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Thread: How are book covers determined?

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    How are book covers determined?

    Say someone writes a book and a publisher is going to publish it, how does the front cover come about? Does the author make notes to the artist, and publisher about what they want? Does the artist who makes the cover read the book, and talk with the author and publisher about what the cover should be?
    I suppose the author often has some strong ideas about what the cover should be, sometimes not. Sometimes I guess the author designs his/her own cover, or has it designed for them, perhaps by someone they know.
    Formerly Frog march..............

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    Quote Originally Posted by Frog march View Post
    Say someone writes a book and a publisher is going to publish it, how does the front cover come about? Does the author make notes to the artist, and publisher about what they want? Does the artist who makes the cover read the book, and talk with the author and publisher about what the cover should be?
    I suppose the author often has some strong ideas about what the cover should be, sometimes not. Sometimes I guess the author designs his/her own cover, or has it designed for them, perhaps by someone they know.
    I doubt it's very common for the designer to read the book. My impression is that typically what happens is that the editor (from the publisher) contacts the designer and makes suggestions. The author would normally be consulted. Of course, there are times when a series of books has a set design, so that the author has no input.
    As above, so below

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    Authors often have zero input on the title or cover of their book. At least, not at first. It would like go from author to agent to editor to publishing editor to artist to marketing to photo editor and back around again. The whole affair is more 'gnarly bush like flow' than 'chain of command'. Especially now a days with small houses having people with two or more hats. There is a slight chance that the author has total veto power, meaning that can actually kill the whole deal to stop a certain artwork from appearing. It is difficult or painful to invoke and most of the time the book (or author) would be untouchable or undesirable after that.

    Nixing a cover is more the purview of anyone other than the author, because it is their cash and time on the line. This might happen a lot. The poor artist might not get paid or maybe they score money for two works because the house thinks they have a book for the unused cover. Usually, artists don't want this kind of "win" because it will make you rethink your life.

    With the state of things today, if authors are self publishers or using a print on demand service, they have 100% of control. However, many actually give up this control to someone else who hasn't or won't read the book. They get a synopsis and work from that, which is another layer between the author and artist. Other times the author or agent see's artwork that fits the theme of the book and commissions an artist to do something in the same fashion. The artist has been selected for their style which meshes with the style of the author and there may be zero connection to the story other than number of people, vague descriptions, etc.

    Apparently one of the worst things to do is to let an author see the presses at work. Its either a complete waste of time or an opportunity for a driven, detail orientated professional to lose their mind over how another driven, detail orientated professional does his or her work. That never ends well.
    Last edited by Solfe; 2017-Apr-07 at 02:51 AM.
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    It depends what the publishing contract says. If the author has enough clout they can put control of the cover in the contract, if they don't (or don't care) they can't. If Staiduk starts printing hard copies using a publisher he'll likely have no say whereas Stephen King can dictate any terms he likes.

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    Dave Hutchinson, writing about his Fractured Europe sequence of novels, said that he'd always been "really lucky" with his covers, which suggests how much control he has had, and that with a small publishing house. There are actually two people involved in producing a cover - the cover artist and the cover designer. The cover art will often stay the same while the cover design changes from edition to edition - sometimes a new edition will carry a quote from a recent review, or switch from gold to coloured ink, or lose some embossing; occasionally the layout changes quite radically, for reasons I've never been able to piece together.
    My experience with a (very) small publishing house was that the editor asked me what I'd thought about the cover, I suggested a rather obscure joke (a parody on a not-particularly famous painting), and then I never heard any more about it until the day my complimentary copies arrived, when I found that they'd gone with my suggestion.

    Grant Hutchison

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    A friend of mine suggested a particular photo for the cover of his book and was surprised that the cover designer saw fit to add a curly, white, 13 amp power cable to a photo of a 1920s electric chair.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Heid the Ba' View Post
    A friend of mine suggested a particular photo for the cover of his book and was surprised that the cover designer saw fit to add a curly, white, 13 amp power cable to a photo of a 1920s electric chair.
    I'm not - it changes a somber image into an alarming one; the eye is drawn toward the cable, a disturbingly familiar object we know the purpose of: to deliver electricity. It's not authentic and not historical but visually powerful. BTW - thanks for putting it up, I want to read this book. Had I seen it in the bookstore, I might well have picked it up for a closer look because that white cable caught my eye.

