In which cranky author has questions

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!


38 thoughts on “In which cranky author has questions”

  1. 1. I prefer that covers accurately reflect the content, but I do not demand it. However, it makes it much easier for me to decide what to purchase.

    2. Sometimes. It is nice if at least ONE of those is covered accurately.

    3. If the KIND of book is not accurately depicted, I might not choose to read the book. This makes it really difficult. However, I often choose books by unknown authors based on the depiction of characters (if I like the face(s), I might buy it).

    4. Mostly d, I’m afraid. I know that a writer has no control over this unless they are self-publishing. I would never boycott an author I liked for a cover. I might contact the publisher, but probably not. Not my nature.

    5. I must admit that some of your covers have irritated me, but I assume that is due to the artist. I have been frustrated that Daav has been depicted as having a 5 o’clock shadow, which is, of course, impossible.

  2. I admit to being attracted to a certain kind of cover art.
    I have come to realize that what you present here is true in that cover art does not, in any way, reflect what is inside.
    That fact ANNOYS the snot out of me.
    I feel powerless to effect any meaningful change.
    But since you asked, I think it would be great if the authors were allowed to sit with a sketch artist (like a witness on a crime show) and help the artist render a likeness that would give the reader a clearer idea of the authors’ impressions of said characters.

  3. 1) Having been a journalist for the past 28 years, I realize that fiction isn’t journalism, and therefore you can’t expect the subject of the book to always be accurately represented by the art dept of the publishing company. I’ve been a bibliophile for 47 years, longer than I’ve been a reporter, so I’ve seen some absolutely AWFUL covers (Science Fiction/Fantasy novel covers in the late 1960s and 1970s were often just plain BIZARRE, with no relation to the book at all, as I am sure you and Steve are well aware).
    2) No, no and yes, it still bothers me, though I have seen it a great deal, (see above) when the cover doesn’t reflect the kind of story within. For example, there was a cover of Stranger in a Strange Land that I had in 1973 that looked like a lava lamp had barfed on it in neon wax. It gave me NO idea what was inside the book, and no clue that the ending would freak me out (Oh come on, I was 13 and an Iowan,how could I forsee cannibalism?)
    4) I have done all but 4c, as the only reason I boycott a particular author is if they’ve written something so offensive that I wish they could be jailed for it. Example, Harlan Ellison’s “A Boy and His Dog” which caused three girls in my junior high school to be hunted down and raped, because Ellison had made it sound so exciting and attractive in that story. I have steered clear of Ellison for years since. I realize that authors can’t predict what their stories will cause people to do, (see JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and the three people who killed others and blamed his novel for it, which I think is BS) but I don’t believe that authors need to write about rape as something fun and attractive, particularly in books geared to young adults. I also boycotted all of Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witch books because in the first book of that series, her main character is raped on an airplane, which is described in graphic detail, and she is described as enjoying it. Then she gives birth to her ghost lover and has sex with him. That nauseated me to the point that I just couldn’t read anything else she’d written in that series. Plus, it lead me to believe that when she converted to Christianity, it was only a ploy to gain a different audience for her Christian themed books, especially since she didn’t renounce all the vile things, from necrophilia, incest, murder, rape, etc, that she’d written about in all her previous works. When she didn’t get the audience she expected, surprise, surprise, she went back to being a pagan and gave up her Christianity.
    But anyway, I believe, though I have written to authors and publishers, that it really falls on deaf ears, as the publisher is only interested in what will sell the book, they could care less what readers think, particularly readers that they don’t believe are in their demographic, like a middle aged woman reading science fiction. They still think that mostly boys read those, unfortunately.

  4. 1. Do you, as a reader, expect that cover art will accurately reflect the accompanying novel?
    Yes I do.

    2. Do you become upset when/if it turns out that the cover does not accurately represent:
    over all: not upset but it does annoy me as simply LAZY on the part of publisher.

    2a. The main character
    Bothers me a lot.

    2b. The setting
    Not so much.

    2c. The kind of story inside the covers
    Confuses me when no connections.. again see as lazy.

    3. In 2, above — which misrepresentation bothers you the most? Why?
    I’d buy a book based on description if the book were covered in a paper sack dustcover. But if you are going to have me PAY for the art, it seems a rip off and dishonest and did I mention LAZY? for the publisher to put crap.

    4. If you are upset about inaccurate covers, how do you think change can be effected?

    4a. By writing to the author
    Maybe nicely, asking who is in charge to write to.

