By Kayelle Allen, cover designer for Anaiah Press and owner of The Author’s Secret
You’ve just gotten an email telling you your book’s cover is ready. You’ve waited for this for months. You’ve labored over the book, the words, the editing, the interviews, bio, promotions, and now it’s come down to this. The cover you hope will grab your readers, represent your characters, and sell your story. You open the email, one eye closed, hoping it’s everything you dreamed it could be…
That anticipation is something cover designers feel as well. We’ve read the blurbs, the cover requests, the author bio, the publisher requirements, and we’ve paged through the stock art we’re allowed to use. The final image you are about to open is the culmination of what we hope will be a cover you can be proud of, and that will garner you sales. We want you to show it to everyone. If you gush over how perfect it is, we’ll be ecstatic. There’s nothing like the feeling of capturing someone’s dream with your art.
But what happens when you open that email, see the cover, and your heart sinks? The cover has a hero with the wrong color hair, or the heroine looks like Miss Merry Sunshine when you wrote her to be Ms Knock-em-dead Vamp. The historical background is not even from the right era. The science fiction attributes look like a reject from a space war, and not the utopia you envisioned. What then?
The best prevention for these kinds of disasters is good data up front. When you get your cover design form, that little piece of paper that asks for insight to your dreams and desires for your cover, be as precise as possible. Don’t describe clothing generically if you need a specific type of garment. For example:
T-shirt — when you mean an A-line shirt (aka “wife beater” – a term I dislike but is apt)
Old fashioned dress — when you mean it must have a bustle, lace ups, or flounces
Historical — when you mean Regency, ancient Greek, or America 1920s
Blond — when you mean platinum, or pale brown, or strawberry blond
This is also the time to give us the specifics of your hero/heroine’s appearance.
“She’s the girl next door” in some neighborhoods means entirely different things. Do you mean she has a habitual smile, is rosy-cheeked, and has a sweet disposition? Or do you mean there is nothing remarkable about her appearance? When you say your hero has “Latino good looks” do you mean he has dark skin and hair? Is the hair length important? In your story, does the heroine fall for his long dark hair? If so, the cover designer needs to know not to pick a guy with a crew cut for the cover.
Telling the designer as much as possible is better than being so brief we are left guessing. It costs money to buy images for the cover, and purchasing new images can double the cost of the project. It’s better to have all the information up front so the designer can make the right choice the first time. In addition, the publisher might not allow do-overs unless there is a solid reason for it.
But what if you’ve been as specific as possible and the cover simply will not work for the story? Here are some things to do.
Breathe. Step back from the computer. Walk away. Wait a few hours. Immediate reactions are driven by emotion, and this is part of your writing business. It needs to have rational reactions. You get that by getting some distance.
Remember that your designer has dreams as well. As a cover designer, I love hearing that I captured your story perfectly. I’m not out to ruin your book. I want to help you succeed. When you do react, keep that in mind. We can work together, so allow me to be your partner, rather than an adversary.
You’ve gotten some space to think. You know I’m trying to help you. Now, write down the specific things you like, as well as the specifics you don’t like.
Look at those two lists. Which outweighs the other? Let’s say the hero is wearing something that absolutely won’t fit with the story (example, his arms are heavily tattooed and the designer put him in a sleeveless shirt that shows off unmarked arms). That’s a deal breaker. You need to mention it. You don’t think he would wear jeans quite that color of blue is not. On the other hand, your hero is a clothing designer who wears nothing but the finest silk suits, and your cover has him in ratty jeans… that’s worth mentioning.