Pub Rants

Trouble With Covers

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STATUS: Doing okay. Didn’t quite accomplish as much as I had hoped. I had gotten a royalty statement today that didn’t make sense. I spent the whole afternoon cross-checking it and then calling the publishing house to see if we couldn’t straighten out what seems to be the error.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? YOU’RE THE ONLY WOMAN by David Pack

Covers are tricky. What will work? What will grab the eye in 2 seconds? What makes a cover look BIG so that the cover itself will scream BIG BOOK.

What happens when the author doesn’t like the cover?

Before I discuss this, you, as the reader, need to know and understand a few things.

1. Publishing houses know what they are doing—and yes, you can look at Longmire does Romance Covers and potentially want to dispute that fact because goodness, how do bad covers get made–but the truth is that cover design isn’t in a vacuum. The houses have tested what has worked and what hasn’t.

2. Editors want their authors to LOVE their covers. They really do. It’s your baby and they want you to be thrilled that it’s out there in the world.

3. Authors, for the most part, aren’t the best judge of covers for what will work or won’t work (seen the covers of any self-published books recently—and not to bash those folks–okay, will maybe just a little, sorry!–but cover art design is a talent and not everyone has it.

4. Covers are not meant to accurately represent events in the book. Their purpose is to grab the browser’s eye. Period. Creative license will be taken.

Got that in mind? Okay, but sometimes a cover just misses (despite good intentions and a real understanding of the market from the publishing house). When that is the case, and as an agent, I really strongly believe that is the case, then it’s time to “fight” (translation: exert gentle, reasonable pressure) for a cover change.

Here’s a couple of other things you need to know.

1. Most authors (unless you are Nora Roberts) only have cover consultation and not cover approval. You get a say but not the ultimate say. Publisher has that right so it’s really important that if you argue for a cover change, it’s in terms that make sense to the Publisher—and that the reason for the change is not because the author just didn’t like it. That argument won’t wash (see above reason number 3—most authors are truly clueless on what would work).

2. Pub Houses want the book to succeed and a cover that will allow it to do so.

And that’s how an argument is couched.

Time for an example. Here is the original cover for Jennifer O’Connell’s DRESS REHEARSAL and then the final cover that is on bookshelves today.

I’ll even include the back cover blurb so you can have it.

With the irrepressible, hilarious voice that makes her readers stand up and cheer, Jennifer O’Connell presents a delicious novel about a wedding cake boutique owner who’s about to learn that in love and life, there’s no such thing as a dress rehearsal…

No one knows wedding cakes better than the owner of Lauren’s Luscious Licks, Boston’s hottest cake boutique. Lauren Gallagher is a pro when it comes to helping brides and grooms pick out the perfect Big Day dessert. But what her clients don’t know is that her talent doesn’t end there. Because while the happy couple is choosing between buttercream and royal icing, Lauren is predicting which relationships will last, and which marriages will crumble, simply by watching them pick a cake. Her latest prediction, however, is anything but sweet. Unless her marital Magic Eight Ball is off, one of her best friends is about to tie the knot with Mr. Absolutely All Wrong.

Lauren’s got to save her friend, and prove her cake theory is true, even if it means taking her predictive powers public. But while she’s trying to prevent a potential mismatch, she’s got her own problems—involving an ex-boyfriend, his new fiancée, and the cake of Lauren’s dreams…

Original Cover

Final Cover

I’d be interested in hearing your initial thoughts about the covers. Tomorrow I’ll talk about why we asked for a cover change etc.

41 Responses

  1. Maprilynne said:

    The original cover looks like the book is about three women fighting over one man (Not to mention a place up on the cake beside him:)) The final cover makes it more obvious that the cake master is the central character, not the groom.

  2. kathrynoh said:

    I would never pick up the book with the first cover – there’s too much empty space and the whole wedding cake thing… it doesn’t look like it would be an interesting read. The second one is much more quirky.

  3. December Quinn said:

    What maprilynne said. The first cover looks like a book about a bigamist.

    Or some stereotype about women desperate to get married, possibly doing some sort of bizarre Diner-esque test or obstacle course in pursuit of a ring.

    I don’t think the second one is perfect, either, but it’s a vast improvement and it is awfully cute.

  4. ian said:

    I’d suggest the first cover looks like a book about…a cake, whereas the second looks like a book about the woman making the cake.

    Now, I love food as much as the next guy – perhaps even too much – but I’d rather read a book about a person than one about a cake. Well, if it was chocolate with caramel…that’d be different. 😉


  5. Anonymous said:


    The fonts don’t work for me on any level; Particularly, the title font and the font used in the author’s name don’t go well together – not sure if that’s a style thing with the pub, or not.

    The whole curved text thing isn’t working for me, either. Why are they intentionally creating dead space to the left of the image?

