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Cover Art Compromise

July 13, 2012 by in category Blogs tagged as , , with 7 and 0
Home > Writing > Blogs > Cover Art Compromise

I’ve been having issues lately with some of the authors I’m doing covers for. The publisher’s new cover art form doesn’t really tell me what the characters look like. What the publisher is striving for is a new level of communication between the artist and the author. Thus far, I’m not sure if this way of doing things is working or not. I’m at the 50% mark. Half of the covers I’ve worked on have been simple because of this change in the process. The other half have been far more difficult.

Usually, for cover artists that actually do communicate with the author (remember that some houses do not allow this and some houses do not allow the author to have any input on the cover at all either) you can discover pretty quickly who is a diva with an entitled attitude and who isn’t. I’m not sure why, but I am still shocked when a brand new author exhibits this kind of attitude. I was pretty humble when I got my first contract. I was grateful for the things the publisher and cover artist could teach me about the process. I was grateful to have input at all.

When a brand new author comes at me with an aggressive attitude, requesting (okay demanding) to have her vision of the cover and to hell with what’s possible and what’s not possible…well, I tend not to give that person my best work because I’ve shifted into auto-pilot. I put together a cover that gives the author what they want without any creative input from me. The result can be a cover I wish I didn’t have my name on even if the author loves it. I know from experience though that trying to put my artistic stamp on a cover when an author isn’t willing to listen is a waste of time. I always want to tell them, “Look, there’s a reason you’re the author and I’m the artist. Believe me, your vision of this cover isn’t an attractive one!” Of course, I bite my tongue because that’s not professional. And, of course, like anyone who is frustrated I can have those moments where I think that maybe karma will win out and people won’t be attracted to the ugly cover the author likes so much, thereby losing them sales. Yes, I have my mean moments too. Born of frustration usually. Doesn’t mean I act on those moments and it doesn’t mean I continue to feel that way past the silent mental expression of it inside my own head. Luckily, this isn’t the norm.

This week I had a brand new author who had the best attitude ever. The cover I made was for her very first book. She had filled out one of the old cover art forms (not one of the new ones that make me have to grill the author about their characters before I can even start) and described a place in the book and the couple. She did a nice job with her descriptions and I came up with what I thought was a beautiful cover. She thought so too. She loved it. And many of you know how good it felt when the cover of your first book turned out to be gorgeous. It lifted you up, didn’t it? Made you feel even better about that first contract…

I ended up having a conversation with this author after everything was finalized. She thought looking for images must be hard work. I told her,it’s not looking for images that’s hard. It’s pleasing authors who have a vision in their head that they aren’t willing to bend on and who have no clue that what they are asking for is impossible. I told her, “And the things they think you should be able to do with a photograph in order to make it what they want…sheesh. Change the hair, change the eye color, put more clothes, less clothes, can he have his arm around her, make her expression not so soft, he needs to look at her more, needs thinner lips, more muscles, less hair, blah blah blah… Some stuff is possible, other things just are not and they don’t get it when you tell them that.”

It’s not always easy to be a cover artist, that’s for sure! And my author side had to remember this when filling out my own cover art form for Loose Id this week. I took my time with the form because this book is special to me and I wanted the artist to have a sense of that. It would kill me to have a cover that didn’t show the reader just how special Scrambling is. So I filled out my form very carefully in the hope that the art director and artist can see what this cover needs to be and what will make me happy as a new author with this house.

So just remember in the future with whatever publisher or artist you have to work with, be specific in the sense that you need them to know what your character looks like not just physically but emotionally. Be willing to bend on some of those specifics that you know are so unique to your character that a stock image probably won’t have it. And be willing to give the artist in words on your art form enough information to give the reader a sense of your book and your main characters. You want the cover to entice a reader to buy it so keep that in the back of your head when you fill out an art form. As long as you’re not a diva, you’ll be just fine and artists will be happy to work with you and will strive to give you their best work.

Lex Valentine
Winterheart Design
2011 EPIC Ariana Award Winning Cover Artist


  • Anonymous
    on July 14, 2012

    I have clarified a few of my points here about authors who are difficult to work with so you may wish to re-read that paragraph to glean a better understanding of where I'm coming from and why. I also want to say that I haven't had any really difficult authors at any of the houses I work for. Most publishers are pretty careful about ensuring authors don't treat artists with any sort of attitude and vice versa. However, that's not to say that I haven't had authors ask me about doing covers (inquiries that never told me who might be publishing the book)where they've displayed an unreasonable and/or uneducated attitude about the cover art process. Part of the reason I'm coming clean here is to debunk the process. There's a limit to what any artist can do. An artist that works in watercolors probably can't give you a cartoon type cover and an artist that works with photo manipulation probably couldn't give you a hand drawn cartoon either.

    I'm not naming publishers or names here because, honestly, they aren't important and I'm not here to point fingers at anyone. I'm just trying to be forthright about the process from the artist side of the fence in an effort to give authors and aspiring authors a look at what we have to go through when we create a cover. Usually the process is a labor of love. I love bringing someone's book to life on a cover. Yes, sometimes it is a chore and I'm not happy with the result. However, it's not MY cover and if it is what the author wants, what the author is happy with, then I've done my job regardless of how much of my creativeness was required to produce it.

    So if you're thinking that my little rant about karma and bad covers is something that occurs on a regular basis, it's not. I'm not going to say it's never happened but it's not the norm. If it was, I probably wouldn't do this at all. Usually, publishers have rules that keep it from happening and on the freelance front, I've learned to give clients parameters and limits in order to protect myself and them. Regardless of how I am treated during the process I strive to be professional and provide what the author requests within reason and the limitations of the images I can find to work with.

    This post was in no way a complaint against any particular author or publisher's art process. So if anyone out there felt that it was I can unequivocally tell you that IT WAS NOT. On the flipside, many thanks to Alix Richards for being the first time author who was incredibly open minded and wonderful to work with on her first cover. I wish her many, many sales.

  • Anonymous
    on July 14, 2012

    Many thanks for all the positive comments! I try hard to ensure that the authors I work with have a cover they are happy with whether it's personally pleasing to me or not. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

  • Anonymous
    on July 13, 2012

    What a great blog, Lex. I was so happy with my latest cover when the artist was able to find a sexy wedding dress! It's good that you can see it from all sides.

  • Anonymous
    on July 13, 2012

    Lex – as the lucky recipient of one of your covers, I have to say thank you so much! I've received a lot of positive compliments about the cover of my book and I always tell them the credit goes to you! One of the things I love the most about it, is it looks great in color and black & white. Kudos :o)

  • Anonymous
    on July 13, 2012

    Great blog, Lex. It really gives a different perspective. I truly am just a writer, I'll leave the cover art to those who have the eye for it. 🙂

  • Anonymous
    on July 13, 2012

    I'm lucky in that my husband is a graphic designer and we were married when he went through art school. I learned a lot along the way. So when we found a picture that represented the emotion of my story, even though the girl looked a little young and her hair wasn't quite right, I grabbed it! Then I went into the only line in my book that specifically talked about her hair and tweaked it. LOL! I love my cover!

    You do nice work, Lex! Glad you enjoy helping others in this way. 🙂

  • Anonymous
    on July 13, 2012

    Lex, timely blog! I've been happy so far with my covers through Black Opal. When I commented on fonts for the second cover the artist was a bit surprised…I gues not a lot of authors recognize and can name fonts!
    There are some publishers with hands down the WORST covers imaginable!

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