When Your Publisher Gets the Cover Wrong—Very Wrong

When Your Publisher Gets the Cover Wrong—Very Wrong

Image: on a red tabletop are two cinnamon rolls side by side, each topped with white icing and a sliced maraschino cherry, suggestively resembling a pair of breasts.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Today’s put up is excerpted from the new revised version of Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive by Joni B. Cole (@JoniBCole)

This story begins about eight years in the past, with the arrival of a a lot anticipated e-mail from the publishing home the place the first version of my guide, Good Naked: How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier, was in manufacturing. Wrote the advertising and marketing coordinator:

Dear Joni,

Attached is the ultimate model of the cowl design for Good Naked, which the designer has requested me to go alongside to you. Please notice that the white gridlines are watermarks that gained’t be current in the completed product…

Image: the publisher's suggested cover design for Joni B. Cole's writing instruction book Good Naked.

Even now, years later, I get aftershocks excited about the first time I opened the attachment and noticed that cowl design. There, filling my display screen, was the picture of a unadorned girl’s physique, full-frontal, lingering in the shadows in opposition to a smoky backdrop. She was minimize off from the neck up and knees down. Against the darkish backdrop, two pink circles (representing the Os in the guide’s title) drew the eye to the girl’s breasts. Her slender fingers fashioned a V, framing her pubis. And slightly below her personal elements, unfold throughout her silken thighs, was my guide’s subtitle—How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier.

In abstract, the proposed cowl for my guide—a cheerful and sensible writing information primarily based on my a long time of expertise as an writer and trainer—depicted a nude, headless girl, beckoning guide browsers from the shadows like a back-alley intercourse employee.

Here, I really feel compelled to state that I’ve nothing in opposition to back-alley intercourse staff. I additionally will concede that, sure, my writing information has the phrase “naked” in its title, however so do loads of different books, like Naked Statistics, which has a pie chart on its cowl. So, when the designer noticed the title of my manuscript, what made him consider comfortable porn? Why did he design a canopy higher suited to a wholly completely different sort of guide, say Fifty Shades of Writing?

I reread the e-mail to verify I had not misunderstood.

Final model of the cowl…Please notice that the white gridlines

Could the advertising and marketing coordinator who had written this e-mail to me be any extra misguided? How might she assume that a couple of barely perceptible gridlines on the enclosed picture could be my main concern, when there was my title—Joni B. Cole—connected to a piece suggesting way more on the market than writing recommendation?

This story involves thoughts as I take into consideration suggestions throughout the publishing course of. In this case, I, the writer, was the one tasked with offering suggestions, regardless of being advised the cowl design was “final” and regardless of my concern of penalties. I apprehensive that my guide was already on a decent manufacturing schedule. Could the designer refuse to make adjustments? If I refused his refusal, might the writer delay my guide’s launch, and even pull it from their checklist? Would I find yourself blacklisted from the trade, a notice on my file itemizing me as disagreeable, uncooperative, and unwilling to do nudity?

All types of worries, actual and irrational, cluttered my pondering. But, given the scenario, I felt like I had no selection however to reject this cowl wholesale. I imagined my new launch displayed in the creative-writing part of my daughter’s school bookstore. (And she thought I had embarrassed her in the previous!) For ethical help, I confirmed the cowl to a couple mates, looking for their reactions:

“Is this a joke?”

“Whoa! I thought maybe you’d been exaggerating.”

“Is it me, or is that woman about to get busy with herself?”

The solely constructive remark about the cowl got here from my good friend Dan. “It’s not that bad,” he shrugged. “Maybe it will sell some books.”

Yeah, proper, I believed, and possibly folks will assume these are my silken thighs. But that doesn’t make it proper.

My good friend Dan did make a sound level. Helping a guide promote is certainly one in all the most important issues when designing its cowl. Depending in your publishing contract, chances are you’ll not have a lot, or any, say in the ultimate design, and that isn’t utterly unreasonable.

Few authors double as designers. Our forte is plot factors, not graphic ideas. We could also be too wedded to our personal inventive sensibilities, proper all the way down to our favourite colours. (That dusty rose seemed so good on my bridesmaids’ clothes.) Meanwhile, we aren’t excited about the large stuff that skilled cowl designers know to contemplate. Stuff like, What is in tune together with your guide’s tone and viewers? What is probably to attract a browser’s consideration? What is on pattern? Is the sort readable from a distance? Is the cowl going to work when it’s in the type of a one-inch-high icon on Amazon?

In brief, in the event you do have a say in the ultimate design of your cowl, simply you’ll want to fastidiously weigh your tastes in opposition to the designer’s eye and advertising and marketing experience. What appears good in your wall gained’t essentially look good in your cowl. Also, bear in mind that you could be not love your cowl at first sight, however in the finish you must ask your self whether or not you’ll be pleased with placing it on the market. Remember, folks truly do decide a guide by its cowl, so that you don’t wish to get in the method of getting your new launch make an incredible first impression.

You additionally don’t wish to be one in all these authors. My mates who work in publishing have advised me tales—oh, how they’ve advised me tales. The following is only one of them. An writer of a scholarly guide obtained a canopy whose picture was one in all her selecting, however she was so sad about the different components (apparently the colour of the subtitle made her “vomit”) she spammed the designer, the artwork manufacturing supervisor, the managing editor, the director of the press, and even the CFO. The one individual she couldn’t instantly harass was her editor, who was away at a week-long convention. The press director referred to as the editor and advised her to “rein in her author,” which was no small job. In the finish, virtually everybody at the press stopped taking this writer’s calls, and whereas the cowl situation was finally resolved, the writer selected to speak solely with the managing editor after that time.