    Regarding book covers, it's an interesting field. I can't speak much to the art or business of the decision - that's been brilliantly discussed above - but I can talk about another factor in choosing a cover: cost.
    People may not realize how expensive offset printing is; it's a major factor in the choice of book titles. I'll give a couple of examples and make some estimates of what the publisher paid:
    1)


    This is a great place to start, because it's just about the cheapest cover you can imagine - cheap in terms of cost; not quality and that's an important consideration. It uses one plate and one primary colour; properly called a 'process colour' - black. It's a very light screen so very little ink will be used. I'm not sure of the printing format but if it was printed in web (covers usually are) this would be a 4-up (4 copies per impression) print: relatively slow to produce so quality can be maintained. Depending on the paper used, the publisher won't be paying very much - perhaps 10 to 30 cents - per copy. (Something like an Orion Hi-gloss would add cost, but not much, and by comparison that's more than the rest of the entire text. Text is stupid cheap; image isn't.)

    2)

    This is one of my all-time beloved memories; a ripping good pair of stories from my childhood. From a printing standpoint, an interesting contrast to the first. Question: How many colours are being used? Answer: 4 - the four primary colours; black, cyan, magenta, yellow. Another web print and this one is easy to determine: a 12- or 16-up speed run. Since I had the book I can positively identify the paper as well - uncoated 45-pound. Compared to the first book this one would have been a few cents more but not 4 times more; high-speed mass-production is your friend. In this case, the long run would reduce costs enough that it would be cheaper than the first; I'd guess about 3-5 cents per copy.

    Want to see an expensive cover? Check this one out:

    3)

    This incredible cover blows me away every single time. On every possible level - the artwork is wonderful; I can look at Sass's sly smile all day. But the printing - OMG!!!
    That is not process black; that is Pantone black - at least ten times as expensive as pro. Both the blue in the authors' names and Sass's battle-suit is a special ('spot') colour; looks like PMS300 or close; the red in the title is special as well - looks like 485 with a cover screen. This is a six-colour job; and every single special colour is more expensive than all the pros combined. It isn't obvious from the image but the cover is also embossed - expensive - and contains holographic film...seriously expensive. It can't be run fast or wide; this is quality print run on 60-pound Hi-Gloss - and knowing pantone black as I do this sucker would be a serious challenge to get right. Slow, difficult, careful...expensive.
    Baen could get away with this because Anne McCaffrey's name sells books - big time. She's worth the cost and difficulty of such a cover. I'm just guessing of course, but it's an educated guess...I'm willing to bet this cover is anywhere between $3 and $5 per copy...at least; it depends on the length of each individual print run.

    LOL - I'm probably boring everyone; I'll shut up now - this is terribly fascinating to me but then, it's my trade; it's what I do for a living.
    Cheers!
    Last edited by NorthernDevo; 2017-Apr-07 at 06:24 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by NorthernDevo View Post
    I'm not - it changes a somber image into an alarming one; the eye is drawn toward the cable, a disturbingly familiar object we know the purpose of: to deliver electricity. It's not authentic and not historical but visually powerful.
    I agree.

    The cable is obviously a caricature. Its presence turns the image into a very tiny, wry story.

    This is good evidence that, while the author is good at writing books, the publisher is better at selling books (in this case, by catching the eye of the reader).

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    That is interesting, to me the image just grates, but I have no artistic talent whatsoever. I had forgotten you were a printer and I find it fascinating, perhaps not as fascinating as you, but fascinating nontheless . The cover may have been cheaply done as it was a very low print run, not quite academic levels but not far off.

    That is two for the cover, two against . . .

