I mingle a lot within the author community. My daily conversations range from editing jobs, writing styles, and quality book covers. Prior to the holidays, one of my most respected of author friends came to me with a book cover he had started putting together.
Book building: An amazing journey for every author. In this journey, book covers are one of the most exciting moments for authors. For most of us, it’s as close to seeing a visual picture of our world as we’re ever going to get. In our dreams, we envision throwing down thousands of dollars on the ideal dream cover. In reality, many of us scrape pennies together to purchase a barely affordable cover. Too many of us attempt to hand draw our own cover. Others are lucky enough to get the quality on an affordable budget.
A lot goes into the cover. We argue color, mood, and people… Sometimes the covers we get back from our artists are dead on while other covers are disappointing. To show the character or to not show the character. Male or female…action scene or still…Such decisions. Some authors put more into the cover than they put into the writing and editing.
In the end, what most authors fail to remember is the purpose of the cover. The purpose of the cover is not to wrap your book in the finest of evening wear. It is to sell your book to the correct reader. Ayn Rand comes to mind.
Ayn Rand had just written her masterpiece: Atlas Shrugged. The cover her publisher envisioned was less than ideal. They had wanted to plaster a defrocked John Galt embracing the voluptuous Dagny Taggart much like Rhett Butler embracing his Scarlett. Actually…just like that.
Ayn was enraged and her words were perfect for the occasion.
“The people who would buy this book for that cover would hate it! And those who would love the book wouldn’t buy any book with a cover like that.”
Ayn Rand won her cover.
When I was 14, I got to buy my own copy of the first book I ever read. This was a big deal for me. The book was The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (1911). I had found this book in the school library when I was 12…13 years old. It was a hard copy edition. A basic black cover with Lon Chaney, Jr. dressed in one of his thousand faces. At the time, I had no idea the picture was of Lon Chaney in his silent portrayal of The Phantom of the Opera. I loved that book and managed to hang onto it for a year. I had dreams of buying it from the school library. When I finally could afford my own copy, I rushed to the book store convinced this wouldn’t be an issue. It was.
Instead of finding the cover I had clutched to for a year, I found three other choices. One was of Christine and Erik in the boat. The characters were washed out, drowned in the background of black and blue. Ugh! It was terrible. The second cover I had to choose from was the Broadway poster. I hated it. While the Broadway musical was stunning, it was not the same creature as the book.
The third choice I had was the grand staircase of the Paris Opera house. Gorgeous cover. My heart broke when I realized the edition of Lon Chaney was unavailable, but that Grand Staircase was just as magnificent in presentation. This is the book I settled on.
A picture speaks a thousands words…But when the book is 50, 70, or 100,000 words the picture and its thousand words doesn’t do the book justice. Maybe, just maybe having multiple covers for a single title isn’t such a bad idea after all.