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?

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Comment by Anita Saran on August 12, 2009 at 10:58pm
Great post Erin! I am supremely happy with the cover of my first novel 'Circe'. And the publisher (Mojocastle Press) and artist were very accommodating. They did give me an option when I suggested a tiny change, but because I didn't like it, I went back to the original. My only gripe is that it's taking AGES to get the book out (first an e-book, then paperback) and although the publisher says my contract is ok, I wonder. The contract mentions that if the book is not out in a specific number of months after an editor first goes through it, the contract becomes null and void. The poor publisher is being plagued by health problems -- therefore the delay.
Comment by Randy Susan Meyers on July 30, 2009 at 7:28pm
Thanks. Your blogposts are great. And, ashamed to say, animals on covers sway me not to buy the book--though that may say more about me then the covers. Ibid for names of animals in titles. Ibid, obviously me.
Comment by Erin Hosier on July 27, 2009 at 8:55am
That's quite a different title indeed! Your book sounds fascinating.
Comment by Randy Susan Meyers on July 24, 2009 at 6:01am
I recently received my cover from St. Martin's Press (for THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTERS, coming out in January 2010.) I was so thrilled with it that I wrote gushing (probably over the top!) thank you notes to all involved. My lovely reward was an print of the cover illustration surprising me in the mail. I think one of the keys was my agent's well-voiced concerns and wants before the cover was made--especially in light of my title being changed from my well-loved ADOPTING ADULTS to THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTERS. She wanted to ensure that the cover gave the right message, and she succeeded.
Comment by Tatjana Soli on July 23, 2009 at 11:19am
Hi Erin. Thanks for the great tips. I'm just about ready for that stage with my publisher, and it helps to know you have options as a writer if things don't go perfectly.


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