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