Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You Don't Get To See My Cover Yet

Neener neener.

I got to see my cover last week. It's not the final version--it's a preliminary comp, which means that the layout and images are really close to what it will eventually look like, but not finalized. Consequently, I'm not allowed to spread it around or display it online; I only have a hard copy, and I have to mail it back to Harper on Thursday.

But, let me just say: Holy Awesome. This is a fantastic cover. I knew that Harper has good designers, but I was really blown away by this. Sure, maybe some of that can be chalked up to the excitement of seeing my first big national book cover, but I think more of it has to do with the fact that the cover is RAD.

By coincidence, a podcast that I adore (and all aspiring writers ought to listen to), Litopia, addressed the topic of covers last week. One of the guests complained about how covers (genre covers in particular) are becoming too cliche; another complained about covers that don't represent the content of the book--that they mislead you into buying the books. Examples were given and debate was had, and no one really came to any conclusion about anything. But it got me thinking.

I'm not a graphic designer, but I am a marketer, and the cover is, above all else, a marketing tool. It's designed with the sole purpose of getting you to pick the book up. From this marketing standpoint, I can see a little of both sides of the argument. Misleading covers are used because they get your attention--"Hey! A book about airships!"--and then maybe you'll read the backcover to find out what the book is actually about, and maybe you'll buy it. Cliches are used in book covers because it snugly shoehorns a book into a certain genre. (And, despite what everyone claims, we're all swayed and affected by covers. We like things to be categorized for us, because it's easier for us to make value judgments. We all judge books by their covers all the time, even though we pretend not to. We may very well do it subconciously, but we still do it.)

I'm not defending the use of cliches and misleading covers, merely explaining them. (But in some ways I'm defending them, too. When Brandon Sanderson received the deal of the century--getting to finish the Wheel of Time series--I ribbed him a bit about getting famous Wheel of Time cover art. The art, seen here, is by a guy called Darrell Sweet, and he's done all of the covers since the beginning, and I think they're horrid. Brandon, however, was much more circumspect. He said that Darrell Sweet's art means something to readers. I--not a Wheel of Time fan--might find the art ugly/cliche/whatever, but to WoT fans, Sweet's art is a stamp of authenticity. Brandon explained to me that many fantasy writers would love to get Sweet's artwork on their cover, because it connects with a certain demographic of readers.)

But enough of that. I want to talk a little about the covers of my previous books.

Here's my first book, On Second Thought. Despite the fact that the image is taken directly, with no modifications, from GettyImages, the cover is pretty good. It accurately shows elements from the story (the businessman in the desert) and also elements of the theme (the lack of direction and the impending need for decisions to be made). While the cover doesn't scream "comedy!" (and definitely doesn't scream "rom-com"), it certainly has a bit of whimsy to it.

Here's my second book. *Shudder*

I don't think that there is much happening in favor of this cover. First, the image has nothing to do with the story. There is no character in the book who is ever dressed in a suit (the main character is a slacker college student), and there is no reason for anyone to have his head in the sand. And, if you're thinking this must be a metaphor--as evidenced by the title--then you're wrong there, too. The title has nothing to do with the story or the theme.

Also, this cover is really, atrociously ugly. Would it surprise you to learn that this book has the highest GoodReads ratings of all my books, yet sold the worst (by far)?

My third book has a great cover, in my opinion. It conveys both the tone of the book as well as the showing a vital set piece (the Arch de Triumph). And, if my second book sold the worst, how do you think this one sold? Close to three times as well. Yes, Virginia, people really do judge books by their covers.

All of that said, I'm happy to announce that my upcoming cover is fantastic: neither cliche nor misleading, but still managing to be both artistically beautiful and a humdinger of a marketing piece. Hopefully I can show you the finalized version soon.

So, what are your thoughts about covers? Do they influence your reading/buying decisions? (Also: let me know what covers you love!)


