The Importance of the Cover

Part of the reason that I went my own way on the publishing of Protecting Parker was that I couldn’t bear the idea of having anything other than a great cover that I could be proud of.  Many of the covers I see now leave me bored, cold, or even worse, horrified.  So much so, that it was something that became a large part of my decision to go my own way.   Book covers are the first impression of the story.  They have to matter.

There are a lot of online discussions about covers – one of the better ones that provides a retrospective of covers in the romance genre is Julie’s Journal.   While I’m not a huge romance reader, I have to admit the covers for this genre are usually the ones that send me over the edge.  I have to ask – what jackass thinks cartoon characters on the front of a novel sells romance?  I recently spoke to an author (I’m not giving her name because she still under contract) who complained bitterly about being stuck with one of those covers prior to publication.  She was doing a signing and young teens were trying to buy her books, and she was put in the position of politely telling their parents that the books weren’t for teens due to the sexual content.  Angry parents, unhappy teens, and a bad cover that she’s still paying for years later.   She will be going her own way as soon as she can get her rights back.

I have yet to get over what I considered to be a bad cover choice on a recent book by one of my favorite authors.  A primary element in her novel was the unique amethyst colored eyes and Mohawk haircut of the lead character.  So what’s on the cover?  Golden brown eyes and flowing hair.  Are you kidding me?  Who the hell made that decision?  I find it hard to believe the author was happy with that representation.

Even more appalling to me is the stock artwork that gets sold and apparently resold.  I was recently in my local chain bookstore and wandering aisles when  I came to a complete stop and could do nothing more than point in shock.   A romance novel on the top shelf depicted a man and woman in the classic pre-kiss clutch – and two shelves below – was the same cover from a different publisher.  Only the names and clothing color had changed.  I’d be incredibly offended if I finally had my book published and then had the same artwork as someone else.

Do you need a little levity in your day?  Stop and look at the Harlequin rack.  The range of covers is amazing and appalling at the same time.  I must admit that I’ve spent more than a little time standing there giggling.  While I’m pretty sure that’s not the reaction they want – it’s the one I usually have.  I just don’t know what they are trying to sell with those covers, but they aren’t making me feel romantic.  One of their lines has covers that look like the covers of the Bobbsey Twin books that I read as a child.  Really?  Just what the heck does this happy 1950s fuzzy look have to do with romance?

And don’t for a minute think the problem is just in romance.   Barry Eisler has spent a lot of time on the New York Times Best Sellers List, but recently was so frustrated with a cover choice that he wrote an open letter to his publisher.  He’d tried everything else to get their attention and finally had to resort to public criticism.  The letter and discussion can be found at Dear Author and makes for some interesting reading.   If he can’t get a publisher to listen to him, just what hope does a first time author have?  Now you know why Barry has also gone his own way and left his publisher.

Someone else thinks having a great book cover matters.  This is from a review of Protecting Parker:  “First of all, the cover design and book description drew me in.  Dog tags and a strong yet vulnerable female hero!”   Thank you for saying so Chopin Gal – you made my point beautifully!  The cover matters.



  1. says

    I think it comes down to integrity, of the author and the publisher. It leads me to suspect that the marketing and PR departments of most mass-market houses are out of control. And these ‘suits’ are not the ones in the trenches writing the book – spending days and months of creating a story, revising, re-editing, etc. I give you credit for sticking to your guns and wanting control of the final product. I, for one, am quite pleased to see that the dog tags are not hanging on a male or female model who is scantily clad!

  2. pat hogan says

    I admit that the cover of a book is something I look at, but it’s never been the thing that sold me on a book. For some reason the old saying “Never judge a book by it’s cover” really stuck with me even as a kid. There’s some authors that I will just buy their books. It doesn’t matter what’s on the cover or even what the story is about, but most I’ll read the teaser and make my decision from there.

    That being said, I believe many, if not most, people do consider the cover when picking a book. Especially younger readers. There’s a “cool” factor involved.

    For myself, I would be incredibly pissed off if my publisher put a cover on my book without getting my nod to it’s design. After all it’s MY story, I know the subtleties of it and what the cover needs to show.

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