    I’d make the illy of the woman much larger, reducing the rest to “background” as opposed to simply having the female character part of the pic…unless for some reason that’s the intention – that she’s no more important than the other elements?? (haven’t read the book).

    I’d centre the illy, make the female image about 50% larger and I’d find another font(s) – surely they can convey whimsy and humour with something else.

  6. Andrew K. said:

    Got to agree with the above posters. Cover #1 looks like a book about the groom. Cover #2 is clearly about the cake designer. If I had picked up the book, then turned it over and read the blurb, I think I’d be justified in any confusion I’d feel.

    #2 also uses the space better. Expecially with the title set the way it is. It arcs up and over, and the picture practically begs to be lined up against the right-hand side. #1 is centered and all that blue space (blue being a tough color to work with to begin with) makes it look really bland.

  7. 2readornot said:

    I’d definitely say the first cover focuses too much on the man and the cake…the second on the woman making the cake — as a female reader, I’d take the second any day 🙂

  8. joanr16 said:

    Actually, with three wives, wouldn’t he be a trigamist? (Sorry, watching the Spelling Bee as I write this; starting to make up words.)

    I think maprilynne nailed it right off the bat. The original cover is guy-centric. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it just doesn’t accurately reflect what’s inside the cover.

  9. TJBrown said:

    I love the tag line on the second cover. The first one not so much.
    Am anxious to hear your thoughts.

    Oh, and thanks for the lottery warning. I actually was playing with a lottery theme for a YA book. No more. I’ll stick to Read My Lips at this point!

  10. Elektra said:

    It annoys me that the second one says “A novel” in the corner, as if I’m too stupid to figure out on my own.

    Though this isn’t necessarily bad, the art feels derivative of the Shopaholic covers. Same designer, perhaps?

  11. Anonymous said:

    Two reasons the new cover is better:

    1. The book is about the cake decorator, not a guy, as so many have said. Main focus should be on the main character.

    2. Putting a man up on a pedestal while women scamper around below, hoping to get his attention seems rather…unrealistically 1950s? As a reader, I’m more interested in a book where there’s equality in the relationship, and the first cover just doesn’t indicate that to me.

  12. mb said:

    Dang, no original comments to add, except the original cover was on the insipid side. It did look like three women fighting over the same man. Which would have made me extremely reluctant to pick up the book, much less flip it over and read the blurb on the back cover.

  13. Anonymous said:

    I must be weird. I prefer the first one. It puts me in mind of juicy romantic entanglements and one happily ever after. In the second one I only see…a woman standing there. In what looks like a messy changing room. Holding a cake. Um, whoopee?

  14. Anonymous said:

    Oh, plus I find the artwork on #2 creepy. That woman’s body and legs are going to give me nightmares.

  15. Eileen said:

    I didn’t dislike the orginal cover- but would agree that the focus seems on him versus the main character. As I’m awaiting cover art this is a very interesting post!

  16. Anonymous said:

    Is there a third choice?

    I like the first cover better for the layout. It’s nice and clean from a design perspective.

    Cover two is full of very uncomfortable shape clashes and poor placement of elements on the page. Icky poo.

    Neither cover floats my boat with the content of the illustrations but the 1950’s theme is ok.

    Thruth? I would never have picked the book up with either cover.

    And I’m really sick of baby blue (and pink).

  17. Angie said:

    I have never given the covers of the books I choose a lot of thought, but I would not have picked up a book with the cover on the left. Watching three women claw up a wedding cake makes me think the book with be about cat fights. And the original tag line–too cliche!

  18. Sam said:

    Both covers are interchangeable for me – exactly the same style, writing, colors, and feel. One or the other would probably work just fine. Both are very cute.

  19. Deb said:

    At first glance, neither cover stood out much. Both worked for me equally–I’m not used to chick lit that isn’t pink or lime green, by the way, so the blue was a bit of a stunner. So without reading the comments above, so as not to be influenced by them–is the reason the first cover “didn’t work” is that the guy is center stage instead of the girl?

    Just wondering.


  20. eleora said:

    On the topic of covers,

    as a writer with a design background, I know how important a cover is to selling a book. The title and cover are what drive me to try new authors.

    If my fantasy novel ever makes it into print, how could I exert some control (more over the style of the art rather than the content)? Would it be possible for me to personally add to the art budget for my book if I felt I wanted a better artist? In my opinion (especially in SF) art makes or breaks your book.

    It gratifies me to know that agents like you do take cover art seriously.

  21. jude said:

    Covers are not meant to accurately represent events in the book. Their purpose is to grab the browser’s eye. Period. Creative license will be taken.

    It is interesting that publishers think that covers that do not accurately represent events in the book are the kind of covers which attract and retain readers.

    As a reader, I ALWAYS compare the cover to the book, and it always leaves a bad feeling when the cover is inaccurate. It makes the publishers look shoddy, like they don’t respect their own product line enough to ensure that the cover matches the story. And for romance, it further perpetuates all the worst things people say about how all romances are the same, etc., when the publishers use covers which are not accurate to the story.

