Pub Rants

Public Service Message Take Two

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STATUS: I’m off to RWA in Dallas tomorrow so it’s hard to say when I’ll be able to blog. I’ll do my best.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? U CAN’T TOUCH THIS by M.C. Hammer

This is for all soon-to-be published or already published authors.

When you receive the brand-spanking new cover art and you hate it, don’t go with your first impulse of wanting to pick up the phone to call your editor. Trust me, an author’s worst moment is seeing cover art they hate and this is not the time to have a conversation with your editor when emotions are running high. Don’t do it. Call your agent instead. We are trained to handle it.

Okay, maybe not trained to handle an emotional distraught client but it’s better for us to hear the emotional outpouring first.

For an author, a bad cover feels personal—like it’s a reflection (and not a good one) on all their hard work. It’s not uncommon for a client to burst into tears at the thought of the general populace associating such a horrible cover with his/her project.

For an agent, cover art is business. It’s just another issue that needs to be handled dispassionately and professionally. We know how to couch the feedback in terms that won’t get the editor defensive and will allow him/her to approach the art director in a reasonable way that might generate results—such as getting the cover changed.

And ultimately, that’s the bottom line objective.

19 Responses

  1. Samantha said:

    It would be great to hear a bit of a personal experience you’ve had on how an agent goes about setting up the dialogue to change cover art – I assume (or hope) that the author and cover artist have a discussion over what the characters or settings look like since most artists (from what I’ve heard/read) don’t usually read the whole book, or just skim it or such. How do both sides usually react when the author is unhappy? I can’t imagine they keep redoing it until it’s perfect, especially for a newer writer.

  2. bran fan said:

    I never saw the big deal with cover art. I’ve read some great books with horrid covers. It didn’t stop me from reading them, enjoying them, and recommending them to others.

  3. Tammie said:

    Yeah but I have to admit there have been some books I wouldn’t have picked up if it wasn’t for the cover.

    I stick with an author once I find a book I love and I branch out to a new author to read based on blurbs and the cover. I’m hard-headed enough to even pass up a book that has had great word of mouth if the cover turns me off.


  4. Chumplet said:

    If you don’t have an agent, you’re probably working directly with the publisher/editor. Smaller presses allow the author more feedback.

    In my case, I was really lucky because the publisher asked for my suggestions regarding the cover.

    I ended up doing most of it myself in collaboration with the artist, so I for one am very satisfied. I’m getting some great compliments, too!

  5. Celeste said:

    I’d be super interested in how an agent approaches such a complaint, too. Do you just call and say someone is unhappy with their cover art – can we change it? Or do you say something about it not being representative of the story? I’ve heard a lot of cover art snafus from the writers perspective, so I’m very curious of how this translates through you.

  6. LindaBudz said:

    Re: Samantha’s post, ARE authors and artists able to discuss the cover?

    I know for children’s books, the author more often than not does not have an opportunity to talk with the illustrator, even for a very illustration-heavy picture book. I assumed the same would be true throughout publishing. Would be interested to hear from published authors out there whether they had contact with the artists who did their covers.

  7. Patrick McNamara said:

    I’ve heard it’s common for writers to complain about the cover art so sometimes artists will deliberately put in mistakes. Then when the writer complains, the artist will change their mistakes back so that the writer thinks they’ve reached a compromise and the artist can keep what they like. I’m not sure how common a practice this is, but it’s a rumor I’ve heard.

  8. Anonymous said:

    for Lindabudz–

    I’m published in YA with a big house and I didn’t get to “choose” the book cover, nor did I get to “talk with” the artist, or the book designer, or the copyeditor directly, for that matter. So much of this stuff is handled through the editor. She’s your contact person, and is your conduit to all the other processes (probably why editors are so busy).

    I happened to love my cover, but if I didn’t I’d have taken it up with the agent, like Kristin said.

    For YA I think it’s VERY important to have a terrific cover, simply because teens aren’t going to “look past” a bad cover as readily as those reading in the adult market.

    One thing I hate, though, is when the cover doesn’t match what’s inside the book, as if no one during the “cover art process” bothered to read it. You know, a blonde girl on the cover when the main character’s hair is brown. Egads!

  9. Rebecca Burgess said:

    My book is publishing next spring through an indie press and yes, being small does have its advantages for new authors. My publisher is wonderful and felt it was in everyone’s best interest for the cover artist and I to work directly with each other given that, let’s be honest, marketing this puppy is pretty much up to me so I better love every aspect of my product. That said, I also didn’t have complete free reign to reject everything sent across the table, however; because of the more personal relationship and the conversations we had before any design work even began, I have to say she nailed it and the cover is so much better than anything I had even imagined.

  10. Robert Miller said:

    To be honest, I don’t see why on earth a publisher would deliberately give a book a bad cover. They want it to sell as much as the author and the agent do, so it’s kind of counter-productive to just slap any old art on there.

    If I had legitimate concerns about the cover art putting off potential buyers, I would, as Kristin said, just approach my agent and express these concerns. No point getting ‘offended.’ Just question whether the art is doing it’s job of enticing a reader to pick it up. If you feel it’s not, then I would like to think you are entitled to voice your opinion.

  11. an artist said:

    I can’t imagine any artist deliberately putting in mistakes for any reason. That’s just more work. Sheesh! Do you deliberately put in typos so you can fix them later? A freelancer will do what the art director tells them and fix what the art director tells them to fix. It’s a profession, too.

  12. another artist said:

    There is no way an artist would deliberately put in mistakes. I’ve attended panels with Janny Wurts, Don Maitz and other famous, prolific cover artists – they say they aren’t given the book to read anymore. Generally it’s just notes on what the art director/marketing wants the cover to look like. Then afterwards the publishing house will get someone to photoshop their paintings to suit. Some artists even request that they not be given credit for the cover because of how it is butchered.

    Most covers nowadays are disappointments. It’s getting more and more rare to see one with decent artwork. Good cover artists are another expense being eliminated from the budget.

  13. sb said:

    I’ll be honest, the cover is the thing that makes me pick up a book. I started reading Laurell K Hamilton back when it was paintings. I don’t think I’d pick up the books with the new art (photos of semi-nude models done in a single color, usually a lot of shadow, very sexy) because it looks to romancey (new word I just invented). If I want to read about vampires, I wan’t blood and guts!

    I teach middle school and I will say kids for sure judge by two things: 1. is it too long or the words too small (therefore a lot of intimidating text on the page) 2. Is the cover cool. Kids want the cool factor. When I was a kiddo, all the covers were paintings. Now, more and more are using photos with the font in cool colors.

  14. Heather said:

    I’m curious; how common is it to request a specific artist? How many books do you have to sell in order to be able to have more input?

    The reason I ask is I have a dear friend who also happens to be a professional painter; she’s done illustration work for several roleplaying games (nationally published) and is working on some things from some major publishers. She’s not involved in cover art, but she’s a fantastic, professional artist. This isn’t a buddy with an easel. 😉 I would LOVE for her to do my cover art, one day.

    I realize that it’s REALLY unlikely to be possible on my first book. I still would love for it to happen, one day.

  15. ORION said:

    I LOVE my cover. My publisher was great – they asked for my input from the very beginning- they had me just jot down some ideas.
    The cover my book has is the first one the artist came up with.
    The artist is Amy King and she’s terrific!