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So after telling you about the process of writing a novel, I promised to talk about cover art. How does a publisher get that sucker all spiffed up and ready for the bookstore?

Oh, so carefully. Most publishers have an entire dedicated art department whose sole purpose is book design–the image, the fonts, endpapers, you name it.

Back when I was self-publishing, I designed my own.

bringing you bad books since the age of 8

bringing you bad books since the age of 8

p10603411

Art was not my forte, clearly.

Book cover art is the topic of endless and passionate debate among writers and people in publishing.

Because it matters so freakin’ much. It’s the reader’s first glimpse of your work. You’ve got a split second to grab her attention. And in that split second, you have to convey that a) this is YOUR kind of book and b) it’s a particularly great read and c) she should just ignore all those other books on the shelf nearby that are vying for attention.

How does a book get from the mess on my living room floor…

Barkis is bored. He just doesn't get it.

Barkis is bored. He just doesn’t get it.

…into the reader’s hands?

Buy a book from Wendy!

You need not just a beautiful cover, but the RIGHT cover. For example, this cover is beautiful:

Where's the romance?

Where’s the romance?

…but it doesn’t scream “sweep-you-away-historical-romance” the way this one does:

Sexy tiiime!

Sexy tiiime!

The Drifter reissue

They’re all nicely done, but guess which one sold the best? Yep, the one that looked the most romantic, dramatic and compelling to the reader most likely to enjoy that kind of book.

After the original edition of The Drifter was published, the art department took another look at what my books were about and what my readers love–romance, fantasy, passion. So my next book, THE CHARM SCHOOL, went through a major transformation. Here is the cover-in-progress:

I sent my editor a little thumbnail image from a book of clipart. I just thought it was pretty. The main character was a bookworm with a rich fantasy life, and this image made me think of her:

Clip art that inspired The Charm School cover

Thanks to my very smart editor, she got this sketch out of the art department, and I knew we had a winner on our hands:

sketch for Charm School cover

I was hoping it would turn into a pink valentine of a book because, well, we readers love pink valentines. And Lo:

Now, THAT's a cover.

Now, THAT’s a cover.

Flowers, purple foil, generous endorsement from iconic romance author. It even had a peek-a-boo window with a glimpse at the illustration inside. And although the real Isadora looked like this:

Isadora, the main character of THE CHARM SCHOOL

Isadora, the main character of THE CHARM SCHOOL

…she got a makeover for the cover art. This image is inside the front cover. It’s known as a “step-back.”

ready for action

ready for action

I’m proud to say, The Charm School was my first national bestseller. The book got good reviews, won some awards, made some best-of lists, but I credit the sales to the right cover on the right book. 

Oh, and here–with apologies to the redoubtable Erik Larson–is my nomination for the worst book cover ever. On one of the best books, ever.

Foreign edition of Erik's iconic work, Devil in the White City, with unfortunate cover art.

Foreign edition of Erik’s iconic work, Devil in the White City, with unfortunate cover art.

wonderful book, awful cover

wonderful book, awful cover

[Synchronicity–CNN is talking about book covers today, too! ] As we all know, I am endlessly fascinated by book cover art. I’ve talked about it here, and here, too.  A story in Publishers Weekly illustrates the power of a great package. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosney was one of my favorite books of 2008. The novel garnered rave reviews, incredible word-of-mouth, excellent foreign sales…and a disappointing sale of 6000 copies in the US. Guess why?

Need I say more? Where do I begin? With the pale re-use of an iconic image from a previous bestseller? http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51TDTNS7HZL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_.jpg With the undistinguished font? The murky colors? The ambiguous imagery and mixed message? No wonder readers overlooked this poor book.
But this is why I love book people. When their passion for a project kicks in, there’s no stopping them. According to Publishers Weekly, http://www.sarahskey.com/article-24703998.html the book’s publisher stepped in and had the book repackaged in trade paperback format, with a thoughtful and intriguing new cover: http://idata.over-blog.com/0/51/68/46/sarah-bis/SKUSA.jpg featuring an irresistible blurb from Augustin Burroughs. Oh, and a new price point, don’t forget that. The result? Sales leaped up to 185,000–making this book a legitimate bestseller and giving the author the happy ending she deserves. 

Need I say more? Where do I begin? With the pale re-use of an iconic image from a previous bestseller?

wonderful book, cover that did it justice

wonderful book, cover that did it justice

 With the undistinguished font? The murky colors? The ambiguous imagery and mixed message? No wonder readers overlooked this poor book. A wonderful novel deserves better, don’t you think?

But this is why I love book people. When their passion for a project kicks in, they’re willing to regroup and try again. According to Publishers Weekly,  the book’s publisher stepped in and had the book repackaged in trade paperback format, with a well thought-out and intriguing new cover and an irresistible blurb from Augustin Burroughs. Oh, and a new price point, don’t forget that. The result? Sales leaped up to 185,000 (and counting)–making this book a legitimate bestseller and giving the author the happy ending she deserves.

Soooo…I will try to post my summer reading here, but I’m very lazy about broadcasting what I’m reading, because I read so much! 

But this is a novel you won’t want to miss. Heartbreak and redemption and a little-known (to Americans) bit of WWII horror. A must for book clubs!

Ah! Success!

Ah! Success!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all know I love book cover art and the whole process of dressing up a novel to be released into the wild. With Fireside due to hit stores any day now, I can’t wait to see its smiling face! Here’s something interesting– another guy who likes book cover art has showcased his faves on his blog, Book Design Review with Joseph Sullivan. Check out his picks here. He has a very distinctive aesthetic that could NOT be more different from my own. Just goes to show you how subjective this all is.

What are some of your favorite book covers of 2008? Here are a few of mine:

best YA cover...by far

best YA cover...by far

gorgeous cover, excellent book

gorgeous cover, excellent book

haunting image...intriguing book

haunting image...intriguing book

Im a sucker for handwritten lettering.

I'm a sucker for handwritten lettering. And this layout is genius.

Look-alike covers:

The one on the left is a sci-fi bestseller by the Twilight author. The one on the right is the Bible. Go figure. Sometimes similar images seem to get into the zeitgeist. How many times before it’s declared a trend? Is this one called the “ominous, upward-looking eye” trend?

(Alison Kent has a good post on cover trends here.) Click here to enlarge the cover image

And finally, last but not least…It’s probably not polite to pick yourself, but this has nothing to do with me. My publisher found a fresh and eye-catching image for the book and I really love it. And it’s not just me. For the first time in 30-something covers, I’ve had readers contact me to ask where they can get a poster of the image! As my agent said, “It looks like a day at the beach.”

okay, so Im biased

okay, so I'm biased

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