Covers

Signing a Publishing Contract

11 October 2014

What to Do Before Signing a Publishing Contract

Column by Brandon Tietz at LitReactor

Writing a novel is damn hard. Selling one to a publisher, in its own distinct way, is even more difficult because you’re essentially convincing a company to gamble on you and your work. This is part of the reason self-publishing is booming right now. Searching for a publisher is both a hassle and a blizzard of heartbreaking rejection, so when you actually do get an offer, it’s a huge moment. So euphoric that emotion can often blind the writer to those important details on what’s on the actual contract. It amazes me how many authors took their time working on their novels only to sign a contract after skimming it once. It’s not an iTunes update, guys…read the damn thing. Here are some key things you should know before signing on the dotted line.

Who Are These People?

I will go on record and say that I have scared away authors from a publisher I went through because it was a sub-par experience. They’re out of business now, if that tells you anything. What I’m saying though is that you should know the publisher before you sign any sort of contract that binds you to them. Now I don’t recommend asking authors whether they do or don’t like the publisher while you’re querying, but after you get the offer, feel free to reach out and get a feel for how they’re handling their business. Unhappy authors are usually a good indicator that you should tread lightly.

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Conclusion

Don’t be blinded by your contract. Signing a bad one can be the thing that ends up screwing you over for the life of the novel. Do your research, ask questions, and for the love of God, don’t be afraid to ask for changes if you don’t like something. If three author copies sound low—ask for more. If you don’t want your book assigned to a certain designer—ask for an alternative. A contract is an agreement between two parties…not one party telling the other how it’s going to be.

Read the rest here.

From guest blogger Randall

That Book cover is ugly!

6 October 2014

What Makes for a Brilliant Book Cover? A Master Explains
By Kyle VanHemert at WIRED

If you find yourself in a bookstore, Peter Mendelsund can be hard to avoid. His dust jackets wrap big-name contemporary releases like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. He’s created ingenious covers for reissues of Dostoyevsky, Kafka, and other literary giants, updating a wide swath of the canon with a striking, graphic look. Cover, a new monograph of Mendelsund’s work, showcases the designer’s uncanny talent for capturing entire books with succinct, compelling imagery—a talent that has led some to deem him the best book designer of his generation. What makes it even more remarkable is that Mendelsund started his career with zero design experience whatsoever.

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On one level, dust jackets are billboards. They’re meant to lure in potential readers. For a certain contingent of the publishing industry, this means playing it safe. “The path of least resistance when you’re designing a jacket is to give that particular demographic exactly what they want,” Mendelsund explains. “It’s a mystery novel, so you just splatter it in blood, and put the shadowy trench coat guy on it, and use the right typography.” Familiarity, the thinking goes, will always sell something.

Mendelsund does not subscribe to this view. He’s said that he prefers an ugly cover to a cliche one, and looking at his body of work, the thing that holds it together is that nearly all of his jackets have something weird going on, in one way or another.

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Of course, catching a potential book-buyer’s eye is only part of Mendelsund’s job. A truly great jacket is one that captures the book inside it in some fundamental and perhaps unforeseen way. As Mendelsund describes it, his job is “finding that unique textual detail that…can support the metaphoric weight of the entire book.” That, of course, requires actually reading a manuscript closely enough to A) determine the metaphoric weight of the book and B) find a handful of relevant details within it. In other words, making a great book cover isn’t just about making. It starts with understanding.

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Ideally, every dust jacket is unique to the book it’s wrapped around. But the realities of the marketplace often dictate how experimental a design can be. Mendelsund will have more interpretive freedom for a small volume of poetry, for example, than he does for a hotly anticipated piece of new fiction. “If you spend a lot of money on a book or an author, then you ratchet up the scrutiny the jacket’s under a lot—a hundred fold,” he says. “If this author got a big advance, then you’re going to have to jump through some flaming hoops with the jacket.”

Take The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Such was the buzz around the manuscript that when it came time to design the jacket, there were already a chorus of voices adding their take.

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The final version, sure enough, had “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” in huge type. To round it out, Mendelsund did what he describes as the “dumbass thing” of echoing the title visually on the cover itself, putting the text on top of an image of… a dragon tattoo. It was the rare case in which a novel had so much momentum that the best thing a designer could do was stay out of the way. “The book was going to sell well no matter what,” Mendelsund says.

