Laura Resnick on Cover Art

17 September 2014

TPV regular Laura Resnick is interviewed at Diabolical Plots:

Laura Resnick has done extensive research, including interviews with authors and art directors, on how cover art is developed and how it has a drastic affect on sales and careers. Her current artist, for the Esther Diamond series, is Dan Dos Santos, a 5 time Hugo nominee and Chesley winner.

In this interview with Diabolical Plots’ Carl Slaughter, she provides the inside story on cover art.

CARL SLAUGHTER: You’ve done extensive research on how cover art affects sales figures and author careers. Give us some examples of cover art that tanked sales and delayed careers and some examples of how cover art moved a book off the shelf and fast tracked a career.

LAURA RESNICK: An editor once cited Barbara Michaels aka Elizabeth Peters to me as an example of a writer whose career was held back for years by bad covers. Peters died last year (peacefully at home, at the age of 85) after a career which included many New York Times bestselling novels. But that success came some 20 years and many well-reviewed books into her career, and there was a noticeable shift in packaging that accompanied her well-deserved success. For years, publishers were giving her muddy, generic covers that conveyed nothing of the tone of her books, and she developed her audience strictly on her own merits via word-of-mouth, with no help at all from her dreadful packaging. Then if you look at the packaging she started getting around the mid-1990s, you can see a definite shift in quality of the covers, which accompanied her rising sales. In particular, the eventual packaging of her Amelia Peabody series (the early books, poorly packaged, were also repackaged with the new look) was a winner, and the series was commercially very successful for years (she was working on another Amelia Peabody book when she died).

. . . .

I think Charlaine Harris (author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, aka the “Trueblood” series) is an example of someone who got a boost from good packaging. Harris was a longtime midlist career writer who developed the idea for the Sookie Stackhouse novels in an attempt to use her strengths as a writer to achieve the commercial success which had so far eluded her. (Obviously, she succeeded, becoming a #1 hardcover NYT bestseller with this series.) Ace Books launched the first book in the series, Dead Until Dark, with a very distinctive cover. I remember picking up that book years ago because of the cover (which was impressive packaging, since I don’t read vampire novels). Harris was doing good work on a very commercial project, but the distinctive packaging really helped that series stand out early on.

CARL: Who makes decisions about cover art and who should be making those decisions?

LAURA: At large publishing conglomerates (ex. Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, MacMillan, and Simon & Schuster), too often the people making decisions about packaging are unfamiliar with the book or the author’s work—and therefore also unfamiliar with the author’s audience, who are the people the cover needs to attract. I have even been told anecdotes by wearily amused art directors about book covers being directed by senior people in the corporate hierarchy who don’t read books and who have no art or design background whatsoever, but who, for one reason or another, want cover control. To give just one example of how truly absurd the process can get, one art director at a major house told me that for a year or two, most of that company’s major releases had red covers because the Chief Financial Officer’s girlfriend liked red, and he wanted to make her happy.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, depending on just how small a small press is, art direction may be in the hands of one person who is also editor, marketer, publisher, and business manager. This can go well if that person is brilliant at art direction—and badly if he’s not.

Link to the rest at Diabolical Plots

One Assumption

12 August 2014

From author J. Steven York:

One assumption people make of traditional publishing is that they’ll “get it right.” Unlike those stinky indie books, they’ll be well edited, well designed, and well produced. When you sign a contract with a major publisher giving away 90% of your book, you do so with the assurance that it will be well handled from there on. Your publisher will mind all the details, and would never, NEVER screw up in a way that would harm you.

Or so you’d think. But years of being around the publishing industry have shown me otherwise. Books that were sabotaged in production by departing employees, books with the wrong author name on the cover, books with huge copy-editing problems. titles that have been “fixed” in production to change their meanings, One letter typesetting errors that end up changing the entire meaning of ending of the book, terrible and inappropriate covers, it goes on and on.

But surely these things are aberrations, right?

. . . .

One [publisher mistake I saw recently] is the sort of thing you’d think editors would routinely check for: two books with the same title. To be honest, this happens all the time, and it isn’t a big deal. Titles can’t be copyrighted, and clever ones tend to get repeated by accident all the time. But when the books are in the same genre, and come out in mass-market at the same time, from major publishing houses, and both from best-selling authors (one a New York Times lister), you’d think somebody would have noticed, and at least rescheduled one of the books. But no, here was have two true crime books with the same title on the shelf right next to each other.

