Sharon Lee has an article about cover art that raises many interesting points.
Back when Agent of Change was first published ? by which I mean 1988 ? publishers actively discouraged writers and their cover artists from speaking to each other. It was felt, by the publishers, that writers weren?t artists, had no idea what image would sell a book; and would just confuse the artist if they started talking about what the characters looked like, or what the setting was, or what the most interesting scene in the book was.
This is true of the publishing industry. It is also STUPID. First, assuming that a person, or worse yet a whole group of people, must necessarily lack a certain knowledge or skill is prejudiced. Second, it is a writer's responsibility to know their work. They may or may not have visual as well as verbal skills, which influences their ability to identify the most photogenic scenes -- but they really should be able to pinpoint the most important scenes. So it's well worthwhile to ask.
Writer and artist will naturally see the story in different ways. That's a cool thing. Really, seriously, it makes your creative work better, thing. When writers and artists talk with each other about a project, they can use that parallax to generate a sort of stereoscopic vision. Do it right and the result will just pop off the page and grab viewer attention by the lapels.
You can see the appeal and potential of this in projects, often hobby ones, where people are encouraged or required to team up. Torn World has run a number of contests pairing art and writing. Fanfic fests often include this in either direction: story first, then illustration; or art that writers can claim as inspiration for a story. People like it.
The prevailing thought at that point in publishing history was that what was on the cover of the book and what was inside the book really didn?t have that much to do with each other. It was the art?s job to tell potential readers what kind of story was lurking between the covers.
This premise routinely fails to sell me books, and I am an easy person to sell books to. If I'm browsing for unfamiliar material, I am first attracted to the title, and if it appeals, then I will look at the cover and the front and back text. Cover art that looks stupid, sexist, or inaccurate will cost the book points.
By the late 1980s, covers were getting a little more representative of content, though still tilted toward SF?s perceived market ? 14 year old boys.
My inner 14-year-old boy has definite taste in art, and always has. If he wants pinups, well, that's what Playboy is for. Book covers are for illustrating an awesome scene from the story, preferably with a good look at the characters. He likes rockets and aliens and starscapes a lot, also dragons and warriors and castles. And he thinks that if you can't paint things accurately, you shouldn't be making book covers. Benchmarks include Michael Whelan and Larry Elmore.
There are a few of our covers that I?m not in love with, but, for the most part, characters we?ve described as brown ? Meripen Vanglelauf, Jela, Shan, Nelirikk ? or golden-skinned ? Val Con (who also became Asian for a run of covers, that being the result of the authors talking to an artist who had been in Vietnam, and knew exactly what golden-skinned people looked like), Aelliana, Daav, Er Thom ? or pale ? Theo, Miri ? have been painted as described.
Misrepresentation of major identifying features -- skin tone, hair color, eye color, respective height, things like scars or tattoos -- is a huge flaw. These things are how we recognize people. If they are wrong, the painting is misleading and not in fact of the intended character. I have slammed publishers in reviews for changing character race, and also for changing beauty levels or body size.
Do the characters look exactly as I see them in my head? No, of course not, though some renditions have come closer than others.
As a writer, I like seeing an artist's visualization of my characters. Sometimes they nail it, usually they come close, misses are fairly rare. It's partly a test of my skill at description -- which is one of my best abilities -- and partly about the artist's creativity. For me this is one of the exciting parts about writing.
1. Do you, as a reader, expect that cover art will accurately reflect the accompanying novel?
Yes. I see this as a fundamental requirement of cover art.
2. Do you become upset when/if it turns out that the cover does not accurately represent: 2a. The main character 2b. The setting 2c. The kind of story inside the covers
Yes. Sometimes a little, if small details are wrong; this indicates carelessness on somebody's part in producing a precise product. I can become downright irate if the error correlates with sexism, racism, or other oppressions; for example, if a female character is not portrayed in a sexual light in the story and described as something other than beautiful, but the cover has a "standard" slim pretty girl in a sexy pose. Setting has a little more leeway, but if there's an obvious flaw, that still annoys me. I've seen people put the wrong number of legs on an alien. *facepalm*
It's rare for me to see a book cover that doesn't suggest the kind of story, unless it's abstract or random. I dislike the modern trend of non-illustrative book covers. Symbolic is okay if you know exactly what you are doing. This isn't all that difficult; there are many references to symbolism, and it's commonly taught both in art and in writing. I use it a lot; someone could easily do this for a book cover of mine. Yet a lot of people don't know how, and they make painfully stupid mistakes. Know how to do your job, or step aside for someone who does.
3. In 2, above ? which misrepresentation bothers you the most? Why?
Character, setting, then story. Partly because that's how they tend to impact the content; an error in character portrayal is more likely to clash with the storytelling. Setting is usually a background, unless it's a story about exploring a strange new world or for some other reason the location is salient. Mystery novels, for instance, are prone to setting-related fuckups such as having the wrong type of gun, a vital item missing, or a cover that gives away the ending. Story, well, if I want to know that, it's what the back cover blurb is for; and then I read the first page or two.