    4b. By writing to the publisher
    Absolutely flooding the publisher, lol even making web pages that hone GOOD cover art and unrelated/misleading/clueless ones.

    4c. By boycotting authors and publishers who publish inaccurate covers
    Boycot? No. If I get a good book that is accurately described, I got my money worth. But I do like with others are as annoyed as me so would keep writing the publisher.

    4d. Nothing will change, so why try?
    Things change if enough work for it.

    5. Other thoughts on the topic? Tell me!
    Wouldn’t it be nice if writers negotiated final approval? If writers got to input their idea for the cover upfront? Got to talk to the artists and help tweek? It is the writer’s baby, should be something they are able to be proud of.

  5. Honestly I try to read the blurb on the back of the book before I ever see the cover. (I hate most covers. I read a lot of Sci-Fi/Fantasy and most covers are awful.)

    1-No, because it rarely ever does.
    2abc-No. see above
    3-None I expect them to be wrong.
    4abcd-With the internet you can probably be heard now, but again I expect nothing from the covers.
    5-Really the only thing about covers that ever bothered me was the character changing appearance on the various covers of a series. (Honor Harrington, Kate Daniels, for example)

  6. The cover needs to accurately depict a scene in the book because I will be looking for that scene as I read. When this doesn’t happen I blame the publishing company for 1. no one having read the actual story and 2. for not paying attention to the writer(s). When this situation occurs repeatedly, I downgrade my opinion of the publishers and feel frustrated for the writer(s).

  7. My very favorite of all the covers I was involved with as an editor is The Silver Warriors, by Michael Moorcock. There’s a barbarian warrior (more or less true to the book) in a sled-chariot drawn by four polar bears. Huh? But man, it’s a fabulous cover, and it sold books like crazy. You want to know what’s in the book, read the cover copy. You want to get an idea of the spirit of the book, look at the art. (Or the design. There are some terrific covers that have no art at all.)

    We had some discussions about the cover of my most recent book (Democracy and Other Problems, you may recall, had no art on the cover), and while you don’t really have characters and story to work with in a poetry collection, the same idea prevails — will this get people to pick up the book and open the front cover (or look at the back cover)? The final cover is much less literal a portrayal of the title poem (The Review Mirror), and I think that is part of what makes it more effective.

  8. From a writer’s POV – yes, well. I was once shown a sketch of one of my covers-to-be, and had time enough and influence enough (at the time) to ask just what the Yeti was doing peering over soem rocks in the corner of the cover art and also could they please address the problem of having a pair of camels on that cover who looked like they had just escaped from a Disney Aladdin cartoon (no camel in the history of the species has EVER looked as smug and as silly-dopey-HAPPY as this pair did – camels are notoriously NOT good natured, in fact…) These things were dealt with. But that was a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Most times “cover appoval” in a contract ends up meaning something like, “here’s your cover, we hope you like it, it goes to print in two days”.Maybe rhe REALLY big-shot writers have a chance in dealing with egregious problems before they get tossed out into the general reading public. The rest of us tend to close our eyes and grind our teeth and apologise to those readers we actually cross paths with about Yeti-like objects which may have made it onto our covers against our express wishes because someone somewhere thought their presence might “sell the book”… (0h, and have you read about the writer who was astonished to receive a LOT of email asking about where in a certain book (part of a series) did the werewolf-like creature which lurked on the cover actually appear? The author hadn’t noticed the creature – which, of course, was nowhere in the book – but was stuck with it and so many people asked that he ended up putting the stupid thing into the next novel in the series. ALl I can muster is GAAAAAAH.

  9. 1. Not any more.

    2a. Not as much anymore, though I will probably push harder on getting the skin color right in future. Since I don’t expect covers to be right, I basically ignored them, and was unaware how important such details are to some readers.
    b. No
    c. Yes (and having had a book with emitting romance vibes that was not a romance, and cost me sales to males who complained bitterly to me about it, I am possibly more annoyed by it now than before I had anything published.)

    3. Kind of story most, because what people want is kind of story. Main character next, because (I’m being told) some people will not even look at a book that does not have a character they identify with on the cover.

    4. a. No, of course not. Writers don’t have control of covers, most of the time.
    b. Publishers, possibly. Best would be writer’s editor, who would then have ammunition to take to marketing & art depts.
    c. Never. The drop in sales will never be attributed to bad cover art. I’ve had to stinker-covers and both times the publisher hammer fell on me, not the choice of cover.
    d. No. Intelligent intervention can bring change.

