Judging Covers by Their Books

The quest for perfect artwork

Judging Covers by Their Books

I have a confession: I’m not a very visual person. It’s an odd confession since I’ve been told on numerous occasions that I write scenes that my readers can fully visualize. But that’s easy. I just watch my story unfold in my head and then transfer it to paper. That I can do.

Words? Yes. It’s the graphics that go on the book cover that I struggle to envision.

I’ll be honest, I’m a cover artist’s worst nightmare. I’m the “Gee, I don’t know, what about X?” author. I’ve probably driven more than one cover artist to drink. I always picture my cover artist saying to the publishing house, “No, really, I’ll take any three other authors, just don’t give me her.” The author-who-shall-not-be-named.

It’s not that I mean to be difficult. I really don’t. It just never occurred to me I’d actually have any input into one of my covers. The first time my publisher sent me the form with a series of questions that was supposed to help the artist achieve magic, I must have read it over a half-dozen times before trying to answer the questions.

It went something like this:

What is your story about?
Hey, that’s easy! I have a synopsis! (I’m sure my cover artist was less than thrilled to get three pages detailing my story and all its twists and turns.)

What images do you want to include that make your story unique?
Huh. Well, see, there’s this cobra and a gold nipple ring…It was all downhill from there.

Tell us about your characters.
Okay, so there’s this guy…aaand once again, it’s all downhill from there.

I know lots of authors who LIVE for cover art. They have distinct opinions and will complain when they feel their publisher hasn’t heard them or adequately represented their vision. It’s like we’re from different planets. I have NO vision. Not ever. Not with one single piece of my work. Seriously. Just, nope.

Blank slate. That’s me.

While it seems like this might be easier and give the cover artist more leeway, it doesn’t really work like that. Because even though I don’t know what I want, I know — after seeing it, of course — what I don’t want. And that, folks, is how I’ve driven more than one cover artist to a bar.

The good news is I’m not completely hopeless. I have learned a few things along the way. I always try to give the atmosphere and genre of the book so the cover artist doesn’t waste their time working up the wrong feel to the cover.

For example, if I were writing a cozy mystery, I’d want the artist to know so they don’t create an all-black image with blood dripping down the front of an ax and some gothic font that reads, “Sweet Rolls & Sin: A Coffee Shop Mystery.” It could possibly confuse my readers (or titillate, but that’s taking an awfully big risk).

I try my best to give as much detail on main characters and setting so that the artist has lots of options on what they want to focus on. And I’ve also learned to (mostly) let go. Publishers only have so much to spend on cover art, and chances are I won’t get everything I want. I’ve been lucky so far. The cover artists have really tried to make me happy. They’ve worked with me, asked lots of questions, and I’ve always been satisfied with the end product.

I’ve also started a Pinterest board for each book and I now make myself look for covers, photos, and anything that reminds me of the story I’m working on. While I still struggle to come up with cohesive visual representations for my books, I’m at least able to gather images and whatever else strikes my fancy, and then turn them over to the cover designer to give them a peek inside my story from my perspective. It’s worked out well and has given the cover artists a lot to work with.

But I still can’t shake the feeling that somewhere there’s a group of cover artists gathered around an open bottle, trading stories about the author-who-shall-not-be-named.

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