.

Don't even get me started on LIAR (which I've heard is brilliant).

I'm all for marketing and sales. But at some point marketing crosses lines and sullies the art its trying to sell.

Ello said...

I think the psychology of book covers is very interesting because I am a big "buy a book because of the cover" type person. It is also why I have quite a few books that I've bought and never finished because the book had nothing to do with the vibe that the cover gave. Case in point would be that Liar cover. I like reading books with an unreliable narrator. I think Ishiguro is one of the best authors for that type of narration. But I don't expect the publisher to lie to me about the character in the book. It would really irk me and destroy my desire to read the book. I don't know why they didn't keep the Australian cover - which was just the shadowy words of Liar - I found that much more effective and to the point of the book.

I also am a moody reader. The vibe of the book cover should match the mood I'm in. They went from an edgy cover to more of a chicklit cover. It's beautiful, but just not in keeping with the book. It's a lie - which when all is said and done actually does sort of fit for a book titled Liar. Hmmmm - maybe I understand their logic now? Still don't like it.

Marla Warren said...

If you are an author, is there a limit to the number of Agent Freakouts you get in your career? It's probably not a good idea to use them up frivolously.

Mary said...

I have just learned (perhaps later than everyone else on the planet) that Wuthering Heights has been repackaged to fit the Twilight look because it is “Bella and Edward’s favourite book.” While it is also being pushed as “a prequel to Twilight”... Which seems a marketing stretch too far.

nkrell said...

Nathan, I like the positive way you ended this post.

Book covers are kind of like the Oscars, I guess. Sometimes, when you see what people wear on the red carpet, you think "They have ALL of that money and THAT is what they decide to wear?"

abc said...

I love that cover for The Secret Year. It is very intriguing. And I also like it because it doesn't try to be Twilight. Love the Columbine cover, too. Just read that. Amazing! The Dan Brown thing makes me laugh. And cringe. I feel horrible for the Liar cover. And I feel horrible for all the YA novel writers with book covers that try to look like Twilight. Do I say this too much?

Looking forward to reading Jennifer's book. Juicy!

Keren David said...

This whole debate has just made me appreciate all the more my wonderful publishers who have involved me at every stage of the cover design process. As a first time author I had no idea that this was such a rare honour. There are advantages to being published by a relatively small publisher.

My editor said - it's crazy to expect an author to sell something she doesn't like the look of. I love the cover they've come up with - and I'm still bugging them about the small details.

Other Lisa said...

I'd read about the "Liar" cover. Seems to me that this situation called for an Agent Freakout, if ever one did. It's one thing to have some details wrong or for the cover to not be perfect, but to have one that falsely represents the book crosses the line, IMO. Especially with everyone so worried about declining readership, why would you want to p.o. a huge segment of potential readers?

The Dan Brown thing reminds me of a Monty Python sketch or something. Sheesh.

Very much looking forward to Jennifer Hubbard's book next year! And yeah, that is a great cover!

hannah said...

Oh God, I cannot stop staring at Jennifer's cover. Beautiful.

Tamara Dever said...

As a book designer I believe it's unthinkable to use an image on the cover that does not properly reflect the character in the story. We design for mainly small and independent publishers and have won many national awards. It takes little effort to ask the author to fill out a questionnaire describing the main characters and settings (among other details). Most book designers don't have the luxury of reading the entire book before creating its cover/interior. We should all rely on information from the author as well as publishers and distributors to create a unique, eye-catching, relevant, and saleable book. It's our job. Each author deserves to share their thoughts and ideas, but most aren't designers, so can't envision the grand possibilities. That's why this needs to be a partnership. We trust their passion for their story and they trust our expertise to make it shine!

Amy Cochran said...

Wow. Nathan, in your fAQ post "Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer" under "2. Maintain your integrity." I think you need to add a subsection; a. When to freak out on a publishing company.

The cover for Liar isn't so bad. Actually I find it ironic and a bit funny. Deadline is somthing else completely. Its deceptive and just wrong. This is a perfect reason for an author or agent freak out.

The average person going into a bookstore doesn't understand the many facets of the literary world. These people have many misconceptions including; the author has control over all book decisions from begining to end.