    5. Writers who self-publish CAN have covers they feel fit the book and attract a book’s natural readership. That’s one reason to self-publish. But I’d really like readers (over whom I have no control, of course, and don’t want to control–I have enough cats to herd already, thanks) to consider learning who is responsible for what part of a book they consider buying, and quit blaming writers for things the writer didn’t do. And to consider that refusing to even pick up a book because the cover shows a person of the “wrong” sex with the “wrong” skin color or culturally defining clothing or apparent occupation is…a way to miss out on a lot of good books that may well have a person of the “right” sex, “right” skin color, “right” culture, etc. (Having spent much of my childhood and youth reading boys’ books–because they were more exciting than most of the girls’ books around–I’m very glad I didn’t insist on reading no books with a picture of a boy on the cover, or with a boy protagonist. I’d have missed a ton of good adventure stories.)

    That being said, I just came through a victorious scuffle to get a cover changed: it radiated romance, and it’s not…and we’d been through this before. But the changes I could get were limited by economics and deadlines. I think (hope) it’s going to be un-romance enough now. Earlier in career had no power to ask for and get any changes at all. I made suggestions–once or twice taken, other times not. I remember that article on how women writers get different covers than men writers, and wonder if marketing departments are sure that despite the actual content, women writers must be shown to focus on romance, fashion, etc. Dunno. In general, publishers are still reluctant to give writers control of cover art.

  10. I do expect the cover to reflect the story and I hope it captures a key element or essence of the story.

    Indeed, I do become upset, actually indignant, if the cover does not represent the story. Certainly 2c but also 2a and 2b to a lesser extent.

    I doubt anything i say to a publisher will affect anything.

    I am particularly annoyed with publishers who:
    a. do not identify the cover artist,
    b. use a cover picture not painted by an artist (i.e. uses a photo or no image at all), and
    c. use a second-rate hack to draw the cover art.

  11. Since I read ebooks almost exclusively these days, I generally do not see covers at all. Yes, they are included in the Kindle editions, but the Kindle generally skips to the first page of the story and I rarely take the extra effort to go back and show the cover.


  12. 1. Do you, as a reader, expect that cover art will accurately reflect the accompanying novel?

    No. I’d like it to do so, but I know that either the publisher will decide it’s not necessary, or that the author cannot afford new art.

    2. Do you become upset when/if it turns out that the cover does not accurately represent:

    2a. The main character

    I am amused when the cover looks nothing like the characters, unless something about them is totally, completely wrong — IE Did not watch SyFy’s Earthsea version once I heard that a white boy was playing “Ged”…that was just SO wrong I had no hope of the series.

    2b. The setting

    This is slightly more annoying, as I may have picked up a book when I was in the mood for a certain type of book. If the cover totally mismatches the type of book/setting, that might make me put it down.

    2c. The kind of story inside the covers

    This continues the above–if I wanted historical and the book is steampunk, that’s not the same thing–in fact, it will be riddled with errors, as far as my historical SF or Fantasy soul is concerned. My forthcoming fantasy is alt fantasy, but mostly historical, so attaching tags was challenging.

    3. In 2, above — which misrepresentation bothers you the most? Why?

    Type of book. Don’t bait N switch me, publishers.

    4. If you are upset about inaccurate covers, how do you think change can be effected?

    I often mention when reviewing, or in social media. But I don’t blame author or artist–they have the least control.

    4a. By writing to the author

    Why? They are the victim, too. Felt that way before I started writing. Might as well complain to Asimov about the movie “Nightfall” when he didn’t even retain the story rights.

    4b. By writing to the publisher

    I rarely do this, because I doubt it changes anything. Apparently I am the silent reader–one who wants to know what I’m getting from cover and blurb. I HATE books with no blurbs, just reviews–won’t buy them unless have previously read the author, and then still might not.

    4c. By boycotting authors and publishers who publish inaccurate covers.

    No–but leery, and won’t consider even downloading free without reading the sample.

    4d. Nothing will change, so why try?

    Not until the current cover craze changes….

    5. Other thoughts on the topic? Tell me!

    As I posted on Facebook: I’ll try to give details later, because this is of great interest to me, having dealt with the same forces you have (and yes, CT is a good example of a beautiful cover expressing the spirit of the book, but who are those people?) I’ve reached the point where I look at a cover as someone trying to either have a subliminal conversation with me — “This is the idea of this book. If the idea intrigues you, read a few pages, check out the blurb, etc.” or it’s “I put this great graphic on here to attract your attention. I hope you rad a few pages and see if the book intrigues you.”

