How a Book Gets Its Cover

Ever wonder how a book gets its cover? Especially when the hero of a book has a blond buzz cut, but the man on the cover rocks long, flowing, inky black hair? Well, I can’t speak about other publishers, but I can talk a little about the process at Carina Press.

The first step is the Art Fact Sheet. It comes to the author via email and asks for such basic information as where the story takes place, the time period, character descriptions and interesting visual elements. I pull descriptions from the book and add photos that inspired me. That’s the easy part.

The Art Fact Sheet also asks more difficult questions like what is the “mood” of the book. Now, you’d think a writer would ace this question. But by the time I’m finished with a manuscript, I’m so close to it that I don’t know if I accomplished what I set out to accomplish. I might be shooting for light and sexy or dark and sexy, but did I succeed? So I always, always get my editor’s input on this. And she always nails it in just a few words. She described Waiting for Ty as “longing and secrecy, with high sexual tension.” Yay, that was my intent!

Since the creative folks in the art department don’t have time to read every book they design for, they also ask for a one-to-two paragraph synopsis and a two-to-three sentence elevator pitch. This is where I get really creative with grammar, because it can be insanely difficult to condense an 80,000+ word novel into two paragraphs, much less three sentences. Honesty forces me to admit that my elevator pitch for Waiting for Ty was seven, rather lengthy sentences. Yeah, I cheated.

When the Art Fact Sheet is complete, I email it back and begin the long, excruciatingly suspenseful wait … because the cover is as important to authors as it is to readers. It’s the visual manifestation of our words. We indulge in cover reveals and buy promotional materials featuring the cover. We are cover sluts, pimping it wherever and whenever we can. We love our covers!

Finally, months after submitting the Art Fact Sheet, the preliminary cover arrives via email. For me, Waiting forTyFinalCoverno matter how beautiful the cover, it never looks the way I imagined. But the art department doesn’t want to know that. They simply want me to point out any glaring inconsistencies with the story. So I must set aside my expectations and look at the cover with a more objective eye. Is the hair color right? The eye color? When I received the cover of Waiting for Ty, there was a tat on Ty’s hip. It was a great tat, but there was a problem: Ty doesn’t have any ink. The artist removed the ink and voilà, the sexy cover you see here. Let the pimping begin.

Now that you know how important the cover is to the author, tell me how important it is in your decision to read a book.


How a Book Gets Its Cover — 17 Comments

  1. Great post, Samantha. I must admit that the cover has little to do with books I buy (though I obsess over my own–I must admit that, too ). The people don’t usually look the way I visualize them and I really prefer for there not to be people at all. I like to look at covers, but don’t think they’ve influenced my reading practices.

    • As a reader, it’s the cover that draws me to a new-to-me author … unless it’s a friends rec. The cover first drew me to Kresley Cole’s IAD series years ago. After I’ve found an author I like, the cover and the back cover copy don’t matter. And I’ll admit, since I began reading all of my books on an eReader, the cover matters less than it used to.

  2. Covers draw me in, but it’s the blurb that sells me on a book. As for my own, I have learned not to obsess over my cover art. It’s easier on all of us that way. 😉 Great post!

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  4. Great post! I just got my final cover art for my next Carina release (A Tryst With Trouble) yesterday, so this couldn’t be more timely.

    I write regencies, which have a specific historical setting (Britain, 1811-1820 or thereabouts), and die-hard regency fans know the look of the era, with its Jane Austenesque fashions and manners. I always hope the cover captures that look, but since not everyone is as geeky about the regency as I am, mostly I just ask myself two questions:

    1. Does the cover say “historical romance” (readers of historicals are my target audience, after all, and as long as they can tell from the cover that they’re in the general ballpark, the blurb will specify the setting), and

    2. Does it bring the sexy?

    If I can answer “yes” to both questions, I’m a happy author!

  5. The cover is such a huge deal to us and the reader. The process and especially the waiting period can be excruciating. Maggie’s advice about not obsessing over it makes good sense indeed. 😉 Thanks for sharing your experience with the cover process.

  6. Writing up what the book’s “mood” is can be excruciating when you have sold on proposal and the book isn’t even written yet, LOL. And yes, it’s such a huge deal as so many readers will say they pick up a book, or flip to its page online based on the cover. Luckily I’ve been blessed with some fantastic cover artists.

  7. Oh, those art fact sheets! I find them almost as hard to write as the books! As a reader I think I am initially attracted to a book cover, but like others here have said, it’s the back copy blurb that helps me decide whether I’ll buy the book.

  8. In theory, I have to agree with Maggie W. Or at least that is what happens 95% of the time for me. As for the other 5%……If I pick up a book and I am undecided about the blurb then the cover can make or break. I read quite a few of the Harlequin books and I hate that so many do not include both the hero and heroine . After I read my paperback books, I trade them at a used bookstore. I held on to book no. 1 in Jaci Burton’s Play-byPlay series for at least 2 weeks because of the cover model. Eventually I took a picture of the cover. And I still have that picture. Kendra Elliott and Allison Brennan have great covers that stand out and make the reading experience more enjoyable . A great cover can be the icing on the cake.

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