Pub Rants


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STATUS: Such is the joy of January that the processing of Client 1099s with my bookkeeper is fast upon us.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SO WHAT by Pink
(and man has this title been stuck in my head all day!)

It’s been awhile since I did a real rant on my blog so what better way to kick off the new year then to treat my reading audience to one?

Agents fight the good fight to get a little clause into author contracts that states that the author will have consultation on the cover and the cover copy (be it flap copy, back copy, or what have you).

For the most part, this isn’t too hard to do and is usually established in the agency’s boilerplate with the publisher.

Great right? Cover consultation means that the author will be consulted on what the final cover will look like. One would assume that it would mean that the author might have some input into what the final cover will look like. And all parties understand that given a disagreement on the cover, the publisher will have final say. [Cover Approval stated in contracts being reserved for the Nora’s, Stephenie’s, Neil’s, Stephen’s, and JK’s of the world.]

Good. Everyone is agreed.

And here comes the rant. But what constitutes “consultation” varies widely from publisher to publisher.

Some publishers send the final cover that can no longer be changed, and say you’ve been consulted. Grrrr. If the cover stinks, I’ve got a big fight on my hands. All of which could have been avoided had we just been really consulted—as the contract states.

Some publishers make you work for the consultation. Grrrr. This means you have to call the editor, email the editor, and harass the editor until you get the cover. It’s frustrating and exhausting and let me tell you, if I have a choice between publishers, I’ll consider this aspect when looking at the two deals on the table.

I do want to state here, in general, most editors really do want their authors to be happy with the cover and so will work with you but the above happens enough to make me want to pull my hair out.

Last week I was chatting with an editor (a big and powerful editor whom I just adore) who has included the author and me on every step of the cover process. From the first conception draft to the “final” draft that went to sales (who then rejected it and then we had to start all over and tackle second draft concepts etc.). And when I was talking to this editor on the phone, I paused and took a moment to thank her for really consulting with us on every step of the process. Not just paying lip service to the clause in the contract but really consulting us. And this for a debut author to boot! [Agents expect this with established authors]. Talk about a sheer joy this has been!

She was startled and said, “Why wouldn’t I? You two have been great.” How I long for every editor to handle it this way. Now please keep in mind this: both the author and I were sane, objective, reasonable, and actually offered good suggestions and because of that, all input was taken seriously. Thus the editor trusted us to work on the cover with her—not against her. This plays a big part in this whole consultation game.

But what I wouldn’t give for the cover process to be just like this for every book I sold. I will make sure that during this process, my author and I are sane, reasonable, and offering good suggestions. Just simply give us the chance.

22 Responses

  1. DebraLSchubert said:

    OMG – Given my marketing background designing brochures, advertisements, and all manner of marketing pieces I would be beyond distraught if I didn’t have a say in the cover process. Thanks, Kristin, for always being an advocate for your writers!

  2. L.C. Gant said:

    Ditto to what Debra, Sarah and Anon said. I find it odd that any editor would exclude writers from the cover art process, considering they create the stories in the first place! Well if anything, it offers yet another reason why agents are so valuable in this business. Way to stick up for your clients, Kristin!

  3. Indigo said:

    Thanks for this, I wasn’t aware it was something that needed to be present in the draft. I always assumed the author already had a general idea of what the cover should represent. For me the visual is present with anything I write. The sense of the descriptive is in the story, within the words, why shouldn’t it also include the cover. (Hugs)Indigo

  4. Vicky said:

    While I know it’s a part of the contract, I immediately wondered if the reason some editors hedge on the consultation pertains to budget constraints. When I see those look alike covers, I assume it’s a cost-saving device. Kristen, do you think there is any validity to my theory?

    Can you tell I’ve spent years in corporate marketing? LOL.

  5. Joanne said:

    With so much of the writing/publishing journey being a cooperation with others, it makes sense that this would extend to the cover design as well. The author’s vision for the story can be recognized here as well as inside the book.