  13. 1. Do you, as a reader, expect that cover art will accurately reflect the accompanying novel?

    I certainly hope that it will!

    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

    I am disappointed and annoyed, but not necessarily UPSET, when there is inaccuracy in the first and second. The third – yeah, that will tick me off. A lot. But I probably READ whatever the blurb said and it carried more weight than any image, so…

    3. In 2, above — which misrepresentation bothers you the most? Why?
    Definitely the KIND of story. I don’t do horror. I’m disinterested in romances (I don’t have a problem with romance in SF or fantasy, but straight romance novels are boring to me). So I don’t want to waste time on those genres.

    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?
    Honestly, I’ve never given it any real thought, or spent any time actively protesting the matter. If there is an egregious difference, I might mention it in a review *in passing* – but I have read statements by other authors to the effect that publishers will do what publishers will do with regards to cover art, and most authors have little to no control over the matter. If I like an author’s work, I’m certainly not going to boycott it over something so trivial. I mean, the cover changes from one edition to the next, and since I read e-books, I seldom notice the covers much any more anyway! If I were going to put any effort into complaining, I guess I’d contact the publisher.

    5. Other thoughts on the topic? Tell me!
    I largely enjoyed the covers of your books that were put out by Meisha Merlin – those were the first editions that I had the opportunity to own. I had read a friend’s copies many years earlier and had wanted my own ever since, but of course they were out of print and I never could find them used. Therefore, I will always remember those editions fondly – possibly just because they fulfilled a long-desired ambition. 🙂

  14. 1. No, but I won’t buy a book if the cover hits some of my frustration points.
    2. No
    5. Other thoughts on the topic? Tell me!

    First, none of this applies to your covers.

    As something of a feminist, I’m frustrated by the portrayal of women on a lot of covers. To me it displays an attitude that’s part of the reason I don’t go to cons. I don’t feel welcome or safe when women are usually drawn with large breasts in scanty outfits. One of my friends commented in a bookstore that she never would have read a book (she read it on kindle) if she’d known what the cover looked like.

    I also won’t read books where someone on the cover is wearing a flowing hooded cloak with their face in shadow because the first couple I read with that cover weren’t very good.

  15. 1. I really like your idea, Sharon, that the cover should accurately suggest what kind of a book I’m looking at. Even if after I have read the book and find that nothing that looks quite like the cover ever occurs in the story, if the cover did not mislead me about what sort of a trip I was going on, I’m not too disturbed. Still, I wish that every book could have cover art that as accurately captures the essence of the characters and type of tale as well as those great illustrations done for the Sherlock Holmes stories in the Strand Magazine did. Most editions of the stories still include those illustrations for the very good reason that Sidney Padget gives us Holmes, Watson, and the other characters and snips of the settings almost better than we see them in our mind’s eye. Padget clearly has read the stories with great care and it’s wonderful to think that Strand thought they were hiring a completely different illustrator when they gave him the commission for the first tale.

    2a. No. Main character doesn’t have to appear on the cover if the concept of the cover really does give me a good clue as to what kind of story I’m considering picking up. Some books have pulled me in and rewarded me when no people were on the cover at all. The image, the title, and the blurb worked together to generate a mental image of a story that I wanted to read and that positive impulse was rewarded. On the other hand, I can think of covers that I would never have touched if I had not already known the author and liked their work. I can think of one Liadan Universe novel where the hardcover dust jacket illustration was of people that I really did not want to know in a situation which appeared nebulous, but distasteful and unpleasant all the same. If it hadn’t said Sharon Lee and Steve Miller next to the title I would have stayed far away. As it turns out this particular effort is one of my favorites among the Liaden books, but I grimace at the cover every time I pick it up.

    2b. Yeah, it bugs me if I get a high fantasy cover on what turns out to be a techno-dystopia novel, or vice versa. Or palm trees and a houseboat on the cover of a novel that mostly takes place in upstate New York, but the first chapter is set in Florida. Robert Jordan seems to have generally been well served by his cover art, John D. McDonald not so much. Especially in the paperback editions.

    2c. See 1 and 2a above.

    3. I want the cover to tell me what kind of a story I’m getting into. I like a lot of different kinds of stories, but if I’m looking for Northanger Abby, I really don’t want to pick up In Cold Blood by mistake. Even if the story might please me another day, today is not that day.

