Dec 18 2008 9:58am

Series Doesn’t Equal Set

This is the third in a short series of articles in which one author talks about the covers that have gone on her novels. If you haven’t, you might want to take a quick read through “Look at What They Wrapped Around My Baby!” and “When Right is Completely Wrong.”

This article is going to leave behind the “fluffy bunny” covers that plagued my early career, and take a look at some covers that came later. I’m going to start by responding to a reader’s request for my reaction to the covers for my novels Changer and Legends Walking. These are my two “athanor” novels, published in mass market paperback by Avon in 1998 and 1999.

Midwinter, the reader mentioned above, commented that she/he had liked these covers and wondered what my reaction had been. Basically, I can say that I liked both covers. In fact, the simple design used for the cover of Changer was one I adapted twice in polymer clay—once as a bolo tie which I wore to signings, and the other as a miniature book for my sister’s dollhouse.

The cover of Changer takes as its theme the largely southwestern setting of the novel. The colors are the yellow-golds and reddish-browns that dominate that landscape, highlighted with just a touch of blue. The title is nicely rendered in an artistic script done in a turquoise-blue that stands out well against the yellow-tan background.

The picture itself is a stylized pair of wings over mesas and an Indian pueblo. An additional graceful touch is that the leftmost wing, along with the mesas and scattered pueblos, wraps around the spine to the back of the book.

If I had a problem with this cover, my complaint was very minor. At signings, people tended to think Changer was a Tony Hillermanesque mystery. I had to talk fast and hard about the thriller/conspiracy elements—playing down the myth and legend that to me is the novel’s heart—in order to hold them.

By contrast, the cover of Legends Walking features a magnificent painting by Gregory Bridges. This painting shows a futuristic city overhung by rich storm clouds from which a whirlwind is descending. Great art. Great color. Minor quibble from the author is that the setting of this city is contemporary Africa, not the future.

My trouble with the cover of Legends Walking has more to do with wondering why Avon broke so completely with its approach for Changer. Nothing between the two covers is alike. Not the art. Not the style of type used for the title. (Legends Walking’s title is in white in a different script). Even my original name for the bookChanger’s Daughter—was rejected by some anonymous higher-up. The futuristic city on Legends Walking’s cover rejects any connection with the contemporary setting of Changer. It was as if every effort was made to keep readers of Changer from finding this stand-alone sequel.

This is a pity, since Changer did well and continues to be popular enough that used copies fetch a premium. Legends Walking was the first of my books to go to a second printing based on strong initial orders, but much of that printing never found its audience. To this day, I have people come to me to praise Changer, and then express surprise when I tell them about the existence of Legends Walking.
To me the presentation of Changer and Legends Walking is a strong example of why covers for a series need to be parts of a set. Even if the initial cover isn’t the best approach (and I think the the cover of Changer was very good, and the format could have been adapted), still, continuity is crucial.

Midwinter concludes by saying: “the cover art to Changer was why I finally grabbed the book after passing it three or four times in the store.” How many people who loved Changer walked right by Legends Walking because the series was not presented as a set?

JS Bangs
2. jaspax
I adore the cover for Legends Walking, although that's because it looks to me like an intriguing fantasy novel. I wouldn't have guessed contemporary Africa... but the cover isn't so far off from that. I wouldn't feel cheated if I cracked the book open based on the cover.

Why do publishers do this? Obviously, they're trying to sell books, but one really gets the impression that they don't know how. And nobody else does either.
3. KatG
So basically, Lindskold continued to publish with Avon which continued to mess up her covers and cost her sales. How did she manage a publishing career with this progression? This is kind of fascinating. Usually, authors don't have this many cover horror stories. I will be interested to see if in time she published with another publisher and what the experience there was.
Shawn Bilodeau
4. smbilodeau
There is one thing in common between the two covers: "A Novel of the Athanor".

It's why I bought "Legends Walking" -- "Changer" having been the first of your solo-authored novels I read, and still my favorite of your stories.
Julian Hall
5. Jules
A brief comment on the cover of Changer: I buy most of my books at small second hand bookshops. They typically haven't sorted the books by genre, which means I become very adept at sorting out the genre of the book by looking at its cover. And I would skip straight over that cover and not look twice at it. It looks more like a mainstream-with-slightly-literary-tendencies cover to me. Legends Walking, however, I'd pull of the shelf and read the back cover copy.
Jane Lindskold
6. janelindskold
I'm actually going to touch on my Tor covers in the next (and final) installment in this series.

"smbilodeua"'s comment actually anticipates the theme of that article to some extent.

KatG implies a criticism of my staying with Avon, despite those covers. Well, one of the problems for a writer is you have No Control over cover art.


All my Avon contracts were signed with an editor I liked and respected, and from whom I learned a great deal.

I felt that was a good choice since, no matter where I went, I still wouldn't have had a single bit of input on the cover art.

Does that help?
7. KatG
Not at all meant to be a criticism of you staying with Avon. They are/were a major house and yes, I'm well aware that authors have little to no imput on cover art and certainly no veto power. More bewilderment that this was allowed to continue with an author they liked and were working with. But then, that's the nature of mass market publishing in the 1980's and 90's, and everybody did the best they could, tried stuff out and sometimes came up with beautiful art. I will be interested to hear what happened with Tor, which has perhaps a better connect between editorial and art department. This series you've done has been very interesting, so thank you for doing it.
Heather Massey
8. sfrgalaxy
Thanks again for a very informative piece.
9. Brian Crook
(I got here from links posted on Jerry Weinberg's blog. You may recognize him as a prolific non-fiction writer and relative neophyte to the sci-fi/fantasy genre.)

Just read the three articles. It seems to me that the main purpose of cover/jacket art is to prompt the book's audience to pick up from the rack. For me, that's not a question of "I like/don't like", it's whether the publisher is optimally selling the book. So a cover that misrepresents the book is a poor one indeed.

I think it's appropriate for an author to criticize, with specifics, when covers or other marketing material don't properly represent the book. After all, the publishers want to maximize sales, as do you.

You mention an apparent change in "tone" in Avon's covers for you. Likely a different editor.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment