Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cover Art & the Author

For many years, when I wrote romance novels, I would be bemused by a certain question that came from readers and non-readers alike. After "Where do you get your ideas?" the next most asked question any writer gets, would be, "Do you do the cover art yourself?", or some variation of that.

I actually haven't heard that for a while, and assumed that the internet had made readers and other folks more savvy. But then I read this in a recent Amazon review of A Deadly Grind:

"My first turn off on the book is the cover, the dog's head is completely out of proportion to the body and when you read the story, you find out that the dog has a missing front leg due to an accident when still a puppy. Yet, the cover shows both front paws. Was this an error by a newbie writer? I do not think so since Victoria Hamilton is a pseudonym for Donna Lea Simpson, a romance writer that is now branching into the cozy market."
I'm not quite sure where to start with this, and I'm trying to figure out what exactly the reader/reviewer is saying. I'm okay with the reviewer not liking the book - everyone's tastes are different, after all - but the remarks on the cover are unfortunate for a number of reasons.

So, I thought I would just run through the book cover design process, from concept to finished product, from the author's point of view.

I write the book (Insert Barry Manilow singing "I write the songs, I write the songs...") and give it to my editor. At some point down the line, my editor will ask me for some concept ideas for the cover, for the artist to work from. In the case of A Deadly Grind I described the summer porch on the back of Jaymie's home, the boxes of items she had purchased at the estate auction, and sent along photos of my own Hoosier-style cabinet, as well as photos of Yorkie-Poos.

Should I have made a point of saying in the reference material that Hoppy is three-legged? Not sure about that. Maybe. Whenever publishers have asked for my input on covers, I've gone overboard, sometimes spending days writing scene blurbs and gathering reference materials. In one memorable instance I did all that - days worth of work! - and the stuff was ignored comepletely and a random generic cover designed.  *Note - this was NOT with Berkley, but another publisher.

When I got the cover illustration for A Deadly Grind, I was very pleased... loved the Hoosier cabinet and the grinder and Hoppy, big head and all. I think the head size was meant to be cutesy, and I don't mind it a bit. But it was a four-legged Hoppy. I emailed my agent, and pointed that out. Do you want to say something to them? my agent asked me. I pondered it for a few days, then decided that in the grand scheme of things, depicting Hoppy with two front paws rather than one did not matter to the book. I didn't mention it to my editor.

Why did I decide that? Well, I liked the cover. I didn't think the extra paw was damaging to the book itself and didn't think it would matter to readers. I was new at Berkley Prime Crime and sooo thrilled to be launching my mystery writing career, so I suppose I didn't want to rock the roat. I know how much time and effort goes into the artwork, and to ask them to redo it based on one small objection... I just didn't have the heart to do it.

So, ultimately, I suppose the reviewer is both right and wrong... in a sense it IS my responsibility. However, it is NOT the mistake of a newbie writer, but rather the decision of a seasoned one, and a decision with which I'm completely at peace. Hoppy rules!!

I think next week I'm going to post a few of my old romance covers, with my first throughts and impressions on seeing some of them!!


  1. Wow! Does the reviewer mabye think that you should've rewritten Hoppy's missing leg to match the cover? :-P

  2. I had to laugh when I read this, although I am sure it was upsetting to you as the author. How silly and petty of this reviewer, and frankly, what does it have to do with whether the book is good or not? I agree, cover art can influence us to pick up a book initially, but I personally read a book because it is well written and appeals to me, not because I liked or didn't like the cover art!! BTW, I didn't even notice that Hoppy had two front paws on the cover, I just enjoyed the art work and then dove into the story! I LOVED the book and think this reviewer needs to find something else to spend his or her time doing.

    1. It's okay, Maureen... I suppose things affect us each differently. Maybe she was in a bad mood that day. My take on it is, after reading some of her other reviews, that she does not read cozy or traditional mysteries, and so didn't 'get' it, including the cover! World is wide... lots of other writers I'm sure she'll enjoy.