Secret time: We don't always love our book's cover right away.
As a writer for whom covers have been created, and an editor who commissions covers for others, I know this is so very true.
Book Cover Expectations: Let's Go Back In Time
When I was a teen, Casey Kasem hosted a weekly top 40 radio show; I listened for years before I finally saw a photo of Kasem himself, and:
Nada, that's not what Casey Kasem looks like.
Except. Except what did I think he looked like? I don't know. I'd had no idea I even had expectations until his perfectly fine face somehow didn't meet them.
Enter the cover for your book: even if you don't know what you want the cover to be, sometimes you kind of do, and if the cover doesn't fit those vague imaginings it can lead to a momentary "no, nope, nada."
Why I'm Telling You This
You need to know this sometimes happens, so you're okay with that momentary weirdness. So you know it's normal, you're not alone, and you'll get over it.
Yes, you'll come to love that cover because it's your cover. For your book. That you wrote and for which someone you never even met created an illustration.
How cool is that?
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So breathe deep and look at the cover again. A couple times. Let its colors dance across your eyeballs. Think about what part of the book the cover recalls. Go away and come back to it.
Chances are good, after you've had your Casey Kasem-esque "thanks no," moment, you'll like, even love, your cover. Certainly you'll remember that publishing is not a solo endeavor, that you've already been edited and proofread, your blurb has been worked and reworked, and you didn't always agree with every change there but you knew each was to make the book better.
Same goes for your book's cover, which was designed by a professional, one who's done this before and understands the tricksy ways of layout, typeface, and the rule of thirds – or whatever magic artists know and writers like you and I don't.
However, if, if, if, after a few days you decide you really don't like your cover, is that all she wrote? Are you stuck forever?
When You Can Get Your Book Cover Changed…and When You Can't
I have a friend who wrote a novel whose protagonist is an Asian man. The book cover artist didn't know this (no, they don't have time to read each book they illustrate; usually they work from your blurb and ideas shared by writer and editor), and so this artist produced a book cover with a very Caucasian man.
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Approaching her publisher with professional grace (note the bold-italics) my friend explained why the cover was wrong, absolutely.
The publisher – who was busy with a bevvy of other books and this no doubt slipped through – said the equivalent of "Yikes you're right, let's try again."
Try they did, and the novel's since published with a lovely Asian man on the cover.
If something like that happens to you, definitely contact your editor or publisher, and talk with them. Yet though you may feel insulted, hurt, and sad they got something so vital so very wrong do not let them know that.
By this I mean do not insult the cover to your publisher, do not belittle its creator, do not threaten to pull your book because you hate the artwork. None of these help you, but they very definitely can hurt you.
If you need to rant, take your besties out for a brew and do that with them. After you've said unprintable things about the illustrator, the publisher, the server who brought the wrong beers, after you've sworn everyone but you and your darlings are dumb as bricks, after all that…sit down with the cover, really understand why you don't like it, then write a professional, a professional, a professional email about your reservations.
Then be patient.
What Happens Next?
Several things can happen now. At the very least, your editor will listen respectfully to your concerns – if you're respectful. Tweaks to the cover may certainly be possible and made. You won't know until you ask.
They may even be able to create a new cover, though that's not always likely. Why? Time and money. No publisher can redo covers again and again; they're pricey and we want to get to the bit where we announce your book. Trumpets! Excitement! Sales!
Yet we also want you to carry your book proudly to readings, conventions, to the pub next time you and your besties meet for brews, so if something big is wrong, we want to know about it.
We Love Your Book
In all of this remember this: we love your book or we wouldn't be publishing it.
We want a beautiful book just as much as you do. Chances are good we asked for your input on the cover before we approached the illustrator – that's standard with most small presses.
Yet understand that we all Casey Kasem things. We all have images in our head we don't even know are there. Sometimes we're going to love our cover right away, sometimes it's going to take a hot little minute, and that's okay. It's normal.
Chin high, shoulders back, spine straight. Check it out: you wrote a book. You're holding it in your hands. And that? That's magic.
Atlin Merrick is a writer and editor. If you have any small press-type questions she can answer, ask!