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    Quote Originally Posted by NorthernDevo View Post
    This incredible cover blows me away every single time. On every possible level - the artwork is wonderful; I can look at Sass's sly smile all day. But the printing - OMG!!!
    It's interesting that you like it so much. I think I've never seen a Baen cover that didn't turn me off, and that one (though an improvement on much of their cluttered artwork) is no exception. I'd muffle a Yikes! and stick it straight back on the bookshop shelves.
    I've always felt I buy Baen books despite their artwork, rather than because of it.

    But there's a whole SF cover aesthetic that seems not to work for me. I had that illustrated a few years ago on this forum, when I posted some cover examples from a series of Paul Preuss novels that had separate Tor and Avon editions - my thesis was basically, "What on earth possessed Avon to produce such horrible, cluttered, garish and frankly sexist covers!" And it turned out everyone but me preferred the Avon covers to the Tor covers. Sigh.
    Tor:
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    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by Heid the Ba' View Post
    That is interesting, to me the image just grates, but I have no artistic talent whatsoever. I had forgotten you were a printer and I find it fascinating, perhaps not as fascinating as you, but fascinating nontheless . The cover may have been cheaply done as it was a very low print run, not quite academic levels but not far off.

    That is two for the cover, two against . . .
    Make it three against. Whoever put the cable in obviously thought it was a good idea, or they wouldn't have made it so white, but to me it's glaringly out of place and very slightly insulting to the viewer. I can figure out the implication of the picture on my own, guys - why didn't you just go the whole hog and have some sparks flying out of the chair, too?

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    I agree.

    The cable is obviously a caricature. Its presence turns the image into a very tiny, wry story.

    This is good evidence that, while the author is good at writing books, the publisher is better at selling books (in this case, by catching the eye of the reader).
    Given how many they have shifted that might be in dispute.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    It's interesting that you like it so much. I think I've never seen a Baen cover that didn't turn me off, and that one (though an improvement on much of their cluttered artwork) is no exception. I'd muffle a Yikes! and stick it straight back on the bookshop shelves.
    I've always felt I buy Baen books despite their artwork, rather than because of it.

    But there's a whole SF cover aesthetic that seems not to work for me. I had that illustrated a few years ago on this forum, when I posted some cover examples from a series of Paul Preuss novels that had separate Tor and Avon editions - my thesis was basically, "What on earth possessed Avon to produce such horrible, cluttered, garish and frankly sexist covers!" And it turned out everyone but me preferred the Avon covers to the Tor covers. Sigh.
    Tor:
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    Grant Hutchison
    Chuckle - I understand where you're coming from, the Tor covers are artistically pleasing. As to why the Avon ones are more popular, I can't respond much right now, I'm at work but Playboy sold a lot more copies than Omni ever did.
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    Quote Originally Posted by NorthernDevo View Post
    Chuckle - I understand where you're coming from, the Tor covers are artistically pleasing. As to why the Avon ones are more popular, I can't respond much right now, I'm at work but Playboy sold a lot more copies than Omni ever did.
    It's not just the cover art (which I'd be embarrassed to be seen with in a public place) it's the horrible ugly typefaces, too.

    Grant Hutchison

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    I agree about the white cable, it does make the cover more approachable. The cable isn't to supply electricity to the chair, it is to connect the person in the book store to the subject of the book.
    Formerly Frog march..............

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    Uh-huh - please forgive me, it's been a very long, hard day and I really don't want to get into this argument right now; all I want to do is bathe and sleep. But Grant and Heid - well; I understand your opinions, I've been putting up with them for 24 years... Damn; I apologize, I can't stay awake. I'll chat with you on Saturday when the air is warm and the eggs are fresh-cracked.
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    That cable also balances the image. Otherwise there'd be an "empty" area that throws it all off, or would need a very different layout for the text.

    I suspect they were also worried that some people may not make a quick enough connection to that being an electric chair. They would want someone to glance, quickly see "electric chair", and investigate further if that caught their attention. (People who read reviews (or other) and were already looking for the book are a different market).

    That it stands out, at least means they were not trying to fool anyone with an image trying to look original but which wasn't.

