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Friday, September 18, 2015

Let's talk about cover art...

First off, this isn't a post about self-pub covers. Those are an entirely different art form. This post is about cover art done by publishers.

Misconception 1: The Author Has Full Control Of The Cover Art
Ha ha ha! No. Not even close.

In a big publishing house the cover art is chosen by the marketing team. They look at other books in your genre and price point and find something that fits. Whether it actually fits the book is a secondary concern. If you are lucky you'll get to send in a few ideas. If you aren't, well, there's a reason there's an apple on the cover of Twilight and not a vampire.

With a smaller press the artwork will be handed to the designated cover artist, who has never read your book, and they will do their best with the description you've sent them. If you don't like their interpretation you might just have to suck it up. If you're lucky they'll change it, if not... too bad!

Misconception 2: You Will Have Original Art For The Cover
Oh, honey, you're adorable. It's not happening.

The bottom line is king in publishing. Unless you earned a substantial advance there is very little money set aside for marketing, and most of it will go to paying the publicist, cover artist, and anyone else on the marketing team. Big press or small, if you aren't a Big Name you are getting stock images.

Publishers save their full court press for the books they've invested money in. That's just life.

Misconception 3: Your Cover Will Never Change
o.0    Have you never heard of Harry Potter?

Covers change based on the market. If you have a bestseller you may see several (if not hundreds) of evolutions of the cover over the years your book is on the shelf. If your book sells internationally there will be different covers for the different regional markets. The USA cover isn't the same as the UK cover isn't the same as the Brazilian cover.

Misconception 4: The Cover Will Be Beautiful 
You sweet summer child.

The cover will be marketable. What "marketable" means varies by press. Whether the author will love the aesthetic and design is another matter. Whether the readers will like the cover is completely beyond your control. Accept that at least one person will give you a 1-star review because they hate your cover and move on with your life. Some people will never be happy.

What Can You Do About It?
Roll with the punches.

The better your sales the more clout you'll have when it comes to covers. Maybe. To a degree. If you absolutely must have control over your covers than consider self-publishing or working as your own cover artist. Smaller presses may consider letting you make your own cover if your skills meet their standards. For larger houses, let the marketing team do their job and focus on writing.

Any questions?


  1. While we're discussing things including not so beautiful covers, there are some publishers where semi-bad covers (at least as perceived by the author) are actually kind of important to the brand. That is, the covers may be cheesy or too 80s or something, but the people who read a lot from that publisher (many Baen covers are examples that comes to mind) are so used to that type of cover, they look specifically for it.

    1. Yes, Baen and Harelquin have very specific brand looks. If you publish with them you have to accept the cover will match the publisher's brand more than your perfect ideal.

  2. The thing that surprised me when dealing with my first cover was that when I had some notes, they actually listened to me. I didn't get all of the changes I wanted, but I got a fair number. It likely helped that I had an itemized list of WHY I thought changes needed to be made. But I made life a nightmare for a guy named Tom. Who I'm sure is absolutely lovely.

    But I still made his life hell.

    Whoops. I should bring him a Starbucks giftcard when I go to New York or something.

    Also I want my own terrible Baen cover.

    1. I've worked with at least cover artists and only really dug my heels in once. The cover model scared me. He looked like the psycho creeper from the back of the apartment complex that you don't make eye contact with. And it was a romance cover. We spent a couple days bouncing cover couples back and forth and finally found one that we all liked. :)