. . . .

Then we have New York Times best-selling author, Jeffrey Archer, and a book so badly reprinted it’s unreadable. The cover is on upside down, and the pages are in backwards as well. You can’t even read it from the back, as left and right pages are swapped as well. This book won’t be sold, or if it’s sold, it will be returned. In either case it will be “stripped,” counted as a return, and charged against the author’s royalties, even though the return is no fault of their own.

Of course, this could be an isolated production error, but we checked, and all the copies on the shelf were bound the same way. How many were shipped misprinted? Probably more than we saw here. Probably at least dozens. But it could be hundreds. Or thousands.

But, if a major publisher ships one of your books with a huge production error that makes it nearly unreadable and tanks sales, surely they’ll take some corrective action, right? They’ll slot a reprint of the book into their schedule, or at least take into consideration that the low sales aren’t your fault in considering your next contract, right?

Uh, no, you’re screwed. At least, of all the horror stories I’ve heard, I can’t think of any where the publisher came back and made it good. The book, and the author, were generally tossed aside like a wormy apple.

. . . .


Link to the rest at J. Steven York and thanks to Kris for the tip.

Here’s a link to Jeffrey Archer’s book where, if you Look Inside the trade paperback, you’ll notice the publisher couldn’t be bothered using the book that’s for sale. The first thing you see is a different cover with a lame excuse.

Penguin Marketing

8 August 2014

From the Penguin Books Facebook Page:

Celebrating 50 years of Roald Dahl’s groundbreaking #CharlieandtheChocolateFactory, we’d like to share a new edition with you. Publishing for the first time as a Penguin Modern Classic, this design is in recognition of the book’s extraordinary cultural impact and is one of the few children’s books to be featured in the Penguin Modern Classics list.

This new image for CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY looks at the children at the centre of the story, and highlights the way Roald Dahl’s writing manages to embrace both the light and the dark aspects of life, ready for Charlie’s debut amongst the adult titles in the Penguin Modern Classics series.

. . . .


Link to the rest at Penguin Books Facebook Page and thanks to Amy for the tip.

This kind of marketing genius is what you little self-pub authors can never hope to equal.

For comparison, here’s an earlier version:



PG first saw the new cover on a non-Penguin site and thought it must be a spoof.

He predicts the expression on the child model will creep out more than a few girls and boys. And adults.

Is PG the only one who is reminded of JonBenét Ramsey when he looks at that cover?

The Creative Art of Selling a Book by Its Cover

30 July 2014

From The New York Times:

Peter Mendelsund often says that “dead authors get the best book jackets.”

Mr. Mendelsund, who has designed striking covers for departed literary giants like Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Joyce, dreads working with picky writers who demand a particular font, color, image or visual theme. “It ends up looking like hell,” he said.

Then last year, Mr. Mendelsund, the associate art director at Alfred A. Knopf, became his own worst nightmare. He started writing a book himself. Coming up with a cover for his book, “What We See When We Read,” a playful, illustrated treatise on how words give rise to mental images, was excruciating, he said. As the author, he felt as if no single image could sum up the book’s premise. As the jacket designer, he had to put something on the front, or resign in disgrace. His first attempt was stark and off-putting: a plain black cover with small white text. “It was like stage fright,” he said. “I just seized up.”

. . . .

For much of his life, Mr. Mendelsund felt “visually illiterate,” he said. He grew up in Cambridge, Mass., the son of an architect and a high school history teacher. He started playing the piano at the age of 4. After studying philosophy and literature at Columbia University, he spent two years at a music conservatory and tried to make a living as a professional pianist. But he struggled on a classical musician’s salary, and, after several years, he found himself married with an infant daughter and no health insurance.

He decided to try graphic design, though he had no formal training. He read design books and picked up a few freelance projects, sometimes working free. A year later, he was hired as a designer at Vintage and Anchor Books.

. . . .

To come up with a cover, Mr. Mendelsund begins by scribbling notes on a manuscript and underlining key thematic sentences. He hangs the marked-up pages above his computer. Then he begins cataloging his ideas on a piece of paper covered with 16 rectangles, filling each one with a word, phrase or tiny sketch. He picks the most promising concept and creates a draft on the computer.

