Jane Fancher has been involved in the publishing industry for a lot of years now, first as an assistant artist for WaRP Graphics, creators of the graphic novel Elfquest, then as the artist/author of a graphic novel adaptation of C.J. Cherryh’s Gate of Ivrel. In the late 80s, she shifted from art to writing and was soon the proud mama of the hard SF GroundTies series from Warner/Questar and the Dance of the Rings Series from DAW Books, Inc. She’s known for her complex, psychologically-driven plots and complex characters. She’s currently one third of Closed Circle Publications, a co-op composed of herself, Lynn Abbey, and C.J. Cherryh dedicated to bringing their backlist to ebooks and to publishing those new books too different for New York handle.
Covers. OMG. How’d I get so blessed!?! Seriously, though, thanks so much to the Night Bazaar for inviting me to be a guest, er, poster. My apologies in advance for any dropped stitches. I’ve been a little under the weather the last few weeks, so blame it on the fact that I have only one and a half functioning neurons, okay?
Back to covers. If there’s a more frustrating aspect of the publishing life, I certainly don’t know what it is. You spend months (in my case, cuz I’m, like, slow, years) perfecting your Great American Novel, you make your pitch, you sell your gem to an agent, then a publisher . . . and suddenly, you’ve lost all control over how that precious child is going to be represented to the world.
It’s in the hands of mysterious art departments and marketing experts . . . all of whom will probably never actually read your jewel, but will make decisions based on the analysis of said gem given to them by your editor, apply that analysis to the closest match on the current Best Seller Scale, slap the result on your baby, and throw it out on the shelves to see if anyone picks it up.
Is this a deliberate attempt to sabotage your career as the next Stephen King? Of course not. They want you to succeed because they want at the very least to make back what they spend on you, and, if the stars are in the right quadrant, even make money enough to warrant another contract where their job will be easier because there’s some name recognition. A handful of lucky books, the ones with a clear Best Seller Hook will get the full treatment of the marketing machine, but the vast majority are going to be tossed out according to the latest statistics.
That’s reality (read, modern marketing). All I can say is, be prepared. In this era of electronic publishing, however, the game is changed. As increasingly authors put up their own titles, they and they alone are choosing how that baby is represented. This is, at best, a double edged sword…aimed straight for your heart, because for most of us, marketing is a bit of a crap shoot, and in the end, if you make all those decisions, there’s no where to point your finger but at yourself.
What makes a good cover? If you find out…let me know, okay? We all have our own notions what makes a Bad Cover, but given the chance…can we really do any better?
I think it’s fair to say that no cover is going to receive universal acceptance. (For proof of this theory, check out this amusing site where readers comment on the “worst covers ever.” Not surprisingly, I love some of the covers they say are so horrible!) It’s even fair to say that with all the good will in the world, your cover still might do more to alienate the right readership than to attract it. The problem is, marketing is an artform and more often than not, the artists involved…I’m talking the marketing people here, not the illustrators…don’t really know the product they’re selling. They’re counting on selling a type, not a thing. As an author, we might know what the book is about, but not understand the underlying trends well enough to tap the appropriate well of readers.
I think it’s fair to say that every author with more than a couple of books published by the Big Guys in New York has their tale(s) of woe. Even those who seriously luck out on their first novel have their horror stories, if they keep going long enough.
For me, I’ve got an ongoing string of stories, and that’s with artists who (a) read the books (b) enjoyed the books and (c) really wanted to do right by the books. Barclay Shaw, who did all the covers on the GroundTies books, communicated with me right from the start. We discussed the kind of covers that might be good….and we ended up, with varying reasons, with a string of disasters.
First of all, I wanted it clear that we were dealing with hard SF. I wanted a computerchip background theme running through all three covers. For the first book, I wanted the foreground to be the Miakoda Moonrise…a double moonrise over an alien landscape that is a key moment in the book with one or more of the characters in the image. Barclay gave me a lovely computer chip…which the art department completely covered with type. A double moon, the smaller of which the art department completely obscured with my name, thus eliminating the “alien”. And a secondary female character beside a fire because statistics said female figures sell.
