Saturday, 4 June 2011

The author, the agent and the cover artist

The publishing industry is in a strange but interesting state, with everyone trying out each other's jobs. This story caught my eye.

Catherine Cookson's books were published long before ebooks were thought of, so her publishers, Transworld and Simon & Schuster don't hold the rights. Catherine Cookson's estate has authorized her agent Sonia Land to release a hundred of her books for Kindle in an exclusive deal with Amazon. Priced at £3.99, I'm sure Cookson's many fans will be delighted.

What struck me as odd is how Sonia Land has published the novels. She's started her own company, and called it Peach Publishing, in spite of the fact that there is already a Peach Publishing in existence in the UK with a website here. Sonia Land's website is still under construction. Did she not think to google the name?

And then there's the covers... I move in indie circles, and have seen a few amateur book covers in my time, but these take the biscuit. How any professional in the publishing industry could think these acceptable beats me. They aren't just ugly and cheap-looking, they're inept.

Perhaps Ms Land has the visual equivalent of a tin ear, or maybe she reflected that Catherine Cookson's books would sell however dire the covers. Maybe the designs were done by a relative, and she found it hard to be objective. I do hope she didn't do them herself...

Whatever the explanation, I wouldn't want her choosing a cover artist for my books.


  1. The covers are terrible, aren't they?

    Random House recently cut Sheil Land out of Tom Sharpe's e-book deal. Strange times...

  2. It's about money, really; all of it. Where there's enough involved, scruples tend to get ditched.

  3. See?!?!? Print copies rule!! If these were print copies in the shops, there'd be a lawsuit.

    Oh but seriously! These are horrid!! Bring back the wistful heroines looking out from painted landscapes that I know and love for her book covers!

    :-) Take care

  4. I think they're dreadful. I was shocked when I first saw them!

    The old James Bond ones are in a similar vein:

    Surely the respective estates could afford to get a decent designer to spend some time on them!

  5. Kitty, you're right. It's possibly a case of ebooks being seen as second best.

    Goodness, the James Bond ones are bad. I hadn't seen them. Dingy photos and dreadful lettering. Surely no professional designer could produce those? There must have been some meeting when the people involved saw the artwork for the first time. I wonder what they said.

  6. What thye said probably ran like this; how much was it? Damn that a good price! Right on to the next item!
    Regards Greg

  7. And I thought my ebook cover was amateurish...
    You'll probably find this was commissioned at great expense. Let me think what I would say.
    We are using a robust (always have robust in any management pitch) design concept, optimised to work in any format or size. The sketch and the signature create an identity which maintains it's unique qualities whether read on a phone or a Kindle, that is consistent across all the books and by using a range of colours we ensure an identity for each individual ebook within the series, etc.etc. One can only guess at the fee.

  8. Greg, Rod, I'm sticking to my theory that she gave the commission to a teenage nephew who was thinking of going to art college.

    The cover isn't even the correct dimensions...

  9. To my mind a fancy graphic cover is only needed to attract new readers to a new author.
    Everyone will have heard of Catherine Cookson so the cover is unimportant. It's the words inside that matter.

    I have only read 'The Whip' which is about hardship to poor women in the North East in Victorian times.
    It is a rather stark book, though a gripping read.
    It needs a stark cover or something plain.

    I assume that the picture aims to portray Cookson with a pencil sketch.
    If Picasso had drawn it, it would no doubt attract adulation, rather like 'Madame Z'.

    I actually rather like it, but then I also liked the early penguin covers which were plain, just showing author and title. Definitely preferable to the 'Bodice Ripping' lurid covers that embarrass me every time I look at an airport or railway book display!

    Your covers though are wonderful Lexi. Perfection!

    The first cover for Remix together with the title attracted me like a moth to a flame.

    Your next book could have any old cover you care to knock up, and I would buy it. It's no longer important for me. *smile*

  10. Q, it pains me to say this, but you are Wrong with a capital W.

    Reason not the need. Kate Middleton could have turned up at the Abbey in jeans - she'd have been warm enough and decent, but it wouldn't have done.

    A book has to have a cover, even an ebook, so why not have one that is well designed rather than badly designed? These covers aren't plain and elegant, like early Penguins; they are a dog's dinner.

  11. Lexi,despite my earlier resolve not to argue with a lady author, I can't let you get away with that!

    Kate of course had to have all the trimmings at the Abbey. It was her first foray into royal marriage. A second appearance however, at say a concert, could well be a more relaxed affair. She looks stunning in jeans!

    I don't sit at my computer admiring book covers, not even yours. Its only the story that interests me. The cover is the initial attraction, the pheromone if you like, but having got a book or an author that I like, I'm happy to throw away the cover!

