Writing Wednesday: Do authors choose their covers?

Yesterday a large box was waiting for me at my door. (Isn’t that an exciting thing to find, ripe with possibilities? What’s inside? Did I order something and forget? Did someone send me something?)

Yes, someone did send me something. It’s my advanced author copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul: From Lemons to Lemonade. My story “A Turkey of a Thanksgiving” is on pages 284-288. It struck me that the cover was exceptionally pretty. Was it simply because I knew my own story was in it, or because it really is that pretty? Perhaps we’ll never know. 🙂

IMG_3782But it did get me thinking about book covers. My students will often ask me questions about the novels we read in class. If I say something like, “The dog in this story is white.” One of them will invariably point to the cover and say, “No, the dog is gray. See?” And then I have to explain that we pay attention to what’s in the story, not what’s on the cover.

This invariably leads to the question: “Then why did the author put a gray dog on the cover?”

Answer: The author didn’t. Someone in the publishing house chose that picture.

It’s true. Most of the time authors have little to no say in the cover design for their books. I remember being at my first writing conference and an author explaining how she and other women had put together a collection of stories that took place in Door County, Wisconsin. Some of the stories involved lighthouses, so the publisher had chosen a picture of a lighthouse from Maine for the cover. The women all protested because not all their stories involved lighthouses and (apparently) the lighthouses in Maine are quite different from those in Wisconsin. I believe they eventually convinced the publisher to change the picture to a different lighthouse, but it still wasn’t quite to their satisfaction.

IMG_3783I understand now when my writing friends get very excited over their covers when they turn out really nice. The first time I heard one gush about how beautiful the cover of her book was I thought, “It’s a cover. Who cares?” But then I began to see really bad covers, and now that my own work is in book form, I’m really glad the book looks pretty so I can proudly post pictures of it on my blog and Facebook page.

And let’s face it: whether we should or not, we often judge books by their covers. Just don’t blame the author if you don’t like the cover.

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2 Responses to Writing Wednesday: Do authors choose their covers?

  1. I want to market my photos to authors for book covers. Would you have any idea how I would go about doing that? Obviously from your helpful article it’s hard because authors don’t often choose their own covers. So I am wondering if you have a little insight??!!

    • AJ Cattapan says:

      Hi, Mary Ann! Thanks for stopping by. Since authors don’t really choose their covers, I don’t think you can market directly to them. It’s usually the publishing house choosing the cover.

      The exception, of course, would be self-published books. I’m not sure how you go about finding self-published authors, but they’d probably be the only authors who have final say on their book covers.

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