Monday, July 17, 2006

One Picture Is Worth...

Even though I deal in words, I'm going to talk about pictures on this Monday. Images. Graphics. Cover art and how it influences the stories we tell and the stories you buy. Part of this is because I've just received the preliminary final (final preliminary?) of the cover art for my February 2007 release from Bantam, Games of Command. ::points to small image on left:: You can see the entire cover and read the current blurb provided to me by Bantam here:

But I digress...

The other reason I'd like to talk about cover art is that it seems that our there in Readerville, there are some wild and wacky beliefs about same.

So I want to touch on why it's important (and is it? You tell me.). And why it's for the most part, fully out of the author's control (and I'm talking NY published books here, not small press where the rules can be vastly different).

I received a lot of fan mail about the covers of my Bantam books. My first cover artist for Finders Keepers, Gabriel's Ghost and An Accidental Goddess was Dave Seeley. A delight to work with. Brilliant, talented and kind. I was blessed--blessed!--to have him. I mean, he does Star Wars covers, for Pete's sake. And--shockerooni to me--he actually READ my books before doing the artwork. That's why the cover of Finders is an almost exact scene. Blew me away because I'd heard so many cover art horror stories.

My current cover artist is Stephen Youll. Now, I don't know Stephen and per Bantam edicts, am not supposed to be in touch with him, but from missives forwarded from my editor, he seems to be another gem. Plus he and his wife have a cat, which is not only a huge plus in my eyes but was a great help because I wanted a cat on Games' cover (and got one). Plus plus he also does CJ Cherryh's covers ::genuflect genuflect::.

So in the midst of this love-fest I'm having with my cover artists, let me explain one thing to readers: 99.9% of the time, authors have NO SAY in what goes on the cover.

If you click on the link to see Games' cover above, you're seeing exactly what I was sent a few days ago. And this is the first time I've seen it. No, I didn't see any preliminary sketches. No, no one asked me what my characters looked like or if I wanted a blue cover or red. No one asked me anything at all.

Now, when I was sent this image, my editor did ask if there was anything horribly, glaringly wrong. They do ask that. But even if there is, they don't correct it, 99.9% of the time. It's simply not cost effective to do so.

That's why my An Accidental Goddess cover has my main character, Gillie, who is a military adviser, looking like Space Bimbo From Hell in Red Spandex. That image is not remotely Gillie, not remotely in her personality or her wardrobe.

How did that happen? Marketing decision, I was told.

Well, sales have been brisk. I just hope buyers aren't too disappointed when the only place they're going to find Space Bimbo From Hell in Red Spandex is on the cover.

Which brings me to the main point of this blog (see, I do get there eventually). Just how important is the cover image? Science fiction and fantasy is a unique genre. Inside our pages are things, creatures, people, places never seen and only imagined. It's often difficult to correctly describe with words. It has to be that much harder to do so in images.

For that very reason, I feel the SFF/SFR covers are extremely important. But also for that reason, I understand why sometimes they can't be. The author's vision may be different from the artist's. And the artist has to listen to marketing, leave room for the title, name and any blurbs or tag lines AND still create something visually attractive.

So how much is the cover art worth to you, as reader? And you, as author (as we have other authors who comment here as well)? How much does it influence not only your decision to buy but your enjoyment of the book? Do you find yourself referring back to the cover art as you read?

And specifically with my new cover for Games. I understand that Bantam is going to shelve me--for the first time--in the romance aisles with this book. Will romance readers like the cover or be put off by it? And will my science fiction fans make the trek across the store to find me?

Inquiring minds want to know. So blog away, kidlings!
Hugs all, ~Linnea


  1. I would never buy a book based solely on the cover. As a reader, I naturally enjoy beautiful covers that accurately reflect the stories inside, but I know that often doesn't happen. I buy almost all my books from lists of monthly releases I carry with me at all times. IOW, I'm buying either books by my favorite authors or books I've read about in reviews. Impulse buys are very few; I already spend too much money just keeping up with the lists. :) However, a striking cover can catch my eye enough to induce me to pick up an unfamiliar book, and once in a great while, the blurb and a glance through the text lead to an actual purchase. A bad cover on a book I already intend to read won't change my mind. It's a good thing I'm already a devoted fan of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, because some of their recent covers have been not only totally uninformative as to story content (i.e., abstract, with no illustrations) but downright ugly. No way would I have picked up those books if I hadn't already known about them. As an author, I've been fortunate in getting plenty of chance for cover input with my small presses and e-publishers. For my Silhouette Intimate Moments vampire romance, I filled out their very detailed cover request sheet. Happily, the result was attractive and looked pretty much like my characters (except that my vampires don't have visible fangs, but on a cover you kind of NEED fangs as a vampire signifier, and at least they are nicely understated). Once or twice my other covers, despite detailed input from me, turned out to be what I considered bafflingly tangential to the story, but none of them have been actually unattractive.