If a guy sells cars for a living picks up this book and begins to read it he's going to be disgusted. Problem is he's not going to be digusted with the publishing company but the author; afterall it's the author's name on the cover. Even if the publishing company fixes the problem, the damage to the author's integrity is already done.
People talk and word of mouth can either raise you up or destroy you.

storyqueen said...

Makes me want to get an agent just so I can someday experience somebody Freaking OUT on my behalf!!

Ahhh, the secret weapon......



Shelley

CindaChima said...

Wow, I think STEPHENIE MEYER is going to love my next book in very large type.
I write for teens, and they totally judge a book by its cover. There was a huge argument at my publishing house over whether they could put roses in the corner of the cover (too girlie) even though the centerpiece was a gigormous sword.
Covers are TOTALLY important, and I've been very lucky with mine.
I have experienced the agent freakout, and it is awesome when you're not on the receiving end.
I know photos of people on covers are appealing, but they almost never match my personal concept of what characters look like. It's especially annoying if they come out with a photo cover after I've read the book.

Anonymous said...

The Dan Brown stunt is ridiculous. If I were Brown and/or his publisher. I'd sue for using my name without licensing (unless they did license his name for cover use--there's a nice revenue stream if you can get it).

But it comes off as a cheap, desperate ploy. I'd be super-pissed if they put some other author's name in bigger font than my own on my book.

Jenny said...

What too many book designers seem to forget is that a book cover has to be readable when reduced to Amazon thumbnail size.

Your book is going to sell via the "other people who bought this book bought there" array but not if the cover is impossible to understand. I see a lot of covers that don't work on Amazon.

Also, your cover better have print that can be read when spine out. Very, very few books are shelved face out in the chains. I see book design where the designer uses fonts that aren't readable or colors that are hard to see on the spine.

These are major issues that sometimes get sacrificed to fancy (unreadable) fonts and someone's delusions of being an artist.

I see some really distracting book design hitting the shelves of late too. You do not need to put a gray graphic at the bottom of every page. You don't need to put the chapter heading on the outer margin. People do, but really, you don't.

Kristi said...

Jennifer's cover is fantastic!

Nathan, I have a hard time picturing you doing the Agent Freakout though. My guess is you don't often need it.

Nathan Bransford said...

kristi-

Every agent has to have their threshold. I try for win-win situations and don't get mad easily, but you have to be tough when it's necessary.

Mariana said...

Indredible how the cover is a hot issue these last few days.

I'm really hoping, although I know it's not very likely, that I can at least make suggestions on the cover of my book-still-to-be. Let's se...

Kristin Laughtin said...

I had seen all the posts except Justine Larbalestier's, and while I thought the cover was pretty when I saw it in this post. It's a beautiful image that seems evocative of the content. However, I'm finding myself pretty annoyed that it's been white-washed. (And I am a white woman.) Then again, I get annoyed if the cover image looks at all different than the description of the character in the book (even for minor things, like changes in hair color)...but this just seems so underhanded and racist.

The cover of Simon Kernick's book...that's just plain ridiculous. I get why the publisher would want to market the Dan Brown quote, but come on.

Jennifer Hubbard's cover is beautiful and I'm looking forward to her book, and hoping in the future that the stinks raised by these few bad examples will prompt publishers to consider their covers a little more closely, either to resemble the book's protagonists or to keep the blurb from overshadowing the actual creator of the work!

Marla Warren said...

If I owned a bookstore, I would not stock Deadline or any other book that has a deceptive cover. Customers would be upset when they discovered the truth and would return the books with much complaining.

As a bookseller I have observed that while publishers pay great attention to the cover, they often pay inadequate attention to the spine. Very few books are fortunate to be sold facing out, so the spine is usually all customers see at first. I’ve had customers who asked for my help finding a book that was on the shelf they were searching, but because of low contrast or a strange font, the book was literally being overlooked.

If I ever get a book published, I won’t agonize over the cover (really, I won’t) but I do want the spine to be visible and easy to read. Because it will make a difference in sales.

Look at a row of book spines at the bookstore. You’ll notice that some catch your eye quicker.

Eric said...

