Monday, May 02, 2011

On Covers

A reader commented recently about how much she hates the cover of What Remains of Heaven (Not as much as I do, believe me, Elaine!). So while we're waiting for my editor to give permission for me to post the new cover of When Maidens Mourn, I thought it might be fun to review the covers of the other books in the Sebastian series.



My publisher nicely asked for my input before the cover conference for What Angels Fear, and I suggested a funerary statue of an angel, perhaps with a church in the background. I was totally wowed by what they produced. It's classy, evocative, and moody, and I particularly like the scattering of red rose petals, which adds punch and gives the effect of drops of blood. I also think putting the title in a plaque on the iron fence was a clever touch, although it is a bit hard to read from a distance. But the book didn't sell as well as NAL hoped, so the powers that be decided to change the cover look.



When they asked for my input this time, I suggested using the image of the necklace that plays such a large part in the book. Needless to say, they ignored me. The first attempt at a cover for When Gods Die was actually quite attractive and showed a caped man on a murky street looking at a carriage. But the carriage was a hansom cab. I said, "You can't do that! Hansom cabs didn't appear until 1834. My readers will think I'm an idiot." So they came up with Gods Cover #2, which was beyond hideous. Basically it looked like the aged Ghost of Christmases Past leaning on a cane in front of the Brighton Pavilion, with a very spindly font used for the writing. I shrieked and made a bunch of suggestions for improvements, very few of which they listened to, with the exception of changing the font and making the male figure at least look more Regency-ish, although they also made both the figure and the Pavilion recede far into the distance (and the figure seems to float, ghost-like). The entire effect was simply weird, and ugly, and frankly I could have cried. About the only thing I like about the final Gods cover is the blue, and that burned effect around the edges. Otherwise it makes me want to throw things every time I see it.



I love the Mermaids cover. I even have a huge blown up copy hanging on the wall over my desk (along with the Angels cover). I think it's stunning, and mysterious, and wonderfully captures the mood of the book. I said, "Great! Can we do the next one like this? You know, get a look going to brand the series?"

Well...



Yup, that's a hansom cab. Did I complain? Nope. The image is striking, and it evokes a spirit of action and danger, which is good. The orange coloring is also unusual. This is my third favorite cover.

And then came...



Eeek! Except, as bad as this is, it was even worse at first. Oh, how I wish I could show you the original version. In Heaven #1, the woman (who is this woman, anyway?) was dressed in a white petticoat and a corset that laced up the back and showed her flesh beneath. And they had this weird lighting effect, so that it looked like she was being chased by sparkling lights. I am not making this up. Basically, it looked like a paranormal gothic erotic young adult novel, or, in the memorable words of my agent, "like Sarah Jessica Parker being chased up the stairs by a ghost." I wanted them to cut Sarah off at the waist; they compromised and cut off a bit of her head. They also added sleeves, got rid of the laced open back, and made it look like she was wearing a dress by coloring it peachy-pink. (I wanted something dramatic like red, but peach was better than her underwear.) They refused to put shoes on her feet, but they did get rid of the twinkling ghostlights, and they added the skull down in the corner, although not as noticeably as I'd have liked. I still hate it, hate it, hate it. It looks silly, and is so totally wrong for this book. It's just embarrassing. I said, Please, can we have something grown up for the next book?

No.



I like the right half of this cover, with the man coming out of the mist and the looming statues. I HATE the woman. And this is the second version. In Shadows #1, she's wearing a dress with nipped in waist and a hoop skirt, as in 1860. And this was after I sent the art department literally dozens of pictures of Regency dresses. They sort of fixed the silhouette, but they still didn't get it right (the waist on the back of the jacket should be much higher), and she still reminds me of a sorority sister dressed up as Scarlett O'Hara for a rush party; she's too modern and photorealistic. And interestingly enough, if you compare this image to the one that they used on the cover, you'll see that somewhere between this version (which is what I have on my website) and the production of the book, some clever person nipped in the waist again. Sigh. Why did they do that?

So, let me hear what you think! Which is your favorite cover? What sort of images do you think would be best for the series? And maybe, someday, I'll get permission to post the new cover. I just heard back from my editor, and she said it could be months before all the permissions have been cleared. Why? Who knows.

33 comments:

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

Oh, as they say, dear.

I realized the nipping in of the waist on Shadows as well as the shortening of the peplum, the adding of pleats, and the change to buttons from the bows at the waist, all giving it, yep, a Victorian look. Someone was bound and determined, weren't they? Regency, Victorian, feh... it's all regal, in the end, right?

*headdesk*

Not that it serves as any consolation, but on the final cover of my first book, the art department had my classically-trained, acoustic guitar playing heroine sprawled across an electric guitar when an electric guitar makes absolutely no appearance in the book. Also, my heroine? Not the sprawling type.

My favorite of the covers? It's almost a tie between Angels & Mermaids. I love Mermaids for its evocative nature and Angels because it's so austere and elegant (and these days puts me in mind of my favorite Doctor Who episode, but that's ancillary. *g*)

Anonymous said...

