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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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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

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