When every word read from every query in his slush pile starts coming true, no matter how bizarre, literary agent Nat Ransford options are slim. Either he thwarts the the space alien invasion all while evading the vampires standing between him and the lost city of gold and solves the mystery of the murdered concubine, or he takes down his shingle and finds another line of work. That, or just maybe he'll close the door on unsolicited submissions.

The Agent Freakout

93K words of sheer lunacy

Scott said...

I hope whomever is reponsible for the Dan Brown mock cover is as unemployed by the industry as I am right now. That's pathetic and revolting.

Covers are VERY important, in my opinion. If it's sophisticated, powerful and clever, I'm going to expect the same from what's inside and will normally lend some of the cover's cachet to the writing. If it's noisy, corny and displays a lack of taste, I'm making a face and moving on.

I hope if I ever get the opportunity to be published that I'm at least asked my opinion. In the end, the author is going to have to put a lot of work behind their book and I should think everyone would want them enthusiastic about the entire process.

Fawn Neun said...

The Secret Year sounds great - I want to read it, now and the cover is wonderful.

You repped that, did you?

*peers at Nathan with an acquisitive eye*

Ash D. said...

Ooooh! Jennifer's story DOES sound great! (And the cover is fantastic!)

Seriously, it sounds exactly like the kind of book I'd love to read!

CKHB said...

I agree that both Dan Brown and the real author should be pissed about that UK book cover. Especially since I would never buy a book with a cover like that: it screams "bad Dan Brown knockoff that can't be advertised on its own merits" rather than "awesome, just like some other bestsellers you might have read."

As I've posted elsewhere, I just hope my novel isn't eventually covered in pink, or high heels, or martini glasses. I didn't write THAT kind of chick lit. Such a cover, I think, would end up disappointing buyers who wanted traditional chick lit, and would be offputting for my real target audience.

PurpleClover said...

Wow. That just seems wrong using Dan Brown's name like that. But the god-honest truth is I'd probably pick up the book to read the back cover blurb. I might even purchase it if it seemed to live up to the promise at quick glance.

As for Jennifer's book, the cover looks amazing. Definitely top notch and I'm not just sayin' that. Cause I wouldn't comment on it otherwise. :)

Natasha Solomons said...

It's interesting too how covers are different for different markets. My UK cover has vintage 50s illustration, circa London Underground posters with hand drawn fonts, while the US cover has a beautiful, slightly whimsical painting. Yet, I really like both of them.

The titles are different in the UK and US too, and the contrasting covers work well with each title.

I have to say that I felt very included in the process. Both editors have been sending me roughs along the way. It's been fascinating seeing how they have changed along the way.

Diana said...

"(The Agent Freakout is reason #1,782,572,081 why you should have an agent, btw)."

ROFL ... With wit like this, why aren't you writing?

If it's any consolation to your clients with bad covers, the cover art usually doesn't sell me on a book. It's the blurb about the story on the back cover that helps me decide whether to purchase a book or not.

Chris Bates said...

I’m divided on this front. As an author I would want the cover to reflect the story within. As a publisher I would want the cover to make the customer pick up the book. A dollar coin clued on the cover of a furniture restoration handbook? No worries – just chuck a tag line under there “… save a buck with furniture restoration”.

Whatever justifies it.

Justine Larbalestier’s book? You know what, I love the cover ... the concept is obviously way off the mark when the book’s content is taken into account but I’m sure the publisher knows the ‘blackness’ of the story’s character will turn readers away at cover level thus denting sales.

Justine has blogged about this herself. Yes, it is tragic that there is ‘colour-blindness’ at work here, but it’s that's simply a reflection of greater society.

My hope is that kids are lured to Justine’s novel through any means so that they can be exposed to the heart of the story.

The Black Barrier is nothing new. I’ve sold thousands of copies of a magazine title I used to own. The first issue had an insert image of an Indigenous Australian artist on the cover. Certain people didn’t like it. The next editions were pro-photo landscapes... with no additional imagery. We smartened up real quick when it was our dollar at stake.

We were based in an area the size of Louisiana, with a total population of 18,000 … most of whom were marginalised black people living in dysfunctional communities largely ignored by mainstream Australia.

