When things get ugly
Myth – authors always have input on their covers. When I sold my first book in 1993 (yes, I am that old), I had no idea what the process was when it came to covers. Harlequin sent me something called an Art Fact Sheet and it was about ten pages long. It asked questions like the color and style of hair for the hero and heroine; the location backdrop; 3 suggested scenes for the cover (turns out that was a waste of time – they never once used the scenes I painstakingly wrote out on the sheet); a synopsis; clothing and a bunch of other details, large and small. And FYI, I did them on a typewriter, and since I can’t type, I dreaded the Art Fact Sheet. Now this process is done online.
Then about 30 days (if I was lucky) before the book was released I could suggest something called an Iris and that is a color image of the cover flat. Or in some cases, I’d get the cover flat directly from my editor. That was the first time I saw the cover. On more than once occasion I loathed the cover. But with Harlequin there are no changes. They publish something like 177 titles a month worldwide so they aren’t going to stop the presses because Rhonda (or Kelsey Roberts as the case may be) wasn’t happy with her cover.
So what did I do? Lie. I’d always tell my editor the cover was fine or sometimes I’d lie and say I loved it. I did have one editor who would call me and say, “I’ve seen the cover and you’re going to hate it.” Which brings me to another myth at Harlequin – editors have almost no clue or say regarding the covers. They are created in a different country and usually the editor is seeing the cover at the last moment as well. There have been times when I didn’t see the cover until I walked into the store and the book was on the shelf. I think it served me well to keep my mouth shut. Of my dozens of Harlequin covers, the one I hate the most is from a book titled Handsome as Sin. Only problem? The guy is ugly as sh-t. I actually had people attend a book signing and refuse to buy it based on the hero’s appearance on the cover. Here’s a peek:
Then I did an anthology for Random House and that wasn’t much better. They did send us the cover, ask for our input, and then ignored all of us. Red Hot Santa looks like his back is covered in tumors.
Then I found Mecca. When I moved to Simon & Schuster I had a completely different experience. We actually had cover consultations and I was encouraged to share my thoughts. And if I didn’t like the cover, they made changes. They also did branding – utilizing an element, in my case a skull, in all the covers. What a joy it was to know I was part of the process.
So my advice? When you have to – lie. Better not to be labeled a problem author than gripe about a cover that’s already set in stone. And if you’re lucky enough to have a say in the matter, be conciliatory.