Character misrepresentation is the one that does genuine harm. The others are just about reader awareness and enjoyment. Whitewashing characters hurts real people by implying that only white people are good enough to be heroes or sell books ... or exist. If all the characters are skinny beauties, that erases everyone who isn't. And it's terrible for writers whose characters are prevailingly people of color, women, size-diverse, people with handicaps, or otherwise outside the artificially narrowed target zone because then the chance of accurate portrayal is very low. This makes it harder to sell books. Those kinds of characters deserve exciting, skillful, accurate covers too. Not just for the story and the reader enjoyment, but so people with those traits can see reflections of themselves that help them feel a part of the world.
4. If you are upset about inaccurate covers, how do you think change can be effected? 4a. By writing to the author 4b. By writing to the publisher 4c. By boycotting authors and publishers who publish inaccurate covers 4d. Nothing will change, so why try?
Use your folding vote. Publishers care fuckall about your beliefs but they sure care about your money. Writers and artists may be influenced to the extent that you deal with them directly, which is relevant in crowdfunding, in buying prints from artists, in meeting authors over a signing table, etc.
I only address artistic issues to the author if I have reason to believe the author had input. I've long been aware that they usually don't and are collateral victims of shabby performance or obnoxious politics. Or people who don't care who gets hurt as long as they make more money.
I have also addressed issues with artists, particularly if a given artist shows a definable bias across their work. I've boycotted people for that reason. I've also pointed out technical, literary, and social problems. Sometimes they listen, other times they don't. But if I point something out, and they agree to work on fixing that in the future? I will actively search their product line for something I can afford to buy. You get what you reward.
Mostly I blame publishers. I blame them a lot. I've written more than one letter on this topic, in addition to reviews. The publisher is where the buck stops on quality control, including cases where it's the printer who botches a cover. I've seen some where the colors were destroyed to the point that the publisher should have refused the product and made them do it over. A publisher who consistently puts out books with inaccurate or offensive covers is probably doing other, less obvious things that are shitty and I don't want to support. One mistake won't usually trigger a boycott, but if there's a trend, then I'll probably shop elsewhere.
Conversely a publisher who uses a lot of great covers full of diversity can quickly hook my interest, assuming the stories follow through. I have occasionally bought a book just for stupendous artwork, even if the story didn't grab me.
5. Other thoughts on the topic? Tell me!
Remember that publishers aren't gods. The only power they have is what people choose to grant them. If you dislike what they are doing, you can take your eyeballs and your money elsewhere. Buy what you want to support. Buy books about diverse characters and nag publishers if the art is wrong. Buy art about diverse characters. Thank writers and artists who make this stuff. If you're a creative person, make your own; feature characters who are like you, your friends, people you admire, people you've never met, a whole range of folks.
And when you see yet another cover that sucks? Poke a bigot in the eye.
Of my three published books, none are novels. ?The two poetry collections have photographic covers; the nature book has flowers and the science fiction one has a nebula. ?My publisher and I picked those together from images in the public domain, and once the text was added, they turned out pretty sharp. ?The nonfiction book has good color contrast but a very soft feminine art style that I personally find disappointing. ?However, the audience mostly loves it and it sells the book. ?This was a learning experience for me: sometimes the publisher, artist, and marketing folks know things that an author doesn't. ?So now I can take that into consideration for future projects, which is satisfying. ?
Whelan.. oh, yes, Whelan. There's a *reason* he's been able to come out with coffee table books of nowt but cover art.
And, yes, it *does* make a difference when author talks to artist, or at least when *editor* does... there was a flap a while back about a book about explicitly Asian characters had a white-boy cover... OTOH, my friend annathepiper has published a certain book with a protagonist of colour twice... the first time, the *editor* made sure the cover was right... the second time, the *author* did... and while the covers were radically different (i.e. one was obviously photomanipulation; the other was original watercolour), they both said what needed saying in pictures.
It does help that Anna is a *voracious* reader, and one sensitive to hot-button issues... and since she reads a lot of stuff in and close to her authorial genre, she knows her market reasonably well.
I do have quibble with cover art that's wrong for some reason - colour, weapon, costume, scene not in story... but unless it's a hot-button issue like whitewahsing, I grumble to myself and move on... but, yeah, if somebody writes about girls in the ghetto or barrio and there's all these white dudes on the cover? Yeahhhhhh. That makes my keyboard itch.
>> It does help that Anna is a *voracious* reader, and one sensitive to hot-button issues... and since she reads a lot of stuff in and close to her authorial genre, she knows her market reasonably well.
Yes, this matters. Know your stuff. Make sure other people handle it properly.
>> I do have quibble with cover art that's wrong for some reason - colour, weapon, costume, scene not in story... but unless it's a hot-button issue like whitewahsing, I grumble to myself and move on... but, yeah, if somebody writes about girls in the ghetto or barrio and there's all these white dudes on the cover? Yeahhhhhh. That makes my keyboard itch. <<
I distinguish between varying levels of coverFAIL:
* cosmetic details (i.e. wrong color clothes or flowers)
* details relevant to plot/characterization (i.e. blue eyes on a character whose nickname is Greeneyes)
* things that can hurt people (i.e. whitewashing)
The first merely makes me grumble and move on. The second I grumble about and often remember; this is likely to add up to reluctance to keep buying from this publisher/artist if it persists. The third is most likely to generate a sharp and prompt response, such as complaining to the publisher or eviscerating it in a review or article.