Once he has a rough design in place, he will often switch to illustrating by hand, drawing with an ink brush, layering on paper collage or filling in blocky shapes with gouache, a dense watercolor. Finally, he prints out a mock cover, wraps it around a hardcover and leaves it on his bookshelf for a few days. If his eye is spontaneously drawn to it a day or two later, he considers his direction on the right track. If the cover disappears into the background, he knows something is missing.

He often repeats this process dozens of times.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Maggie for the tip.

You Can Judge a Book by Its Author’s Photo

21 June 2014

From Slate:

In an interview with the Hairpin this week, best-selling author Jennifer Weiner discussed the pinkish-gray area between serious literature and chick lit. When it comes to marketing, she said, an author’s picture is worth a thousand literary judgments:

If you’re smiling in your (color) author photo, it’s chick lit. If you’re smirking, or giving a stern, thin-lipped stare in your black-and-white picture, and if you go out of your way in every interview to talk about how “unserious books do not deserve serious attention,” then it’s literature.

These comments exist within a larger crusade Weiner has waged to get the literary world to take fiction written by and for women more seriously. It’s a campaign founded in a very real under-representation of such literature in publications like the New York Review of Books and the New Republic.

. . . .

If she’s right, then female authors of chick lit should have smiling color photos, while female authors of “serious literature” should be dour and colorless on their book jackets. Since it’s hard to be completely objective about categorizing a book as one versus the other, I used the ultimate arbiter of literary classification: Amazon.

Amazon includes among its “Literature and Fiction” category a sub-category called “Women’s Fiction” (a euphemism for chick lit) and another called “Literary Fiction” (a.k.a. the real stuff). “Women’s Fiction” has a handful of sub-sub-categories, including “African American,” “Divorce,” “Domestic Life,” “Friendship,” “Single Women,” and “Sisters.” “Literary Fiction” is not broken down further.

To conduct this study, I compared the photos for the top 20 best-selling female authors in “Women’s Fiction” with the same group in “Literary Fiction.”

. . . .

Seventy-five percent of “Women’s Lit” authors were smiling, compared to 55 percent of “Literary Fiction” authors. But if you look at not just whether someone’s smiling, but with how much gusto, of the shiny, happy writers, 60 percent of chick lit authors bared their pearly whites, while more than 70 percent of the literary writers did. The chick lit writers smiled more often, but when the literary writers smiled, they did it with abandon.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Self-Publishing #Fails

6 May 2014

From Joel Friedlander:

As an author said to me last night, “This self-publishing is a lot of work, it’s hard.”

Hey, at least she has good advice and people to call on. It’s the other people I worry about, the ones who don’t know when they are poised to step right in something unpleasant, something that might require some real effort to get rid of.

Yes, it’s the Self-Publishing #Fails.

. . . .

1. Formatting for beginners.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been handed 2 books by their authors that really made my heart sink. Why? In each case the author was a professional, highly educated, well-informed and determined to create a book worthy of commercial publication.

Problem? They had each found a “semi-pro” book formatter to create their nonfiction book interiors. How do I know they were “semi-pro”? Immediately I saw things like blank right-hand pages, running heads on blank pages, an entire book typeset with hyphenation set to “off,” inappropriate visual spacing, all the usual suspects.

. . . .

3. Is That Cover Yours or Mine?

An author in the popular paranormal romance genre was just getting started in her career. She studied all the blogs that other writers in her peer group wrote, and learned how to put together a book for print on demand publishing.

She wanted a distinctive cover treatment, especially because she was launching a series, with the intent to publish a whole line of books with the same characters appearing in different settings and combinations.

So the whole representation of the story on the front cover of the first books was of a lot of concern.

She found an artist who specialized in illustrations for book covers, and the two had a great working relationship.

Together, they came up with a beautiful cover, attractive typography, and a custom illustration that truly represented the whole work.

Everyone was happy.

But then a funny thing happened. The book, and it’s sequel, started to get really popular, selling tens of thousands of copies.

When the author got back in touch with the illustrator for a new cover for the next book, she also got a shock.

The illustrator let the author know that she now owed more money for the first illustrations, and that the new illustrations were going to cost a lot more, like triple the original cost.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Where do you find cover artists?

