Of all the things authors get blamed (and sometimes praised) for in their books, the covers are where we have the least control. I’ve had people tell me what I should have the publisher put on my books instead (yeah, I’ll get right on that). I’ve even run into people who assume I draw the covers myself. If authors are lucky, we get asked what ideas we have for the book covers. If we’re really, really lucky, the publishers consider the input we give them.
I recently caught up with young adult fantasy authors Holly Black and Sarah Rees Brennan during their book tour, and they shared some fun stories about book cover development. Even as a bestselling author, Holly Black doesn’t get to dictate what goes on her covers, but she did get to attend the photo shoot for her most recent release, White Cat. The cover has a picture of a dangerous-looking man in black leather holding a white cat. Holly said she was surprised to learn that the cat used for the photo shoot wasn’t a “professional” model cat who was accustomed to being in that environment. The cat was the pet of someone who worked at the publishing house. And the cat was not happy about being there. The model was lucky that his costume involved a leather jacket and gloves because the cat had its claws out, and the cat was so busy staring at the model with intense loathing that they never got a good shot of the cat facing the camera, in spite of the cat’s owner being on hand to coax it into cooperation.
Sarah Rees Brennan also had some interesting cover stories. The hardcover edition of her book THE DEMON’S LEXICON had a close-up image of a young man’s face. For the paperback release, they changed the cover entirely. They wanted a more action-oriented cover, and the original cover image they sent her showed a young man holding a sword — and that was it, just sort of holding the sword like it was maybe too heavy, not holding the sword like he knew how to use it and maybe even planned to use it, and soon. She suggested to the publisher that he look like he was ready for action with his sword. On the final cover, he seems to be threatening someone with his sword, so it looks like Sarah won.
For her most recent release, THE DEMON’S COVENANT, the publisher sent her proofs from the photo shoot, but she was surprised by how few there were, since they usually take tons of photos at these shoots. When she asked about it, she learned that to get the effect of the model’s skirt floating around her, they had the model jump on a trampoline, and they took photos while the model was in the air. Unfortunately, the combination of a short dress and a trampoline meant that most of the photos turned out to be rather indecent. On the final cover, the model looks nicely windblown but fully covered.
You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes there’s a good story behind that cover.