    4. I tell my friends about books I like. I tell them early and often. I tell them to ignore the cover if the cover badly represents the story. I expect them to do the same for me. If I was going to bitch, I’d bitch to the publisher, but at the end of the day if they published a book I enjoyed, I’m not too likely to bitch at anyone if I actually found it.

    5. It would be nice if the beta readers of a book got to preview some cover concepts before the final cover are was executed, but it’s probably too much to hope for..

  16. 1. Yes, I want the cover art to reflect the accompanying novel, but I don’t expect it as I have read too much scifi/fantasy and I know it will generally off. It is actually pleasing when they match!
    2. Yes, I become upset when/if it turns out that the cover does not accurately represent he main character, the setting doesn’t bother me, and I can forgive if the story inside the covers is a bit off (but not too much).
    3. It bothers me most when the main character is wrong. Despite knowing that they are often wrong, I still use the front cover to choose which book to buy (in conjunction with the back blurb and the author’s reputation). Although, what I dislike MOST is when the front cover is just some strange object that may or may not have anything to do with the contents (like a feather or a field of stars with nothing in it) or even worse, when it is a photograph. I LIKE scifi/fantasy ART not photographs…although, a few self-published works which use REALLY bad computer art drawn by an amateur turns my stomach…
    4. I really don’t think there is a way to change things unless there is some sort of organised letter-writing campaign or sit down protest?
    5. Sounds like a grass-roots campaign needs to be spear-headed by some leading authors…hint hint hint.

  17. Since I grew up reading books from the late 1950s on, I rarely expected to match the cover with the inside of the book. However, I did expect the publisher’s blurb to do so! The last 10 years or more have been better as to what covers mostly match the inside. Some publishers make a point to have the artist match the cover to the story. Others make no attempt at all. Reissues with better covers are much appreciated (and usually purchased). I would not complain to the author…they rarely have much choice. I would not bother the publishers, because most are so big they don’t care as long as people will buy the book, even if it might have sold better if there was a more appropriate cover! The author I know writes good stuff will get my purchase even if it is a very bad cover. New Author might not.

  18. I will say that it always irritates me when the the cover artist clearly has no idea what’s going on in the book. There’s a certain fantasy series involving a character who is so flat-chested she’s often mistaken for a boy, and what does she get on the covers of her books lately? Double D cups.

    The only thing that aggravates me worse are the generic covers that show pictures of some random starship on them. Like the publisher got a bargain sale on random spaceship paintings and just draws them at random to slap on each book.

    Given that it’s no longer usual for books to have illustrations, the cover is the one chance you get to show us something, or someone, from the book. It’s a shame to waste that on something generic, or something that doesn’t even accurately reflect what’s in the book.

  19. Rather than try to answer in order, i will answer in aggregate. As a reader/book buyer, the cover _Attracts_ my interest. As in, gets me to consider the book. The blurb/author name sells me. I have $52/month to spend on “personal” items (it’s a long story), so $8-10/book gets hard scrutiny. I stopped expecting covers to have *anything* to do with the book, a long time ago. But, I do tend to buy books from a “certain publisher” that tends to have covers somewhat _like_ the book plot.
    As a hopeful Indie publisher, I want covers to reflect what the book is about. It won’t be perfect, but I’ll try. Since I actually read Books (unlike many publishers, apparently), and talk to book sellers, I have a *CLUE.* I don’t expect to be an author/editor that gets bought on “name recognition,” I need good covers. My markets aren’t likely to do what I do. “A new Miller-Lee Liaden book, okay, what do I give up this month.”

  20. 1. Want, yes. Expect, no.

    2a. Sometimes. I recall a book in which the wizard main character was specifically described as NOT looking like the tradition wizard with a long beard, pointy hat, and long robe with starts and moons on it. Guess what was on the cover?

    2b. Only if it’s blatantly ridiculous.

    2c. To some degree

    3. In 2, above — which misrepresentation bothers you the most? Why?

    To be honest, what bothers me most is when the cover blurb on the back is blatantly wrong. I still remember a copy of Methusalah’s Children that I bought in the 80s, where the cover blurb described Lazarus Long as “So in love with life that he refused to die, so in love with time that he became his own ancestor”. Both of which statements are blatantly untrue. He spends most of the book trying to get permission to commit suicide, and while he does go back in time and have sex with his mother, it’s several years after his birth, and she’s already pregnant with his little sister at the time.