  22. lottery ticket said:

    The first cover seems to have nothing to do with the actual plot of the book and, in fact, suggests a very different plot (three women competing for one groom).
    I agree with the posters who have issues with the second covers font and curved text. I like the illustration, but I’m not crazy about the set up of the title and author name.

  23. daringadventurer1 said:

    That’s supposed to be a cake she’s holding in the second one? It looks like a hat to me, especially with the wedding clothing props in the background.

    Other than that, agree w/ the majority: second cover is more aesthetically pleasing and girl-centric, so better than the first to that extent.

  24. Stuart said:

    Without reading any of the comments, the first cover puts the man on a pedestal and makes him the “star” of the novel. Since the target audience is made up of women, this would turn off independent readers.

    Quick question, if you feel it fits in with the continued Blog topic: How do you feel about covers in a series? Should they all match? What rationale do you feel is acceptable when the publisher decides to change the cover style for book 4 in a 7 book series? Can the author challenge this move?

    (Yes, I’m thinking about the recent change of cover styles in George RR Martin’s series. It seemed like a drastic change that ruins the hardcover “collection” of long-time readers.)

  25. Anonymous said:

    I don’t read that genre, so the only thing I can comment on is that the dress looks more like a big tube sock.

  26. Anonymous said:

    This morning I discovered an author’s online account of his road to publication. Shortly before release, his editor calls to tell him that B&N, Borders, and other chains “hated the cover art” of his debut book, which meant they were ordering fewer books, which meant a lower than anticipated first print run.

    Unfortunately, this is the last entry in the journal, so I don’t know how it worked out. But what scary news for an already stressed first-timer to get just before launch. You just know it translates to one or two (or zero)books in the store, spine out instead of cover out, never to be hand-sold.


  27. Anonymous said:

    I forgot to comment on the cover. The original cover seems more fitting for Bachelorette #1, with the hens competing for the stag. The second cover works better with the blurb’s description of the book. Going with blue is a good choice to make it stand out in a sea of pink.


  28. Anonymous said:

    I saw two problems with number one. First, the comment ‘the dating game was never this much fun’ appears to be coming from the man’s perspective. Meaning, that he is getting a thril from being chased my three women. Ugh. Why would I want to read about that kind of man?

    Second, My first impression was of a man standing alone on a cake. The white dresses of the women made them fade into the icing. I saw them as ribbons or some such. If I step back a bit more, he looks like a single, large candle on a white cake.

    I like the picture of the second, it gives a better representation of what the story is about. However, it would be better if it were centered. As is, it feels lop-sided.


  29. bonniers said:

    The first cover doesn’t appeal, that’s for sure.

    But the second one isn’t any better. I would have guessed it to be a shopping-for-my-wedding book and never bothered to look at the blurb, which sounds interesting.

    I do read chicklit, but I’m tired of the shop-shop-shop mentality displayed by far too many stories…

  30. Anonymous said:

    Not a fan of either, actually. The asymmetry of the final design really bugs me, as does the weirdly sloping title. Also, the stylisic illustration and color choice practically scream “vacuous chick lit.” YMMV, of course.


    Perhaps in person it presents differently. I’m just glad I’m not in the cover design business.

  31. Anonymous said:

    Not a fan of either, actually. The asymmetry of the final design really bugs me, as does the weirdly sloping title. Also, the stylisic illustration and color choice practically scream “vacuous chick lit.” YMMV, of course.


    Perhaps in person it presents differently. I’m just glad I’m not in the cover design business.

  32. Beth said:

    Covers are not meant to accurately represent events in the book. Their purpose is to grab the browser’s eye. Period.

    Don’t publishers have any idea how disgruntled readers get when the cover art is inaccurate? I can’t tell you the number of uncharitable thoughts I’ve had about publishers who don’t bother to have the artist read the book before commissioning the artwork. If publishers believe that covers aren’t meant to be representational of some character or event in the story, then they’re living in a hopeless bubble. Readers don’t like it when cover art gets it wrong.

    As to the covers you displayed, the second one is far better, though they both have an unappealing 1950s look to me. But I’m the wrong audience anyway.

  33. Dwight The Troubled Teen said:

    Stuart said…

    …the first cover puts the man on a pedestal.

    Cece Stuart said…

    …too much like man-worship

    Dwight says…

    Badda-boom, badda-bing! Bulls-eye!

    How demeaning it must be to women to be asked to think of men as anything other than pets to obtain, or buffoons to cut loose.

    Yes, yes. Life in the age of The Lifetime Network. Ain’t it grand?

  34. 2readornot said:

    Wow…now we know why covers are such a big deal — glad I’m not the one with my head on the chopping block.

  35. Anonymous said:

    I think the man should be bursting out of the cake, scantily-clad, with the 3 women cheering.
    That’s a book I would want to read! 😀