Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Complaining About Cover Art, Once Again

I still have a few moldy oldies buried here and there, the stray survivors of my attempts to bring everything I've ever written online onto Antick Musings, and, as I discover that I've missed them, I'll be remedying that problem.

Some ideas never get old -- such as saying "my favorite author's new book has a horrible cover! X'thor the Undaunted has three horns, arranged in a spiral shape, and Missy, Princess of Goats not only is much prettier than that, but she has green eyes! Why didn't the author set the artist right?" One such occasion came in April of 2002 on the Straight Dope Message Board, where I replied -- after several others saying similar things -- thusly:

Most authors have about as much control over the covers of their books as Juan Valdez does over the design of the coffee can.

RealityChuck [1] has already said most of what I could say, but let me just repeat that the point of a cover is not to accurately represent anything in the book. (Though it would certainly be nice if it did.) The point of a cover is to get people to a) pick the book up and then b) buy it. A cover that does this is a success; a cover that doesn't is a failure. Other considerations are secondary, but the next most important one is "will the reader think the book fits the cover." Angry Lead Skies has a guy in a fedora staring moodily at a whiskey glass while two fantasy types pose in the background; the book is a Chandleresque PI story set in a fantasy world -- so the cover does tell the reader what kind of book it is. Other points: Some artists and designers are better than others. The better ones tend to be more expensive and busy -- and they can't work on all the books that exist. So some books (especially mass-market midlist genre stuff, like the book in question), get covers done by people who aren't at the top of their field. (Though this obviously isn't a simple metric -- there are always great new artists starting out, and older artists coasting on their previous work.) Books that are cheaper and will make less money don't usually get the more expensive artists. Only a couple of genres -- SF/Fantasy and Romances (and not all of the latter, either) -- get the painted cover look to begin with. Most novels have stock photos or other "evocative" looking bits of art that tell the reader even less about the book. Glen Cook is a nice guy (and a good bookseller, too), but he's a very small fish in the publishing pond. He might get to recommend an artist occasionally, but that would be as far as his involvement in the cover goes. And I'd say that Garrett has a hat on the cover of most of the books because a fedora says "private detective." The only real alternative would be a trenchcoat (actually, both plus a cigarette would be the best), and I don't remember if he ever wears one of those. 

[1] Schenectady's own Chuck Rothman; as usual, the people making sense in an online discussion were all connected to science fiction.

1 comment:

Dirk said...

L.A. Meyer's Bloody Jack series has been the victim of a horrible cover decision. The original paperbacks had really nifty covers by Cliff Nielsen but the reprints or reissues, the new paperbacks, have been given these horrible 'teen romance' type covers. I would actually be embarrassed to be seen reading one of these new covered paperbacks in public.

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