Sunday, December 23, 2007

Old Country, New Cover

I often get asked how much control I have over various aspects of publishing my works. Some of it - the writing, for example - I have exclusive control over. But a whole lot of the other stuff is entirely out of my hands. People often seem surprised by just how much of it is out of my hands, but I don't think I'm alone in this.

Cover art is one of those areas. I don't design it. Don't hire the artists that draw it, take the photos, choose the layout, etc. Don't sit in on the meetings where they kick around ideas. Don't have a clue about most of the marketing statistics they consult as they make decisions. I do know that a lot of thought goes into the choosing. At a publisher like Doubleday, no cover is chosen by any one person or created without the consultation of many. It's arguable whether or not the factors that influence the decisions are the right ones, but this is a business, and you know what that means...

What is my role like, then? Well... with Gabriel's Story I was presented with the cover. "Here it is. Cool, huh?" That was that.

With Walk Through Darkness it was more like, "Here it is," followed shortly thereafter by, "Um, well, no, that's not it after all," and then, "Here it really is, or, well, maybe not quite that..." until eventually about the third or fourth version that I saw was announced as the cover. (By the way, the four versions I show here all came and went as options. None of them were used. I think they had more options made up also, ones that I never saw.)

With Pride of Carthage it was back to, "Here it is," and then with Acacia there was an earlier option that they loved, until they decided they didn't love it afterall and produced another version. That one I rather liked, although it got tinkered with a bit from my favorite version to become the final cover.

Nowhere in here have you heard me say I vetoed - or was asked if I wanted to veto - one of the options. That's just the reality of it. On occasion there's been some tinkering with the images in reaction to my queries. Things like shading the man's hand a bit on the paperback cover of Walk Through Darkness, but that's about the extent of my influence. My publishers trusts me to write what's in my books; designing what goes on the outside of them is another matter.

Personally, I concede that I have very little understanding of cover-fu. I just don't get what makes one work - if "working" can be defined as appealing to the most people possible. A cover that I love will get slammed or ignored. One that I hate will smile its way on to bestseller lists. It's enough to make me doubt my convictions on such things. Truth is, my tastes differ from the masses, and yet it's the masses I want to buy my stuff... All of this leads me to generally have faith that my editors and their hardworking minions should be trusted.

Which leads me to the most recent entry in the parade of covers... All hail a new life for Acacia, with a new face to go with it! This one is Transworld's cover for my UK edition, which comes out in May. What do I think? Well, you know, I'm inclined to say that's not important. I'm not the one we need to sell the book to...

The better question is - what do you think?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a boring cover, but it's 10 times more interesting than the tree on the U.S. hardcover. I *hated* the tree cover.

6:33 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey King Rat,

See, that's a case in point. I like the tree cover. I can't exactly tell you why, but I do. And I know a lot of other people do too because many of them have gone out of their way to tell me so.

On the other hand, plenty of folks share your feelings on it. So they - and you - won't love it that Anchor has decided to essentially use the same image for the paperback. They won't be doing that because they can't be bothered designing a new one, though. Their research - they've got the numbers to consult - says it served the book well. It sold enough that they'd rather stick with a fairly successful presentation instead of risking a new take.

If they'd have come to me and said it looked like the book had underperformed based on the cover I'd have been up for a redesign. (Actually, I'm always excited at seeing new covers, whether I like them or not.) But the numbers were solid...

7:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I much prefer the tree cover; it is in total keep with the story. The other cover reminds me of a Terry Goodkind books.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Debbie said...

I much prefer the tree cover; it is in total relationship to the story. The other cover reminds me of a Terry Goodkind books.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Constance Brewer said...

"A pot of burnt soup brings about the downfall of a country"...

This one does nothing for me. *g* I still like the German one the best, though.

11:17 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Readit, Debbie, Thank you. I like that comment enough to accept it twice!

Constance, Burnt soup is a dubious weapon, but if anybody can figure out how to use it Corinn can...

Yeah, the Blanvalet cover is really nice.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Larry Nolen said...

