We’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we do. A cover featuring a man and woman embracing, in various stages of undress, screams “romance novel!”; something pink with a curvy font and a pair of shoes should immediately activate your chick lit radar; and a graphic jacket with bright, punchy colors often indicates a health/fitness/diet title. Think of your trips to browse at the bookstore. Which books do you pick up? The ones with appealing covers. I’ve purchased countless books just because I was intrigued by the cover. They’re not always my favorite reads, but that doesn’t stop me from judging books by their covers all over again during my next visit to the store.
Covering it all, week after week,
The Girl with the Red Pencil
Q: My editor just sent me the proposed cover for my book and I hate it. What do I do?
A: You’ve poured everything you have into this book, and you should be happy with it. That being said, you need to pick your battles. You’re not going to win all the time, and if you try, you’re going to be labeled—however unfairly—as “difficult,” which will make getting what you want nearly impossible. If the wheel squeaks once in a while, it’ll get the grease, but if it squeaks all the time, your editor might just leave the vehicle in the garage to rust. Have you fought your publisher every step of the way? Insisted on multiple versions of cover copy? Bristled against your editor’s every suggested change? Well, then you might not get very far with the cover. So next time, let the little stuff slide, compromise often, and then you’ll be in a good position to get what you want when it’s important to you.
But it's this
time, not next time, and you really, really
hate the cover. You’re upset that your beautiful prose might soon be shrouded by an abomination of graphic design on shiny paper. You consider telling your friends that you’ve decided not to get published after all—you don’t want to be embarrassed if they seek out the book. This cover implies a totally different book than the one you’ve written and typecasts you as a certain kind of writer that you definitely don’t want to be.
Don’t just tell your editor you hate the jacket. Explain why. What elements of the design bother you, and which ones do you actually kinda sorta like? Should the font be stronger? The colors more muted? Rather than insisting that the whole design be scrapped, are there ways it could be tweaked? Be specific.
If there’s absolutely nothing redeeming about the cover concept, be very clear about what you do want. The designer is more likely to come up with something appealing if she knows what appeals to you! Provide examples of covers you love. Suggest visual themes that tie into the text. Give the designer everything you can to ensure a cover you’ll be happy with. Remember that every design costs the publisher money; this can’t be an endless process, so help the designer get it right in as few tries as possible.
If you hit a brick wall—and you might—and the publisher insists that this
is the cover and that’s
final, take a step back. The cover might not be to your personal taste, but perhaps it’s the right cover to reach your book’s ideal audience. Your publisher wants to sell as many copies as possible, just like you do, and she has the experience and expertise to know what works. And when a potential reader wanders through her local bookstore and pulls your manuscript off the shelf, perhaps that cover will be exactly what prompts her to buy it.