On the mysteries of cover art

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One of the questions I get fairly often (and, I suspect, so do most other writers) is “How much control do you really have over the cover art/book format/back-cover-blurbs?”

Actually, the real question people get a lot (though I haven’t, because I’ve been very very lucky with my covers) is, “Why did you let them put that awful thing on your cover?” or “That didn’t look ANYTHING LIKE your main character, how come it looks like that?” or other things to that effect. This is something I’ve talked about on my personal journal more than once, and so besides talking about it here I’ll point you at previous entries on this topic:

1. Art Fact Sheets: Harlequin’s data entry system for information about what an author might want to see on her cover.

2. The actual art fact sheet for HEART OF STONE.

Having provided what, by dint of actually having links of their own, are clearly *not* short answers to the question, the short answer to the question is: “Writers have pretty much no control at all.”

This gets quite long, so I’m going to attempt a cut tag *drumroll*:

Arright, I’m going to assume you’ve gone and read those other two links and I’m going to talk about books I don’t talk about in them, like THE QUEEN’S BASTARD. :)

Del Rey didn’t ask me a thing about what I’d like to see on the cover of TQB. However, being the, uh, there’s a nice word for this, I’m sure. The, uh, *forward-thinking* and *involved* author that I am, I emailed to ask about it, and said I didn’t know what they were thinking of, but that I would personally love to see a real costume drama kind of cover, a la Phillipa Gregory‘s covers, particularly THE VIRGIN’S LOVER, THE QUEEN’S FOOL or THE OTHER BOLYEN GIRL, but maybe adding in an element like Belinda (the main character)’s dagger, so it’s not *just* costume drama and so it hinted at what Belinda’s real duty is.

My editor wrote back and said she’d been thinking of something like Marie Brennan‘s WARRIOR AND WITCH cover, which is very intense and sexy.

This is what we ended up with:

I think it’s a *wonderful* mesh between the two ideas (and yes, she is highly boobalicious, which I mention because so far everybody’s commented on that). I was incredibly, incredibly pleased with it. (*laughs* The poor art director, whom I met while visiting New York, said to me, nervously, “We’ll probably take some liberties with the dagger…” because Belinda’s dagger was given to her when she was barely more than a baby, and was sized for a child her age. It’s a token now, a keepsake, but it’s also very representative of who and what she is, so I loved the idea of using it. It would, however, look perfectly ridiculous at its actual size, because the whole of it’s not much longer than an adult’s hand. I said to the art director, “Oh, that’s fine, it’d look ridiculous if you didn’t, and besides, I don’t care if the cover is a flawlessly accurate picture of what’s in the book. What I really want is something sexy and beautiful that’ll sell a lot of books.” He said to my editor, “Can we keep this one?” *laughs*)

Similarly, with Del Rey, they sent me the cover copy:

SHE NEVER REALIZED HER OWN POWER . . . UNTIL NOW.

In a world where religion has ripped apart the old order, Belinda Primrose is the queen’s secret weapon. The illegitimate daughter of Lorraine, the first queen to sit on the Aulunian throne, Belinda has been trained as a spy since the age of twelve by her father, Lorraine’s lover and spymaster.

Cunning and alluring, fluent in languages and able to take on any persona, Belinda can infiltrate the glittering courts of Echon where her mother’s enemies conspire. She can seduce at will and kill if she must. But Belinda’s spying takes a new twist when her witchlight appears.

Now Belinda’s powers are unlike anything Lorraine could have imagined. They can turn an obedient daughter into a rival who understands that anything can be hers, including the wickedly sensual Javier, whose throne Lorraine both covets and fears. But Javier is also witchbreed, a man whose ability rivals Belinda’s own . . . and can be just as dangerous.

Amid court intrigue and magic, loyalty and love can lead to more daring passions, as Belinda discovers power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

out of the blue and said, “What do you think?”

I said *clutches my heart* wow, that’s good! and it pretty much got left at that.

For my other series–ok, starting at the top. My editor at Luna sent me her original blurb for URBAN SHAMAN, which … *checks* … I no longer have. I rewrote it entirely, *mostly* by changing it from passive to active tense but keeping all the same elements my editor had used, and my copy was basically what got used, and set the tone, for the back covers of the Walker Papers. Since then, I’ve rewritten the back cover blurbs and gotten more or less what my editor wrote in the first place. :)

I can’t find the COYOTE DREAMS blurbs, so here are the THUNDERBIRD blurbs:

Original from my editor:

It’s the end of the world.
Again.

For all the bodies she’s encountering, you’d think beat cop Joanne Walker is Homicide. But, no, Joanne’s a reluctant shaman who last saved mankind three months ago—surely she deserves more of a break! Yet, incredibly, “Armageddon, Take Two” is mere days away.

She doesn’t have a minute to waste.

When her spirit guide inexplicably disappears, Joanne needs help from other sources. Especially after she accidentally unleashes Lower World demons on Seattle. Damn. With the mother of all showdowns gathering force, it’s the worst possible moment for Joanne to realize she doesn’t have enough control of her own powers.

Or for her to discover she’s being lied to….

My rewrite:

The pressure is off.

Reluctant shaman Joanne Walker has survived the Wild Hunt and a banshee. Now her worst problem is suffering through her day job as a street cop during a heat wave.

At least, until she finds another dead body, starts to lose her tenuous grip on her magic, and accidentally unleashes Lower World demons on Seattle.

Damn.

As her friends begin to pay the price for Joanne’s lack of training, she accepts help from a host of powerful newcomers in her life.

But someone is lying to her.

And she doesn’t know who.