14 March 2014

Last year, PG put up the following post:

Passive Guy received a simple question from Amey:

Where does an indie author find cover illustrators online?

She knows about DeviantArt, but finds it too complicated and believes there aren’t a lot of real artists there.

So, what’s the answer to Amey’s question?

He recently received a request from a cover designer to be included in the comments to the original post which is currently living in TPV’s attic where nobody goes.

So PG decided to post the question again to generate updated information.

300+ Fool-Proof Fonts to use for your Book Cover Design

17 February 2014

From CreativeIndie:

Using the right fonts on your book cover helps tell the reader what genre your book fits into and elic­its an emo­tional response.

You want it to look great, but also be appro­pri­ate, fit in well with the cover design, and (prob­a­bly) be just a lit­tle more inter­est­ing than a stan­dard font.

So I’ve put together some cheat-sheets of the best fonts to use for your book cover, divided by genre.

In gen­eral, stick to 1 “fancy” or dec­o­ra­tive font, and keep the other fonts very sim­ple. You don’t want them to compete.

. . . .


Link to the rest at CreativeIndie

e-Book Cover Design Awards, December 2013

15 January 2014

From book designer Joel Friedlander:

This month we received:

72 covers in the Fiction category
16 covers in the Nonfiction category

. . . .

Rachel Cole submitted Zebras In London designed by Littera Designs. “The author said zebra stripes, rain, and the colour red were important elements in the story. But I took a bit of literary license with the zebra stripes as my immediate thought were the famous “zebra crossings” in London.”


JF: Great job. Economical with a strong graphic sense, a design that stands out boldly, yet at the same time contains just enough story to create a powerful allure.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer and thanks to Eric for the tip. You’ll see some covers from TPV regulars.

Branding 101 For Writers

12 January 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Readers identify these things as brands (in no particular order): Characters, Worlds, Series, and Writers. Readers rarely (almost never) consider a publisher a brand. There are exceptions—Harlequin has done a fantastic job branding its fiction. But most traditional publishers have not.

In fact, traditional publishers seem to have very little idea what branding is at all. They do branding on bestsellers, almost accidentally. Generally, the book’s designers have no idea how to brand anything. A few years back, Putnam decided to brand Nora Robert’s work, and the publishing trades made a big deal out of it.

But if you’re traditionally published, chances are your work has no individual branding—meaning, the branding is not tied to your writer name. The branding is tied to something else if branding exists at all.

Traditionally published writers of long-standing, like me, have books that look like mishmash of stuff, even if the books are in the same genre and same series. The lack of branding has hurt us. This is not an area where you, as indie publishers, should look to traditional publishing. You need to think outside their narrow little box.

You want your readers to identify your work as quickly as possible. You want them to find you easily. Hybrid writers who understand this are actually changing the industry. Their traditional publishers are starting to ask who their cover artists are and are copying the self-published designs of the hybrid writer, rather than the other way around. (Sad, isn’t it?)

. . . .

Every time you see a muscular woman with her back to the viewer, looking over her shoulder while brandishing a weapon, you know you’re looking at an urban fantasy novel. Genre branding is so ubiquitous that in some genres, it becomes cliché. Then some traditional publisher changes up the genre branding, and everyone follows suit.

I’m not telling you that you need to put that sexy mean babe on your urban fantasy novel. But…

The reason I use the phrase “indie published” instead of “self-published” is because if you write a lot and publish a lot, eventually, you will have a team helping you. Even if you’re only  publishing your own work, you have become an independent publisher.

And as an independent publisher, you must make decisions within your publishing house about branding.

. . . .

But if you’re a writer who writes in more than one genre, like I do, then you will need different branding for each genre you write in.

In other words, your stand-alone romance novel cannot look the same as your stand-alone mystery novel which should not look the same as your stand-alone fantasy novel.

. . . .

You must brand by genre. Readers expect it. They want to know what they’re picking up. For example, many romance readers read the genre to escape the difficulties in their lives. They have enough tribulations; they don’t want those in their fiction. They would be horrified if they picked up Sins of the Blood, without some clue that it’s a horror novel, not a sweet romance like Davy Moss.

You want to be discovered? Being discovered by genre is a fine way to do so. Make sure your tags on the various bookstores are correct as well. If you don’t know genre—and most writers don’t (even though they think they do)—then learn it.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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