Tuesday 25 June 2019

The Big Eight-Oh oh oh oh

I've been doing this for a while now with posts to celebrate my first book, Prince of Thorns, turning 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 and now 80 ... as in 80,000 ratings on Goodreads.

This time the milestone has fallen just after the release of my latest book, Limited Wish. The Impossible Times trilogy which starts with One Word Kill concludes in November with Dispel Illusion.

So, what exciting topic will I broach for the milestone 80K?

Let's talk covers!

Recently there was a bit of internet fuss by Czech readers who weren't all impressed by the cover reveal for Red Sister by my Czech publishers:

Some of them remonstrated with me. How could I allow this etc etc. In the end the publishers decided to go in a different direction and this is now the cover:

The discussions revealed considerable misunderstandings about how much input traditionally published authors have on their covers. I'm currently running a cover contest in the 5th SPFBO, and these covers come about in the way many readers imagine that traditional publishing works. The authors choose their artist, ask for something specific, there is a to and fro, and the final product is hopefully something they feel ownership of. 

Things in traditional publishing are very different. When my first book, Prince of Thorns came out, the first I heard about the cover from the publisher who provided it was an email saying "here's your cover, we hope you like it".  As it happens, I really did. It was a fine piece of art from the excellent Jason Chan who went on to provide covers for 6 of my books and internal art for my special edition omnibuses. 

As a more successful author my opinion is canvassed to a greater degree by my US and UK publishers but still it's nothing like what happens with self-published authors.

With overseas publishers (of whom I have dozens) in 99% of cases I'm not told when the book comes out, what the title is, or shown the cover. I find out when a reader sends me a link.

Two things to remember, however. Firstly: I'm not paying for the art. Secondly: My publishers know a lot more than I do about what sells in their market.

Emotionally, the cover is a statement about the author's art. The author wants one they like. Obviously.

Economically, the cover is a sales device. The publisher (and the author) want to sell books. Since the publisher has bought the rights and made a significant financial investment both in the advance to the author and the costs of production, they sensibly take hold of this important factor in the success of the book. They know that the author is good with words. They have no reason to believe that the author is an expert in covers.

And it's true. I'm not an expert in covers. Indeed I often don't have strong opinions when I am asked for input at the early stage or to choose between options at a later stage.

The UK Book of the Ancestor covers changed character through the course of the trilogy but it wasn't me driving those changes. I had no objection to the Red Sister hardcover cover. I didn't campaign for the change to the paperback cover. I like both. Readers, however, often voice strong opinions in both directions.

When considering what might be on the cover of One Word Kill I never even thought of just the title. My mind was wandering across D&D paraphernalia, dice, maps, characters... None of it really jumped out at me as "yes, we must have that". And when 47North came up with the text-only idea I was very pleasantly surprised. It somehow captured the era and seemed to invite readers in without loading them with preconceptions. The images I'd been thinking of would have turned away some readers whose biases reviews now tell me that that text overcame. So bravo to the publishers.

 I'm not a control freak - I'll leave them to do what they do best and stick with what I know. Sure, sometimes the results won't be great, no cover is universally loved, but then again, neither is any book! Some of my covers I love. Some not so much. You won't catch me telling you which is which. And in all cases my thanks go to the artists for their skill and hard work.

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1 comment:

  1. Nice post :) I try to think about trad-vs-indie as a business decision, and trad authors don't pay for covers, marketing, editing, and so on, but the people who are paying get more say.