While a lot of this chapter has handled suggestions associated to your guide’s cowl, sometimes that is the situation (in addition to your guide’s inside design) the place you might have the least enter, relying in your contract. Almost each different step of the publishing course of, nonetheless, invitations two-way suggestions as you’re employed together with your developmental editor, your copy editor, and the advertising and marketing workforce.

As famous in one other chapter on this guide, it is very important communicate up in the event you really disagree with, say, your developmental editor’s suggestion to drop the first three chapters. But earlier than you react or overreact, simply hold this in thoughts: My gawd, you might be working with an actual, stay skilled editor! (And, belief me, in case your actual, stay skilled editor is bored by your opening, your readers are prone to really feel the similar.) Also, I might not suggest crossing your copy editor, not except you might be the form of one that is aware of the previous tense of the verb forsake, all 430 makes use of of the phrase set, and whether or not that is the appropriate spelling of Kyrgyzstan.

All this to say, don’t fail to place your foot down when obligatory, but additionally hear, actually take heed to the professionals. Be open to their recommendation, and carry that open-mindedness by way of each step of the publishing course of, from the finalization of the manuscript, by way of the manufacturing of the precise guide, by way of gross sales and promotion. There is suggestions … after which there may be suggestions from individuals who make their dwelling publishing dozens and dozens of books a yr.

“Trust the process,” as one in all my editors as soon as stated to me. “The author-publisher relationship is not a competition. It’s a partnership, a dynamic. The publisher is invested financially,” she jogged my memory, “so they want your book to succeed in every way possible.”

And right here I had assumed she’d been working so arduous on my manuscript just because she was my good friend.


In case you might be interested by what occurred to that bare girl on the “final” cowl of my writing information, right here is the remainder of the story. As quickly as I noticed that picture, I referred to as my editor in a state of excessive dudgeon. As it seems, he shared my low opinion of the cowl selection, however the designer had voted him down. “Don’t sweat it for now,” my editor advised me. “Marketing is on your side as well.” This begged the query: Who was this designer with such sway he might override each my editor and the of us in advertising and marketing?

Weeks handed. My print date drew close to. Each time I checked in on my intercourse employee, I used to be advised that the designer remained reluctant to take away her from my cowl. As a seasoned writer, I’m not afraid to talk my thoughts, however I’m additionally not large on ultimatums. “Replace that cover—or me and my book are walking!” For me, it nonetheless appears like a miracle when a writer accepts my work. It was unfathomable to assume I might do something to jeopardize my “forthcoming release,” two phrases I really like dropping into each dialog. But I simply couldn’t settle for that cowl. This felt larger than a battle over design. This had the stink of misogyny.

Finally, I acquired phrase. Fifty Shades of Writing was no extra—I might see a brand new cowl choice for Good Naked by the finish of the day. This information got here in the type of an e-mail from the similar advertising and marketing coordinator who, weeks earlier, had despatched alongside the authentic design. In this message she wrote:

Dear Joni,

I’m sorry to your sleepless nights…I don’t know whether or not I needs to be placing this in writing, however in all my time right here, I don’t assume I’ve ever been this against a canopy design. I’m reasonably ashamed that I knuckled underneath and despatched it to you anyway, and I can solely think about how you could have felt.

Later that afternoon the designer put collectively another with the picture of a fountain pen beside a notepad, just like the clip artwork utilized in dozens of writing-related blogs and a far cry from capturing the power and tone of my guide. In forwarding this iteration, the advertising and marketing coordinator had did not delete the designer’s e-mail to her, which I’m certain was not meant for my eyes—“See if she’ll like this one,” he had written, as if I have been some diva with an countless checklist of ludicrous calls for—No, I stated blue M&Ms! Not inexperienced! Not pink! Blue!

Given I felt my cowl deserved greater than clip artwork, I employed an out of doors graphic designer to submit a special idea. The writer finally selected this cowl choice for my guide, although I heard by way of the grapevine that the Fifty Shades of Writing designer didn’t prefer it. (Perhaps he was distracted by the white gridlines?) So, all’s effectively that ends effectively, although this story has yet one more chapter.

About a yr after the launch of Good Naked, the publishing home went underneath, which was an actual blow not simply because it orphaned my guide, however due to all the proficient and beautiful individuals who labored at the press, and all the significant titles it had launched to the world for nearly fifty years. I used to be fortunate to search out my very own blissful ending, nonetheless, as Good Naked was picked up by a special writer that invited me to create a second version. Oh, and it was love at first sight once they confirmed me their revised model of the cowl!

Now, in my higher moments, once I take into consideration that designer with whom I so fervently disagreed, I attempt to let bygones be bygones. I hope that he discovered employment at another publishing home, assuming he’s not dwelling out his male fantasies on the covers of different authors’ new releases. But if the problem of my very own cowl battle has taught me something, it’s this: There is nice bare, and there may be unhealthy bare, however solely a type of may also help you write extra, write higher, and be happier, and it’s not the one which has something to do with comfortable porn.

Joni B. Cole is the writer of seven books, together with Good Naked: How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier (listed as a “Best Books for Writers” by Poets & Writers journal) and Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive (“I can’t imagine a better guide to writing’s rewards and perils than this fine book,” American Book Review). Joni teaches writing on-line and in individual at her personal author’s middle in White River Junction, Vermont, and at a variety of educational and nonprofit applications. Her second assortment of essays, Party Like It’s 2044, is forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press in September 2023. Learn extra at her website.

Check Also

Is your protagonist too comfortable?

Is your protagonist too comfortable?

The finest second of each writer discuss I ever give in a college is once …