Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Covers

Publishers get to choose, not writers. Sometimes we are happy, sometimes not. Except for folks like James Patterson and Mary Higgins Clark, authors have little, if anything to say about book cover design.

I was thrilled when saw the original cover for City of Silver. I had dreamed what it might be many times. During the long years of looking for an agent for the book and then waiting while it worked its way through the publication process, I imagined what the published book would look like. I had the cover of a favorite history used in my research in my mind's eye. The final design for the novel surpassed all my expectations. It was totally beautiful to me, perhaps because it was my first novel. But it really is a lovely physical specimen of a book. (By the way, its interior is also a knockout. The front pages and the chapter beginnings are all designed to look like a seventeenth century book. What a gorgeous touch!)

When Felony and Mayhem Press acquired the paperback rights, they thought the original cover too staid for what they considered a lively story. They decided to replace it with a cover they thought did the story justice. When I first saw the new design, it was so different from its predecessor, I was nonplussed. But everyone I asked liked it a lot. This week I announced that the paperback will launch on April 16. I presented the new cover and asked readers to weigh in on their reactions. Only one person said she preferred the original. Others liked both. Marjorie Weiss, a dear friend who is also an accomplished and successful artist, offered this opinion, "Loved the cover of the hardcover, but the paperback is equally beautiful and alluring."

This issue is not confined to fiction. My nonfiction went through similar choices. Never Work for a Jerk started with a jackass in a business suit, a splendid choice in my estimation. But the paperback publisher thought it, guess what, staid. They came up with something much more lively. The foreign rights publishers had their own ideas. I just LOVE the elegant Japanese version.

Only once did I try to influence what a book looked like. Both my agent and I tried our very best to put the kibosh on the cover for my latest nonfiction book: Monster Boss. Except for the fake tear, it looks to me like the cover of procedures manual on water heater repair.

Do you think a book's cover influences sales? Does cover design make a difference in what you buy?

Annamaria Alfieri


  1. Pat-- I do think covers make a difference. To me, anyway. A cover can turn me off or draw me in, depending on its quality. A book is a tangible, tactile object consisting of many parts. The size, shape,feel, cover, typeface, blurbs, all contribute to making me either lunge for it, or ignore it. The e-book is a different animal. With it, our choices will be made on content alone.
    Robin Hathaway

  2. Robin, I agree. My experience is the same if I am in a bookstore. BUT. I do sometimes buy books on line (mostly out-of-print ones from Alibris--but sometimes new books, too) and there I find the cover art makes less of a difference. Usually in that case, I already think I want the book, because I have read the author before or heard about it from a friend whose taste I trust (usually that's Knightly), and in those cases the cover art doesn't count for much in the purchase decision. But I do respond to the book's physical aspects once I have it in hand.