Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cover Hell

I've been wanting to post an image of the cover for BERMUDA SCHWARTZ. But noooo ... I'm in cover hell.

Backstory: I've loved the covers for my first two books, both the hardcover and mass market versions. Lots of color. They jump off the bookshelves. They convey a sense of the tropics and let readers know that the books aren't, you know, dark, gloomy psychological wallowings with a tormented protagonist who feels so goddamn sorry for himself that he's gonna drag the reader down with him. At least, that's what they convey to me.

But the good folks at St. Martin's think the covers have been, well, a tad too goofy. They think the cover for BERMUDA SCHWARTZ needs to have a bit more edge. They think its cover needs to convey a sense of danger and foreboding because, while the story does have it's off-the-wall moments, people die in strange and awful ways.

So. There's the quandary. Goofy title, like all my titles. Smart-ass hero. Gorgeous setting. Bad stuff happens. How do you create a cover around all that?

A couple of weeks ago, my awesome editor, Marc Resnick, sent me a rendering of the proposed cover. His message was brief: "Let me know what you think."

I opened the file. I looked at the image. It was gawd-awful. I don't even want to describe it. That bad. I called my agent, the awesome Joe Veltre. He hated it. I called my wife, the awesome Debbie. She hated it.

"No one will buy a book that looks like that," she said. "It's an embarrassment. You've got to MAKE THEM STOP!"

Here's the deal: Authors like me -- fairly newish authors who don't sell millions of books -- pull little weight when it comes to covers. Publishers and editors and sales reps and marketing people decide what covers look like. They have meetings and talk about strategy and positioning, and then they hand off everything to the designers and hope for the best.

I've spoken with dozens of authors who have hated their covers and been forced to live with them. So I did not have great expectations when I called Marc Resnick. Our conversation:

Marc (in his typically upbeat manner): "So, what do you think of the cover?"
Me (trying to be diplomatic): "It doesn't work for me on any level."
Marc: "Meaning ...?"
Me: "Meaning I hate it. Who do I have to sleep with to make it go away?"
Marc: "Well, not your editor, that's for goddam sure ..."

Here's the good news: It's back to the drawing board. Other people at St. Martin's hated the cover, too. And even as I write this, a crackerjack team of artists and designers is feverishly struggling to come up with a cover for BERMUDA SCHWARTZ that hits on all notes. Actually, this is just my delusional thinking. It's probably more like one tragically underpaid freelancer feverishly struggling etc.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting here in cover hell.


Tasha Alexander said...

Oh, Bob, I hope your stay in Cover Hell is short. It sounds a lot like Title Hell, and you know how much I hate that...

PJ Parrish said...

Bob -- and Tasha,
Ha! I am in Title Hell right now. Cover Hell is looking to me like a trip to Phillie after three weeks in a Motel 8 across the river in Camden.

Jimmy G said...

Bob, I think the last two covers have been right on the money for the scope and feel of your stories. They shouldn't screw with a good concept. Perhaps we should circulate a petition or write our congress representatives!!!!!

Richard said...

Just tell them to steal one of Elmore Leonard's covers, and you will all make money.

Bob said...

Good news ... I think.

I just received an email from my editor that the designer has come up with a great cover, one that everyone at St. Martin's loves. He calls it stylish and funny and "big book look" and all that.

But a problem. There's a power outage in NYC that has hit the Flatiron Building and the SMP office. He can't email me the damn thing...

So I am now in cover purgatory....

JD Rhoades said...

When I saw the first proposal for the hardcover of Devils' Right Hand, I said, "Well, it's pretty cool. But why is Michael Stipe of R.E.M. on the cover of my book?"
So they said "we'll change it." A couple days later they sent another version. Other than some minor changes in framing and shading, and the fact that "Michael" was a little blurrier, I couldn't tell the difference. I still liked it, Michael Stipe notwithstanding so that's what we went with.

Anonymous said...

Bob, honey, it's my experience that when an author complains about a cover, the re-do is much, much worse. I hope your experience will be otherwise!

Why mess with your concept?? Your covers were great!

Nancy Martin

Tasha Alexander said...

Any word today? Or are you still in purgatory?

(Was your sin serving yourself at the bar in Bowling Green? Is this your punishment? Or the bartender's revenge? Or, wait. Am I remembering wrong? Did Dusty go behind the bar?)

PJ -- Title Hell is the worst. I hope your stay there is short. My last visit went on and on and on and on...

Kristy said...

So, wait, you mean this:

dark, gloomy psychological wallowings with a tormented protagonist who feels so goddamn sorry for himself that he's gonna drag the reader down with him bad? Crap. My entire writing career is doomed.

Anyway, I'm all aquiver with sympathy on your cover hell. I liked the feel of your other covers. I thought they gave a good sense of the tone of the books. So, update please, do you have a new one yet?

Duane Swierczynski said...

If you've got to be in Cover Hell, Marc's a good guy to have with you, watching your back.

WIth The Blonde, Marc didn't even want to show me the original version--it was that far off the target. So he spared me a few days in Hell. And the next version was just brilliant.

Can't wait to see what they've cooked up for you, Bob.

Bob said...

Good news -- I've seen the new cover and it is fairly awesome, but it still isn't ready for public display. And yeah, Duane, you're right. No better a guy than Marc Resnick to have in your corner. Hope to put up the new, improved version soon ...

Rob Walker said...

Hello Bob -- we've not met, but I heard about your cover hell quandry and I sympathize; few authors have had as many Title Fights and Cover Fights and Copy Fights as yours truly...and I can tell you true, unless you have an editor with some gall and the balls to stand up to the marketing guys -- and it sounds like you are one of the lucky few --well you can kiss it all goodbye, because right now in publishing there are two things controlling their minds -- One is that despite the author's genius, his ability and felicity with words and all things language, and despite the incredible visual scenes he paints, when time comes for cover anythiing suddenly all authors are babbling children witout sense of a toad and can't possibly know shit about cover design, art, lettering, copy, none of it. Secondly, they all bow to the man with the label on his shirt, the one reading Marketing Director, the man with the power, whose concept can be changed only by an act of God as when he trips in the subway and is run over by a train.
Every nano-inch of the cover is HIS or HERS and typically even your editor has no juice to override...unless maybe your editor got up a 500 person petititon stating the cover really, really sucked.

Robert W. Walker, City for Ransom,
fantastic cover art,
Absolute Instinct - depiction of some guy's spinal X-ray and looks like a pathology textbook...and I pleaded with 'em NOOOOOOOOO but to deaf ears.

PJ Parrish said...


Forgot to post this p.s.:
If you want to see some really nifty covers, go to:

This site celebrates great covers and will make you want to slit your wrists over your own.