Friday, March 24, 2006

Book Covers

I need to get up and go vacuum up all the dead leaves and dried up Christmas cactus flowers that have been lost in the corner of my office before the new desk arrives and grinds them permanently into the carpet. (The cactus flowers aren't that old. My 15-year-old Christmas cactus has gone berserk and blooms periodically from September through May.) But the desk isn't arriving until 3 this afternoon, so I have plenty of time. (Says she who has been known to procrastinate a whole day away goofing around on the internet...)

Anyway, I just re-discovered a few hundred book covers for The Barbed Rose my publisher sent me last fall when I was cleaning out all the junk under the work table I'm replacing, and spent some time admiring them, and realized I had found a blog topic for today.

Book covers (or book jackets for the hardcovers out there) are the first tangible thing an author gets to hold in her hand that says "This book, this dream, is actually going to be real." Up until that point, the book pretty much looks like the same manuscript pages we've been shipping back and forth to publisher's offices. But when that cover comes, the reality sets in.

And yes, the covers are just what they sound like. Flat copies of what goes around the pages of the book. The early covers often have marketing information inside them to go out to book buyers, and the ones that come later will have exactly what is on the inside cover of the books as sold in the stores.

Covers are important. A book's cover tells bookstore browsers what kind of story is inside. A light-hearted story gets bright colors and perhaps a cute cartoon-style character on the front. A dark suspense gets dark colors and dramatic scenes. Fantasy and science fiction stories tend to get dramatic depictions of the strange creatures, machinery or events that take place inside. The wrong cover can give the wrong idea about the contents and requires a "Do-Over." I have a friend within my own imprint who got her cover completely redone at the last minute because the first one didn't have that "heroic otherworldly adventure" feel to it, and CJ Lyons, who blogs here, got her book pulled from the schedule because the cover didn't scream "suspense." Covers are VERY important.

The amount and method of author input into the cover differs from publisher to publisher. And sometimes between lines and imprints within publishers. I've only ever been published with Harlequin, but there's a great deal of difference in what I was asked to do as a series romance writer and what I'm asked for as a Luna author. The series authors have a website to go to where they put in information about their characters and answer questions about theme and such. There used to be a paper form to be filled out and mailed or faxed back, but it's all gone to the online stuff now. I think.

I've never seen it, because they shifted to online after I started writing for Luna. I get e-mails requesting essentially the same information--descriptions of the main characters, clothing, settings, scenes that I think might work well on the cover, theme of the story. Since Luna is a fantasy line and the setting and clothing is all in my head, it can take quite a bit of time for me to get all this stuff down. And sometimes they ask for cover input before I've written all the story and I don't yet have much idea what some of the settings look like.

So far, I've been delighted by all my covers. They have been gorgeous. I'm particularly pleased with the cover of The Barbed Rose (available in bookstores now), because it has all the elements I wanted--the white rose with its thorns in the corner, the compass rose symbol carved into the pillar under the heroine's feet--and if you look close, you can see the little tiny sailboat flying in the air over the city. Yes, there is a flying sailboat in the book. I told them to put that in.

Do covers inspire you to pick up a book? Has one ever stopped you from picking a particular book up? Is there a particular favorite out there?


Allie Mackay said...

Hi Gail,

As usual, I'll chime in for Sue-Ellen as she just slipped out of here to brew another pot of restorative tea. (she needs that with all her deadlines)

Any-hoo ... were she here, she'd tell you that a book cover has never swayed her one way or the other.

And they don't influence me either.

Only the book's content. Or an author's name if we appreciate that author's style. Though a striking cover will cause us to reach for a book and read the blurb.

But if the story itself doesn't appeal, the book goes back on the shelf snazzy cover or no.

How-ever ... Sue-Ellen would surely want me to mention an anecdote from the days when she still ran website contests.

Heigh-ho, mercy me!

One reader who won her big Scottish gift basket e-mailed her thanks but noted that she wouldn't be reading Sue-Ellen's book.

That was DEVIL IN A KILT and John De Salvo was on the cover. This reader LOVED John and claimed she bought all books with him on the cover. But she never read them because she couldn't bear to crease the lad.

So much for using website contests to win new readers.

And speaking of covers ... I just received my own the other day. The new cover for my first NAL Scottish-set paranormal, HIGHLANDER IN HER BED.

It's a real stunner. Leastways I think so. In fact, I think its so special I suspect Sue-Ellen is jealous. She's probably so envious she's even glad I don't know how to post covers on here.

But I tricked her. I crept in here while she was sleeping last night and sent it to her web mistress. So hopefully it'll be up on her website soon.

Your cover for The Barbed Rose is stunning, by the way. Magical and intriguing.

Oops! I hear you-know-who heading this way, so I better get weaving.

Slainte all around!
Allie Mackay

Nancy Morse said...

A cover will definitely attract me enough to pick up a book and look at it, but it won't necessarily make me buy it. It's the copy that will clinch the deal for me one way or another, regardless of who the author is. I had a Dell release some years ago that had such a horrendously bad cover that I almost threw up when I saw it. The artwork was so amateurish it was pathetic. The heroine is looking over her shoulder like she's from the village of the damned, and the hero is reclining on a wall in the background and he doesn't even have a botton half. I was so appalled by the cover that I ordered loads of copies and sent them to every bookseller I could think of, asking them not to judge this book by its cover. Many wrote back thanking me for alerting them to a what was otherwise a good story. So, I don't know if a good cover will sell a book, but I do know that a bad one surely won't. I've seen JoAnn's infamous monkey mask cover and, truthfully, I didn't think it was bad. At least it wasn't pretending to be human.

Colleen Thompson said...

Yes, I'll admit buying books simply because their covers spoke to me. I'll also admit to picking up many more and looking at them carefully because the artwork clued me in that the book might be of interest.

I've found some great books that way and discovered some new authors. I've also found some clunkers, but I just chalked those up to experience and avoided that author's future efforts.

I think the best covers speak to that particular book's audience. I've never been a fan of clinch covers (even when I wrote historicals), but when a historical romance reader sees one -- even from across the store -- they know right away it's a type of book in their preferred subgenre. Romantic suspense covers frequently have the "scared female face/running woman" look about them, but fans of RS can easily recognize "their" books on the rack that way. The title and the back cover copy are additional pieces of the puzzle, but often, with mass market books, it's the artwork that first catches the eye.

Gail Dayton said...

That's what I think too. The eye-catching thing, the cluing-in-the-reader thing. Works for me.