Tue
Nov 24 2009 1:51pm

The covers that got away

mystery of grace, blood groove

I got batch of cover designs in today and immediately regretted that the one I liked the best, visually speaking, would never fly for the cover. In this case, with good reason—it looks great but isn’t quite suited for the audience. Luckily, there are others in the batch that also also very good and more appropriate for the book.

Also today, I got sketches in for another book. Here we are clearly making the less interesting choice because it more closely resembles familiar territory. The artist is no dummy and will likely reuse the pose on someone else’s very successful book cover. (And I will be jealous!)

This happens a lot in the job. Many times I agree with the final outcome, in some cases I don’t. Below are two older examples of each.

Mystery of Grace

The Mystery of Grace
Illustrator John Jude Palencar and designer Peter Lutjen have been the dynamic duo behind many many Charles de Lint covers. It’s amazing how well their sensibilities work together, even more so when you consider that Charles, Peter, and John have never met.

John Jude Palencar's sketch for Mystery fo GraceWhen Mystery of Grace came up, we knew a general outline of the story. John Jude sent in a series of sketches and I was blinded by how much I loved this puppeteer drawing. It makes for a great painting, and even a great cover, but when the author and editor brought up the fact that it was much too dark for the book, it was hard to fight it. It certainly is macabre. This is not the artist’s fault. If I had been thinking more clearly, I would have asked for other sketches. In this case we got as far as printing Advance Reading Copies with the puppet cover before we were able to about-face and start over.  (I’m told you can find those advance reading copies on eBay every now and then.)

Since we do have such a long and wonderful history of Palencar covers on de Lint books, there was never a question of what to do—I went back to John, described the book more fully, and gave him a clearer understanding of how we wanted to position it. It was a whole second commission for him—a pricey mistake on my part but, thankfully, not one that I make too often. In the end, the second cover is just as lovely in a different way.

Blood Groove

Blood Groove
In this case, it was tough to get the marketing tone right. The initial copy and the title made it sound a bit campy and hipstery. When talking to the editor, the book sounded much more grisly than that, and it sounded much more gritty than the current slew of hot Twilight-y vampires. Designer Jamie Stafford-Hill went to town on the idea of a truly horrific, old school vampire. What you can’t see here is, he even requested a slightly textured varnish to make the cover just a tiny bit pebbly  your hand. We did an advance run on the jackets and they looked great. Really great. In the end, though, Sales and Marketing felt that we should try to hit larger audience and go with a “movie poster” style cover. Selling more books is good for everybody—from the author, to the bookstore clerks, to the truck drivers moving inventory around—so  it’s difficult to say that going more commercial is a bad thing. But truth be told, this was example where I wish we could have stuck with something that was a bit more unique and engaging. While I certainly like the re-do (quite a bit actually) I’ll always wonder which cover really would have performed better.


Irene Gallo is the art director for Tor, Forge, and Starcape books and Tor.com.

14 comments
Linda Frear
1. tanguera
I'd buy your original cover concept for Blood Grove, but might pass by the second one--but I prefer old school vampires. The second cover also makes me think it's a crime novel.
Liza .
2. aedifica
It's neat to have this glance behind the scenes!

The second cover for Mystery of Grace looks much more like a de Lint cover, which means I'd be more likely to pick it up. (I'd pick up either cover if I noticed the author was de Lint, but the second cover gives me a clue before I get close enough to read the name.)

I wouldn't pick up the second book with either cover, but part of that's the title--it sounds far too gory for my tastes.
Susan at Stony River
3. Susan at Stony River
I like both the covers for Charles deLint, so equally that if both were on a bookstore shelf I'm not sure which I'd pick.

The first for Blood Grove is certainly more eye-catching. The second seems a lot like a hundred other covers I've seen somehow.

What's the likelihood of a previous contender coming forward again when the book goes to paperback or a second edition?
Susan at Stony River
4. FredKiesche
The Lutjen cover for "Grace" was the one that got me to buy the book--after sitting on the fence with de Lint for so long. I know have bought a pile more, based on the fact that I liked the book--but what got me to buy was the cover.
Iain Coleman
5. Iain_Coleman
I prefer the first cover in both cases. Perhaps I'm not the target market.
Patrick Garson
6. patrickg
How fascinating. I wonder, Irene, if you have a say in the spine of the book as well? I find that spine aesthetics exert a powerful pull over me in bookstore settings - particularly more crowded bookstores - and I'm always aghast when I see a spine that doesn't really stand out, even more so when it's actually hard to read the title and author.

Given the limitations are so much more strict, I would love to hear about how (and if) you navigate the fine line between striking and stupid, unique and illegible, cohesive and camouflage when dealing with spines!
Irene Gallo
7. Irene
Susan @3 - We actually have been able to do that on occasion. It depends on a lot of issues: How much exposure the initial "rejected" cover got, how strongly people felt it didn't work, _who_ felt it didn't work, how much pressure is on the book, etc. But currently I have a thriller in which we are going back to an earlier cover.

Similarly: every once in a while an artist will hand in two or three sketches for one project and we are able to use them for projects further on. Usually when it's in the same series, but sometimes it's just a composition too good to let go.

Fred @4 - Thank you, sir!

Patrick @6 - Spines really are important. It's tough, since there isn't always a lot of space to play with, but we try to give it a lot of thought. I wrote a post on it on my own blog. Maybe it's time I update that and post it here.
Susan at Stony River
8. seth e.
I also like the first covers more. The first Blood Groove cover hits that Dario Argento-style creepy-groovy vibe you just don't get any more. The first Grace cover reminds me of the tunnels at Baiae, which I first read about a little while ago and have been dwelling on occasionally ever since.

They make an interesting pair. If only the skeletal puppets you found in ancient Hellish underworlds had more of a sixties horror-glam feel to them.
Ian Gazzotti
9. Atrus
Knowing nothing about the authors or the books, I would probably take a look at the first De Lint and ignore the other three. It might be macabre, but it really stands out.
Matt Runquist
10. bat_matt
I have little to say about the covers other than they all look great to me. Nonetheless, this is my favorite post on Tor.com in a while. Cool ephemera and a little story to go with? More, please:)
Susan at Stony River
11. Rebecca Baumann
I read "Blood Groove" several months back, and I hate to say it, but neither cover above prepares the reader for the story inside. This is an awesomely dirty, nasty, gory vampire story that will shock the socks off any fans of 'vampire lite' who happen by. I still have the final scene from the book in my mind (don't worry - I don't abide spoilers), and even though this wasn't my typical kind of read, it will literally haunt me for a good while. The ugliness that permeates the book doesn't come through on the cover art though, which is kind of a shame.
Ashe Armstrong
12. AsheSaoirse
The first Blood Groove cover is very striking and eye-catching. I'd have picked it up based on that alone and at least read the summary, maybe flipped a few pages.
Ian Tregillis
13. ITregillis
I love my copy of The Mystery of Grace, as much for the cover as for the story inside. I had already been planning to buy the book, but when I saw it on the shelf, it just leaped out at me. Of the books I own, it's probably one of my favorite covers.
Susan at Stony River
15. Aye aye sedai
Great to hear someone pays attention to spines. One offs are no big deal but how many times and how many series do I have where the designs change in the middle of a series. For instance Robert jordans knife of dreams is orietes and stylisticallly different than the preceeding and this was the 11th book in the series.

Just seems like spine format and fonts are ignored. Also hate when art ends at spine but folding is off so spine looks awful. I will return books that have misfolded covers.

If author has different series or different genre don't mind changes.

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