Sunday, April 02, 2006

when bad covers happen to good authors

It's kind of ironic to bring up the topic of bad covers when I happen to be really happy with the artwork for my next book. In fact, I've been really happy with all of my covers in recent memory.

But the cover flats for my May Silhouette Desire, MR. AND MISTRESS, just arrived, & while I was oohing & aahing over them, I couldn't help thinking, "Wow, I've gotten some really good covers lately. Thank goodness!" Which only prompted me to remember a time when I got a very "not good" cover & had no choice but to make the best of it.

I think that every author, at some point in her/his career, is going to get a lousy cover. Some are worse than others. Some are a little sweeter in the "lemon" department, making it somewhat easier to make lemonade. My personal "bad cover" was on my second historical for Leisure Books, A PROMISE OF ROSES. It was a good book, darn it--it deserved better. :-p

But, alas, it didn't just get a bad got a recycled cover.
That's right. The artwork that appeared on my July 2000 release had already appeared before on another historical romance ten years earlier. I knew it the minute I saw it. I knew which book, by which author. I had read that book. (In case you're wondering, it was Sue Rich's Rawhide & Roses from Pocket Books.) Except for the hair colors being the opposite of what they should have been (in the book, he had blond hair, she had black), the picture did suit my story, but that one small consolation didn't keep me from being crushed by the fact that I'd gotten a re-used cover on only my second published work. (Chances are, it would have bothered me at any point in my career, but it was a more bitter pill to swallow that early on.)

So what can authors do when they get a bad cover for a book they love? Well, they can't get it fixed, that's for sure. In most cases, by the time authors see their artwork, it's too late to change anything. But when Suzanne Brockmann got a chubby hero in dress whites on the cover of her "Tall, Dark, & Dangerous" Navy SEAL book, Get Lucky, she turned her lemon into lemonade by passing out smiley face stickers. At signings, she stuck them over the pudgy face of her "Pillsbury Doughboy" hero, & even mailed them to readers so they could do the same to any copies they spotted in local stores. When another author got a cover that reminded her a little too much of a bottle of Pepto Bismol, she started promoting it with the tag line, "Think Pink!" And when I got stuck with my pretty but recycled cover, I held a contest on my website to give away copies of both titles that had been gifted with that artwork--mine & Sue Rich's.

What else can good authors who get stuck with bad covers do? It's one more thing in this life that we can't control and shouldn't let ourselves lose too much sleep over. Yes, a bad cover can affect sales. But so can titles, distribution, the weather, the economy, etc., etc., etc.

I have been very lucky to have gotten really good covers for the majority of my books. And I celebrate each & every one, because you never know when that next clunker will arrive...when you'll be forced to buy stock in smiley face stickers, or create a new ad slogan, or go up to another author at a conference & introduce yourself as, "The other author who got your same cover." LOL

Oh, & just so you know, even good covers can prompt some fun word-of-mouth. Readers have dubbed my latest (pictured above), "Here, honey. Hold my purse while I fix my hair." :-D

P.S. As a special treat, I'll send autographed cover flats of the gorgeous (if I do say so myself :-)) artwork for MR. AND MISTRESS to the first 5 readers who send me an e-mail at, with the subject header "2 B Read giveaway." Good luck!

And remember...please don't judge a book by its cover! :-D

Heidi Betts
MR. AND MISTRESS, Silhouette Desire #1723 -- coming May 2006!


Jennifer Y. said...

Great post!!!

Colleen Thompson said...

Love your new cover, Heidi!

I can imagine how much it stung to get a "retread" cover earlier. Glad you're getting such nice ones now.

I've been pretty lucky with covers. There was one clinch (for my first book, Touched by Fire, written as Gwyneth Atlee) that wasn't my cup of tea (I don't care for clinches), but I was so excited to *have* a cover, it didn't matter at the time. And readers seemed to like it, which is what counts.

I think as long as the cover catches the eye and accurately, attractively gets across the idea of what type of story is in the pages, it's doing its job well. If it makes the book appear to be something its not or frightens away readers with sheer ugliness (yes, I'm thinking monkey death mask cover here, JoAnn!), then it's a disaster waiting to happen.

And the bookstore chains have much more of a chance than the author or her agent to get the thing fixed.

gailbarrett said...

Well, Heidi - the smokejumper on the cover of my current book, Facing the Fire, looks like a cross between a welder and a city fire fighter. I sent the art department all sorts of photos of smokejumpers and explained what they wear in great detail, and for some unknown reason they put a VISOR on the guy's hard hat and weird suspenders. It still irks me, but as you said, what can I do? I guess most people won't know the difference, but it bothers me because I went to such lengths to help them get it right. On the positive side, they gave the hero great muscles, the fire looks good, and the heroine looks exactly as I envisioned her.

Alfie said...

Okay, you want cover nightmares? At least your retread was a good cover to begin with. On one of mine, the hero was cross-eyed. On another--back when babies were so fly-off-the-shelf hot--my baby was deformed and the hero was ugly as sin and looked about 50. On my Silhouette Shadows romantic suspense, the cover wasn't bad, except it looked like a YA horse story, not a romantic suspense.
Oh yes, I've had some great ones, too. So I guess it's all luck of the draw.