Now, if I had a buck for every time a moron, some even close friends, requested I not put ‘blackfellas’ in the mag I’d be wealthy than a Curtis Brown literary agent!

At year's end I’m keen to self-publish (the horror!) a book, so I hired an ex-HarperCollins design guru for the cover art. I sent through my images and gave him my brief.

I really wanted an Indigenous man blended into the main image.

http://diemenscollective.com/diemens_cover1.jpg

But the reality is that I would turn off a huge proportion of readers in this country.

My story is about so much more than a black man in traditional dress. First and foremost it is supposed to be entertaining ... possibly a little controversial. Hopefully a little informative.

I really don’t need people to turn away at cover level.

So the man has gone.

http://coverconundrum.blogspot.com

Sadly, when it comes to books, black is rarely in season.

Chris Bates said...

Apologies for my previous lengthy post, Nathan.

writerjenn said...

It's true, authors don't get much say over their covers. There's a reason for that: we're not necessarily experts on visual images or marketing (there are exceptions, of course--but I'm certainly not one of them). For that reason, we hold our breath when we first open the file. I really feel for Justine Larbalestier and her readers. I know writers who have come to love their covers after first being lukewarm or even disappointed, but it's so much nicer to love it at first sight.

As I did.

I also want to give due credit to the designer of THE SECRET YEAR's cover, a genius named Sam Kim.

Thanks to everyone who said they're looking forward to reading the book, and to JaxPop for the kind words.

Jennifer Hubbard

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

I'm reading Alice Adams's "Superior Women" from 1984, the original hardcover (Mom Stags, I promise I'll return it to the Cape house soon.) I looked for it on Amazon and newer release looks very sexy and up to date. The book takes place starting in the 1940s. It's a bit misleading.

The Dan Brown ploy is crafty - I run a blog and I've learned that headlines attract search engines based on key words. I guess this is an extension.

And for the book with the caucasion cover photo - I'm pretty much just stunned by that one. And not in a good way.

Bron said...

The Dan Brown cover definitely wouldn't make me buy the book. I might pick it up, realise what was going on, then wonder what was so wrong with the book that they needed to use deceit to sell it. Then I'd put it back. I think Dan Brown and Simon Kernick both have the right to be annoyed.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

Does anyone have a list of agents who are willing to do the agent freak out? I have a real phobia of bad covers.

Mechelle Avey said...

Perhaps the controversy over the Liar cover will help publishers get it together in regard to showing people of color on book covers. Sadly, publishers are still finding their way in marketing non-WASPy stories. Yet, a beautiful cover will find a reader. A beautiful story will hold a reader. Think Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon. I am a bibliophile to the core. I own hundreds of books by authors of many ethnic backgrounds. Does the cover matter to black readers? At the risk of speaking for other black Americans, and yet not having the right to do so, I say, yes. As a writer, I know that black book buyers are some of the fiercest, most dedicated book buyers you will ever meet. What an insult to deny black beauty simply because it is not, necessarily, conventional to the cover designer. Worse yet, the elevation/substitution of fair skin and straight hair for the character. This tells the target market, you're not good enough to be on the cover, but buy this book. Uhm. No thanks. And the Dan Brown bait and switch . . . has it gotten so bad that publishers have become tricksters selling snake oil and water and calling it moonshine?

Heather B. Moore said...

Good to know that there is an agent freak-out exception. One of my covers was going to have live models on it. I about died since it was historical fiction and not YA or romance. They did compromise, which was nice, and only put the hands (which you can see on my avatar).

Mechelle Avey said...

P.S. To Chris Bates,

America has a race problem, no doubts there. However, in Australia, indigenous children were taken from their parents, stripped of their culture, and forced to adopt "white" culture. Didn't your government just apologize for this a couple of years ago? As writers, global understanding is helpful, especially as publishers sell more to a global market. With that said, one cannot put the Australian view of black onto Americans. Perspectives on black Americans vary according to region, cultural familiarity, and other factors. In America, you could successfully sell a book with an aboriginal man on it, if you knew how and where to market it. With the Henry Louis Gates incident so recently in the news, I'm not trying to be an apologist for white America, but there are many white Americas and many black Americas and it's the diversity of those American viewpoints that makes this country a great place to sell a product.

