I've got covers on the brain.
Right now, we're pondering SHADOWS covers. I've seen the artist's conception for the ASHES paperback. My Spanish publisher sent me their version for ASHES; my Bulgarian editor was also in touch just recently. In fact, a couple days ago, my splendid agent, Jennifer Laughran, tweeted a picture of the Hungarian cover. Apparently, it kind of freaked her out because she saw only that face, in very low light.
Anyway, that got me thinking about covers, in general. I am the first to admit that I have my own ideas about what an ideal cover should be: neither boring nor derivative and a story in its own right. The cover should give the reader a hint about what's in those pages. But a cover should also be eye-catching. (Note that I didn't say "appealing;" some very gruesome covers are incredibly powerful.) A cover can also be a truly splendid work of art as in this Scribner stunner for Stephen King's UNDER THE DOME.
I am so in awe, you can not imagine. And, of course, this being Stephen King, the UK paperback gave you a choice of six different covers, five of which focused on a particular character. Seven, if you count the signed limited edition.
Covers come in all flavors. Some are stock images jumbled together. Some could serve as an image for just about any book. (Be honest: how many covers have you seen which show two kids, in silhouette, running across a horizon line/field/hill, etc.? Yeah, I thought so. A ton.) Others are quite unique; they could never be used for or represent any other book.
Now, I remember a few months ago hearing an author badmouth her publisher--in a public forum, mind you (a real no-no, if you ask me)--for picking stupid covers, never including her, and on and on. I kind of wanted to say something mildly snarky like, Do you know how many people would kill to have their books published at all, you idiot? But my mother raised me to be very polite. So when it came my turn to comment, I told the truth: my publishers have ALWAYS asked for my input on a cover. ALWAYS. For them--and me--it's a collaborative process just as important as any edit. I remember the back and forth for DROWNING INSTINCT, which just came out at the beginning of the month. My goodness, I think we must've gone through at least ten or twelve ideas, and those were only the ones I saw. What I find really interesting is that the cover which made the cut . . . I wasn't that wild about it at first. I guess this was because I was still in ASHES-mode, where we were trying to get away from a character-driven cover. So this one for DI . . . I worried. But you know what? Everyone else who saw it loved it--and now that I've had a chance to step back, I agree. This is the perfect cover.
Which only goes to show what I know about cover design.
And that got me thinking about the various incarnations and regional variations for ASHES.
The original cover--which I again came to like quite a bit--was very character-driven.
Me? My initial response? Uh-oh, now everyone will think it's a zombie book. Anyone who's read the book knows that's, well, not quite accurate. What I worried about was that the cover might be promising something the story itself wouldn't deliver. (And, boy, did that creepy fish-belly eye get to me.) Not that there isn't plenty of mayhem and gore and enough chowing down for the most voracious carnivore . . . but the vision being presented wasn't quite right. My editor and I went back and forth a couple times; my agent--much savvier about these things than I--weighed in; and bless his soul, my editor sent various versions incorporating some of our suggestions. In the end, though, they went with the image for that BEA ARC.
If you've been paying attention, of course, you know by now: that particular image didn't truly make the final cut. Rethinking the cover design was a stroke of genius on my editor's part because he understood: the ASHES story is much bigger and broader than a single girl. We all wanted the cover to reach its intended audience, too, not just girls but boys and young men for whom a great adventure cuts across gender.
So, finally, they came up with this.
My first response? UGH. But not ugh, how horrible: ugh, how creepy. This cover has it all: the EMP pulse that destroys the world; that really ill-defined, mysterious and MONSTROUS face which could be anyone and anybody (sort of the point of the book; not all the monsters are brain-zapped, after all). So I thought they really nailed it.
But, you know, everyone has their own taste--and so do different countries. I know of at least one website which ran three covers, not only the final US version, but the UK
and the German.
Really different, huh? I was surprised, but I also came to appreciate that every publisher knows his/her country and audience, how to reach out to them, make them want to pick up a book. Not surprisingly, folks from the respective countries liked their version better than another's. Bulgaria chose to go with the US version:
Spain's cover is different again--and wouldn't you know, I've misplaced the darned thing. I mean it. The email has vanished; I'm just so pissed! (I know, I know; I'll eventually track it down SOMEHOW and post.) But I do remember that the cover was a very intense, deep orange-red with two silhouettes: the taller girl is clearly Alex, and the little kid with pigtails (and a teddy bear) is Ellie.
As I said, right now, we're in the middle of working on the cover for SHADOWS which comes out later this year. I can't tell you anything--much less show you--but while it is different from the final US ASHES cover, it is somewhat similar to what's being planned for the paperback version of ASHES. So perhaps the idea is to go for a certain common "feel," I don't know.
But I am curious: what are your ideas about covers? What goes into making a "good" book cover anyway? Should they be actual works of art (as, for example, the Whelan covers for King's THE DARK TOWER series)? Are book covers art? [My vote: only the really good ones ;-) ] Should covers tell a story the way, say, this one does for King's 11/22/63? (Three guesses who I think tells a pretty great story.)
And do you have cover stories--good and bad--of your own? Bring 'em on.
Before I forget, the winner of the DROWNING INSTINCT giveaway is Melanie Goodman! Having already read the book--and given it a lovely review--Melanie said she's giving it to her mom for a read first. To both, enjoy! To all those who entered, thanks. And for the many, many overseas fans who would have LIKED to enter . . . stay tuned. I feel a Goodreads giveaway in our future :-)