Pub Rants

Singing To My Choir!

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STATUS: Monday it was 80 degrees. Today it’s snowing. Tomorrow it will be sunny and in the high 50s. And beautiful again by the weekend. Not sure what shoes to keep out or put into storage.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? CHINA GIRL by David Bowie

So last week, in my status, I mentioned that we had received three covers and nixed three covers. So needless to say, it’s been nothing but cover talks, phone calls, and strategy ever since.

For the newer writers out there, an author does not get approval over covers unless he/she is at a very high level as an author. At NLA (and I imagine this is true for most agents), we always put cover consultation in the contract.

However, the definition of “consult” can be very loose. I’ve had some editors involve the author from the very first illustrative sketch to the final version. I’ve had some editors send it to the author when complete and simply say here it is. (To me, that’s not consult and I argue it.) For most editors, they are really invested in the author liking the cover so they actually allow a lot of input.

I’ve been lucky this week. The editors were fully supportive, nixed the covers and sent them back to the drawing board.

And then this morning, one of my authors sent me this link to PW’s Blog Shelftalker. I immediately read it and felt an overwhelming urge to say “Amen!” and “Keep singing my song!”

In the past weeks I’ve said everything mentioned here:

1. Misleading cover image that doesn’t remotely match the novel’s content.

Please, I beg you, for women’s fiction, no more pictures of pastoral objects like a bike or a hammock on a lovely sun porch. Debbie Macomber already has that cover thank you.

2. Same Old Cover Designs That Fit The Popular Trend.

I echo Elizabeth, please, no more covers of models in gowns, young women lying down, partial face images. When we got the ARE mailing of the “hot summer books” from a variety of young adult publishers, it was clear that any one title sent in that bunch was going to have trouble standing out. Every single one had a picture of a girl in some kind of dark, mysterious background or in a dark nature setting.

But I would like to add one to the list. No more jarringly ugly covers. I literally got a cover where the colors clashed so badly, I couldn’t figure out why somebody thought that color palette was a good idea.

Trust me, I’m not an art major or graphic designer but I am an avid reader and have seen my share of art through the ages. I know ugly when I see it.

In talking to one editor recently, I said, “all I have is my immediate gut reaction and right now, my gut says Oh Please No.

I could have kissed the editor when she said, “no prob; we’ll throw it out.”

23 Responses

  1. ~Charity~ said:

    Thanks for sharing! As a reader, one thing that greatly annoys me is picking up a book with a cover that has little or nothing to do with the story. And I agree that as writers we should be involved with the cover process.

  2. Anonymous said:

    I’m a YA and middle grade writer, and I’d like to see a character’s face on a cover once in a while. The kidlit market is awash with characters facing away from the reader, characters cut off at the neck, torsos of characters, hands of characters, necks of characters– faces, people! I wanna see the characters’ faces!

  3. Lucy said:

    With so many scary stories out there, I love hearing about the good side, where editors bend over backwords to work with the writer and agent.

    Thanks for sharing, Kristin!

  4. Misty Nelson said:

    I heard an author speak once and she talked about how many books with female leads feature the woman facing sideways or away from the front, half dressed with tattoss on her back, shoulder or arm. Ever since then I’ve started paying attention to book covers and realized there really are a ton of them like that.

    The author in question requested, and got permission, to have her heroine in jeans and a turtleneck leaning against an archway, sans tattoos, definitely more unique!

  5. Kristin Laughtin said:

    I don’t mind face covers, especially if there is something unique about the face (and I guess that’s the sticking point here), but I am terrified of getting the misrepresenting cover someday, especially after all the RaceFail discussions last year. Thanks for advocating for your clients–I hope more agents do the same as well!

  6. Giles Hash said:

    Can we add “No more eighties fashion for fantasy novels” to that list? Hairstyles have changed, so have clothing styles, and even average “athletic” builds look different on men and women. I still see new books with that same eighties style, though.

  7. Melissa Pearl said:

    I really like faces on covers. I like to get an idea of what the characters might look like. In saying that, the amount of covers that don’t represent the characters at all, is scary.

    I am a little over the dark, brooding YA covers. I really like covers which are vibrant, full of awesome colours and a striking image.

    My favourite cover of late is Heist Society by Ally Carter. That one is awesome!

  8. Cholisose said:

    The vast majority of YA fiction covers are quite boring, to be completely honest. I’m always wishing for more covers that actually show characters doing interesting things, rather than simply posing for the camera. Or just a boring title and background messed around with in Photoshop.
    I don’t see why it would be hard to draw a picture of a really interesting scene from the book. But instead cover artists always opt for a random photo of a piece of bread, or whatever random thing happens to be symbolic for the story.