    4. Maybe b, but I’m doubtful.

  21. 1- I feel that the cover image should at least give the audience a feel for something in the story. [The cover of S. McCrumb’s first novel had the last scene on front cover. A “spoiler” cover is not good.]
    2- I think there should be some semblance of characters and/or plot. I want to have at least a hint about what kind of story the book is.
    3- I feel betrayed if the marketing made me think that it is one kind of book and it turns out to be something I didn’t want.
    4- Publishers probably don’t care because by the time you write them you have already bought the book. The author(s) have little say in the artwork. The artist produces what s/he is told to.
    5- I started to read a self-published book where the author’s husband did the cover art and the main character didn’t look anything like the author’s description. This was not a matter of she didn’t look like what I envisioned the character to be like but more of her hair was the wrong color, her body-type was wrong, and nothing about the cover took place in the book.

  22. For me, there are levels of “accurately represent.”

    I get annoyed when things are flat out the opposite of what’s been said — especially when, as is usually the case, they are “corrected” to problematic societal norms, so that characters end up younger, whiter, prettier, skinnier, or with bigger boobs and/or muscles and fewer clothes than they are described in the text. (Also richer and straighter, though those are harder to represent visually.)

    When things are kinda off but not actually flat out contradicted, or when the offness is in less socially rewarded directions, so that I have more reason to believe “mistake” and less to believe “deliberate whitewashing”, I can deal better.

    Misrepresenting the character pisses me off the most — but is least likely to result in a total lost sale, because I won’t know it’s happening unless I’ve already read the series and become attached to the character, and at that point I’m not likely to skip the book altogether just for a cover, though I might opt for a different edition.

    Misrepresenting the kind of story doesn’t so much upset me but is more likely to lead to a lost sale, as if it looks like something I wouldn’t enjoy and I don’t already know the author, I’m less likely to pick it up and read the blurbs/summmary/open to random page check.

    Setting depends a lot on how crucial and unusual the setting is. Also how much I know about it.

    I’m quite likely to write to a publisher. Unlikely to write to an author unless I think it’s SO offensive that they should be encouraged to/supported in making a public fuss. (As in Justine Larbalestier’s Liar.) Similarly, I will boycott an offensive cover but not a merely bleah one, and am unlikely to spread the boycott to a whole publishing house or even to another edition of the same book with a non-offensive cover. If I knew of a single house that was infamously worse than most at this, I might feel differently.

  23. 1. I don’t -expect- it, but I -want- it. There are types of covers I loathe, which include bare male chest with the top of the image cutting off somewhere as high as the eyes or as low as the top of the shoulders, or kissy-face busts of bare-shouldered characters…. and of course there is nothing in the background giving information about where or when these bodies parts are.

    2a — if the main character is supposed to be being depicted, yes
    2b. YES! I hate covers which don’t show me an accurate indication of setting!
    2c. YES!
    3. I think I get most annoyed about lack of setting. I’m generally not interested in contemporary novels with no fantasy-etc. content. I want the cover to tell me whether this is a contemporary novel or not.
    4. Illustrative cover, not the things I detest!!!
    4a – -this applies only for self-publications
    4b This assumes the publisher is going to care….
    4c. I don’t boycott that, but there are book where the cover was a tipping point. Also, there are books I’ve missed because the cover had the characteristic of “cover made book anti-visible to me”

    Chris Meadows I presume was referring to the Clyde Caldwell covers on P. C. Hodgell books. Apparently the one coming out in 2014 is going to have a different cover artists.

  24. 1. Yes, I do, though is it more the blurb on the back that makes me want to buy the book. Sometimes I have bought a book twice because the story idea caught me.*lol*
    2.a Not really, it would bother me more in a movie from a book, e.g. I couldn’t see Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher from the Lee Child books. Didn’t really like Lee and Miller covers. Yet looking back over my collection of Lee and Miller books, the ones I really liked were the Fledgling series, and Carousel Tides and adored Dragon Writer. Necessity’s Child is about a child, so seemed wierd (though I loved the book).
    Maybe you should just put your names on the books,that’s enough to make me buy it.
    2b. Would find it more annoying with the setting.

  25. 1. Do you, as a reader, expect that cover art will accurately reflect the accompanying novel?
    Yes, but only in the sense of No. 2c: It should represent the kind of story inside.

    2. Do you become upset when/if it turns out that the cover does not accurately represent:

    2a. The main character
    Not upset, no. Though I do roll my eyes sometimes if the character is obviously misrepresented (wrong skin color, too pretty in the sense of missing disfigurations, etc.)

