Cover Art: Jumping the Gun

I admit to being thick sometimes. What few firing synapses I have are often tasked to do multiple jobs, so there are moments when I read a query and think, “Huh?”

One of those times is when the author, in all his/her glory, is so uber excited about finishing their manuscript that they go ahead and design their cover art. They slap together their query letter and include cutsie pie jpegs of the cover art right above their name. They’ll have a website or blog that has their cover art prominently displayed as well.

Coolio, right?

Um. No. Nooo, no, no, no.

And this is where we get back to my semi-firing synapses. When I see that cover art in a query letter, I blink blink several times and re-read the query letter just to make sure this isn’t a previously pubbed book. Then I scratch my melon and wonder whazzup.

See, authors don’t do the cover art. That’s our job. You may be under the impression that you can use your cover art, and you’d be wrong. I’ve talked about cover art before here, so I won’t belabor the reasons as to why we don’t use authors’ cover art. But suffice it to say that while you’ve been busily working on your platform via your website and/or blog, you’ve also gotten people used to seeing your cover art. I’ve seen sites that were designed solely around that artwork.

This is a misfire for several reasons:
One – Your cover art will change, so why take the time to design something that won’t be used?
Two – When people see cover art on a site, they think the book is already published, so they may go hunting and pecking around for a book isn’t on the market place.
Three – Seeing a designed cover makes my intestines twist because I’m nervous there will be a bit of “discussion.” Cover art is emotional enough because the author has lived with a certain vision for a long time and may be shocked at what the publisher’s art department comes up with. It can get, ah, interesting.

Authors are always shocked when they see their cover art. Always. I have yet to publish a book where the author didn’t take a deep breath and feel their hearts explode just a bit. I figure that when a querying author has gone so far as to design their cover, then what kind of fun am I in for?

Lastly, designing a cover for your book is, well, amateurish. Unless you plan to self pub it, then you’re wasting time and money on something that won’t be used.

Your job is to write fantabulous books that make us swoon and toss beagle off desks. Our job – well, one of them – is to take care of your artwork. I recommend that you don’t jump the gun, and leave the artwork to the folks who offer you a contract.

8 Responses to Cover Art: Jumping the Gun

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    And if you DO plan on self publishing, nine times out of ten you’re better off hiring an actual artist to do the cover. Being a good writer does not make you a good artist, although for some books you can manage with a decent photo and a pretty font and some basic awareness of color and space.

  2. authorguy says:

    I design covers for my stories fairly often, or at least I try to. When my second novel was getting prepped my publisher asked me what I saw as the cover. She took that idea and worked it up through several versions into the work of art that it is today. In fact we’re getting the first book redesigned to have a cover that matches the second, so the fact that they are part of a series will be more obvious. I put together simple pieces with clip art, completely aware that they won’t be used but it gives them some ideas. So far two of them have, had some influence. I pushed for a more fun and fanciful image for my short story ‘Steampunk Santa’ and my publisher went for it. Her idea for my latest novel was so much better than mine, though.

    I blogged about it a number of times, such as here:
    http://authorguy.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/got-it-covered/

  3. Rules are being broken all the time in publishing, especially these days. So this writer wants to do things a bit bassackwards? At least he’s trying.

  4. Lev says:

    I’ve been pleased to thrilled by most of the 19 covers for ym traditionally published books, disappointed in one because it missed the feel of the book 100% and in another because Doubleday sniffily rejected my cover idea entirely as “too popular”! I was used to people at readings commenting positively on my covers and never heard a single compliment on the one I thought stunk, so it wasn’t just me.

    Publishers don’t always get it right, and as a reviewer for almost two decades, I’ve seen plenty of covers that are bland or even awful.

  5. Lev, to be sure, publishers get it wrong on occasion. After all, art is subjective, and you can’t please everyone. And sure, I’m happy to live and let live. If an author wants to design a cover, then fine. But I don’t think it has any place in a query letter or one’s blog because that cover will change. Or it will confuse brainless editors.

    Grace, I’m all for breaking rules, but it should make sense. Designing a cover when you’re not planning on self pubbing doesn’t make sense. Why not use that energy to work on promotion plans and establishing a platform? Now that makes sense.

    Authorguy, it’s not unusual for publishers to involve their authors in the design process. We’ve gone back to the drawing board any number of times so that we could strike the perfect balance between the author’s vision and marketability.

  6. Sally Zigmond says:

    Lynne said it.

    NOT in the query letter. It screams ‘amateur’. Wait until the contract is in the bag and then, later…much, much later…discuss your ideas with the publisher.

  7. Sally Zigmond says:

    Sorry. Lynn. Don’t know where that pesky ‘e’ came from.

  8. No worries, Sally dear. I’ve been called far worse than Lynn with an ‘e’.

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