  9. Danielle said:

    I’ve always been a big believer that you CAN judge a book by its cover… There are always exceptions of course, but I always think – If there hasn’t been an effort to make the cover art unique and interesting, how can you expect the content to be so?

  10. Kairee Taylor said:

    Can authors suggest a book cover to an editor? I am asking because there is this friend who is an artist and the cover would be “new”…


  11. Alana Roberts said:

    Part of the problem has to be the art schools… they pound it in so hard that “illustrative” art is cheap and uninspired while “conceptual” art is the only real kind. Bah.

  12. ryan field said:

    I usually get lucky and love my covers. But I once passed on a cover and asked the artist to come up with another. I loved the second cover.

    Oddly, when the next book was launched and I had to write a cover description of what I’d like to see, the old cover I’d passed on with the previous launch came to mind. We used it, saved tons of time, and it worked. It just has to be the “right” cover for the book.

  13. The Wife said:

    Bad covers are a hallmark of the romance genre. The clinch, the windblown hair, the impossible poses, and dislocated members… If you want your romance to scream romance, then going with the cheesy, groan-worthy covers are the way to go. Of course, I reserve the right to think the covers are cheesy and Uncle Walter will happily post them on his blog. 😀

    That said, the authors should not be embarrassed by the covers that they can’t control. The quotes, however? Those the author has to take full responsibility for. lol

  14. Jennifer Wolf said:

    I was insanely lucky in that my publisher let me use a photo that my husband had taken for my cover. The art department told him what they wanted and he went and took the picture. I love that we were both part of the process, but I know that is RARE.

  15. Lucy said:

    Cholisose said…

    I don’t see why it would be hard to draw a picture of a really interesting scene from the book. But instead cover artists always opt for a random photo of a piece of bread, or whatever random thing happens to be symbolic for the story.

    11:04 PM


    I imagine it’s far cheaper to buy a stock photo or two and “shop it,” than to commission original artwork.

    That said, I’ve seen some gorgeous covers in historical fiction lately, that publishers are clearly spending both time and money on (The Lady of the Rivers, etc).

  16. Anonymous said:

    I feel like all high fantasy covers are the same, and since I am writing such a novel, it makes me a bit wary. I do not want my book (if it gets published) to have a generic fantasy scene on the front, because it will not stand out at all. Nor do I feel such an image is fitting. I’m glad to know, at least, that I will not be alone if this happens.

  17. Angela Brown said:

    Covers/cover art – such a very important aspect of the publishing process.

    Covers can win or lose the eye of a reader. The content of the story can be great but the cover has to get the reader’s attention.

    I recently bought Soulless. The blurb was cool, but I really liked the cover. It was a book I had on my “watch list” when I first heard about it and snatched it as soon as I could.

  18. Maya said:

    Here! Here! I’m pretty sure at no point in the plethora of YA books at B&N were these girls laying in the grass in a ballgown!

  19. Anonymous said:

    Many publishing houses do not give the artist the manuscript to read, but rather only the back cover blurb (another reason to make that even more compelling. Often times the book has not been completed and/or edited, while the cover is underway. Editors are afraid certain specifics or scenes may not exist in the final book.

    Sadly there are fewer and fewer jobs for cover artists, as stock photos and in-house graphic designers can obviously put out a cover for a lot less.

    So on behalf of cover artists everywhere, a big thank you to Kirstin, her writers, and other agents, and their writers who insist on better.

  20. Anonymous said:

    how do the hideous covers happen?
    They are presumeably being done by people who went to art school. What nonsense do they teach there? How to make commercial art that is extremely ugly to 99% of the population? I do not understand it.

  21. Wendy Tyler Ryan said:

    Yes, the old “don’t judge a book by its cover” is load of horse pucky. Why? Because we all do it.

    I found my cover artist online. She’s from France and her English was good enough for us to conduct the whole project via email with her keeping me informed with sketches every step of the way.

    I feel sorry for authors who don’t get input. I love my cover, it’s beautiful, and she did exactly what I asked. She’s doing the whole trilogy for me (which only makes sense). Book two cover is done as I’ve almost completed the writing of it. Book three I still have to decide on, as I don’t have enough of it written to know exactly what I want on the cover.

    Your book cover is your first impression – make it count!

    Wendy Tyler Ryan
    Fire’s Daughter