    2b. The setting
    No. If I don’t recognize the scene I just ignore the cover.

    2c. The kind of story inside the covers
    Upset, no. But the “wrong” kind of cover might cause me not to buy a book that I might have loved, because part of my “process” of finding a book to buy is looking at the cover and deciding whether it’s worth picking it up and reading the back cover.

    3. In 2, above — which misrepresentation bothers you the most? Why?
    2c, see my answer above.

    4. If you are upset about inaccurate covers, how do you think change can be effected?
    I’ve never been upset enough to want to effect a change. But I do know that complaining to a traditionally published author is not the way to do change their book’s cover. 🙂

    5. Other thoughts on the topic? Tell me!
    Until I first saw Jim Hines’ cover poses I’d never consciously thought about book covers and how I reacted to them. The above has always been true, though, at least when I’m browsing through a book store. These days, I usually buy my books at Amazon, where I mostly go by author search and the “similar” books Amazon recommends. Thus, covers have become less important to my decision making process. Though a really bad cover might still make me decide not to buy a book by an author I don’t know.

  26. Rather, than answering the questions in order, I will summarize.

    It bugs me when the cover doesn’t look like the characters, but I imagine how they will look and read on.

    As an author, I realize you don’t have control over the cover. My first romance was billed as an interracial romance because of the cover. It wasn’t. LOL

  27. Two things about covers can really turn me away from a book:
    #1: The cover is just plain amateurish (or worse). Flat out lousy art is a really bad sign. Note that this is NOT the same thing as “ugly art competently done,” or even “well done, but not to my taste.”
    #2: Art that signals “Bodice-ripper!!!” Nothing inherently wrong with bodice-rippers. It’s just that I’ve yet to encounter a book with a cover like that where I actually *liked* the content. Your mileage may vary, of course.

    Otherwise, I’d prefer to see art that satisfies 2c (at a minimum). But I care far more about “art that helps sell the book,” because I want my favorite authors to get filthy rich by providing ever more of the content I want to read.

  28. A few years ago I would have diligently filled out this survey and explained to you the many ways that inaccurate covers frustrate me or that interesting covers entice me to make purchases. They do!

    However, I went to a nearly all-electronic model a few years ago (Kindle first and now the Kindle app on my phone or iPad). The way e-books work, at least in that format, means I almost NEVER see the cover art anymore. I think the cover shows up as a tiny icon in my library list, but it’s mostly too small to see clearly, and when I click to open a new book, it opens to the first page of the first chapter, NOT the cover (or the dedication or the TOC). If I think of it, sometimes I page backwards to see these other book elements (and am usually glad I did). But most often, I just start reading.

    Shopping for books is most often done electronically too, and that method is more about blurb reading than cover browsing.

    This is not to say that covers are completely irrelevant. Or, (ducking) maybe they are? Or becoming so? I feel sad to type that, but admit it’s probably the truth, at least for me.

  29. I sometimes look at the cover while I’m reading to confirm how I picture the characters. I mostly get pissed when the covers are obviously designed to fit some designer’s idea as opposed to the author’s vision. Usually the main character being portrayed as someone not seen in the pages really bugs me.
    I have been tempted to write the publisher over covers. I think I will start based on the idea that authors could use some backup.
    I agree with you about your covers. The turtle cover was epic and I look at it frequently to get a sense of their size.

  30. In short, covers just don’t matter that much to me, but it can be mildly annoying when the character or setting is obviously wrong. I would never stop buying because of the covers. I wouldn’t even bother writing to a publisher or author, unless the cover was truly offensive. Then, I might boycott or / and make some noise.

    But I agree with the commentator further up, who said it seemed like “lazy” work, to misrepresent the main character or the setting.

  31. I understand that cover art is not illustration, which would be a frontispiece or an insert in the book itself. It is intended to make the book interesting to the prospective purchaser, and probably should reflect the contents of the book reliably enough that the purchaser will find his reading enjoyable. So, I would like to see something that I can look at and say, “Aha! That’s Val Con and Miri and Edger!”, but it doesn’t have to be any specific scene from the novel. If I can tell who, where, and when it depicts, my cup runneth over.

    I do get miffed when it becomes obvious that the artist has not read anything in the novel, and has instead just provided a generic “Pigs in Space!” kind of cover. If it has people, I would like them to be recognizably people from the book. Your Liaden Universe covers generally are acceptable; although the guys tend to be too tall (exception: Shan.)