And yet, Mendelsund insists that it wasn’t the most obvious approach he could’ve taken. The design featured at least one small victory against the obvious: the bright yellow backdrop. “Up until that point, I would defy you to find a dark gothic thriller with a day-glow cover,” he says.

For another view, an indie one if I may, I found Derek Murphy

 
Here’s what’s wrong with Peter Mendelsund’s Book Covers
From Derek Murphy at Creative Indie

A couple weeks ago I saw an article about Peter Mendelsund’s new book on book cover design; and I scoffed. Now I just saw another article on Wired, shared by Tim Ferriss.

Peter is obviously doing the rounds (and quite well) to promote his new book. Kudos to him. Here’s the big problem: Peter’s had a luxurious career as a cover design rebranding already famous and classic works of fiction, and breakout bestsellers – amazing books – supported by a heavy media campaign and a major publisher.

He’s said that he prefers an ugly cover to a cliche one, and looking at his body of work, the thing that holds it together is that nearly all of his jackets have something weird going on, in one way or another.

Looking at Peter’s work, I agree with his own take on his design philosophy. They are all creative, potentially clever, and ugly. And that’s fine – for literary fiction appealing to high brow readers. The tragic mistake is in applauding Peter’s work as a “golden measure” for book cover design, because it absolutely will not work for most books.

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You see, most authors start out with no platform and have to catch reader’s attentions. They don’t have a big media or marketing campaign. Readers aren’t going to spend more than a couple seconds looking at their cover while browsing thousands of others in the same category.

The cover has to tell readers, immediately, what the book is about and what genre it fits into.

This can’t be done by being clever or thoughtful. Nobody is going to appreciate the cognitive associations and playful visual metaphors. Not to mention that a vast majority of authors are writing popular genre fiction or non-fiction (not literary) – and while literary authors may want to adopt Peter’s style to ‘fit in’ with other literary fiction, that in itself can be accused of being cliche; in other words, books in the same genre should look similar.

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I pick the cover that is going to sell the most copies – and I’ll test it out with paid advertisements if I have to (though I’ve gotten very good at knowing which will perform the best). Selling more copies is all that matters for most authors. If you have a literary career, or are a professor, and are writing a book just to make yourself look good, then sure – go for something smart and obtuse and a little hard to figure out; something most people won’t like but a few people will think is brilliant.

But if you want to make money as an author, don’t be swayed by the sirens warning you to avoid the obvious and focus on something deeper and non-representational. Don’t worry about avoiding book cover cliches. Don’t focus on being creative. Get a damn fine cover that looks professional and immediately broadcasts the right genre. It SHOULD look a lot like the other bestselling books in the same category.

After you get enough people to buy it, read it and love it, and your name is so famous that people will buy anything you write, then you can start having fun with your book cover and taking risks with the design.

I’m not saying Peter isn’t a brilliant cover designer, of course he is. Another designer I like a lot is Chip Kidd.
And I’m obviously jealous of their talents. I’m not saying I’m a better designer than they are; only that, if they had to design covers that would sell popular fiction, they would probably look entirely different – and a whole lot more like mine – than the creative samples they’ve built their careers on.

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So you have to decide what kind of author you are.

1. Are you the artist, who just wants to make an amazing book, even if nobody recognizes it in your lifetime and nobody loves and understands it like you do; you get no acknowledgment until decades after you die? Or, are you writing professional literary fiction with an established marketing campaign and recognized name? Great! Your book cover is a blank canvas.

2. Do you want people to read and like your book? Do you want hundreds of reviews? Do you want to make a bunch of money so you can write full-time? Then you better make sure your book fits the conventions of bestselling books in your genre, and appeal precisely to the readers who love that genre, and broadcast the core story message, and most importantly, make an emotional connection (in away that literary book covers almost never do, being purely conceptual).

In other words, the publishing methods that apply to famous authors are not and should not be the same for unknown authors on a small budget. You need to be more careful with how you do things. Your cover needs to look like it belongs in the top 10 books in your category.

While Peter’s new book should in no way be used as a manual for commercial book cover design, as an exercise in creative thinking and design it’s definitely worth perusing.

Peters Book Cover at Amazon

Derek Murphy at Amazon

From Guest Blogger Randall

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.

. . . .

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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.

. . . .

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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:

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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.

. . . .

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Link to the rest at CreativeIndie

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