Pub 101: From Cover to Cover

I’ve been fascinated by covers for a long time. One of my most popular blog posts to date has been I Judge Covers. I Judge Titles. So Sue Me. So… I’m guessing that you’re all interested in the process too.

In chatting with an editor from one of the big five publishers, I learned some fascinating things about the process.

Firstly, the author has next to no say in it. I kind of knew this… but hoped it wasn’t the case. That said, writers are meant to be experts in writing – NOT graphic design and marketing. While books are our babies, perhaps we need to calm down a little and let it go. The experts know better than we do, personal taste aside.

I LOVE this cover, but does my opinion as a reader count?

I LOVE this cover, but does my opinion as a reader count?

How does it work?

An editor will prepare a cover brief on the book in question. She’ll describe the setting, the tone, the intended audience for the book, a brief synopsis and a description of the main character. She might even include a passage from the book.

This is given to the cover artist and results in a Cover Meeting that includes the cover artist, the editor, and reps from the sales and marketing team. Options are discussed at length and eventually they make a decision.

The author then gets a quick email showing them the cover, saying that the team loves it… but written in such a way that it’s not open to discussion. Unless, of course, the author has negotiated cover consultation or cover approval as part of their contract. New authors rarely get this.

Who is the most important judge?

If you’d asked me this question before I met this editor, I would have always assumed that the reader is the most important person to judge the cover. I would have assumed market research would have been a big part of designing a cover for a certain genre. Not so.

The most important person to like the cover?

Drumroll please…

The book buyer! A.k.a. the retailer. When you think about it for a second, it makes perfect sense. The book buyer is the gatekeeper to getting a book on the shelf. If they don’t like the look of your book, they may not stock it. And if that’s the case, they’d better be on board. They are so important that if their reaction is negative when the sales team is showing off the book catalogue… then sales team will consider designing a new cover!

Who knew?

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