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!

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Comment by I. J. Parker on October 12, 2009 at 12:30am
I'm glad to hear it, B.R.. I like to be consulted on these matters if it is a print publisher who takes a good cut of the profits, but for the trilogy I'll publish POD and electronic, I think I'll supply the covers. Will work with my webmaster on this. I don't think that sort of thing is at all difficult to do and I have a much better overview of what's available in suitable backgrounds than any outsider would.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on October 11, 2009 at 2:19pm
The nice thing about working with small publishers is that an author can actually work with an artist and submit his cover for consideration to the publisher. See the rough concept I posted recently.
Comment by I. J. Parker on October 11, 2009 at 8:04am
Thanks, John. Yes, that helps. I copied the url in the google window for the imgur page. My problem is that I don't read instrctions. :) No much point in doing it now, since you brought up the image.
Comment by John Dishon on October 11, 2009 at 5:54am
Just go to the imgur site where you uploaded your photo here:

On the left of the image where all those links are, copy the third one down (the title above the link is "HTML Image (websites / blogs)") and then paste it in. To copy a link, highlight it and press CTRL and C together. Then when you want to paste it into your blog, press CTRL and V together.

That's exactly what I did. Hope that helps.
Comment by I. J. Parker on October 11, 2009 at 4:42am
How did you do that??? Magic? I spent 4 or 5 days messing around with that image.

The fonts never bother me all that much. As for my name, I finally complained about the Penguin covers because there my name is so small you can hardly read it. And here's a bit of advice for other authors: your name is your brand. Make sure it's noticed. The title translates as "The Mystery of the Second Prince" and that fits the content okay. And I do like the black background to the image. It's the image that's all wrong.
Comment by John Dishon on October 11, 2009 at 4:12am
As for the cover, I would be disappointed as well. They used that horrid "Asian" font, and the font for your name is so bland. The book looks like it's a biography more than a novel. Definitely not as awesome as your other covers (particularly The Hell Screen and The Convict's Sword).

The title is completely different too, isn't it? I'm pretty sure I've seen that Geisha photo elsewhere as well.
Comment by John Dishon on October 11, 2009 at 4:00am
That cover didn't show up for me, so I'm guessing it didn't for others as well; but there are ways around that. Here it is:

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