To put the questions in context…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.
The publisher had a marketing department and an art department to address these matters. The Art Director gave instruction to the artist, who pretty often hadn’t read the book, but who worked off of either a synopsis of the scene the Art Director wanted, or who were provided with a portion of the book to give them a feel for the story and/or characters. I think we’ve discussed the fact that Mr. Hickman was given exactly half of Agent of Change to work from — and he was one of the lucky ones. As we were, when we got recognizable characters standing in a street we had described on the cover of our novel.
This was not, I repeat, the norm.
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. 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.
Let me say here that we’ve been very fortunate in our covers over the years. Starting with Mr. Hickman’s portrayal of a Big! Freaking! Turtle! and a woman in fighting leathers that were actually functional, pulling a gun that she seems to know how to use, with a scarf tied around her arm exactly as we had described it! The male lead is possibly even golden-skinned, as described — it’s hard to tell in the underlighting.
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.
Do the characters look exactly as I see them in my head? No, of course not, though some renditions have come closer than others.
Do I expect the covers of our books to accurately reflect the characters as described? Well, yes, within a range; after all, I wrote those descriptions for a reason.
When a cover falls outside that “range” is it a horrible cover?
Well, no…not necessarily.
Case in point: The covers for the Carousel books. I adore these covers, despite that I have no idea who the humans depicted are meant to be. They’re great covers — dynamic and intriguing, and true in a way that mere accuracy can’t convey. They’re covers that really ought to sell me some books.
So, with all that being said, here are my questions:
1. Do you, as a reader, expect that cover art will accurately reflect the accompanying novel?
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
3. In 2, above — which misrepresentation bothers you the most? Why?
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?
5. Other thoughts on the topic? Tell me!