  6. Anonymous said:

    An editor’s two cents… I absolutely agree that not consulting properly, or making a show of faux-consulting once the cover has already been pretty much decided, is very bad form by editors.
    But it’s worth remembering that they probably do this because they’ve encountered authors who make real consultation very difficult. It’s true that authors understand their stories more intimately than anyone else can, and can therefore bring invaluable input to the cover design process. But some authors come with very specific, very inflexible ideas about what their cover must look like. And because authors aren’t necessarily visual artists or graphic designers, not to mention marketers, their cover ideas aren’t always spot on. When you encounter an author who has misplaced ideas about their cover AND who refuses to budge, useful collaboration is nearly impossible. This doesn’t mean authors shouldn’t be consulted – but authors who send in awful mocked-up covers and insist that nothing else will do, or who veto every suggestion from the publisher but refuse to discuss why (and “I’ve always hated red” doesn’t count as discussion), may make editors wary of inviting author input.
    This is a shame, especially for more reasonable authors and their agents. I’m not saying editors are right to try to avoid giving authors and agents a chance to contribute – but I can understand why they’d be tempted…

  7. Joseph L. Selby said:

    You had to throw that caveat in there, though, didn’t you. You are sane and you offered good suggestions. Do you represent the majority? That’s the question! I can say that the editors I worked with (I was in production and blissfully free of dealing with the cover until the end of the process) appreciated authors with good suggestions or authors that trusted them to do a good job (some of the cover styles that promote good sales I never would have guessed, but they have the experience to know these things). The authors that have dumb ideas and a stubborn streak ruin it for everyone, though. An example of this from 2007 was an author that had a friend design the cover (don’t they all?) and the thing was pee yellow! Buy this book, it’s made of pee! Not the EA, not the AE, not the publisher, not the marketing manager, not the director of sales could convince this person that a pee yellow book would not sell. A year later the book had to be reprinted with a new cover because the sales were tanking.

  8. ChristaCarol said:

    On a complete side note to what everyone else has been saying (which, for the most part, I totally agree with therefore will just be an echo, echo, echo) I love SO WHAT by Pink. Every time it comes on my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter have, repeat HAVE to stop what we’re doing, get up, dance, and occasionally grab her Barbie Microphones and sing our hearts out. So, thanks for bringing good memories unintentionally!

  9. Anonymous said:

    I was wondering about this, because I went to a conference and stood in line for HOURS to have a book signed by a very well known and successful author and I distinctively remember him saying about one of his books “I hate this cover.” (I did too.) And I thought, Gee, I guess if he didn’t have a say then nobody does! But I’m glad to know that’s not always the case. If I ever have a book published I’ll just cross my fingers that I actually get the real consultation.

  10. Lubes said:

    As a couple of others have mentioned above: this all depends on the author’s ability to not be a psycho freak jackass where his or her cover is concerned.

    I have a background in graphic design and marketing, and after designing websites for people who wouldn’t know what good taste was if it jumped up and ripped their throats out — I feel sympathy for editors who have had to deal with authors cut from that exact same cloth.

    Now, I completely agree that authors and their agents need to be consulted on the cover right from the beginning in the simple name of respect; but, unless the author really knows what they are talking about, their “vision” does not necessarily have to be executed.

    You’re a writer: so keep writing. Leave art and design to people who know what they are doing.

    I wish I could say that to my clients: “Uh no John, you fracking crackhead, blinking red text on a lime green background is not a good idea for your business.”

  11. Madison said:

    Every agent deserves a venting session. Keep up the good work, Ms. Nelson! You know that there are a lot of people who appreciate it. 😀

  12. Ellen Gerstein said:

    In my experience, I’ve worked with authors who have run the gamut – those who have great (even superior) design sense, and those who think that book covers are just type and pictures on a flat surface. When people are reasonable, compromises can be made. I’ve made many. But when I get “you don’t love me if you don’t love this design” emails from authors, I want to blow things up. Thanks for posting a story of when people can and do meet in the middle. It gives me hope.

