Tuesday, December 06, 2011

More on book covers

My comment last Tuesday about the terrible cover on Ian Rankin’s most recent paperback offering seemed to have touched a nerve with a lot of Type M readers. That response caused me to think a lot more on this subject.

If a publisher contacts me to design a cover, the first thing we talk about (after time frame) is, naturally, remuneration. I charge over $800, often more, because of the time involved, but I put in a lot more time than most designers. If they want a “quick and dirty” cover, I pass.

It’s funny (and sad) how publishers just present a cover to their authors and say, “Here it is. We hope you like it.” Unspoken, but certainly understood is also, “Like it or lump it.” The only thing the average author might be allowed to comment on and possibly have changed is something like typeface or type size. Where you’re completely stuck is on the image used. If the author gets saddled with what he/she considers a poor or inappropriate image, that’s when the publisher will pull out the time-honored sidestep comment: “It’s a marketing decision.” The poor author is stuck.

I have an idea this is what happened to poor Ian. Even authors as important as he is (and with sales to back up that stature) get told off in this manner. Having sat on the publishers’ side of this table, I’m here to tell you that it’s all bullshit. The real situation is either someone important at the publisher has fallen in love with the cover that’s been designed, or they shelled out a fair bit of money to an illustrator (less likely these days) or they commissioned a custom-photographed cover image (ditto). Where this argument really chaps my butt is when they’ve meremly purchased a stock image from a cut-rate supplier like iStock or Fotolia. Want to know what those images cost? About $30.

The reality of the issue is that publishers are cutting corners where they shouldn’t. An in-house designer (mostly who they use) is tasked with creating a cover for a book. They might meet with the editor who also may or may not take the time to sit down and research potential images with the designer. Usually, the designer is given just the sales blurb for the book and that’s the sum total of the knowledge they have to come up with their “appropriate” design. Is it any wonder that more and more seriously bad covers are appearing on bookstore shelves and online book sellers?

The real shame is that you can judge a book by its cover. If this important sales tool (and quite often potential readers’ first contact with a work) is far less than it should be, sales are going to suffer. Why is that so hard for most publishers to understand? Even e-books need good covers, too, by the way.

Okay, I would like to come up with a year-end list of what our readers consider The Worst Book Covers of 2011. Send me your nominees or post the choices in the comments section below this email. Let’s come up with a Wall of Shame for publishers who really dropped the ball. My nominee is the Rankin book, but I have my eye on some others.


Eve Kotyk said...

Rick I haven't given it much thought, and must admit my last few purchases were ebooks (often don't have great covers), but as you mentioned the cover for The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin is definitely one of the uglies.

Liz said...

This blog has had similar posts before. In this instance, two different publishers (although they may be connected in some not immediately apparent way):

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks, Liz, for letting us know about this. Wow! I will bet the two authors involved are NOT happy...

write my paper said...

Keep posting good stuff like this.