Maree Anderson said...

Christina Dodd shared her own cover nightmare on Twitter yesterday. Here's the link:
http://www.christinadodd.com/castles.html

And yes, you're not seeing things, the heroine really does have 3 hands!

What impressed me, was how she er... handled it. She didn't freak out, she used it to garner publicity and sell the books. You gotta read it to believe it. Quite brilliant.

goldchevy said...

Nathan,
I wish I could be as optimistic as you are about covers. Did you ever see the first cover on The Lightening Thief? It was horrible. Luckily the next cover was much better.
However, I have learned something important here. Authors should ask to see their prospective agent's freak-out routine before they sign.

Livia said...

I'm trying to imagine an Agent freakout, but thus far the best I can do is someone in a beserker costume foaming at the mouth, with a battle axe in one hand and a bad book cover in the other.

Jen C said...

I love that spider-in-jar cover. I would pick that up in a bookstore, definitely.

And, I really want to read Jennifer Hubbard's book!

Chris Bates said...

@Mechelle Avey:

Mechelle, there was indeed a government 'Apology' for the Stolen Generations. Unfortunately not a whole lot of Australian's know much about the past or current Indigenous Australian issues.

The comparative North American perspective would possibly mirror the experience of the First Nation peoples. Still does, in fact. That said, such a comment generalises indiscriminately, suggesting every individual has the same experience. A lot of people tend to think black people like all other black people because they are black! How quaint... and bloody ignorant!!

Anyway, you suggest that such imagery (indigenous man) on a cover could find a market in the States. I hope so. But I gotta tell ya, I reckon I'd be pushing sh*t uphill to find that market. Though it could be a damn sight easy then finding it in Australia.

jessjordan said...

1) Well ... at least Random House used the front side of the bull on the allegedly stolen cover ...

2) I'm stoked about The Secret Year. I saw it on someone's blog a day or so ago, and it looks yum. The cover is perfect.

Jen C said...

OMG. Wuthering Heights... compared to Twilight?? Is this even legal?

Mechelle Avey said...

@ Chris Bates,

Like the twitter symbology. I must admit that I don't know that much about the mindset of the average Australian. I have watched a couple of documentaries, including Rabbit Proof Fence, but it certainly doesn't give me enough information to make any judgments. The stolen generations situation that you reference is quite similar to what white settlers did to Native Americans during the 1800's. Yet, many, many white Americans now happily claim Native American blood. In romance novels, the nobel warrior is a well-worn theme. Also consider, in the 60's preachers preached against black music, calling it jungle music. Now, hip hop outsells all other music genres in America, not because of black buyers, but because of white buyers. That is America. Contradictory, irrational, and in many ways, brilliant. May I suggest a great book that explains these contradictions far better than I? You can download it from Audible.com. It's called, The Culture Code by cultural anthropologist, Clotaire Rapaille. The book explores how to identify and use cultural symbols more effectively. I just finished it. I will be re-listening to make sure I get every nugget of wisdom.

Best of luck on your book.

Chris Bates said...

@mechelle: Thanks. I'll go and have a look for Rapaille's book.

wendy said...

Coincidental that you should mention the cover of Jennifer's book in today's blog post. I noticed the cover yesterday for the first time (I've been away) and thought how clever and eye-catching it was.

I like to do my own covers, but as it takes ages - along with the writing of the novel - having someone else come up with something is very exciting. The first novel I had epublished by Twilight Times Books was illustrated by a professional illustrator, and seeing this gorgeous cover for the first time was one of the most exciting moments of my life.

Ink said...

Chris Bates,

I loved both covers. Actually, I loved all three, including the original with the man on the cover. All three are beautiful, with the sort of depth you can fall into. The fire cover is brilliant, with that eye-popping colour. Vibrant, and really catching. But I love that blue cover with the shrouded trees, that sense of a haunted forest shifting into the shadows of night. Great. So, my vote would be number one... though I'd be pretty happy with number two, as well.

My best,
Bryan

Chris Bates said...

@Bryan: Thanks for the input. I've run the covers by about 100 people and the process has been very informative.

