Friday, November 8, 2013

Your Cover: The Arranged Marriage

by S. L. Duncan

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a filmmaker. It was college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew one thing: I gravitated toward storytelling. So while at university, I structured my curriculum around classes that I thought would be beneficial to nurturing whatever creative abilities I could that might help me later on in pursuing my celluloid dream.

It’s a collaborative art, filmmaking. Screenwriters, actors, directors, and even the money – studios, producers, and executives – all pitch in for the end product. I liked that. It was like a community of creative energy.

My life took a detour into The Law, so my dream of being the next Spielberg never manifested, and yet here I am – an author guilty of writing a Spielbergian adventure of a boy born to save the world.

Authors are, by nature, a solitary species. You’ve heard all the clich├ęs, no doubt. But like filmmaking, there actually is a lot of the process that still is very collaborative. Your agent will help guide you along the journey. When your book sells, you’ll have an editor that will hone your words, Obi-Wan Kenobi-style, into the best version of the book you can write. After a lot of work, you’ll send the manuscript off into the ether, and eventually push it into the back of your mind while you await its release date.

And then, one day, probably out of the blue, you’ll be given notice that your cover is ready for your approval.

This is where I am.

Sometime in the next few weeks, I’ll receive a file containing the thing that above all else, will make or break my book’s impact on the reader. And I had nothing to do with it. Authors don’t really have input on what their own covers will be. There are weird clauses in our contracts that allude to some sort of participation in its creation, but the reality is, your job as an author, at least in regard to the cover, is to simply say, “Thank you.”

Scary, right? After all the work you’ve done to make your work stand out in the world, the one thing that most readers will look to that distinguishes it from all other works is totally out of your control.

In many ways, this is an arranged marriage.

I keep assuring myself that we were meant to be together, my cover and I. That we have the same interests. That we’ll be together, happily ever after. That our future is bright.

Because, make no mistake. This is Ever After. FOREVER after. 

But what if I’m not attracted to it?

What if it’s ugly?

What if it snores in bed or hangs the toilet paper backwards?

Could you live with a troubled marriage like that? Well, you’ll kinda have to.

Frightening thoughts. Bad covers happen, though, despite best intentions. So stressing about them is well within your right as an author.

In the end, it boils down to trust. Trust the process. Trust that your agent knows you, knows your manuscript, and knows that the editor he or she submitted to, and the publishing house that offered, has a solid record of manufacturing beautiful covers. It's really all you can do. 

But go easy on the anxiety.

Because beautiful covers happen, too.

S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, The Revelation of Gabriel Adam, due in 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on and on Twitter.


JeffO said...

I hope you are given a cover you love. I'm surprised, though; from listening to others, I got the impression authors had a little more say in the matter of covers, and got to input into the process a little more. If you are not totally happy with the cover, you owe it to yourself and your book to say something. Good luck!

R.C. Lewis said...

I'm at the same place and should be seeing my final cover in the next few weeks or so. Fortunately, I was already shown a rough comp of the concept, which I loved, so the anxiety level has cranked down significantly.

From conversations I've had, it's clear the level of input from the author varies. Some were asked if they had general ideas of things they'd like to see on the cover ... or things they absolutely DIDN'T want. Others weren't asked anything beforehand, but were able to make tweaks and adjustments to the design before it was final.

Other writers I know had to go to the mat and fight to get their cover changed because it just DIDN'T WORK.

I think it's important we only resort to that last one when really necessary. Not just when it isn't entirely our personal preference, but when we know the design as it stands does a disservice in representing our book.

S. L. Duncan said...

Yeah, I had a few questions given to me about what was the most important imagery of the book. And I appreciated the limited "involvement." But given the magnitude of what goes into creating a cover, it seems like precious little. So the hope is, they get the book and what made it worthy to buy and somehow translate to a piece of art.

And you're right, RC. If you get dealt a bad cover, and your agent agrees that it harms the book, then it's time for he or she to step in. That is a worst case scenario, though. But it happens.