Look at What They’ve Wrapped Around My Baby!

Readers are always surprised to learn that authors have little or no input regarding the cover art for their books. There may be good reasons for keeping the author out of the loop regarding the cover art. One publisher I’ve talked to about this subject said that is his (very extensive) experience that what the author thinks would make a good cover would actually make a good frontispiece. (That is an interior illustration often included at the front of a novel in days of yore, a custom that sadly seems to have gone the way of the dodo in adult fiction).

This publisher may be right. Certainly, I rarely hear three people agree as to how good a cover is or is not. I’ve actually made something of a study of this. My friend Julie the Librarian (yes, the same one I mention in my entry on YA fiction) and I have made an informal annual study of cover art pretty much every year for the past five or so years.

Julie and I try to look at the covers from various perspectives: personal, professional, in comparison to other covers, and in view of various trends of the moment. Some years we’ve incorporated another person into our quest. One year it was a long-time editor, another time an award-winning artist, another time a book collector. We all rarely agree on what works.

So, what I’m going to do here is not meant to be an authoritative examination of Book Covers in General, but merely one author’s chatty look at a few of the covers that have appeared on my books, with comments about how I felt about them.

My discussion is also not meant as a criticism of artists or art directors. I’ve never met any artist who illustrated one of my books, although I’ve corresponded briefly with one. I have always been impressed by the technical expertise involved in the covers, even if sometimes puzzled by the subject matter.

I’m going to start with my first novel, Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls, cover art by Rowena. This book came out as a mass market original paperback from Avon in late 1994. The cover depicts a blond young woman wearing jeans and a baggy harvest gold sweater. She is curled asleep amid stark rocks. She is cuddling a green stuffy toy that just might be a two-headed dragon. To the sides, wispy smoke forms of a dragon and an owl are shown. The lettering is white and very cursive.

Although the art is lovely, I had some real problems with this cover. For one, the story is completely urban. No rocky landscapes. For another, the dragon is rubber and blue. For a third, the book deals with street gangs, hackers, and genetic experimentation. No way would the people who might like this book choose it based upon this cover. I hope those who did weren’t too horribly disappointed.

Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls was re-released by Tor in 2006 as a trade paperback. The front cover is matte black with the title in poison green lettering in erratic sizes. The art, by Patrick Arrasmith, is black and white. It shows a fair haired woman of uncertain age (not old, but not a kid, either) seated on spread newspapers next to an overflowing trash can. She wears jeans and a tee shirt. Resting on her knees is a toy two-headed dragon. Her attitude is one of depression, but not of surrender.

The back cover is an expansion of the front cover art. Most striking is a brick wall that has been painted with a very cool wolf’s head. (I’d love to have the full wolf’s head on a tee-shirt). The grit and grime are almost palpable.

I loved this cover. Not only did it seem as if it could be a moment from my book (although it does not in fact illustrate a specific scene), but I felt that it was right on the mood of the novel. A reader picking this up would have some idea of what to expect.

Side trivia. When the re-print was in production, I got a call from my then-editor.

“Jane,” she said. “Am I remembering right that you have the dragon who’s in the book? Can we have a picture?”

I did, and the picture was duly sent, and the artist did a fine job translating it into his style. Those dragons were hard to live with before. Now that they’re on a book cover.

Just kidding.

Okay. I’ve room for one more cover. Let’s do Marks of Our Brothers, the book that came out next from Avon. Another mass market paperback. Another source of frustration for me, although the artist, Mark Stawicki, certainly could do realistic art.

The cover depicts a woman with dark hair wearing jeans, a white tee shirt, and a denim jacket. She is looking with wonder and awe at a glowing globe floating in the air. A sort of dinosaur stands behind and towers over her. A cute rodent in robes, holding what seems to be a wizard’s staff, is off to one side. Crouched on a fallen tree is a naked, brownish, vaguely canine critter with hands. From how the light from the floaty thing falls on this canine, you have the impression it has something to do with it.

My reaction when I saw this cover was, “Great. I write a story about planetary scale genocide and get Disney.” I was particularly unhappy that the canine—who must have been intended to be Onyx, the main alien character in the book—was depicted with hands. The whole point of the novel is that Onyx’s race Doesn’t Have Hands, is quadrupedal, and is in grave danger of being dismissed as merely intelligent animals because of this.

Big sigh. Again, a cover that does neither the book nor the reader justice. And, no, this scene never occurs in the novel.

Needless to say, I can’t touch on all of my covers here, but if there is interest, I’ll do this again, somewhere down the road. Let me know if you are interested, and let me know if there are any specific covers you want to me to talk about.


Subscribe to this thread