Covers are part of the publisher’s sales pitch. Authors are not generally involved in the selection process. That can be both frustrating and infuriating. I happen to be one of those people who cringe at ugliness and mistakes.
Mystery novels are rarely blessed with handsome covers. From what I’ve seen and read, the cover “artist” goes to a large universal photography file, selects a likely scene (usually dark and foggy) and copies that. Possibly he throws some red paint at it to signify blood and then sticks the lettering on the whole thing. Occasionally, two “artists” select the same photo for different books. It should be embarrassing, but is thought amusing. The “artists” get paid for such work and have their name printed in the book.
At the moment I have five books in my TBR pile. The first has blood spatters on a brown and beige smudged background with an odd-looking swastika on it. It is the ugliest in the batch. The next is a black and white photo of a woman with scratches running across the image. The third is a collage of cut-up pieces of a photo, mostly in brown and black. The next is a Connelly: part of a net-stockinged leg and part of a keyboard, in brown and black. The last is a photo of woods at night with a black figure shining a light toward the observer. It is green and black.
Since I write historical novels, I get more colorful covers. Still, my first publisher’s “artist” took his from a photo gallery, and neither is very good. My second publisher hired a real artist. There is a touch of “anime” in the design, but they are mostly very good. The first one, THE DRAGON SCROLL, is a particularly fine design.
But even this relationship was not without its problems. I was shown the designs ahead of time (which I appreciated because I like them fairly accurate in historical detail). But my first editor sent me a very rude e-mail once because I had communicated with the artist and made a suggestion for his next design. She told me (and I paraphrase): “The publisher pays for the art work. That means the author has no right to interfere in the design selection.” I was extremely angry at the time but answered courteously and apologetically. (We learn to crawl and hate!)
But I’m posting this blog because my French publisher (who has always turned out beautifully designed covers) just sent me the one for ISLAND OF EXILES, in case I wanted to post it on my web site.
The novel takes place in an eleventh century Japanese convict colony and involves mostly male characters. What they sent me was a late nineteenth century image of a geisha. I normally don’t meddle with foreign covers (some of which are good -- see my web site), but in this instance I objected on the grounds of total unsuitability.
The response was that, since sales of the medieval-themed covers had begun to lag, they wanted to attract a new type of reader.
The logic escapes me, but what it implies is that the content is really irrelevant.
As if our work isn’t treated with enough disrespect already by publishers!