At 9/22/2010 1:37 AM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

I admit, I totally judge books by their covers. It doesn't stop me from reading a good book but it does make me hesitate. And always keep its ugliness hidden when places on the shelf. ;)

Very excited to see your cover! Can't wait for it to be unveiled!

At 9/22/2010 1:49 AM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

Absolutely covers have an impact on my decisions. If I’m browsing a bookstore, then they are the first thing I see, and if I'm repulsed by provocative images, then forget it. I won't even open the book and read the inside panel or turn the book over to read anything about the story. I consider the cover a piece of artwork, and like any good paintings, the right cover can tantalize the viewer, drawing them in, making them curious about what lies between the pages. But the wrong cover can do just the opposite, turning them away, letting their eyes land on the next book on the shelf. About the only time I don’t pay attention to the cover is when the book comes recommended. Only then do I let a boring cover slide. By the way, I have your books. Kerry recommended them. No inference intended.
I’m looking forward to seeing your new cover. I heard good things about Harper, although I have to tell you I don’t care for Darrell Sweet’s artwork. Too illustrative in my opinion.

At 9/22/2010 2:00 AM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

I definitely judge books by their covers. Even if the back-cover summary sounds intriguing, I might look at the cover, see a half-naked man, or a woman with a tattoo, (or both) and think to myself, "Oh, it's that kind of book." Then my heart sinks a little and I move on to another cover, looking for one that screams "serious historical mystery!" or "space opera with minimum sex!"

I really love the cover of Dan Wells' I am NOT a Serial Killer. Those claw marks, the title, nothing else -- genius!

At 9/22/2010 8:52 AM, Blogger Daron D. Fraley said...

What timing. I JUST had a conversation about the cover of my book, THE THORN, with a gal running a website/blog which is becoming very popular with LDS readers. At first she was afraid to mention things she had heard from others, fearful of offending me. We talked about it and I assured her that I appreciated her insight.

When I first got my cover, I was excited because it looks like YA Fantasy, and I thought it would attract younger readers. It hasn't. Rather, I have had MANY comments from adults who don't like the cover at all. Some have said it turned them off. Too cartoonish (I get that one the most). Too much of a "boy book". Too much like Epic Fantasy (my book is not really Fantasy).

I still like the cover, but since an overwhelming amount of readers do not, it makes me wonder if it has hampered sales. But that would be hard to prove, wouldn't it? How do you prove that a potential buyer picked up the book then set it back down in favor of the book right next to it, because the other book had a better cover?

Changing publishers is giving me an opportunity to do something that most authors don't get to do: Change the cover. The ebook version has the new cover and when the book goes to its second printing, it will get the new one also. I have gotten very positive remarks about the new one. If frog-blog-readers are curious and want to compare, I have both covers on my website page "BOOKS", here:

I understand that the publisher (and their marketing department) gets to design/approve the cover. The author does not. The sad thing is that when the publisher makes a mistake the author is often stuck with a cover which just doesn't work. Perhaps there needs to be a bit more design-by-committee? I understand that the reason they don't do that is cost. Too expensive to go through several revisions, I suppose.

Anyway, I look forward to seeing your cover, Rob. And congratulations again on the pending release!

At 9/22/2010 10:40 AM, Blogger Janice said...

I read your second book because I'd read the first book and knew I'd like it. I was also on bed rest and bored out of my head but that's another story. I wouldn't have picked that book up based on the cover.

At 9/22/2010 10:51 AM, Blogger Michael Knudsen said...

Covers are critical. I agree that your third is by far the best. It has kind of a "grisham-y" look to it. Dropping the middle initial was also good for branding.

At 9/22/2010 7:22 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

A book's cover won't get me to pick it up (the author's name on the spine is usually all I need) but it could potentially make me put it down. If there's something disturbing (and it has to be pretty bad) or something I wouldn't want a visitor to see and judge ME (say your typical Boris Vallejo sort of thing), well, I might pass.

I disagree with Sweet's interpretations of the characters, but they are definitely works of art, very detailed.


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