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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Writer Asks

A BDR reader (who's also a writer) asked me a great question a few days ago:

"I think a great deal about what a book will look like when it's done. Ultimately, though, on my previous books, the jackets were done with little or no say from me. Now, as I finish up another, I wonder: How does a writer push his publisher to pay attention to design? Can a writer lobby to have one of these elite designers you talk about so often assigned to his book?"

Anyone care to jump in?


squarezero said...

I've been out of this market for a bit (not profitable enough as a designer), but here's what I know: editors tend to involve writers in the jacket design process when they expect them to take a large role in the marketing of the book -- "to keep them excited about this one" (as an editor put it) rather than the next one.

I would suggest the writer to make it clear to his/her editor that they are planning to go out there and sell the book, and that they would hope to have a cover that helps them get the word out. Be a squeaky wheel, but stay focused on the marketing of the book, not on your aesthetic preferences.

If that doesn't work, and the writer has any power in the relationship (a rare thing), then maybe they can threaten to jump to another publisher, one that takes their concerns about the marketing of the book seriously.

Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

While the author will likely have thoughts for what the cover of their book might look like, ultimately, it is the designer/AD (likely from the art department of the publisher) and the marketing and editorial teams that will decide what is right for the cover.

A new author rarely gets any approvals or say in the cover, and even published authors get little input into the cover art.

Like the rest of the world, money talks -- if your books are selling, you get some leverage, but without it, you get what you get.

Austin Kleon said...

If you want a say in your book cover design, you have to have it written into your contract. Otherwise, it's up to the discretion of the publisher.

Of course, it never hurts if you can somehow convey visually what you want your book cover/design to look like: I sent photoshop mockups of what I thought my cover should look like to my publisher (we'll see what we come up with ;-)

Anonymous said...

The publisher wants a jacket that will sell the book. So write an email to your editor with your thoughts on how the jacket should look, and explaining why this type of design will be the most effective way of connecting the book with the readers you want. If it's just about your personal taste, it's easier for your wishes to be dismissed. It's fine to suggest the names of designers, gently. You don't want to step too hard on the toes of the in house art director, who may love your book and have ideas of his/her own.

Joseph said...

Worth noting, BTW: this writer's not a newbie. Couple of books, seems to sell pretty well. I can't say anything else, but I did want to put that out there.

trav said...

Well, if the books are selling, then it's going to be tough to convince the publisher to change a working formula.

It boils down to utility (for text and cover design). The author, knowing the text better than anyone else, should be able to show how the reader (better yet bookstore browser) would be best served by certain design elements. That is, the resonate with the audience and may be accurate. But factually accurate covers aren't always the best designs....
so the author just needs to list out the goals and points the cover should communicate and describe how their ideas would do so.
Selling books is what the cover is all about.

Though, again, if past designs have moved books, then it will be a hard sell for the author to make. They better know their stuff!

Anonymous said...

A writer can always lobby to have a specific designer work on his/her book. But the x-factor here isn't necessarily the designer (P.s. I am a designer in a large publishing house, so take my word for it.)

The final arbiter of taste is usually the publisher. The publisher sets the tone and their taste buds usually determine how refined (or down market) your book will look.

Your publisher can overrule your editor, the Art Director, designer, and usually the author as well.

It's absolutely fine if you want to request a specific designer. But bear in mind that simply using the designer you have in mind will not be enough, unless your publisher can be brought to share your vision (or hopes) for the cover.

Also, finally, it should be said as a cautionary that not all authors have good ideas for their book covers. If you have a designer in mind and want to suggest them, great. At the very least it will signal to your publisher and the Art Director the quality level, kind of approach or sensibility that you would like to see in the final product.

But don't get overly specific. And be prepared to leave your ideas aside and let the designer (whomever it might be) surprise you.

Anonymous said...

I'd consider the benefits of working with a small publisher if you have concerns about "being heard," just in general. I'm the assistant publisher/art director/girl friday at a successful small house. We've found that lots of our authors who have worked with big houses in the past enjoy the closer relationship they have to the entire publishing process with us. That said, we get why authors are drawn to bigger houses with their massive reach to the public. But the risk of being buried in a big publisher's list is a whole lot greater than if you're one of a handful of books being promoted in a given season.

But, I'll agree with lot of the comments above about listening to your publisher's marketing department. I feel like writers often have the perception that the publisher doesn't have their best interests in mind, that they're only out for a dollar. But how is that possibly true? Sure, a publisher needs to make the money back (and hopefully some on top), but isn't that what an author wants to do, too? There's no benefit for a publisher to mislead the reader visually, as that just leads to bad publicity, bad reviews, and a customer that's unlikely to return. And it also hurts the publisher if you, the author, don't feel passionate about your book.

So it's up to the writer to understand the market that their book appeals to and if you really want the publisher to listen, come up with a plan. There's nothing more important than correctly targeting a book to it's market. If you as a writer can demonstrate with real-life examples of why your book fits somewhere, with one aesthetic or another, it's far more likely that your book will end up looking like you want it to. Being educated about the marketplace and also about the considerations a designer makes when thinking about your book (because designers have to think like marketers, too) will help you help the publisher. And trust me, we love authors who want to help us and we'll sign you any day over an author who wants to sit at home and watch us work.

And finally: at some point, you have to trust your publisher's design department. Just as you have to believe that another set of eyes (your editor's) will only make your writing better and more accessible to your reader, you have to trust that your designers and marketers will help you appeal to your reader visually. We are professionals and we want you to be successful, too.