Monday, December 17, 2012

Cover Conferences

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Knot What it SeamsMy editor emailed me a week ago and said she was going to fit in a cover conference before the staff at Penguin left for Christmas break. 

This was a little earlier than I expected for a book that’s coming out in 2014…but I’d much rather do it earlier than later, and I always appreciate this editor’s organization.

I quickly put together some ideas for her to present at the conference and emailed them to her.  She and I discussed the ideas during a phone call. 
At the end of the call, she said, “Great!  Now, Elizabeth, if you get any great visions for the cover, just call me back anytime.”

I said dryly, “If I get any great visions for the cover, we’ll know I’ve had a small stroke.”  I’ve mentioned to her before how difficult it is for me to come up with these kinds of ideas, since I’m not a visual thinker—although I’ve gotten better over the years.

For this Penguin (or, I guess, Penguin-Random House) editor, I submit ideas for cover elements—descriptions of rooms or outdoor spaces where major scenes take place, descriptions (and sometimes images, if I have them) of quilts that I’ve mentioned in the books, and how the murders were committed--they like having the knife or the gun, etc., somewhere on the cover.

My editor also likes the manuscript so that she can skim it for ideas for the conference.  I’ve gotten better about sending an unfinished manuscript to her.  This time was very early though:  I submitted her a book with no ending and no chapter breaks…my deadline is in February, so the book isn’t finished yet.  I managed not to freak out too much over this.   Although I did warn her that I write description in last, so the manuscript might be of limited use to her. 

For my other Penguin series, I really have no input in the cover (at least, I haven’t in the past).  In many ways, this is a relief to me.  :)

For my self-published books, I’ve given the cover designer the book description to give her an idea what we’re talking about, thoughts on a setting for the cover, and the murder weapons.  Usually, for cozy mysteries, you have an idyllic scene with an element of danger interrupting the tranquility.
So, some general things to think about if you’re helping to contribute ideas to a designer or editor for a cover design (for either traditional publishing or self-publishing):

Think about what will appeal to your genre’s readers.

Make sure your cover indicates the genre.  For me, that’s the element of danger that my editor asks me to indicate—the tea cup on its side, the ominous knife in the foreground…that sort of thing.

Remember to brand the covers in a series.  I have several different series and they each have their own look.  It helps readers identify the other books in the series. 

Don’t be too stuck on having the cover accurately represent what’s transpiring in the book.  This is something I’ve managed to relax more over.  It used to seem very odd to me that Beale Street is depicted the way it is on the Delicious and Suspicious cover, for instance.  But what the cover is meant to do is entice readers and act as a marketing tool.  It doesn’t have to replicate a scene from the book.  This third quilting mystery will have the series’ corgi on the cover—because it brands the series and readers love the dog (I’m a corgi owner, myself.)  But the corgi isn’t present during the third book…merely mentioned. 

How involved have you been with cover creation?  If you self-pub, do you hire a designer and just give a book summary to the designer?  If you’re traditionally published, how involved are you with the cover?