“I’m so pretty…”

Cover art. Where would we editors be without cover art? We can have the Great American Novel in our lineup, but if it has snorky cover art, then readers may very well pass by it without a single glance. Goodbye sales, hello comments of, “what a beastly cover.” That’s why it’s vital to have not only great books, but awesome packaging.

Cover art, as we all know, is the precursor – the mood enhancer – to our books. If I see a book in pinks and pastel yellows with prancing unicorns, then I better see a fanciful, lighthearted story WITH UNICORNS inside because the cover set that mood [Don’t you hate it when you buy a book that depicts a person or thing, yet that same person or thing is nowhere to be seen in the book?].

Now if that unicorn is smoking crack, then this is what I call intriguing and, even though I’ll mutter a “WTF?”, I’ll pull it off the shelves to investigate because it’s so contradictory. The story and cover has to match. For example, a pinkie, flowery cover design shouldn’t be sitting on a book about attempted suicide and death. You laugh, but I’ve seen these misfires.

And that’s the whole idea behind cover art. To entice and intrigue. Most editors give their designers a copy of the manuscript – it helps them with setting the tone. We go gooey over covers. Well, ok, I do because it’s the visual representation of our books, like unveiling a painting the painter has been working on for months.

And I get as giddy over cover designs as I did back in third grade when Billy Mayer gave me the half his Twinkie. Now that was true love. ‘Course next week, I decided Billy had cooties and deserved nothing short of a cold, black death, but I digress…

I realize it sounds trite to say that my intent is focused on visual appeal, but when I look on the ‘net and in bookstores, I often wonder if Quasimodo has a hand in some of the cover designs out there. I’ve seen scanned photos of actors from   movies (which resulted in a lawsuit threat), stock images from Corel that were artlessly tossed together with no consideration of color and font useage. If the cover looks cruddy, the assumption is that the inside will be as well.

Authors (and their agents) need to feel happy about their covers. A happy, prideful author is one who is excited to show off their books. And so should it be for you at the cover design phase. Chances are your contract won’t give you ultimate approval, but it should say something about allowing your input. Sometimes authors have fabulous ideas, and it’s wise to consider their input.

For those who self publish, there is often a strong desire to design their own cover, and I can’t warn against this enough. There are many tricks to the trade regarding eloquent design, and it really is the difference between sales and a warehouse full of books. I have a fabulous interview by the wonderful George Foster in the Tackle Box, and he goes into great detail about what makes for a great design – and why.

So if you wanna sell books, make sure you’re pretty. And anyone who insists the buying public (and reviewers) don’t judge books by their covers is smoking the same stuff as the unicorn.

3 Responses to “I’m so pretty…”

  1. Bob Truppe says:

    Frank Frazetta art was commisioned as cover art for the Conan books by Roberd E. Howard and the magazines like Vamperella. Now these are put together in their own books…The art of Frank Freazetta volumes 1, 2, etc.

    Cover art is so important in marketing.


  2. Corrie says:

    Thanks, Lynn, for posting this. As both a writer and a designer, I am appalled at some of the terrible cover art publishers let out their doors! On the other hand, I’m such a sucker for packaging I’ve also snagged horribly written books with the most amazing cover art. (I’ve also done this with macaroni and cheese at the grocery store.)

    If the old cliche is true — a picture is worth a thousand words — then cover art is the first thousand words of your book.

  3. Aston West says:

    I’m ecstatic about my cover art, and constantly get compliments on it when I do events…it draws people in, and the back cover blurb does the rest.

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