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Judging a book

One of the best panels I went to at the recent World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs was on "How a book gets its cover." The panel was made up of both editorial/art directors and artists. The audience included a lot of writers, some published, some not, a few artists, and many fans, most of whom wanted to know why a particular book got the cover it did. It seems nothing annoys a fan more than if a book cover has something on it that's not in the book, or that contradicts what's in the book. The panel went over the process of how the art director (at a smaller house that person might also be the editorial director) decides what kind of cover the book should have. Interestingly, the art directors said they generally think more in terms of who should do the cover, not what should be on the cover. They didn't like to dictate the creative process. They tried to give the artist information without giving orders. Both artists said they liked to read the book, when it was available, but for popular authors, a book is often sold based on a very brief synopsis and the cover is commissioned while the book is being written.

A particularly telling comment from one of the editor/art directors was that buyers for chains have enormous power. If they hate a cover, the publisher will sometimes re-do it, because if they don't want to buy a book with that cover then that book has little chance of selling well. This includes not only Borders and Barnes and Noble buyers but big box stores like Walmart.

But more specifically, the reason I started this post, was that Lou Anders of Pyr commented on the book Infoquake by David Louis Edelman. He called Edelman a genius, and said that because Pyr thought the book could appeal to mainstream audiences, they put a mainstream sort of cover on it; it's not obvious the sphere is a planet(Correction from the author: DLE says the sphere is in fact, a building). However, when it hit the stores, the book was shelved in science fiction. Anders' contention was that the science fiction audience was less than impressed with the rather abstract cover. Thus, the next book in the series has a much more science fictional cover with a futuristic cityscape.

And yet, a recent item on GalleyCat waxes enthusiastic on some Gollancz (UK) covers that don't look typically spec fic—even more abstract than Infoquake, in fact. Hmm. Maybe they should have called Lou Anders first?


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( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 29th, 2007 01:58 pm (UTC)
You quote Lou as saying that the SF audience was less than impressed. Did he learn that they were underwhelmed via sales? Or was it through reader feedback alone? Because I would have thought that the noncommittal cover would have brought in mainstream thriller readers, while SF readers would have found the book anyway. Did he happen to share whether the change made because of statistics or a gut feeling?
Nov. 29th, 2007 02:01 pm (UTC)
He wasn't explicit, but I took it to mean they expected, based on reviews, that the book would sell much better and when it didn't, they blamed it on the cover. I might be off base, though. No one thought to ask him.
Nov. 29th, 2007 03:16 pm (UTC)
As the author of Infoquake, my understanding is that some of the major chain book buyers specifically stated that they didn't care for the cover, and therefore didn't get behind the book as much as they could have. I don't recall anyone in the SF audience saying much about the cover one way or another. (Btw, that's not a planet on the cover; if you look closely, you can see that the whole cover is a curved photo of a glass high-rise building set against a blue sky.)

I should also point out that Solaris Books is putting a new cover on Infoquake in its mass-market paperback release next summer, one that matches the cover of the sequel, MultiReal. You can see the new cover on my blog.

Oh, and it's also worth mentioning that the chain book buyers who've seen the new covers with the Stephan Martiniere paintings think they rock. Which they do. :-)
Nov. 29th, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC)
Well, thanks for commenting! I feel so special to be getting comments from a genius. I must not be one because I totally didn't get the sphere was a building. On the other hand, I think the new cover is great.

The best of luck with the mass market and with the new book.
Nov. 29th, 2007 03:22 pm (UTC)
It should be pointed out that I was in the room when Lou called me a genius... :-)
Nov. 29th, 2007 03:25 pm (UTC)
Hey, no one argued! Go with it. Did you check out the Gollancz covers? Any advice for those authors?
Nov. 29th, 2007 03:32 pm (UTC)
Well, those new covers are on books by Alastair Reynolds, Dan Simmons, Greg Bear, and Greg Egan. I'd say they've got a wee bit of an advantage on me in terms of name recognition. When you're a new author like me, it's much harder to buck against the trend.
Nov. 29th, 2007 03:37 pm (UTC)
A reasonable point, but one that I'm sure will lessen with time. Thanks for dropping by!
Nov. 29th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)
David's assessment is exactly right. We are very happy with the designer we worked with on the original cover, who gave us exactly what we asked for and was very patient with us getting there, but the buyer thought the first cover was bland and the Stephan Martiniere illustrations on book two and the mass market of book one "exactly right." But I do believe, based on many conversations with readers, that without a dedicated campaign of promotional placement to get the book out of the SF&F section, the less SFnal covers do stand against you.

That being said, I have a great deal of respect for everyone at Gollancz and take their opinions very seriously. The US and UK markets are very different in many ways, in size and in tone. Also, the covers you are referring to are part of a campaign to package an entire run of books in a similar way and present them together. I suspect they'll be very effective and will support each other. This is a different animal than making book-by-book decisions. If I decided to release a short run of classics all at once, I might do something similar. (Particularly if we were doing boxed sets.)

Finally, should be said we are very happy with the reception Infoquake has gotten, including the Campbell Memorial Award nomination and all the accolades. The book did sell and continues to do so, and we expect only good things when the mass-market and the sequel are published simultaneously next summer. Dave is also an online powerhouse, but he shouldn't let the genius thing go to his head.
Nov. 29th, 2007 03:52 pm (UTC)
Anonymous thy name is Pyr? Or possibly Anders. If so, thanks for a really good panel.
Nov. 29th, 2007 06:46 pm (UTC)
My apologies. I always forget to sign on an LJ, since I'm used to blogger dropping my name in. And very glad you enjoyed the panel. I did too! And I was glad to have Irene on it where she belongs, rather than in the audience nodding sagely. - Lou Anders
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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