D. G. Hudson said...

In one way it makes sense that the marketing people control the cover decision, since their mandate is more sales. They will try to match the cover for the intended audience appeal.

But from the author's point of view, the cover should convey the soul of the book, including using models or visual art that are true to the story within. As it stands, artistic integrity seems to take a back seat to mass appeal.

Thanks for identifying another condition of being published that writers must address. No wonder we get the crazies.

Camille Q said...

This reminds me of a Sex and the City episode, where Carrie goes through a number of "cover design issues." She gets to refuse some of the options, but that's about it!

de la O said...

Mr. Bransford (Nathan. Great name that is my youngest son's name.) Quick question and sorry it is so late in the day.

If an author had a great design for the cover of their novel, will publishers look at it? Will they give it any consideration?

Thanks- BTW- what is your feeling about being called Nate?

EJ Lange said...

sorry if anyone pointed this out in the first 90 comments, but i had to chime in after my trip to borders today.

two of the hardcovers on the new release show-off shelf had the exact same cover - a woman with hair pulled back, shoulders bare, face fully in shadow with back lighting. it must be a stock image pulled by two different cover artists... because the title and author were definitely different.

nice cover actually, just unfortunate about the timing. to be on that special shelf just 2 covers away from your twin suddenly makes your book look... a little less special.

EJ Lange said...

i actually just found an article about the very covers i saw today:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/shortstack/2009/03/mysterious_cover_art.html

Donna Hole said...

LOL. It totally agree Kat. But for me, I want Jodi Piccoult's name on my cover. Maybe they'll just put her picture, not her name. She can't argue with that, right?

But seriously; I do agree with Bane. I do sometimes "judge a book by it's cover". I've read some that the cover and the blurb on the back didn't match, but it's always the synopsis on the back cover that sells me on a book. And that is determined by it's section placement in the book shelf. If I see a seductress on the cover of a novel in the crime or paranormal section, I just assume the book has some sex scenes in it, not that it's particularly an erotic or romance novel. But if I looked at a book with the picture of an alluring white girl on the cover, I'd be pretty upset to find it all about an ugly black girl. Not that I wouldn't read that kind of book - but I would really feel the cover false advertising. The "Dan Brown" cover is easily recognizable as an advertising gimmick........dhole

Oooh; love my word verif: hylenta. As in: hylenta book to Simon Kernick and he turned it into a Dan Brown knockoff!

Mechelle Avey said...

@ Chris Bates

One final note. I like both covers. However, the red wins my vote. I am not an aborigine, but as a person interested in culture, I'll be sure to look for your book. On Amazon?

mkcbunny said...

The Secret Year sounds great, and that's a very compelling cover.

[Word verification is "infemio." Sounds like a spell from Harry Potter.]

Chris Bates said...

@Mechelle: Thanks, red is popular.

As for the book: exclusive this Xmas to a dumpster nearest you! :)

Chris Bates said...

Sorry for hijacking, Nathan. I'll disappear.

Marilyn Peake said...

I heard about the controversy over the cover for Justine Larbalestier’s book LIAR and read her blog earlier this week. The book sounds fascinating, but I won’t buy it unless the U.S. cover is changed. There are a lot of fascinating books in print and I need to pick and choose which ones I buy anyway. I tend to like books about social injustice, including: THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck, A FINE BALANCE by Rohinton Mistry, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES by Sue Monk Kidd. Books are supposed to be a catalyst for thought and change, not just a product like soap or bubble gum, for goodness sake. Even if the book cover was just a thoughtless oversight, why would I buy a book in which so little thought was put into something as important as a book cover? And if a great deal of thought was put into the book cover but only in terms of how to make the most money, I’ll spend my money elsewhere. That’s how customers can make a difference.

Marilyn Peake said...

Article about the U.S. book cover for LIAR posted by Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing: here.

Jenna said...

So, uh, in the marketing of nearly every other mass-market product on the planet, there would be testing. Sheesh. Spend $5k on a quick (but properly vetted) focus group.

And there should be a trade association/major pub. group to fund the research to see whether 1. the cover image is important to the sales (yes, duh, but quantify it), 2. which covers work for what product types (genres), and why.

