I posted the full wrap of the Canadian (and essentially the American) cover of River of Stars this week, and people have been saying really nice things in various places. They’ve been saying that for awhile, since the front cover was posted some time back.
That, of course, is a compliment not to me, but to the artist and the art director. The art director, in fact, is a too-often-overlooked player in all this. A cover can be made or broken by their creativity. Not just in typeface and design, but in commissioning the right artist, and making the right use of the work delivered. (Sometimes only a detail of a painting is used, for example.)
We say two contradictory things on this subject. We say ‘don’t judge a book by…’ but we also say ‘I bought this book because I loved the cover.’ Even if we don’t verbalize it that way, research suggests that cover art plays a major role in book sales – even with online buying.
Given that this Journal is built aorund the idea of sharing info about the book world, I should say that one of the most often asked questions I get (and I suspect this is true of most writers) is, ‘How much input do you have in the covers?’
The predictable answer is: it varies. Some authors, like my friend Janny Wurts, are also painters and they will often do their own covers. (Janny also plays bagpipes, but we won’t go there.) Self-published writers will often be their own art directors, for better or worse. (Sometimes they can afford to hire someone.) Younger writers, working with an established house will rarely get too much in the way of consultation. (I used to warn younger friends that consultation means they have to ask your opinion before ignoring it.)
Once you get to a certain level, real consultation is more common but even then it is fraught and authors can get intensely frustrated. (So can publishers, to be fair.) It doesn’t help much to be ‘consulted’ if one’s first glimpse of a proposed cover comes so late in the production process the artist has no time to revise, let alone start again, or he or she wants more money to keep going. (This isn’t unreasonable, in many cases, by the way.)
I always ask (read: beg) to see cover ideas early in the process. With many of my editors by now I have really good working relationships and I have conversations with them before anything is even put together (before anyone else in the house has seen the manuscript). The editor is almost always the one who briefs the art director. ‘I see a 19th century British country house. Therevare stairs going up and down. There are pink zombies with ak47s, and pre-Raphaelite women and …’ (I just disturbed myself, actually.)
When it comes to foreign-language editions, most contracts (once you are reasonably senior) will provide for consultation as well, but communication and timeliness are even more of an issue, and there have been a few times when the first look I have had of a book is when actual copies arrive at my agents’. This doesn’t necessarily go well. A glance at the Art Gallery at brightweavings.com will reveal (expose?) a few of my … well, less-loved cover children.
On the other hand, I have been really lucky in my cover art here and in the States for the last several books and I love Larry Rostant’s cover for River of Stars. The editors wanted ‘big book’ as part of the underlying message, and I think they got that.
Subsequent editions (trade paperback, paperback) are likely to have very different covers, incidentally. That’s another post. But the mandates for initial hardcover and for reprints in paperback are very different. Paperbacks are still, for strictly economic reasons, much more of an impulse buy, and the covers try to take that into account.
I’ve just been told actual books will be in the warehouses first week in March. I will use ‘tangible’ here. (In-joke, from the Journal for Under Heaven.)