Congratulations, about-to-be-published author, you sold your book. It's on schedule and the editorial process is well under way. You've had lunch with your editor or at least talked on the phone, and you feel like she gets it. Around this time in the game, sometimes way before you're ready or later than you think it should happen, an email appears in your Inbox, an email with a PDF attachment and a subject line that reads, "Cover Draft
" or "We love it
!" or "Call me when you have a chance to digest...
" Then you call me, your agent, not yet in tears, but close to it. "This is horrible," you say, "I can't live with this cover." Don't worry, I'll tell you, we have some leverage here. Here's what to do if this happens to you.
Though most authors are not able to negotiate cover "approval" into their contracts, most are able to get "meaningful consultation." I'm here to tell you that they're basically the same thing. The politics of designing the cover and negotiating its final version are very similar no matter the status of the author (as best seller with power or first time author with none). And the bottom line is this: in this area, your publisher wants you to be happy.
How to increase your chances of getting what you want from the art department the first time around:
1. KNOW THE MARKET. If you write self-help aimed at women, get to know that section of the bookstore. There's a lot of books there that feature serious type and serif fonts. Often the author herself is on the cover, looking blown out and trustworthy. If you write fiction aimed at women in the "romantic realism" category (i.e. chick lit), you've probably noticed that those hardcovers tend to feature a lot of womens' feet, either walking on the beach or stuffed into a 5 inch heal or maybe propped up on a foot stool, toes freshly polished. The memoir and literary fiction categories tend to be the most iconic or creative, although there's almost no way to generalize. Whatever the category, be prepared for some cliches to emerge - they tend to sell for a reason.
2. DO SOME LEGWORK. Pick 3 books in your category with covers that you like and share them with your agent and editor relatively early on. If you like the look of a stark black & white photograph, or really love a certain color scheme (or hate a certain color), let your people know going in. If you have an idea for a concept, but aren't able to execute it yourself, choose an aproximation that already exists.
3. FOLLOW PROTOCOL. Know that you won't be able to take a meeting with the Art Director at the publishing house or get her on the phone. In the interest of time and the designer's sanity, cover discussions should occur with your agent first and then your editor. It's your editor's job to hear you out and communicate your ideas or reactions appropriately.
4. FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE. Once there's a first draft, know that there can be a second. Always focus on what you do like about the concept, even if it seems small to you. In other words, pick your battles.
5. KNOW THIS: Sometimes Barnes & Noble has veto power. Recently I worked on a book whose cover was designed with an acid green background to everyone's liking. The Barnes & Noble buyer hated it so much that the publisher was basically told that they would double their order if the cover background was changed to black. So the cover background was changed to black. This happens all the time.
For those of you who have had books published, what was your last cover experience?