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 cover...it 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 email@example.com, with the subject header "2 B Read giveaway." Good luck!
And remember...please don't judge a book by its cover! :-D
MR. AND MISTRESS, Silhouette Desire #1723 -- coming May 2006!