Everyone who sells toothpaste, or cars or window cleaner knows more about the strategy of their packaging design than the publishing industry. These examples, while funny are just stunningly unprofessional.

Nathan, what are the leverage points in an Agent Freak Out? Can you pull the book? Or is it just a lot of emotion being thrown around?

Jenna

Anonymous said...

Having an agent is indispensible ! Mine put a clause in my contract that I had some say in my cover and I've just been lucky to have an awesome editor and art director at Simon and Schuster to actually take my input - how amazing is that... but I've been very respectful of their position and in turn they took my suggestions into consideration.

Eva Ulian said...

As long as they have Angelina Jolie's face draped in a novice's veil splashed on the cover of my novel with John Depp lurking in the background, I don't care what else they do to it!!!

Kia said...

Oh, wow. This is the timeliest post I've ever read. Around the same time yesterday, I was writing this: http://www.kia-abdullah.com/blog/index.html.

It's unprofessional I know, but I couldn't help myself.

lora96 said...

RE: Mary's Wuthering Heights comment

While I am among the uninitiated who have neither read Twilight nor seen the movie, I have read Wuthering Heights several times and nowhere in my recollection is Heathcliff a vampire. Sadistic, yes, but nothing occult. Deeply offended at hackneyed repackaging of classic BritLit.

:P

lora96 said...

Also, despite having been disappointed by misleading cover art in the past, I would trust the art department. I have no degree in either marketing nor design so I doubt I would be qualified to make recommendations any more than I would like the art department's opinion on my supporting characters!

Mira said...

Jenna - your point about market testing - could not agree more!

The cover art for your new book, Jennifer and Nathan - it's hot. When you're dealing with the YA market, hot is definitely the way to go. That cover alone will sell books. Congrats! :)

Best of luck with the launch!

Georgia McBride-Wohl said...

I always enjoy your posts, Nathan and this one is no exception. In fact, this one was even better since there was a well place plug for your client at the end. Cheers to you and thanks again. The book, by the way, sounds great. Looking forward to reading it. Will be a nie departure from the urban fantasy worlds I normally roam in.

Georgia McBride

Terry said...

I'm a sucker for a good-looking cover. But it's the writing, the first page or so, that sells me or not.

Love your client's cover. My favorite colors - hooker red and hooker black.

Exactly the colors I used to design my own cover. I'm not finished with the novel quite yet but I stuck the art on my business card. I plan to be sure, if I get published to get a copy to the artist. Work on them subliminally.

I don't even care if my name's on the cover at all. Just sell the damn thing. So, even though mine is a detective mystery, I'm wondering how I can get them to put Dan Brown's name on my cover in font: Hummungo.

Of course it would have to be in hooker red.

Robin said...

I just reviewed a book called Blue Like Play Dough. It's about blue play dough. The cover is blue and features a gob of orange play dough.

Dana Fredsti said...

One of the few benefits of having a small publisher (legit, but small) was having input and final approval on my cover.

I'm with Sex at Starbucks re: the Dan Brown cover... I'd read the story on the LIAR cover and that has to be frustrating for the author, not to mention insulting on several levels.

Congrats, Jennifer, on what sounds like a great book and a lovely cover!

Rhonda said...

CindaChima, reading the description of your book cover made me interested enough to check it out (swords, with the possibility of roses in the corner). Looks like you write just the type of books my kids would love. On the topic of people on covers: I prefer minimalist book covers and/or those with little to no characters on them. My kids don't even consider books with covers that look stupid to them. Judging a book by a cover might not be the smartest thing to do, but it happens!

Author Guy said...

The cover for my second novel, A Warrior Made, was developed by my publisher in consultation with me, even down to the font! The others, either I wasn't asked or my views were completely dismissed.

Genella deGrey said...

Thank you Tamara Dever!

And Chris B., all of Dr. Rapaille's work is brilliant - Do check him out.

:)
G.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

I’m a visual person. I see my cover in my mind just like I see the scenes in my book unfolding like a movie.
It’s frustrating to hear we have no control, but I’ll do as you say and trust. After all, cover art is a long way away from my current situation.
I suppose I could send the future art department of the future publisher a sketch. Or give it to my future agent.

jinx schwartz said...

