Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Adventures in Book Covers

After five years of writing, knocking on Big Publishing’s door and getting it slammed in my face, I decided to publish with an independent, small press. I figured it was better than having my manuscripts lying in my desk drawer, where nobody could read them.  I got my novels published in both digital and paper formats, and I have to admit I cried when I held my first published novel in my hands. 

I’m not sorry I made that decision, because I learned some very important things about the publishing industry. If you want to sell books, you need three things: distribution, distribution and distribution. 

Did I mention you need distribution? 

Distribution is how your book gets into a bookstore, where the consumer will buy it. There are two major distributors who have relationships with the big publishers in North America. Baker and Taylor, and Ingram. 

My publisher didn’t have a relationship with either of them. But that’s another blog.

The other thing I learned is that (apparently) the quality of book cover art is directly proportional to the size of the publisher.  For months prior to publishing, I roamed the aisles of bookstores and studied the covers in front of me, to find out what was selling.  I discovered what I liked and didn’t like. I had a vision for my own novels. 

I was assured by my publisher that she had an artist who did her covers, and he was very good.  She felt, in fact, that her covers were such high quality, they set her books apart.

I published three novels with her. The first cover wasn’t bad, but only because my niece, who is in graphic design, conceptualized the look, and the artist’s final rendering was based on her idea. I didn’t like the font he used – too flowery.  But I kept my mouth shut. Even though I am allowed to give suggestions, the cover is not in my control, and it’s the publisher’s choice that’s final.

Novel number two came along. The publisher suggested  a photograph of a man and a woman on a motorbike. I liked it. Then she sent me her final draft – the artist had added a rainbow in the sky over the heads of the people in the photo. It looked hokey and cheap. I asked them to take out the rainbow. Thank heavens, they did. I still didn’t like the font. Why do small press publishers love flowery, complicated, twirly fonts? Don’t they know that simple is best? That simple fonts look more professional? Do they even shop in bookstores?

Novel number three.  I’m wary. I discuss with the artist what the book is about, some key themes and concepts, and I send him examples of fonts and graphics on other covers he’s done that I liked. 

He obviously didn’t listen. He sent me a very dark cover, with what looked like a bright, red testicle on the front. 

Yes, a testicle, that thing that hangs between a man’s legs. 

It was his version of an orchid. I had mentioned that an orchid on the cover might be an idea, since orchid smuggling is part of the plot. I didn’t expect a round, gross-looking thing. 

I flipped out. I was ready to rip up my contract. I told my publisher that if she didn’t do something I wouldn’t lift a finger to promote the book. That I would deny it was mine. She calmed me down and assured me she would change it. I think even she knew it was too hideous to show the public. 

The cover I ended up with was better, but not great. He did some kind of underwater thing in a very dark blue – yes, the guy loved anything dark- and again, used the exact kind of font I hated. He probably did that just to piss me off, since I wrote him a rather nasty email. 

Suffice it to say, the whole experience made me decide not to renew my contract.
Because I believe, I’ve always believed, that people do judge books by their cover. 

Fast forward another five years of getting doors slammed shut in my face, and now I’m self-published, digitally. Now I make my own damn covers. I think they’re very good, and I’m proud of them. 

If you want something done right, sometimes it’s best to do it yourself.


  1. LOL! I remember your reaction at that first cover of the supposed "orchid." You did a fantastic job on the new covers! Here's to mega sales of your wonderful books.

  2. Oh no, don't tell us that, we are the queens of doing things ourselves so they're done right! Great stories about publishing!