And what ended up on the back of the book:

It’s the end of the world.
Again.

For all the bodies she’s encountering, you’d think beat cop Joanne Walker is Homicide. But, no, Joanne’s a reluctant shaman who last saved mankind three months ago—surely she deserves more of a break! Yet, incredibly, “Armageddon, Take Two” is mere days away.

There’s not a minute to waste.

Yet when her spirit guide inexplicably disappears, Joanne needs help from other sources. Especially after she accidentally unleashes Lower World demons on Seattle. Damn. With the mother of all showdowns gathering force, it’s the worst possible moment for Joanne to realize she should have learned more about controling her powers.

Or for her to discover she’s being lied to….

So not much in the way of change from what the editor wrote to what ended up on the back of the book. (Meh, in retrospect, mine wasn’t that good, although I still like parts of it a lot more than what ended up on the book.) Similarly with COYOTE DREAMS, although the tag line on that–Wouldn’t it be easier to just save the world? came from my rewrite, and I was pleased that, at least, made it on, ’cause I thought it was funny. :)

On the Negotiator books (well, the first two, anyway, since the third hasn’t been blurbed yet): the copy I wrote for the back cover of HEART OF STONE ended up being printed on the inside of the cover flats as the story synopsis as to why booksellers should buy this book. I like it vastly more than what did end up on the back cover, but the only bit they kept for the cover copy was something to the effect of, “As the bodies pile up, it’s a race against the sunrise to clear Alban’s name and keep them both alive…” Which was my favorite line, so hey, that’s not so bad. :) (Oh, the original text I suggested is in the art fact sheet entry linked above.)

With the exception of the words “uber-hot”, the cover copy on HOUSE OF CARDS is, I think, entirely mine. I don’t know what, exactly, will end up on the back cover when the book is actually produced, but for the moment, at least, what I wrote is what’s on there. And I have no idea what’ll end up on the cover of the third book. Right now I couldn’t blurb it to save my life, unless they’d take, “And it all goes to hell! Read and find out how!” as a blurb. :)

I had pretty much no input on the Dermody book blurbs, but that was my own fault: I took forever to respond to the first one, and by the time I did it was too late and the tone’d been set and all. Overall, though, they were fine, and I *loved* the little one-line teasers they put on the front covers (THE CARDINAL RULE: Trust no one but yourself. | What rises from the ashes of betrayal? THE FIREBIRD DECEPTION | Someone has to rise from the ashes… THE PHOENIX LAW (I’d proposed something slightly different from that for PHOENIX. Can’t remember what/find it now, but I liked it slightly better. Still, it was that general gist, which is cool.).

So. There ya go. From my experiences, at least, that’s the kind of input an author has on the book cover/blurb. I know Charles Stross commented on one of my earlier entries on the topic saying he’d never had anything like the Harlequin Art Fact Sheets, and talked about his own experiences a bit. Perhaps other writers will weigh in and people can get a broader spectrum (I have, after all, only worked with two houses), but this is what I can give you. :)

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6 comments to On the mysteries of cover art

  • I didn’t have any input at all. Not that I was really expecting to have any, since this was my first book ever, so it was no skin off my nose. My editorial assistant sent the early sketch of my cover, just to show me what direction the artist was headed. Cover blurbs were handled through some other office, and I never saw them until the book was in print. That was the extent of my involvement with the outside of the book. 😀

    I was lucky with the cover, though, and I know it. My book is about a female pirate who has magical ability, so I’d been afraid I’d get a cover that featured Captain Bootylicious and Her Amazing Gravity-Defying Bazoombas! Not that cleavage is a bad thing – Catie’s cover for QB displayed it in all the right and beautiful ways. But it’s awfully easy to overdo. When the finished cover first saw daylight, I sat on my couch and wept for joy.

    The fates were smiling on me, and I got a cover that was gorgeous and organic, and I was thrilled.

  • Catie, In my AKA, I have had 7 books from Mira, which is another Harlequin imprint. I fill out the fact sheet and all…but let’s face it. At Harlequin, these days, everything is run by the numbers department. And those people are NOT readers or writers or editors. If they like something, it is set in stone, and there is no getting around them.

    My *big* problems with Harlequin are finding my books stocked in the romance section, a well-known problem for all imprint writers. Why does this happen? The books arrive in a Harlequin box. Therefore they must be romances… UCK.

    I do NOT write romance. When writing as Gwen Hunter, I write dead bodies.
    As Faith, it’s kick ass gals!
    Faith

  • Faith said, “I do NOT write romance.”

    I got a glowing review last week, from a romance e-zine. The reviewer loved the book, except that since it wasn’t a romance, she could only give four stars instead of five. *rolls eyes*

  • I get that too, Misty.
    And *you go* on the 4 star review! Whoowhoo!

    Your book is out today, right? Nudge, nudge.

    Catie, I just finished the first Negotiator and I LOVED it!
    It was wonderful! You are right, New York was the perfect setting for it.
    Faith

  • To tell you the truth even though we don’t seem to have much control on what happens on the covers, there has been a wave of majorly well created cover art that had me the second I saw them. So it’s not all that bad unless the author is an artist too, which may make opinions clash.

  • I’ve been fortunate from the start in that a) I’ve almost always gotten to see multiple sketches for possible cover art ideas, b) I have been given a voice in choosing which one to use (more often than not, they’ve gone with my preference), and c) I have been allowed to edit the jacket text that my editor writes. This is somewhat unusual and I think a lot of it has to do with my editor and his willingness to work with his authors on these things. He’s good at what he does, and he really cares about his writers.