The cover is perhaps the single most important aspect of selling your book. Its sole purpose is to catch the eye, the hook that will reel in a prospective reader. Check out the bestseller section at your local bookshop. All have one marketing factor in common: a cover design that is memorable.
In most cases the author has little or no input in how the title cover will look. That equates to merely being granted approval of the final proof. If unhappy with what is offered, the only option the author has is to produce alternative artwork, usually paying for it out of their own pocket. Ordinarily, an illustrator is given a brief of the story by the publisher and must turn that concise description into finished artwork. Often, especially with a first novel and through no fault of the commercial artist, the finished product is only a generalization of the written concept.
Imagine getting a blind person, someone who has not been able to see from birth, to paint a seascape. From what they’ve been told by other people, it is a flat blue plane. Therein begins the difficulty. Mother Ocean has many moods, ranging from a slowly churning, soul-stirring deep green to a moody gray flecked with whitecaps. How can the unsighted know about such nuances, let alone incorporate them into the picture?
How then can an illustrator be expected to accurately depict a scene from a book they’ve never read? Very few artists have the time or inclination to peruse the pages of their newest illustrating contract. They can be forgiven for only conveying by the brush a vague impression of the story. Generally an Elf or Dwarf follows a set formula of characteristics, so you can’t go too wrong there painting a portrait. However ,there is ample room for personal interpretation when the depiction of say a spaceship is called for, creating a mismatch between what’s portrayed on the cover and what’s described in the text.
At the very least the novelist should be allowed to exert a measure of influence during the design process, making it a collaborative effort between author and artist whose shared goal is to produce the most marketable cover while staying true to the writer’s vision . Isn’t the person ideally placed to decide what artwork best represents years of hard work slaving over a hot computer keyboard the actual writer?
What if the author designed the book cover? Problem solved entirely. Such is my case. When my publisher suggested that I illustrate my first book cover in order to expedite publication, I jumped at the chance. From then on I had her support to design subsequent covers. I figure that since I know my writing inside out, who better to showcase my work via the cover art than me?
Obviously, not every author can illustrate. I’m lucky enough to draw (pardon the pun!) from my experience as a published cartoonist. But every writer possesses enough imagination to visualize in words the tale they desire to tell. Therefore it’s just one short hop, skip, and a jump to brainstorm with an illustrator to turn the descriptive line from written into drawn.
And don’t neglect the cover title. Lettering is just as crucial. It has to gel with, not overpower, the cover art as well as harmonize with the tone of the book.
Oh, and a catchy title definitely sells books.