    Indeed, with some covers I have been known to wrap a book in brown paper in order to read it on public transport without embarrassment. I once inked a false title on the brown paper. I think it was 'Tractatus'. LOL

  12. What we all want to know now is what you were reading that you felt you had to conceal with brown paper...

    As a designer by trade, I care about what things look like and know it's important. I once had a paperback of Lucky Jim whose cover was so awful I couldn't bear it, and had to put brown paper over it.

  13. Yuk! Those do seem amateurish.

    One thought though: for the few books I've so far bought for my Kindle, the cover hasn't mattered at all. I've gone for them based on knowledge of the author (eg you!), having read a review, or being tempted by a bargain price. When in an actual bookstore though, cover is very important to tell me if it's my sort of book at all. So maybe it matters more for new authors to get a good design. I already know enough about Catherine Cookson and James Bond to know they're not for me.

    Congratulations on your latest sales figures by the way!


  14. It's not necessarily the artwork that's bad, but the lack of variety. Maybe one book, OK. But you're right, I wouldn't want that either.

  15. K, agreed that once the book's on the Kindle, the cover is unimportant. But I think people underestimate the effect images have on them. Those little thumbnails on Amazon matter - they draw or repel the eye.

    KJ, it's everything: artwork, fonts, colours, random twiddly bits behind some titles. If it had to be done on a shoestring (why?) I'd have preferred a classic design with excellent proportions and different background colours on each book.

  16. My take on covers has changed. I thought at first they were very important and had to look good - thinking held over from print book shops - but for the Kindle I think they hardly matter at all. I didn't buy your books because of the covers but because of the sample which drew me to your style. You could put the plainest cover imaginable on your next book, (something like my simple efforts!), and I will still buy it. Shan't bother with a sample, either!
    When I first put my short stories up on Smashwords I concocted some very feeble efforts, plus a couple of better ones. The downloads were in direct proportion to the poorness of the covers, i.e. the most downloads were for the poorest cover and the least downloads were for what I thought was the best cover. But then, what do I know?

  17. Hurrah! One prospective buyer for my next book!

    I think a good cover may help sales, and won't harm them, and a bad cover may harm sales and won't help them. So as with everything else, we should do the best we can.

    There are some gorgeous covers around these days...

  18. May I raise my hand and vote with Quantum? I certainly recognize the importance of a well done cover in attracting new readers who have nothing else to go on. I think that's the operative phrase here "nothing else to go on". Some of the most cherished and reread books on my shelf have covers that have nothing but the title and author name on the front. But they are books by Twain, Dicken's, Thackeray, Stevenson...

    What do I care what the cover looks like when I know what awaits me inside?

    Packaging is important, I won't argue with that. Why does the vast majority of folks put at least a bit of effort into looking good before they step out the door? Because packaging matters. But I'm thinking that this Cookson person (never read her, but she seems to be a big name in certain circles) could sell her books no matter what. Either people are already fans or they have had her recommended to them. In a case like that the cover probably isn't as important.

    And for what it's worth, my own experience this past month has been that a vastly improved cover hasn't done one bit of good for sales. They were on a downward trend already and it hasn't improved at all since the new cover made its appearance. Nothing to do but finish writing the next one.

  19. OMGs! I've seen some horrific covers in my time, but these take the biscuit! It's hard to think of how they could possibly look less professional.

  20. Alan, anything that makes you finish The Baer Boys is not unalloyed bad. I am looking forward to that book.

    Domgodess, the covers would be even less professional if Catherine Cookson's name was misspelled. There, that was easy :o)

  21. Chipping away at it, Lexi, chipping away. It has become much more of a Novel with upper case "N" than I had originally planned. Dealing very much with tone now, not to mention all the havoc I have played with the timeline in all of the revisions lately. But I have to admit that I find it easier to buckle down on the current project during periods when Boomerang is selling a bit.

  22. Yes - there's nothing like a bit of encouragement to put a spring in the step and a whistle on the lips. I hope BB won't get too serious a Novel, as it's the funny bits I like best.

  23. Trying to keep the fun but trim the blatantly silly. Laughter through tears is what I am hoping to achieve. Or a slight hiccup every once in a while.

  24. Oooo, these are bad...
    Anyone else remember the large-print library books in the 1970s which had plain hardback covers in black and white? Even those are better than this. At least then you knew what you were getting - and many of them were by Catherine Cookson.

  25. Lee, I can't even find those editions on Google. Totally agree, plain is better than incompetent.

    Alan, this reader wants a high laughter-to-tears ratio. It's harder to make people laugh, but you manage it.