Monday, October 25, 2010

Cover Angst

There are so many things authors stress and obsess over: what if I can’t salvage this scene? what if my editor hates the whole book? what if my editor loves the book but all the reviewers hate it? what if no one buys it? Of course, these fears all concern the book. The author has a lot of control over the book.

Most authors – except for the biggest selling, highest grossing, household name types, and sometimes not even them – get very little, if any, control over their cover art. And we all know how bad – how very, very, very bad – romance covers can get. Every writer I know has experienced some degree of Cover Angst at one time or another.

I wasn’t crazy about the cover of Kiss and Kin at first – I didn’t think it was particularly reflective of the story. On the other hand, KnK was part of an anthology, and the three stories had to have similar covers. Regardless of its relevance to the story, it’s a pretty cover, and it grew on me.

The day Samhain offered me a contract for Yours Mine and Howls, I knew exactly who I wanted to do the cover – Kanaxa. The first cover of hers I saw was Blood, Smoke and Mirrors:

Isn’t it gorgeous? Smart Bitches squeed over the cover when they reviewed the book. I looked at the book and I said – hey! That’s a Samhain book! So once I had a signed contract for YMAH I asked my editor (Mary the Awesome) if Kanaxa could do the cover, and MTA said she’d request it, and Kanaxa said okay, and voila!

Isn’t it gorgeous? I’m two for two! (And I have a release date - February 8, 2011!)

Bad (and good) cover art is a frequent topic of conversation over at SBTB -- see the cover art posts archive here. They recently ran a poll about the importance of a cover matching the contents of a book. Some people don't care. Others - and I'm one - think it's important.

It's not such a big deal if a cover is generic - beautiful woman, hot guy, Standard Romance Cover Pose - or if instead of people it depicts a logo or abstract design. What really annoys me is when the cover models are nothing like the characters as described in the book - the heroine is a short brunette pixie-like thing, but the woman on the cover is your typical leggy blond, or the hero has a facial scar and the cover model doesn't. The worst is whitewashing - when the hero or heroine isn't white, but the cover model is.

Some publishers will tell you that they know what kind of cover art sells and what kind doesn't, and that if the cover doesn't entice the browsing reader, it doesn't matter how great the blurb, or the book itself, is.

I'm not sure I believe this. For one thing, a lot of publishers will use the same covers -- not just the same cover models, but identical poses -- for different books. (This happened with a Black Dagger Brotherhood book - I don't reall which one. Everybody thought damn, if they'd do it to a best seller like JR Ward, they'd do it to anyone.) It seems lazy, like they can't be bothered to pay enough attention to the story to get the cover right. And in the case of whitewashing, it's insulting to readers, implying either that only white women buy romance -- which is clearly ridiculous -- or that white women won't read romances featuring non-white characters -- which is also demonstrably false.

It seems like e-book cover art tends to be more content-representative and less prone to duplication across different titles. I'm not sure why that is -- anyone care to speculate? - but I like it.

What are some of your favorite good romance covers, and your favorite bad ones? As far as the good, my all time favorite Old Skool cover is Laurie McBain's Wild Bells to the Wild Sky:
I couldn't tell you my favorite bad one - there are too many to choose from!


Debra St. John said...

I think you lucked out with your cover there! It's is the one which inspired it.

I've been way lucky with my covers from TWRP. So far all of the characters "match" those in my books and the covers also give a feel for the story.

Meg Benjamin said...

My least favorite cover is from a Laura Kinsale whose title I've forgotten. The hero had an inner-ear injury that made it impossible for him to ride without getting dizzy. The cover showed him waving a saber on this rearing stallion that should have sent him retching into the bushes.

Kelly Jamieson said...

Oh my yes, cover angst I have had it. But you're right, we have no control. Which I guess is why it's so frustrating when you get a dud!

Stella (Ex Libris) said...

As a reader and reviewer I completely agree with you: for me covers are very important. I don't mind if they are generic (tough girl with a sword for fantasy or paranormal books), but I would like them to reflect the story. I hate it when the heroine is a brunette and the cover shows a blonde woman.

Congratulations on your new cover, it looks beautiful!! :-)