My Disaster Cover #bookcovers

After writing the last post, Sandrine Lopez, (@sanpezzers) tweeted and asked if I’d ever had an experience of having to live with a bad cover and  would I do a post on it.

I have to confess, this cover is so bad, it has tainted how I feel about the story as a whole. The publisher, who I will not name, did not even send me a jpg of the cover before the ebook was out, so the first I saw of it was when I stumbled across it there, up on Amazon, in all its gory glory. A done deal. I sent them an email saying I was shocked, and got sucking silence.

I hope you know, I’m dying a little here, just in the humiliating act of uploading this.

What I’d ask you to do first, is read the story: which is here. Please read it now, because it’s likely to be off the site in about a month.

Now, you can see what happened. The ‘designer’ (whose job title I have put in quotes for reasons I will go into later) either read or was given a verbal synopsis that went like this: “this is a story about a girl who fucks a guy for money. Make a cover.”

It doesn’t embody the setting, the mood, the fact that the protagonist is not a prostitute, or that (puzzlingly) it isn’t an interracial couple. Not only doesn’t it address the theme of the story, which has a real undercurrent of D/s, with money as the instrument of power. It infers that she has the money and the power. Which is the antithesis of the theme. Also, the male in the story is a middle-aged, rather pudgy man, who never gets fully undressed. The one on the cover looks magnificently swarthy, and appears to either be clutching a massive cock, or a gun. I don’t know which one bothers me more.

For many reasons, this cover isn’t just bad, it’s flat out misleading advertising.

Now to the issue of the quotes I used around the word designer. See the icky white halo above her stocking. That’s just unforgivably bad cropping. I understand that designers on a budget have to composite images, but they should learn how to fucking do it properly.

Second, can you read the author name? Was it really necessary to put my name in scrolly script AND have it in a flaming gradient as well?

Don’t mistake this for post-modern challenging typography. This is just a very bad wannabe designer with photoshop filters and too much fucking time on their hands. It’s unforgivable.

Let me be honest, I don’t think that writers are the best designers of their own covers, even when they have the graphics skills to do it. The best cover designs require a little distance from the story – to be able to visualize the bigger picture, not the minutiae.  But if I had to sit down and design a cover for this, one of these would be far more appropriate.

I want to be clear. I’m not saying that any of these are brilliant covers. It took me an hour to source the images and artwork them and add typography to all of them. And I would spend significantly more time on any given book cover. What I’m saying is they would be clearer, more eye-catching and, above all, less misleading to the reader.

I don’t really believe there is a perfect book cover. Text is text and image is image, and by their very nature, one is never going to translate perfectly into the other. It’s why literature and the visual arts exist as separate art-forms. But I think that it is possible to make a cover that doesn’t do actual violence to the contents of a novel, invites the reader in bearing questions, and isn’t humiliating to have to post on your blog.

  13 comments for “My Disaster Cover #bookcovers

  1. July 28, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Nice covers, particularly the left and center ones.

    About text and image: it’s very difficult to make them work together. I’ve been trying for years, more as texture/part of the concept than a legible element of the work. However more and more artists are integrating them successfully, in more poetic ways than longform, i.e. http://camilleutterback.com/projects/written-forms/

    • July 28, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      Wow, wonderful link, Ebriel! Yeah, I do think one has to be realistic. A book cover is not a work of art, it’s a very important marketing device. It needs to serve and sell the book, not itself. At the same time, it’s got to approximate the tone of the book in order not to do violence to the contents of it. So yes, we want innovative, designerly covers. But ultimately, the cover is not art. It’s craft. It serves a master. And that master is the book.

  2. July 28, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    what you say about misleading advertising reminds me of the poster for the film “Man Bites Dog” which was of a gun being pointed at a baby, a scene which never happens in the film. My cousin complained about it to whatever authority it was and I felt very ambivalent about it. I felt if he hadn’t have become a father a year or so prior, he has a professional comedian would never have batted an eyelid let alone made a complaint. If the film company wanted to promote their film thus, what does it matter the scene never occurs? it certainly was in keeping with the tone of the film. And I guess that’s the key, creative control. How an image could have been produced without any sign off from you the author is baffling to my mind?