I feel their pain. My protagonist (Hetta Coffey, Just Add Water series) owns a power boat and the audio people have a sailboat on the cover. Sigh.
To landlubbers, maybe no diff, but boaters are vastly divided on the subject of power vs sail, and never the twain shall meet. Except on the twack.

mythicagirl said...

To Donna Hole;

I'm sorry you feel this way "But if I looked at a book with the picture of an alluring white girl on the cover, I'd be pretty upset to find it all about an ugly black girl."

As far as I can tell, the protagonist wasn't described as ugly. Just sounds like any other black woman before getting a perm.
Your comment hightlights exactly whats wrong with publishing and probably why Bloomsbury decided to pull a switch. To appease those who think and post like you.

Mary said...

@ Jen C and lora96

I was incredulous at the sight of it: http://tinyurl.com/ndjjkn

Ink said...

mythicagirl,

I think you're misunderstanding Donna. She's saying, I believe, that she doesn't like deceitful advertizing, and that the cover should represent the story. In this case, she's angry that they didn't put a black girl on the cover. I don't think she's saying that she wants to buy books with white girls on the cover, and if it's not about a white girl she'd be upset. I can see with the phrasing how you could interpret it that way, but I think she's actually suggesting the opposite.

Just my two pennies...

Donna Hole said...

mythicagirl: you did misuderstand me.

Ink: Thanks, that's exactly what I meant to say.

.....dhole

Jay said...

*The agent freak-out* That's the second reason I've read today to keep me plugging in my never-ending search for an agent. Fantastic!

bridget asher & julianna baggott said...

I don't sell gajillions but have always been part of the cover discussion. More for my adult novels, less so for my kid novels where artists play a larger role in general.
In fact, my husband designed my first novel cover, Girl Talk, from Simon & Schuster, and a few of my books of poems.
What's smart is to jump the gun. Send yr editor covers you admire or images from Getty Images ... start to get a feel for each other's visual taste.

-- Julianna Baggott
(aka Bridget Asher)

Terry said...

Good advice, Julianna. Thanks for sharing that.

Do you ever get to converse with the artist?

When I worked in journalism you often met the photog while covering the story. But if I had graphics to go with a story, I made it a point to stop by and chat with the artist.

You learn a lot about their problems with the publisher and editors as well.

I think it's good for a project if everyone involved knows what each other is doing.

Of course in journalism the writers are respected. I get the feeling in book publishing they're almost pariahs.

mythicagirl said...

To Ink and Donna:

I appreciate the clarification.

Regarding the girl on the cover, I do agree that its an intriguing shot. And I should note, that the way the actual protag is described has led to a small debate on the author's blog about what she really looks like. Its interesting that the author has stated:

From the author’s blog - “which is why I was a bit offended by the reviewer, who in an otherwise lovely review, described Micah as ugly. She’s not!”
http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/07/23/aint-that-a-shame/#footnote_2_5432

This whole LIAR cover debate has many layers, and I'm glad Nathan included it.

Kevin said...

Seems to me to be a simple matter to include a clause in any contract signed by an author, that cover approval is required. Do agents lack the wherewithal? Are authors so unsure of their work? The problem is that when the circus believes it's a buyer's market, thus the circus behaves. Authors need to take more control of their property.

Writeaholic said...

I have to admit that covers do sway me. I really classy cover says to me that the publishers care about the novel and think it will do well, whereas a cheap looking title makes me think the novel is not expected to do well enough that they assign a good artist / designer to it, etc. I don't like to think I'm that superficial, but some covers draw me right in and I'll buy the novel because of the mood the cover sets. Novels such as "The Meaning of Night" and "The Gargoyle" are examples of covers that sold me recently. Of course they also had good hooks and good opening pages, so three elements worked together to sell me enough to buy the hard cover.

Miss Aspirant: A Blog for Aspiring Writers

Kevin said...

The interesting thing about the cover for Deadline is that the real author's name was the last thing I spotted, and it is probably by design. I would be upset if I was Simon Kernick OR Dan Brown.

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