  13. Dara said:

    It’s good to see that there are editors and agents out there that do want strive to have the author consulted in the cover process.

    Of course, nothing can ever be easy and there have to be those editors that don’t consult the author at all too.

  14. Frances said:

    Thanks for an explaination from the agent’s POV. I was an art teacher and book illustrator for many years before I began to write. It has been a source of deep angst with me as I have watched author friends cry and fight to have covers which reflect favorably on their work. One wants their baby shown to best advantage, and your clients are lucky to have you in their corner.

  15. karen wester newton said:

    I went to a panel on covers at WFC when it was in Saratoga Springs, and one thing that came out was that a lot of covers are designed and created BEFORE the book is even written, where the artist is working only from the 3-paragraph plot summary in the proposal. This explained a lot of book covers to me. Also, the editors in the room wanted a cover that makes the book sell well, but the readers in the room wanted a cover that told them what the book was about. I guess the point is to come up with one that does both.

  16. Dal Jeanis said:

    Lubes – I know what you mean, exactly. On the other hand, you have to walk the customer through the questions of
    “How do you want to position your business?” and
    “What is your customer really looking for?” and
    “What does this color scheme say to your average customer?”

    There should be good reasons for the cover design, and some reasonable connection with what’s between the covers, rather than just the genre flags (woman, tattoo, moon, ornate dagger).

    If the publisher starts off with the idea that the writer is ignorant or stupid, or that the book is just a commodity to be packaged as they please, then they are losing the greatest source of free creativity that is available to them. Luckily, most folks in publishing are professionals, so I expect that most writers are pretty happy with their covers.

    But for the exceptions, one day one of those companies that don’t live up to the consultation clause of their contract is going to meet an author that hates the cover enough to get an injunction. A little hit to the pocketbook might teach them the meaning of the word “courtesy”. Probably not, though, and it’s unlikely for a sane writer to do that unless there were a lot of other unprofessional acts on the side of the company.

  17. Courtney Milan said:

    “…one day one of those companies that don’t live up to the consultation clause of their contract is going to meet an author that hates the cover enough to get an injunction.”

    I don’t see how you could possibly get an injunction for such a thing. You’d have to prove it was a material breach, and since the publisher doesn’t have to listen to your input at the end of the day, you’d have a basically impossible time with that one.

    But in any event, lawsuits are just the wrong way to think about that kind of thing.

    Most of the language in publishing contracts has NOTHING to do with enforcing rights in court. Instead, it sets out expectations–the publisher expects the author to work with the editorial department in X, Y, Z ways, and they’ll work with the author on A, B, and C.

    Lawsuits are a really, really terrible tool for forcing people to do things for you. Contracts are legal documents, but they’re rarely about legal enforcement. You can just sort of agree up front that it’s best for everyone if you do certain things. If the person doesn’t live up to their obligations, well, now you know that about them, and you can choose whether you want to work with them again.

    The enforcement is in the repeat of the game. (As Kristin pointed out, it’s also something she’d take into consideration if advising an author about choosing between deals, too–so it is not just authors here. Can you imagine how a house will feel if they lose out on the next Stephenie Meyer, not because they didn’t offer enough money, but because the agent representing the author panned them for lack of cover consultation?)

  18. refriedgringo said:

    Unless the work is non-fiction (where the writer is also obligated to market his or her own work in some degree), I’m sort of dumbfounded as to how much input the writer needs to have over a cover. Unless it’s horrible, wouldn’t the publisher know best? Also, wouldn’t the agent be able to better handle this sort of thing? I’m a writer, and I have no idea about marketing, I leave that up to the agent and, ultimately, the publisher.

  19. Alissie said:

    I’m not a marketing wiz by any means, but I would like to be able to see the cover and comment before it was finalized. It is the face of everything you’ve worked so hard over, after all, and you want it to look good.

    Approval, on the other hand… Ah, well, we can all dream, right?