I can only comment on self-publishing, as once in a while I get contacted by authors themselves wanting cover art, and by and large, most are lovely to work with--they send reference photos of their characters, settings, a description of the feel they want. And I like when authors trust an artist enough to hand large portions of the book over for the artist to pick the scene to illustrate, because (and this is where I could be wrong) I don't know if the author has necessarily given me the one that would work out best. I remember Michael Whelan mentioning he usually gets sent the manuscripts and works out the picture from there. Nowadays, there's Pinterest, which I know some authors use for their own inspiration. It would be best if the artist gets to see the visual inspirations the author worked from too, IMO--it would put them both on the same page, in many ways!
I have had clients who had their whole image/cover planned out, from the composition (down to describing elements in divided segments of the picture) all the way to colours (doing everything but dictating the hexadecimal hues, and they WILL compare in the final digital file). The artist becomes mere executor, and it's bothered me when I know the picture/cover design isn't particularly strong, unique or exciting. It may be everything the client wants, but is visually and artistically bland.
I just looked at your published books and I'm afraid I'm one of those who love the Composing Magic cover best out of the three. It's got typography and art well-paired, eye-catching saturated colours, good spacing, and the readability of the info perfect!
That's not a bad idea. For some broad categories of story, an archetypal cover is good -- a spaceship, an alien planet, a unicorn, a castle, a dragon, a cityscape, etc.
Earlier I had the idea of using artist portfolio pictures -- which are often big showy pieces, but very hard to sell -- as claimable book covers. It's not a commission, so the prices would be a lot lower, saving authors money while getting a great cover; and the artist would have a way to make money directly from something that was previously just showcase material.
>> I can only comment on self-publishing, as once in a while I get contacted by authors themselves wanting cover art, and by and large, most are lovely to work with--they send reference photos of their characters, settings, a description of the feel they want.
That's really cool.
>> And I like when authors trust an artist enough to hand large portions of the book over for the artist to pick the scene to illustrate, because (and this is where I could be wrong) I don't know if the author has necessarily given me the one that would work out best. <<
Yes, that's what I'd do -- send the whole manuscript. I've done it with poems that folks have illustrated. One of my favorites is this one from "Restoration" because the artist cleverly reversed the perspective, something I would never have thought to do. In the poem the "view" is from the kitchen, over the shoulders of the monsters looking into the oven.
>> I remember Michael Whelan mentioning he usually gets sent the manuscripts and works out the picture from there. <<
He does that.
>> Nowadays, there's Pinterest, which I know some authors use for their own inspiration. It would be best if the artist gets to see the visual inspirations the author worked from too, IMO--it would put them both on the same page, in many ways! <<
I use an open search or Creative Commons for mine, and I also collect and save visual references that I like. I do the Icon Day with djinni every chance I get, including descriptions and images. It works pretty well.
>> I have had clients who had their whole image/cover planned out, from the composition (down to describing elements in divided segments of the picture) all the way to colours (doing everything but dictating the hexadecimal hues, and they WILL compare in the final digital file). The artist becomes mere executor, and it's bothered me when I know the picture/cover design isn't particularly strong, unique or exciting. It may be everything the client wants, but is visually and artistically bland. <<
Well, some people are control freaks. In some areas I want control, but when it comes to art, I want a partnership because ideally the artist is better at art than I am. My eye for color and composition are perfectly intact, though I lack the handskills in this body. Sometimes people think of things I don't, and that's cool; plus it's just fun to see how someone else imagines my characters. I never get tired of that. I can rarely afford to commission anything, but I watch for free art days and have done some barter. So I've got some stuff.
>> I just looked at your published books and I'm afraid I'm one of those who love the Composing Magic cover best out of the three. It's got typography and art well-paired, eye-catching saturated colours, good spacing, and the readability of the info perfect! <<
It's okay. Those are among its strong points. It's the style of the art that I dislike.
I have had clients who had their whole image/cover planned out, from the composition (down to describing elements in divided segments of the picture) all the way to colours (doing everything but dictating the hexadecimal hues, and they WILL compare in the final digital file)
Ah, yes. I'm familiar with that problem, though I've been lucky not to encounter it much myself. One webcomic depicted it as the commisher using the artist as a blunt object to beat the project with. In my case, since I mostly do character design, I tend to get the control freakiness in the EDITS... which is unfortunate, since it means I don't know their gripes until later in the game.
I circumvent it a bit by offering two rounds of edits and that's IT. After that, they have to pay me extra. (Unless I screw up, in which case I fix it gratis.) That seems to rein people in, thank god. I have a graphic designer buddy who got requested for SEVEN bouts of increasingly trivial revisions. (And it was WEDDING INVITATIONS which really brings out the control freak in some people.)