Monday, July 20, 2015

Disasters— When NOT to Judge a Book by its Cover

As every writer knows one of the most exciting moments in the process of producing a new book is seeing your new cover. Maybe not quite up to the first look at your newborn child— but in many ways a pretty fair analogy: Excitement, thrill, I-can’t-wait-to-share-this, shout-from-the-housetops!
But what about the times the publisher or cover artist gets it flat-out wrong?
An item in Veronica Heley’s newsletter got me to thinking about this bubble-bursting moment most writers experience sooner or later in their career. Veronica writes:

“The audiobook of THE WILFUL HEIRESS came out in May – and I do hope you enjoy it. ‘The Lady Elizabeth Silverwood states that she may be an heiress, but she is not a fool . . .’ so you can guess the rest. Oh, yes, and she wears some lovely clothes and is being pursued by a fortune-hunter . . . or is he? The cover shows a Victorian costume, but the story is actually set in the reign of George II.  Go figure! It is a beautiful cover, but perhaps a tad misleading."

“‘Don’t get me started on covers!’ Veronica says, and goes on to tell more horror stories:

“My very first book was about a very private, modest, slightly plump girl – who was depicted on the cover as a blonde displaying a great deal of uncovered flesh...

“Then, to return to The Wilful Heiress, the story concluded with a fight in the middle of a ford. A river ford. The cover of the first edition depicted a waterfall. Yes, really! Oh, there was a tiny silhouette of a horse in flight superimposed on the rocks at the top and that was supposed to be the hero racing to the rescue of the heroine.

And recently some of my early crime books have been brought out again as e-books. The cover of a story about a Victorian governess, very strait-laced, showed her as a modern girl with skirts just about brushing her bottom, and her cleavage down to here! In this particular case, we were able to get a different cover, but . . .!”

Veronica, the much-experienced author of some 75 books (that’s including Murder by Suspicion, being published this June) seems to be taking it in her stride and I’m sure the misleading cover won’t be a put-off for Veronica’s devoted fans, of which I am one.

In spite of the old warning not to judge a book by its cover (or as my friend’s grandson says, by its movie), however, readers still rely on covers for important clues to what’s inside.

That’s why I still look back with a sigh at my own cover disaster. Clear back to 1986 when Love Unmerited came out as part of Zondervan’s Serenade Romance line. You see, this was my lush, tropical romance set on the island of Kauai where my husband and I had enjoyed a wonderful, romantic holiday of our own. I spent weeks daydreaming about the cover: A tropical moon behind a palm tree, my heroine’s flowing blond tresses adorned with a hibiscus blossom, an orchid-lined waterfall behind her. . .

Unfortunately, the cover artist got two of my manuscripts mixed up and the book came out with the cover of for my political novel featuring the Idaho State capitol building in a February snowstorm.
Ah, well, the series did well, but even when it was reprinted by Guideposts a few years later, the cover wasn’t replaced. My children insisted it should add to the value of the book— like the stamp with the airplane printed upside down.

Life moves on and I’ve been incredibly fortunate in getting covers I loved for most of my books. But I’d still like to see that waterfall in the moonlight.

Have you had a cover disaster? Please share your story in the comments.

You can read more about Veronica Heley and see all of the excellent covers on her many books here.

And here to see all my covers and latest news.


  1. Great post, Donna!

    I'm feeling privileged that so far the process for my debut cover has been a dream. But I'm sure the sailing won't always be so smooth :)

  2. Cover stories seem a bit like vacation disasters -- no fun at the time but they make the best stories later. Still, since covers influence sales, it's no wonder authors obsess about them.

  3. Kara and Alice, thank you so much for commenting! So glad your process is going well, Kara. With 30-some years in the industry Ill have to say that most of the time things do go well--and, as you say Alice, the outtakes do make good stories afterwards.

  4. Why an interesting post. I love Veronica Heley's books

  5. Donna, great post! Publishers can now email image files to their authors for proofing, which should prevent major cover art blunders like you've experienced.

  6. I'm so thankful I was able to have some degree of say at least in the final version of the covers of my books--particularly after reading about those disasters you and Veronica have experienced, Donna! Thankfully, I have liked all of my covers, although I remember one that came back from the printer a MUCH darker shade of orange/gold than both my publisher and I thought it would be! However, it grew on me after a while, and now I am thankful for such a bright cover as it tends to stand out well on my book table wherever I speak or sell my books.