Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Art of Covers

by Michelle Gagnon

Sophie asked:
How do you get so lucky with your covers? They're all terrific, though BONEYARD is my favorite.

BONEYARD is my favorite, too- and I think because of that striking cover, it remains my bestselling book. It just went into a third printing.

I honestly wish I could take credit, but as any writer knows, we have very little control over the way our work is presented. For every book I fill out a form detailing the basic plot, characters, other book covers I like...and I suspect that very little of that information comes into play when my publisher's art department sets out to design the cover. Not that I'm complaining-most of my covers have been good (although Sophie, the cover for A BAD DAY FOR SORRY blows mine out of the water- it's fantastic!)

In retrospect, had I known more at the time, I probably would have had my agent fight for a different cover for THE TUNNELS. The one we ended up with isn't bad, but isn't all that remarkable either. I've included both the North American and Australian covers (I much prefer the Aussie version on the left).

And for THE GATEKEEPER, I love the design, but would have gone with a different color scheme. I think the muted brown and ambers come across a little flat. You really want a cover that grabs the attention of a book browser, and I'm not certain that this one does.

The trick, I've discovered, is to try to get your editor to pass along the earliest possible versions of the cover so that you can at least have some input. Some publishers are more willing to do this than others. If you really hate a cover, sometimes your agent can persuade the publisher to make some changes- but again, depending what point in the process they're at, those changes might be minimal.


Sophie Littlefield said...

i've been lucky with covers so far (all two of them :) but I haven't had anything to do with their awesomeness at all...

Michael Wiley said...

I agree with you both. The covers are great, especially the one for BONEYARD. And I agree, Michelle, that so much depends upon cover art. Maybe you can't judge a book by it, but a lot of buyers seemingly do.

I was pretty surprised when I first saw the cover for my LAST STRIPTEASE (which is fairly explicit as these things go) but decided to roll with it. Afterward, a couple of booksellers told me that the cover led customers to pick up the book while browsing but to put it back down without buying it.

The first cover that I received for BAD KITTY LOUNGE was very drab and SMP gave me a new one only after a lot of pressure from my agent and me (mostly my agent).

So, here's to good books in good covers.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Don't get me started...oh wait, I already did. :)

I adored the cover for A TRACE OF SMOKE. The publisher thought about changing it for the paperback edition (which comes out next week) and then didn't, except adding "A Hannah Vogel Mystery Novel" to the front which I kinda like.

The cover for A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES didn't work for me. I explained why (not historically accurate) and they gave me a new cover which I also didn't like. We argued with them (my wonderful agent and I) and in the end a Random Big Gun who also happens to be a friend of mine stepped in and agreed with me, so I will get the cover I want. With a zeppelin on it (because the book starts with a zeppelin jacking and besides zeppelins are just way too cool not to put on a cover). I haven't seen the final version yet (even though KNIVES comes out in June) but am supposed to Any Day Now.

I say, fight the good fight as far as you can to get the cover you want.

The cover designer is already totally psyched about the third book cover because it's set during the 1936 Olympics and there are tons and tons of images for him to choose from. Guess I'd better go write the book to put inside it now...

Michelle Gagnon said...

I read somewhere that approximately 80% of book purchases are based on the cover, which is crazy. So having say is so critical.
I can't wait to see the zeppelin cover, Rebecca!

Kelli Stanley said...

Never judge a book ... oh, wait. Someone's said that before. :)

Well, I love all your covers, Michelle, but especially the pages between 'em. And I agree with Sophie--visually, I think BONEYARD is the best, though TUNNELS actually looks kind of hypnotic, and GATEKEEPER has a sort of post-apocalyptic glow.

I have tremendous respect for book design--so tough to hit all the notes and get the scale--and sales--right. :)


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Speaking of covers, Kelli. Do you have anything you'd like to share with the class about a certain cover to a certain book that might have come in the mail today? Go on, gush!

Kelli Stanley said...

We-ell ... ;) Thanks, Becks--I love the whole CoD book package so much that it's actually hard for me to gush about it! I'm just very, very happy.
It's a lush treatment--lots and lots of rich red and warm gold-brown smokiness, and on the interior, this gorgeous dragon silhouette on every section and chapter division.

Car buffs will recognize the fact that the cars on the cover are later than 1940 ... as I did, when I first saw it. But I was so struck by the photo and everything else, I didn't want to change it. I don't consider it representational as much as symbolic and mood-setting.

And the red is so rich that it makes you want to fondle the book ... hmmm. Think there's a law against that? ;)

Back to staring at the baby ...!



Mike Dennis said...

Never judge a book by the cover? Why do you think they make covers?

Great post, Michelle! Your BONEYARD cover is striking. I know you'll do well with it.

And thanks for the tip (in your last paragraph) about getting to see early versions of the cover to maximize your input possibilities. My first novel is coming out this year, and I'm, shall we say, not fully on board with the covers my publisher has previously done. I'm very apprehensive about it, but using your tip, I'll try to get some diplomatic input early on.

Shane Gericke said...

Boneyard is one of my favorite covers of all time, no kiddin'. Something about the words appearing fresh out of the grave just grabs my ol' eyeballs.

My publisher says it's even higher than 90 percent--sales based on cover design and title--and the average browser looks at your book for no more than a second. Then he/she reads the stuff on the back, another second. Then a few graphs or pages inside ... and that's the purchase. Or not, even worse.

So if the buyer sneezes while looking, we're doomed :-)

Michelle Gagnon said...

Thanks for saying so, Shane. I love that cover too- I was hoping Gatekeeper would tie in a little better with it. That's another side of the issue- branding an author so that when a buyer sees their book, it rings a bell. Lee Child's publisher has done a fantastic job of that- when I see that bullet image from across the store, I immediately know it's a Lee Child book.