  2. Anonymous5:12 PM EDT

    Hi Linnea:)

    There is only one book ever which I'd bought because of a cover(an Unsuitable Man By Jo Beverly *sigh*). That said, the cover for Games of Command is Gorgeous.

    As for the romance section? Maybe it's because the store I work in is located in New York, but it seems to me that Romance Readers are far more open to SFR or RF than their science fiction reading counterparts. In fact, you're already shelved( and selling quite well) in the Romance section in the store.

    You're also double RITA nominated this year, so any Romance readers who follow the RITA awards will be reading your books aready.

    That's actually how I started reading your books. I was in the mood for a good strong futuristic/space opera and I saw your name on the list of RITA nominees. So, I did some research, read a few of the short stories and picked up Finders Keepers. I enjoyed it so much that I 1) went and bought Gabriel's Ghost(which i loved) and 2) asked the buyer of the store to order both titles.

    So, to make a long story short, I(along with regular customers) wait with baited breath for Games of Command, not to mention the news about the RITA award:)


  3. Anonymous5:21 PM EDT

    You know who has the worst luck in cover art? Katie Macallister. The skinny heroine on The Corset Diaries is a size 18 inside, there's a rubber duckie on the cover of one of her REGENCIES, and Sex and the Single Vampire has a beautiful cover with a set of long legs in a coffin. The trouble is that the heroine's leg was broken in six places and not set properly. She could barely walk.

  4. Margaret said: I would never buy a book based solely on the cover. As a reader, I naturally enjoy beautiful covers that accurately reflect the stories inside, but I know that often doesn't happen. I'm intrigued by a good cover, but it's not my sole criteria. That being said, I do like when covers are CONSISTENT. I like Anne Perry's two mystery series and I like when the covers flow/match. Silly thing, yes. But I like that. ;-) ~Linnea

  5. If a book has a clinch cover, a pec shot of a half-nekkid "hottie" or something equally cliche, it does put me off. The back cover copy has to work a little harder to win me over, if the cover turns me off.

    I mean, I think Christopher Walken and Harvey Keitel are hot. Not those hairlessly ambiguous things on book covers. But I digress...

    But a great cover won't make me buy the book.

    So I guess it's only a really bad cover that matters!

  6. Hi Stacey in NY! Thanks for blogging in and thanks muchly for your kind comments on my books! I've been hearing from a lot of bookstore people who've moved my books to the romance section--actually, it's because of one of them that Bantam considered doing this at all. So your info makes me feel that much better. :-)

    If you want to get a sneak peek on Games and also my upcoming, The Down Home Zombie Blues, I post previews and snippets on my Yahoo Group. Link to join in NEWS on my site. ;-) Chapters and such are up in FILES for free, along with some of my older, OOP work.

    So glad you liked the cover for Games. My editor just send me a signed, small poster sized copy (!!) today and Stephen changed the cat on the front to exactly resemble my cat, Daiquiri. (!!) I'm thrilled. He'll appear that way on the cover as well.

    Agai, glad to 'meet' you! ~Linnea

  7. Fair or not - and I realize that authors have no control over their covers, covers do play a big role for me in trying new books. As a reader (of mainly romance) if I really like a cover, chances are pretty good that I'll try it. On the plus side though, the opposite doesn't hold true as much. It has to be a very very bad cover indeed to keep me from buying it. And FWIW, I like the covers of yours.

  8. Anonymous5:21 AM EDT

    To choose a book, I visit my favorite bookshop regularly. Generally, I look over the new books table and I pick up books with attractive covers. And then I read the back page and some chapters, (sometimes almost half the book! the book keeper is kind with me). Then I decide or not to buy it. I particularly liked Finders Keepers cover since it was, as you said, Linnea, a scene out of the book. I didn't find Gabriel's Ghost and Accidental Goddess covers attractive but I had read Finders Keepers, so ...

    And that's the second way I choose books: an author I appreciate. I rarely use discussion lists. I just like going to a bookstore and delve into books.

    What is true of real books isn't true on Internet. I notice covers but to a lesser degree. Smaller? Can't touch? And text isn't concerned. I like reading on a screen or a PDA.


  9. Kay, the publishers may not but the artists often do. Go to the artists' sites. You might be surprised at what they offer for sale. :-) I know Dave Seeley has copies of my Finders Keepers cover for sale and many others. ~Linnea

  10. Dear Linnea,

    Great minds! I've just blogged on my cover angst, and honest... I'm reading your July blog after posting.

    Your new cover is wonderful! Colors, hardware, uniforms... wicked.

    All the best,