I prefer the tree cover for the symbolism found in its roots. And oddly enough, one of my first thoughts when looking at the UK cover was "Is this another generic WASP cover?" I am going to guess this is set on the islands with Mena and if so, wouldn't the islanders be a bit darker than Mena?

I do like the shadings of this cover art, though. I don't care much for bright, light colors and in a way, it suits the mood of the story, I think.

By the way, got a tiny bit about the book up on my blog now, like I said I'd have a few days ago in another comment.

9:00 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Hiya. Yep. I saw your post earlier. (For folks that haven't, Larry of OF Blog of the Fallen has included me in his um... extended list of favorite books of the year. I didn't make the top list, but I made the list of his ALMOST favorite titles of the year. I'm actually in good company, though, and I'll consider the list a challenge...)

About this cover, though... I can only conclude that the image is of Corinn (not Mena, although I agree it looks like her) at the very end of the book, when she releases the ashes of a couple of dead characters. That would make the people directly behind her other Akarans... Without going into the specifics of that, AND without being overly negative (cause that's not how I feel, but being a complex creature I can feel a variety of things at one time)... even in THAT case there's a WASP aspect to it.

What do I think of that? Well, publishers always say that they're designing covers to hook the right readers in. Maybe... but part of hooking them in is having a pretty low bar for what they expect of readers. So, chicken or egg? Do they respond to the general public's expectations? Or do they create them?

10:02 PM  
Blogger Larry Nolen said...

Sorry for the lateness of my response, but I'm battling a wicked sinus infection and I've been laid up most of the day. Yeah, you were lucky #13 on my list, but there's more in the coming days, as I have a few other things to discuss, both on my OF Blog and on another blog of mine that's for personal matters and the occasional non-genre fiction book I want to review - just thought I'd give you and your readers a heads-up on that as well :D

OK, it's been six months since I read the book and I don't have my copy currently with me (it's on loan to a friend of mine in Minnesota and he and his wife just had their second child, so it might be a while), so I can see where I made that mistake. In that case, I suppose one could imagine the people as being Mediterranean/Semitic in looks, then?

As for the publishers, in almost every case, it's LCD. Whatever will draw in the stereotypical "Bubba" audience, that is what they'll consider. Unless of course, they want to market the book as "high brow," in which case you might see imagery similar to that of a Summer's Eve commercial, to be blunt. It's something that I've noticed that irritates me to no end. Which is why the European cover art is fascinating in comparison, no?

1:46 AM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

I judge books on their covers. The original tree is very interesting, and I can't wait to read the book when it comes out in paperback. The other - well, it is cool from a fantasy painting perspective, but I don't know if it fairly represents the novel or not.

I think that some people like high fantasy imagery and base their buying patterns on it, while others tend towards the more abstract like the cover of The Lies of Loch Lamora and it's sequel, or the Looking Glass War. They are representational of the novel, but are not exactly the sword and sorcery Boris Vallejo norm.

On the other hand, I am partway through a J.V. Jones book with a standard fantasy cover, but I picked it up in spite of the imagery on the recommendation of a book store employee. (It's OK so far.)

Just my $.02

3:49 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


"Lucky number thirteen". I like that, actually...

Well, yeah, if one was going to really have the cover represent the characters as described in the book the Acacians should be olive-skinned, sort of Mediterranean.

And I agree, European cover art is interesting in comparison. My wife (Scottish) would say that she prefers UK covers without question - in general, that is, not talking specifically about this one.

Paranoyd, I can't wait for you to pick up the novel in paperback too! Sometimes I forget about that the book's paperback life is yet to come. May it bring new readers, and live long!

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Brit if it makes any difference....
Put it this way, if I saw this cover on a new SF and Fantasy shelf, I'd pick it up for a second more detailed look. That's the point isn't it? Although I liked the tree cover this would draw the eye more. (mind you,I bought the imported tree cover - so what the Hell do I know!!)

5:45 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey Nick,

Thanks for the input. It's good to know that this cover would catch your eye. You - as a Brit - are exactly who they want to pick up the book. You're a point awarded to Transworld...

6:18 PM  

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