  3. Nikki Magennis
    July 28, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    That moth cover is absolutely stunning. I love it. And I think the doorbells work well, too.

  4. July 29, 2012 at 12:09 am

    As i said before, on the previous post, I think cover design is far more important than anyone will admit. And actually it was a discussion that got going at Eroticon 2012, so hopefully we MIGHT be able to see a little more change there.

    Also, I really love the cover on the left. Beautiful.

  5. July 29, 2012 at 1:36 am

    I have really enjoyed your last two posts. I often wonder what make a person look at a clearly terrible cover (like the glowing thigh high lady there) and think, “Oh, yeah. This is the one. *Totally.*”

    Ellora’s Cave, in particular, tickles me. They’ve made the terrible covers into an actual branding mechanism. You know when you’re looking at one. I assume cheese-ball porn covers actually work for sales, or they wouldn’t keep doing it, right? It’s like those old covers from the 80’s, where it was always “Studly Ye Olden Dude with a Windblower” or “Tasteful Pastel Flower with Feminine Ephemera.” They *had* to work, or there just wouldn’t be so many of them. I figure we’re in for a ton of “innocuous items that blend into a background” soon, thanks to Fifty Shades.

    • July 29, 2012 at 2:07 am

      Well, there is one thing I can guarantee, if FSOG had had a Cheese-ball porn cover, it would never have been reviewed in the New York Times Review of Books or the Guardian. So… I don’t think those covers worked. I think those covers helped to hijack a whole genre.

  6. Nan
    July 29, 2012 at 3:16 am

    The new covers you created make me imagine I will be reading something intelligent, something thoughtful, as well as erotic. I want that; not beefcake. Like I don’t think every mystery has to have a variant of “Dead” or “Murder” in the title.

    I have also noticed that I am very influenced by the font of the cover. I look for more modern, clean fonts, rather than ornate, old-fashioned ones, which I associate with Romance.

    but that’s just me.

    Nan

    • July 29, 2012 at 3:48 am

      Yes, I’m not a fan of ornate fonts myself. I want the words to speak, not the fonts. No gilding the lily.

  7. Nikki Magennis
    July 29, 2012 at 3:54 am

    One thought: I love crime fiction. I look for a certain code on the cover for precisely the sub-type I want to read: bleak, windswept landscape, dark colours, classic serif fonts. No human bodies (crime novels w bodies on the cover suggest it’s going to be gory and I don’t want that). I’m actually not interested in something new or different or thought provoking when I’m looking for that type of book.

    I don’t think it’s purely about an appealing aesthetic. For fans of a particular genre, there’s a quite recognisable visual code that one comes to know, and look for.

    Mind you, I find the standard cheesy smut-book cover absolutely cringe-making.

    • July 29, 2012 at 10:10 am

      But a bleak, windswept landscape with dark colours and classic serif fonts IS a very good representation of mood and theme. I don’t think there is anything wrong with conforming with a visual code, as long as that visual code is not so representational as to be painting out one of the scenes in the story in detail.

      I think sci-fi is a really excellent genre for looking at the best and worst of covers. Some are ridiculously cinematic. Like they’re taking a friggin’ set shot from the movie that isn’t yet made. Others are wonderfully evocative and pull you in, exciting you and inviting you to dream of other worlds before you even read the first page.

  8. July 29, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Hi RG – a little off topic but why are you taking ‘The Change’ down? I love that story!

    Feel your pain on the book covers. Something I haven’t experienced and hope I never will. To avoid this, Scarlett French actually bound a series of her own books in soft leather (as well as an erotic writer, she’s a book binder). There’s no image as such, but the beauty of the cover is in it’s soft texture and the fact that the author made the books with her own hands (rather erotic, I feel).

    Vina

    • July 29, 2012 at 5:13 pm

      Because I will republish it.

      I love the idea of a book bound it soft leather. Mmmm. the smell.

      Sadly, it’s a bit pricey.

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