Andromeda: Judging Covers

Yesterday, I received my first Australia edition copies in the mail. It’s always exciting to see the paper, the font size, the inside design. In this case, there’s the additional factor that my Australia publisher, Murdoch Books, decided to change both the cover and the title, from The Detour to The Art Lover. (Yes, I’m aware there is another novel with that name, but there’s another novel called The Detour as well! With millions of books in print, I can’t imagine any title is unique these days.)

I’m interested to see how readers will interpret the novel differently, according to those expectations created by the cover. It’s more romantic, certainly. Will readers mind that the romance doesn’t really get going until the last third of the book? Will the knowledge that love is ultimately on the agenda help them understand the book better? Will they read my character a little differently? Will more women–who buy more books than men overall–be receptive to this less political, more personal cover, which looks to me more like a movie poster? I’m open to all approaches. I just want people to buy the book!

I’ve been meaning to blog about covers for a few months, since taking part in a book discussion in which two readers (who are also would-be authors) spent a good while analyzing the cover of a book, and making assumptions about what the author intended by the cover, looking for clues that would influence their reading of the inside text. In my experience, the author has little to say about a cover–even less so in the case when the book is translated (as this book was), and the secondary publisher and the author live thousands of miles apart.

Oh sure, there’s the occasional anecdote about an author scribbling a cover idea, passing it onto an editor, and voila, some later cover resembles that initial inspired rendering. In my experience, whenever I’ve praised one cover, that’s nearly always the one the design team throws out. I’ve become resigned to a lack of agency and authority in this issue. Would I ever demand more involvement? Probably not. Authors really don’t have the inside scoop on why some covers will work better than others. Book buyers exercise a lot of power in this area. Imagine a big buyer knows that three books are coming out with similar designs–or even just with the same colors– six months hence. I’ve had book buyers and/or distributors nix a particular design, for reasons that don’t usually filter down to me. (I’m supposed to be writing, anyway. Not worrying about this stuff. Of course, I do occasionally worry.)

Designers may realize, more than an author, that some trendy cover approach is fast becoming passe. Marketers may realize that women, men, young or old have been turning their noses down at some particular element of design. In the case of my first novel, The Spanish Bow, I know the publisher ran through many, many options before they even let me see the one they were considering. I happened to love it. But later, when a paperback version came out, I actually loved that one more.

In the case of my second novel, The Detour, I saw an early design (the first? who knows?) that was very old-fashioned and colorless, verging on bleak. There goes my sales, I thought. Later, a new version appeared — the sunflowers cover. Because sunflowers are mentioned several times in The Detour, and this picture reminded me of Italy, and I wanted readers to think of Italy, I thought it was great, and told my editor so. Later, friends told me the cover made them think of Kansas. Kansas, oh no!

The sunflowers cover went into the main catalog, which booksellers saw even before I did. (Meanwhile, the title was also being reconsidered; once again, a distributor had a lot to say about it.) The cover showed up on Amazon. That, I thought, was the end. If I had no pull before, I certainly had no pull now.

But then later, my editor let me in on a secret: they were maybe redesigning again, at the very last minute. That made me even more nervous (though I did applaud them for going the extra mile). What if bookstore buyers saw one cover and then another cover and thought they were different books and got so confused they gave up? Why was this so hard?

My editor emailed me: “What do you call a horse designed by a committee? An elephant.” The committee thing again: editors and marketers and publicists and bookbuyers and book distributors.

They came up with a new cover. It was the closest thing I’d seen to what I’d originally imagined: a bit of the Discus Thrower image, a sense that this is a historical novel, the clock tower symbolizing time running out (which it is). Please, I begged my editor, let this new one be the cover. Fickle me. Now I couldn’t stand those sunflowers.

End of story, for now. Until the paperback, maybe. Once again, it won’t really be up to me, and that’s probably for the best.

Do you judge a book by its cover? With ebooks taking over, do covers matter as much anymore? Have you noticed any interesting trends? Do you have an all-time favorite or most-despised book cover?

1 thought on “Andromeda: Judging Covers”

  1. Interesting story, didn't know your book went through so many covers! But I like the current one.
    My friend Jackie Ivie has amazing covers for her romance books. They definitely make you want to read the book and get to know the hunky hero. We affectionately call the historical romance heroes Highland Hotties; you'll see why. 🙂 (I don't know how to put an image on here but go to her website at .)

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