    I don't mind that cover.
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    Quote Originally Posted by NorthernDevo View Post
    But Grant and Heid - well; I understand your opinions, I've been putting up with them for 24 years...
    By "putting up with" I'm sure you mean "taking into account", since we're part of the group of people who might buy the things you make. Or might not, depending on whether we're judging books by their covers that day.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    By "putting up with" I'm sure you mean "taking into account", since we're part of the group of people who might buy the things you make. Or might not, depending on whether we're judging books by their covers that day.

    Grant Hutchison
    I think he meant putting up with the covers.
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    By "putting up with" I'm sure you mean "taking into account", since we're part of the group of people who might buy the things you make. Or might not, depending on whether we're judging books by their covers that day.

    Grant Hutchison
    My sister designs book covers, clearly you can't please everybody. It's a success if you please a sample! Looking around it seems an established author is prominent, but how does that appeal to all those who have not read that author? I like SF but I am one of the ones put off by a lot of the covers. In the old days in the design sector we had a technique using brief flashes of light to judge artwork and typefaces, you have a small group and find out what impression they had from a very brief flash. If they got the right word and the right "feel" you knew you were on the right track. Bad typefaces could give completely wrong ideas.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    I think he meant putting up with the covers.
    No need to worry about "arguments" and offer apologies, then.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    Bad typefaces could give completely wrong ideas.
    Oh, yes indeed. SF and fantasy publishing has a long history of truly appalling typefaces.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Put me in the "against the cord" camp. I'd also interject the story that the original cover artist for the Discworld books must've read at least some of them. A character is described in the book as four-eyed and appears on the cover with four literal eyes. Instead of, you know, glasses.
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    Quote Originally Posted by NorthernDevo View Post

    Want to see an expensive cover? Check this one out:

    3)
    I mistakenly left that book in the seat pocket of an airplane years ago. I should see if I can download it.

    I actually took the cover photo for a textbook written by my cousin years ago. The publishers cropped it in a way that destroyed the point it was making.
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    By "putting up with" I'm sure you mean "taking into account", since we're part of the group of people who might buy the things you make. Or might not, depending on whether we're judging books by their covers that day.

    Grant Hutchison
    Oh heck; I'm sorry, I didn't mean it that way. That was my fault entirely; a bad choice of words.
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    Another thing that authors don't get much control over is the cover quote(s) the publisher uses, although you can draw the publisher's attention to favourable reviews they might have missed.
    Some publishers make quite strange choices, in my opinion, and I was vaguely tempted to play the game to an extreme when I self-published. I was tempted to go with "This is a book ...", which I could have lifted from a real favourable review. Although people familiar with the kind of stories in the book would find that amusing, I eventually decided I shouldn't be turning off potential new readers by having a bit of a laugh myself.

    I'm reading a novel at the moment that has a one word quote on the cover: "Harrowing." Presumably the publisher has some research to suggest that many readers want be harrowed, but it was something of a severe turn-off for me, and I wouldn't have bought it if I seen the cover in a bookshop. Frankly, I've been harrowed enough by real life, and I don't want any more from my holiday reading.
    But of course it's not remotely harrowing because it's, you know, just made up.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I'm reading a novel at the moment that has a one word quote on the cover: "Harrowing." Presumably the publisher has some research to suggest that many readers want be harrowed, but it was something of a severe turn-off for me, and I wouldn't have bought it if I seen the cover in a bookshop. Frankly, I've been harrowed enough by real life, and I don't want any more from my holiday reading.
    Eh, that's not so bad. Years ago I was interested in learning about bullwhips, so I did a bit of googling around and stumbled upon a book about . . . people who like to be flagellated by bullwhips. There was a woman on the cover with long red welts on her body.

    Worst book cover ever?

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    Old discussion on illustrations here https://forum.cosmoquest.org/showthr...strator-artist my guess is that after a while in the industry of scifi writing and fictional fantasy novels the writers/publishers become very familiar with an artists style and works...I will try desribe some guys quick, this is a real simplification to describe some of these great artists, they have been doing it years before the days of computer and CGI but I will try to summarize them quick.

