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Don’t judge a cat book by its cover

20 December 2013

From The Guardian:

The moment of receiving your first book jacket is one that every author remembers. I was so excited when I got mine – a jacket, for a book, written by me, that was going to be published – it took me a while to realise it wasn’t quite right. When the time came for the smaller, mass market paperback edition of the book concerned . . . and my agent and I suggested a change of image, my publishers were only too happy to work towards something that suited everyone.

That was 12 years ago, though, and the publishing industry has changed a lot since then, with supermarkets becoming increasingly dominant and power swinging away from editorial and towards sales. It had already changed a lot by early 2009 when Simon & Schuster, the publishers of my fifth book, Under the Paw, sent me their proposal for the book’s paperback edition. I instantly knew I hated the cover and instantly knew there was not a lot I could do about it.

. . . .

I’d been told by Simon & Schuster that the pet books which sold, and made it into supermarkets, were those with a very simple image of a cute animal on the cover. In this case, it was perhaps understandable that they hadn’t chosen to feature one of my cats, who had chunks missing from their ears and often wandered into the house with slugs and twigs stuck to their fur. But this cover seemed to belong to a completely different book.

The case was even more extreme for Under the Paw’s follow up, Talk to the Tail, for whose cover Simon & Schuster chose another image of an actor kitten straight from the Hallmark collection, despite the fact that the book – which is only 50% about cats, with other animals hogging the other half of the action – doesn’t even feature a kitten.

. . . .

I accepted all this because, in a recession-ravaged publishing industry, I felt increasingly glad to still have my work published at all. My loud dad’s standard comment when I ever moan to him about work – “AT LEAST YOU’RE NOT STILL WORKING ON THE CHECKOUT IN TESCO” – rang in my head increasingly often. Asking not to have my books mismarketed would probably be downright greedy.

But over the next year or two, I received countless emails and tweets from readers regarding the cover images. “I enjoyed your cat books,” several wrote, “but why do they have such appalling covers?” Others asked why they couldn’t see photos of the cats who featured in the books, or said they’d bought the books after reading my writing elsewhere, but done so very much in spite of the cover images. When you write a book, you are forever judged by it. That includes the cover. Most people who’d seen my cat books, without actually reading them, thought I was an entirely different kind of writer to the one I am. Many must also have picked them up hoping their content did match the

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Vashtan for the tip.

PG had never looked at covers of cat books before, but it appears that writing a serious book about cats for anyone except veterinarians is likely to involve cover issues.


4 Comments to “Don’t judge a cat book by its cover”

  1. And if you complain about this problem to people who work in publishing, you get a smirky eyeroll and a very superior, talking-to-the-ignorant-children-now voice telling you that The Cover Is Not Meant To Illustrate The Story. This excuse has attempted to put lipstick on hordes of pigs, and is a conversation ender so far as the editors/publishers/whoever who work for the the BPHs are concerned.

    Yet another reason to go indie, as if we needed one.


  2. I collect and read cozy cat mysteries, and tend to throw the misleading ones violently across the room into a recycle box as soon as I discover [bad pun warning!] a misleading cover.

  3. My own experience at Penguin was that the artist was Brazilian and did not speak enough English to read the books. He had no idea of the content. I did like his work and once tried to be helpful by making a suggestion. My editor (one of the worst editors I’ve encountered) sent me a nasty e-mail telling me to keep out of it since the publisher was paying for the cover and I wasn’t.

    One of the many times I got very, very angry working for a publisher!

  4. Good article, in terms of standing up to Publishers and taking them to task.

    But I agree with Angie – this person has a platform and sales history. They should take control, use the covers they want and self-publish.

    Not only will they create a product THEY can be proud of, but they will make more money because their royalties will quadruple. This is not the case of “be glad you’re not working on a check-out line”. This author IS working in the check-out line. Break free! 😀

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