OK, you are totally right. Angels and Mermaids are absolutely fabulous. I love them both, so it is hard to decide. I have all the paperbacks (well, so far), and, as such, I think Mermaids wins out cause when you look at them on a bookshelf the mermaid (?) is on the spine whereas Angels is just plain. I do like the little images on the spine. Even the Gods image of the man looks well on the spine. Well, except for the Heaven spine, which has the atrocious woman. By the way, my favorite titles are Angels, Gods, Mermaids and Shadows. The titles for Serpents and Heaven just didn't have the same symbolism and weaving into the plot in the books for me. I can't wait to see Maidens. Post as soon as you can. Sabena

Pam P said...

Love the Mermaid cover. Too bad they don't pay attention to your ideas more. I suspect may have to do with stock images available or something like that. Ah well, at least the titles catch the eye too and your name, of course. Serpents is nice, too, at least gives the right vibe.

cs harris said...

Barbara, I wish you could see just HOW Victorian that dress was at first. Incredible. That's funny about the electric guitar. I will never understand art departments. I can get that they want to do their own creative thing, but why can't they at least listen to the facts, first?

Sabena, I like those little images on the spine, too. Funny, I had to go and look at the paperbacks, but you're right, the man does look fine on the Gods spine. Ironically, the Serpents and the Heaven titles were substitutes for my original titles, which the Powers That Be did not like.

Pam, the incredible thing is, these covers--or at least Gods through Maidens--are original, commissioned art works. (They're probably for sale someplace.) So why, before they have the artist do the painting, don't they run their idea past me FIRST, rather than having to try to fix it after the fact? Then I could catch these terrible bloopers (the Victorian carriage, the Victorian dress, Sarah in her corset) before they're even made.

Essex said...

I love the Mermaids cover. It is just fabulous. The next is a toss up between Angels and Serpents. I really like the use of statues on the covers- just puts these cool but frightening images into my head exactly like that Doctor Who episode Barbara mentioned- so that is why I find the Angels cover so effective. I really don't like the Heaven cover at all, but I admit to being in the minority and rather liking that title. It makes me feel sad yet hopeful at the same time- like something has been lost, but there is still some joy that remains.I haven't made up my mind about the Shadows cover- I don't like the female's look at all
despite the attempts to fix her costume. And Gods just looks out of place.
It is sad that the Powers do not listen to your opinion on these matters. It seems that you would be the best person to suggest ideas for covers and titles, since you wrote the books! How do they justify the changes they make? Do they really know so much more about what sells, or is popular? I am looking forward to excerpts and cover art for Maidens!

liz fenwick said...

Mermaids is my favourite...the others remind me of Gothic novels I read in my teens...

One questions as they have continued to go with the 'gothic' covers...are they selling better because of it?
lx

cs harris said...

Essex, I obviously need to look up this Doctor Who episode! As for the art department knowing what sells, I wish that were true. When I have readers telling me they hate a book's cover art so much they'd like to throw away the dust jacket, that tells me they're seriously missing their task of conveying the type of book inside and attracting readers.

Liz, I think what happened was that the series' sales started taking off with Serpents, and really jumped with Heaven, so they attributed it to the covers when I personally suspect the series would be selling better if the covers more accurately conveyed the type of books inside. With book #8, I'm going to ask can we PLEASE not have a woman on the cover. At least in the Maidens cover, she's dead.

Sisker said...

I don't pay attention to the covers; I just want the next book!

That said, as an author, I know how important the cover art is to the "hey, look at that cover--I'll pick up the book!" crowd vs. "Lousy cover--must be a lousy book" which goes back to my mother and judging books by their covers but I don't think she was talking literature.

Love Mermaid, but I'm buying for what's between the covers.

Kay

Charles Gramlich said...

Mermaids and serpents are my favorites. I don't mind the last two really, but they don't seem to match well with your type of story

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

Candy, the Doctor Who episode is called "Blink" and it's from Season 3 with David Tennant as the Doctor. It's a fabulous standalone episode with one of the creepiest villains ever and just a lovely, mindbending arc of a story.

It also has Carey Mulligan as the heroine of the piece prior to her Oscar-nominated turn in An Education. :)

emap said...

I really like the cover of Mermaids, but my favorite is Where Serpents Sleep. I love the orange coloring, it is very striking and unusual. It seems like so many covers these days are hot pink or some other gaudy color. The cover of Serpents stands out, but in a good way.

Mariah said...

My favorite is the Mermaid and Where Serpents Sleep. I love them both. I did not like the last two at all BUT the books so made up for the cover!

Funny because I kept waiting for the scene in the book where that peachy girl was going to run up the steps in What Remains!

Clare said...

I agree, that the Angels and Mermaid covers are the best. I actually don't mind the others so much, inaccurate as they may be (and this is coming from someone who is thisclose to finishing a PhD in history). They are eye catching and evocative, even if they're not completely accurate historically.