    A guy like the late Frank Frazetta perfect for the human form, he's your man for Tarzan style stories, goblins, barbarians etc he did some good scifi. For similar stories another couple Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell again human form, also really good at doing 'silver chrome' think like the T-1000 Colossus from the Xmen or 'Conan' the Barbarian they also did classic Hollywood movie posters like National Lampoon. Vincent Di Fate incredible settings, think cities in space, stars, ships, planets, colonies really dark haunting contrasting mix of steel and darkness I think he used mostly oils but know to use acrylic and water colors the scenes are spashled onto the covers in expert fashion. A guy like Jack Gaughan, soliders in space, or Star Wars lovely colors...Kurt Miller's work of arts think dinosaurs on Mars with a classic renaissance feel, he mixes the old school paint and modern CGI very well. Jean Giraud (Moebius) a great designer, think Tron, Comicbook, Fifth Element...Boros Szikszai, Peter Jones, Dawid Michalczyk, Jim Burns think of something you might see on a classic video game, xbox, playstation gamne cover or dungeon and dragons...maxbertolini Daredevil Sin City movie, John Alvin and David Jarvis that classic Hollywood movie poster look as well as doing illustration for song writers and music album covers old Vinyl art. H.R. Giger, a truly weird one, pure horror, think of a mix of dark, the weird, the foreign, the mechanical, the Japanese nightmare, the insect word and the universe of virus and bacteria and machine....Giger's biggest claim to fame, would have to be his role in inspiring the monsters used in the Alien or Alien(s) franchise and also credited or recognized for the concept art he created for Dune. Chris Achilleos another great illustrator, I would describe him as the guy who does Native Americans and Game of Thrones style settings mixed with scantly clothed pin-up girls. Greg and Tim Hildebrandt famous for making that crossover between pulp magazines, movie/dvd illustrations and that retro comicbook cover look...think 'Star Wars' film poster.

    Edit: Another medium I forgot to mention is the old school photographer illustrator, that Retro Futurism & Sci-Fi Surrealism using photographic tricks, it may also be classed as modern photo Fine Art. You find lots of these guys and girl had done a lot of horror, or scifi thriller illustrations, lots of intresting stuff in black and white color, pictures that will give a person 'the Chills', can't think of any one particular person now who stands out but there are many.

    Hard scifi? Michael Carroll, Robert T. McCall, Don Davis would be the type of guys to call to illustrate some NASA event or paint some exoplanet, Davis worked I think for NASA at one time or the US geological survey. All these guys I describe come from that classic 'Fantasy Art' era from say 1940s to 1990. The game has changed a little in modern times with software and people doing their work in comicbook magazines, the art in comicbooks has progressed enormously, also facebook, the bulletin boards and other social media are used for artists to advertise their work. They can showcase their talent on the twitters and social media along with doing other work as movie story board artists and video game artists, software illustration. The industry is different today and computers have allowed artists to produce incredible visual fx on book covers and produce work a lot more quick. I realize that times change and you must progress with the times but I also will always appreciate that old-school skill of being able to produce an illustration by hand, that is paint or sculpt or print or draw or carve out a work of art, guys like Chris Foss have been able to cross mediums with their art crossing from the old world into the new world of computers and CGI but I always think its great to have something that was once drawn out or painted by somebody. I think when most writers finish their story and the publishing company goes to have it printed, they already have in mind the kind of artist who is going to draw the works.
    Last edited by Launch window; 2017-Apr-19 at 12:18 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post

    I'm reading a novel at the moment that has a one word quote on the cover: "Harrowing." Presumably the publisher has some research to suggest that many readers want be harrowed, but it was something of a severe turn-off for me, and I wouldn't have bought it if I seen the cover in a bookshop. Frankly, I've been harrowed enough by real life, and I don't want any more from my holiday reading.
    But of course it's not remotely harrowing because it's, you know, just made up.

    Grant Hutchison
    You could use that quote on an agriculture textbook!

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    An individual here is trying to recapture the look of old:
    https://www.trekbbs.com/threads/the-...-books.237106/

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