    If a cover is wildly inaccurate and misleading, I do get upset. If I thought anything could be done about it, I certainly wouldn’t go to the author, I would complain to the publisher. But if a publisher thinks little enough about his cover art to have it accurately represent the book, I wonder if complaining would do any good? There have been novels I didn’t read because of the cover, but I didn’t consider that a boycott per se; I have read many other novels from the same publisher and author, after all.

  32. I expect the cover art to reflect the type of story and to depict the main character as the author describes them. I do not expect a voluptuous blond on a novel like “Starship Troopers”. I do not expect blue eyes if the main character had been described as brown eyed. I do not expect space ships if the story is planet bound. I would like some degree of accuracy. Change will only happen if a very large number of readers target the same publisher and let their concerns be heard.

  33. Saruby said, “I have been frustrated that Daav has been depicted as having a 5 o’clock shadow, which is, of course, impossible.”

    Are you referring to the cover of Plan B, the cover that also shows Shan and Priscilla?

    At first, I thought that might be Daav, but I think it’s Nelirikk. In the illustration, he has blue eyes, as does Nelirrik, while Daav’s are black. Yxtrang have to shave to avoid a five-o’clock-shadow. Nelirikk was told to let his hair grow 4 fingers long, brown, and slightly wavy, also as depicted. Plus, it looks like he might have a scar on his face, as Nelirikk does. I cannot read what is printed on his shirt collar — maybe just the artist’s name.

    It would make sense to depict Nelirikk, who played a large role in Plan B, rather than Daav, who only showed up a few times.

  34. 1. I don’t expect accuracy because as a long time reader I’m used to it not being accurate. Not even hair color. I kind of roll my eyes and move on. I do want it to be accurate of course. Especially if it is a crappy cover to begin with. An inaccurate but attractive cover is easier to handwave away. I get mad when I’m trying to convince a friend to read a book with a goofy cover.
    2. When I was little my sister made my look through covers at the store to find “elves”. It was her interest at the time. She was sure pissed if when she bought the book and there were none because the drawing was wrong. I think it would be great if an urban book looked urban, a space station setting looked like a space station, etc etc. Sometimes when you are browsing you are subconsciously looking for a “look” or “feeling”. If I see an overly sexy cover/made for boys cover and I am soooo not the the mood for that I might not buy it. The content might not be that, but I get turned off anyway.
    3. I don’t like overly sexy covers. Give me characters in bulky space suits any day. Often times that’s what they are wearing in the stories anyway.
    4. I blame the publishers every time for bad covers. Sometimes when a book gets a new cover (Or the British one is better) I’ll buy them and get rid of the bad one. Bad covers are bad, but I know where the blame is.
    5. I hate when other countries get better and often more accurate covers than in the States.

  35. I get upset the most if the cover fails to convey the KIND of story the book is. I will note that the covers for Sci-Fi and Fantasy have evolved over the decades.

    The most interesting interaction I have had is with Joshua Watcher about the Admirial Who books. The original covers had a blue haired girl with a large chest(for hard military sci-fi). The response from the author “The old artist was a comic guy and every time I tried to get him to change something ever so slightly he’d come back with massive revisions. So there we go. big and busty. Oh well. Like I said the brother’s working on new cover art but it might take a while.”

    You might want to take a look at Ilona Andrews website for more author’s point of view on the subject.

  36. Michael Whelan (artist for among other things, many of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels from White Dragon on)describes in his submission in “Dragonwriter” that he read the work he was illustrating before starting to paint. Where this was not possible due to deadline conflicts he had extensive phone conversations with McCaffrey. So this obvious and sensible approach did happen in publishing. Perhaps its a factor of big-name author, big-name artist clout?

  37. For over 60 years, I have read and bought books based predominantly on author’s name(s). At present and in no particular order the SF choices are: any fiction by Lois Bujold, (almost) any Liaden fiction by Lee & Miller (sorry but your Maine stories turn me off and Duainfey utterly repulsed me), any SF by Eric Flint (with or without a co-author), several series by David Weber. Beyond this, if I read the sample chapters on Baen’s webscriptions and they catch my interest, I may purchase the ebook. I avoid books that focus on sexually related themes and I no longer have room for hardbacks.

  38. Thank you for the information.

    For future reference, when speaking to writers about their work, it’s more courteous to say, for instance: “…any Liaden fiction by Lee & Miller, any SF by Eric Flint…”

    In other words — focus on the positive. I really don’t need to hear how repulsive my stories are before I’ve had coffee, much less started to work for the day.


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