I totally admit to judging books by their covers, at least for authors new to me. I would read your books now no matter what the cover looks like because I like your stories, but the cover of Serpents is what made me pick it up in the first place. Then I went back and read the series in order!

paz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
paz said...

LOVE the Mermaids cover. Angels is my second favorite.
I do not like to see images of characters in the book covers I read. It interferes with my own mental images of them. The more I like the book, the more it bugs me! I usually remove covers that attempt to depict the book's characters in them, no matter how blurry.

I came to think that the woman in Heaven is Lady Prescott, running from the scene of her husbands murder. Though the lack of blood, and shoes for that matter, is perplexing.

cs harris said...

Sisker, I'm the same way. If I know an author, I don't pay attention to the cover. But I will reach for a book by someone I don't know if the cover intrigues me. I may then put it down if the cover copy doesn't interest me, but it's the cover that attracts me first. It's soooo unfair to the author, I know.

Charles, it's the cardinal sin of book covers, isn't it--when they promise a certain kind of story that's not inside?

Barbara, thanks! Now I'm really intrigued.

Emap, it's funny how cover colors come and go in trends. The Maidens cover has a lot of red and gold in it, which makes it very different.

cs harris said...

Mariah, don't you hate that, when you keep looking for something that never appears? That's what I don't like about the Maidens cover: they put a @#$ castle in it!

Clare, that's interesting. I'm going to ask them to try to go back to the Mermaids and Serpents books for #8...like they listen to me!

Paz, I know what you mean. I always hated those romance covers or stepbacks that showed a muscle-bound, obviously very stupid model in the place of a hero who was supposed to be lean and intelligent.

Elaine said...

I, too, confess to using covers (art work, font, colors, "atmosphere) to help me find new writers. Also, titles. Since reading these comments, I have tried to analyze what makes me pick up one out of hundreds of books. I think it is a sense I get from the cover and the title that the writer (and, I guess, the *$@#&^ art department) take the book "seriously." By that, I do not mean humorlessly, because I love humor in books. I mean some feeling about the craft and art of writing for the love of writing and the love of readers - rather than the mere production of a product that sells.

When there is no new book by the writers I love, I walk down the aisles snagging those that catch my attention, then perch somewhere to read the cover copy and the first page or two. The story must catch my attention, but even more important is what I learn about the writer's style, her attitude toward her characters and story, and toward her readers.

A few years ago I was without a book by favored writers to read and picked up one that with a cover I actually hated - two beautiful naked people embracing beneath a lace-edged sheet. The cover copy was okay, so I read the first page, standing there in the aisle, and I laughed aloud. I bought the book, and all the others by that author - hating every cover, but enjoying her sense of humor and her clear love of her characters.

Like the others here, I will always buy your books no matter waht they put on the cover. But it does annoy me that those @#$% art departments treat your work and us readers with such disdain. Fie on them!

Elaine said...

Oops. Sorry for that long digression above. My vote: Mermaids, Angels, Serpents. Give Heaven back to Victoria Holt and tell that sorority girl on Shadows to wander into someone elses party.

orannia said...

Oh dear. Does the art department only have a one-way communication system? You'd think if you pointed out that the era of said clothing was WRONG that they would listen... I must live in a weird world where people like to be accurate. (Actually, we just had a behavioural style training session at work and...YUP, I like accuracy :)

I like the cover of the first book the most.

cs harris said...

Elaine, I think it's knowing how important covers are in catching the eye of new readers that makes me so angry when covers of my books send such a wrong message. I think, "I wouldn't pick up that book!" And then, too, I worry that some readers will be disappointed, since they will be looking for a different kind of story.

Orannia, personally I think they must be forgetting what is their real job, which is to advertise what is between the covers--not make some kind of design statement.

Elaine said...

The first book in your St. Cyr series I read was When Gods Die. I picked up because of the blue and yellow on the cover, I seem to remember. The "illustration" was somewhat lost on me other than to indicate an historical rather than modern setting. That led me to read the cover copy and the first pages which hooked me. And led me to this place of re-reading your books so many times (while awaiting the next) that I practically know them by heart!

cs harris said...

Elaine, I did like the blue. A reader just sent me the Russian covers for the first three books, which I'd never seen before. I'll have to do a post on them next week.

Anonymous said...

Mermaids is a stunning cover. It literally drew me like a magnet. I also like Angels. Remains really does look like a YA. Is it the same person in the art department who has designed each one of these? Is her name Sybil?
But the series is consistently superb!

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

Candy, I looked on your website and didn't see contact info, so apologies for posting here, but I have a couple of questions to ask about MWA and strangely enough, you're the only author I know who belongs. Would you mind answering a few questions for me?

cs harris said...

Anon, I can't believe that the same person who came up with the Angels cover is responsible for Heaven!

Barbara, of course--not that I'm exactly an active member since the nearest chapter is in Houston. My email is canproc@earthlink.net.

Ajamajay said...

Serpents has to be my favorite. I stumbled upon it in the library one day while searching for another title. The cover caught my eye and I've been hooked ever since!

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