Add to that mix a female author (and yes, the prejudice against female authors writing SF was very strong in the early 90′s) and the result was…a cover that appeared to be a fantasy about a young female. Fantasy readers picked it up, encountered computers and Admiral Cantrell as the only female mentioned in the back cover copy…and immediately put it down, thinking by that time they were getting one of the multitudinous “teenagers take over the starship” scenarios running rampant at the time.
When I needed to do a cover for my ebook reissue, I gave up on the whole moonrise concept, in part to make the cover very different from the original one, but also because I really wanted to depict Stephen’s struggle between his Spacer and Reconstructionist sides, which is the whole idea behind the title. I don’t know that the result would draw more people to buy the book, but I think a more appropriate reader would be inclined to pick it up. (Click on the image to go a little slideshow of the creation of the cover. If the captions don’t show, wiggle your cursor around the screen.)
For the second book, UpLink, I really wanted to emphasize the Native American connection, which is key to the story. I wanted a computer Kachina doll involved somewhere. I just thought it was an intriguing way to symbolize some important elements of the story. I think it was Barclay who came up with the Tony Hillerman style small image band with type above and below backing up the Kachina. I loved the basic sketch and Barclay deliberately did two others he thought would never be chosen. He loved it. I loved it. The art director loved it…this time it was (as I understand it) the Committee at the head of Warner who decided it would be mistaken for a Tony Hillerman novel and went with the cover with the melting face and sixties color scheme.
Ah, well. Me…I think Tony Hillerman and his readers might very well like the book…but what do I know? So…given the opportunity, I jumped at the chance to finally do my cover.
The third cover was based on a sketch I’d done of the two main characters, and represents a key element of the story that involves the touch of one being the anchor to Real Space for the other. Barclay, knowing the market at the time, didn’t dare put them in such an intimate juxtaposition (Warner was avoiding all indication of the same sex relationship involved in the story). He also planned the color scheme, background to foreground for the metallic/embossed title they’d promised him…then failed to use. Instead, they used a midtone gold that made the entire image flatten. Add to that the fact that they got the title wrong…a very specific title set up in the very first book…and when I got my hands on a cover flat to flash about at World Con…I just about had a heart attack. My editor had been fired…there was no one at the helm of the Questar line…and my book was about to come out with the wrong title.
OMG. I actually got hold of someone…I can’t really remember who, and really made a point of the title…then had the temerity to suggest that, since they weren’t going to do the metallic ink, if they adjust the color balance this way and that, it might make the characters pop a bit more.
Believe it or not, they did reprint, with the corrected title, and did change the color balance! But when the time came to do my own version, I reverted back to my original sketch. No real reason other than I still think it does justice to the fundamental heart of the story.
Just when you think you’re getting the knack…you can still blow it. When the time came to do a cover for my urban fantasy, I thought I had this whole marketing thing nailed. In Cat, I had possibly one of the most unusual vampires ever. And black cats sell, right? So…I’ve got a blood colored, dripping moon, I’ve got my beautiful Mt Rainier in sunset colors to link to the Pacific Northwest locale, and I’ve got my luscious black kitteh based on my darling Efanor.
I still think it’s a cool cover, however…an astute reader pointed out to me that anyone who hasn’t read it really can’t appreciate the significance of Cat and people who might otherwise really like the book wouldn’t pick it up because of the rather obvious marketing strategy. That perhaps it was better for the next book in the series, rather than the first.
And…I thought back to that first Warner cover and its accurate, though misleading female figure and covered computer chip….and realized I’d repeated history. Fortunately, we’re dealing ebooks and (eventually) print on demand. Changing a cover is actually fairly easy. Using the same basic design concept, I did some portraits of my three GLGs (Good Looking Guys), did some creative rearranging of elements…and thanks to working in layers on a computer…viola! A new cover a bit more in tune with the extant market while still in keeping with my kind of book.
Will these decisions work for or against my sales? Hell if I know. I do know that I’ve discovered the downest downside of self-publishing. There’s no one else to blame. If the covers sucks…it’s all on me.
In which case…I’ll try another cover! Aren’t ebooks fun?
(For more cover slideshows, visit this section of Jane’s website.)