Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Book Cover? What Book Cover?

Okay, I know I am a long way from needing to care about book covers, but I heard this story recently and it kinda freaks me out.
My husband, Matt, got home last night after work, in full story telling mode (as he usually is) with a tale about some poor author's book. And after listening I want to track down the publishing house and commit random acts of violence. Or at least ask some questions...

Get this.
Yesterday Matt got a phone call from a guy he knows who owns a printing press. Matt runs his own exhibit design company and usually deals with trade show and exhibit industry people. But this guy, let's call him Rob, wanted to know if Matt could design the front cover for a book that they have been asked to print. Matt was a bit surprised, as that isn't the kind of work he usually does, and wanted to know why the printing press was responsible for book cover design anyway. Isn't that like asking the printers to just finish off the story if they wouldn't mind because the writer didn't have time to type the ending?

Matt's understanding (and mine as well) was that publishing houses handle the cover design for their books. We naively thought they had whole departments devoted to art work and would NEVER lump something as important as a front cover on the little printing press at the end of the process. But Rob assured Matt that this sort of thing has happened before. Apparently books come through from publishing houses without the art work for the front cover ALL THE TIME! These publishing houses were happy to leave front cover design up to 'whatever the printer thought was best.'

I thought this was a tale of 'self-publishing gone wrong.' And I made a flippant comment about things that can happen if you go through small vanity publishers. I imagined some 'in-it-for-the-money-only' self publishing facility taking an author's work and throwing it at the printers without caring about the front cover.
BUT, and here's the scary part that freaked me out, apparently this is not a tale of self-publishing gone wrong. Rob's printing press is asked to print books by traditional publishing houses!

I just don't get that. How does this work in the publisher's favour? Print up a book with what ever the hell cover and expect it to sell??? Okay, the printing press is asked to send a mock up of the design to the author for approval, but how many author's have a clue about graphic design?
I hope this is NOT how we usually produce books Down Under.

Matt asked who usually does the art work for the book covers, being that this is the first time his company has been asked to do one. And Rob, bless his heart, said that him and his secretary usually put something together.

I am sorry. Maybe I just don't know anything about the publishing industry. Maybe authors are expected to have greater input in their cover design here in Australia. But doesn't this sound just a bit...... wrong?
I know we shouldn't judge a books by its cover, but honestly, a decent bit of art work on front at least honors the work behind the cardboard wrap. Some unsuspecting author out there quite possibly spent a couple of years pouring over their work, to finally have it sold to a publishing house and then get it printed with.... what? A cover designed by secretary and a printing press owner?
I am astounded.

Maybe I need an education. Maybe someone out there has some actual experience with this and can shed some light.
I am hopeful that this is the exception to the rule and the work of some shoddy publishing company and NOT the norm. Surely the printing press shouldn't have to ferret around for an artist/graphic designer to produce the book covers?

Matt sent his artwork through to the author tonight. I happen to think it's brilliant, but I could be biased. I know this is not the printing company's fault, but surely no author wants some secretary or printing press owner to have a hack at their book cover!

I don't know... just makes me want to go put my boxing gloves on.
What do you think? Has anyone else ever heard of this sort of thing going on in the world of publishing?
I must say though, it would explain a few of the front covers I have seen recently...
Not Matt's of course!
My husband's married to a writer so he asked to read about the book before completing the art work... and I think the end product is awesome. But MAN... SERIOUSLY???

Oh and here's a shameless plug for my man. You can check out what he usually does when he's not designing book covers for random authors :)
Here's his website. www.zaeya.com/


  1. Hi Tabitha,

    I have no idea about local Australian publishing, all my work is in the US and UK.

    I suggest you call the Australian Society of Authors and see what they have to say. Their website is http://www.asauthors.org.

    The ASA could tell you for sure if this is normal, and if it's dodgy, would probably be interested to hear from you.

    Zaeya looks very cool. You probably need to know your link isn't quite right but it can be copy and pasted.


  2. Wow that is interesting and something I never heard of before. Do they pay the printing house extra to conceptualize & design the cover art? If so why not just pay that money to a graphic artist who may better capture the essence of the book? I'm with you, very strange indeed!

    Thanks for swinging by my blog, love your blog!

  3. Oh boy--I've never heard of that before. And if I found out that's what traditional publishing companies usually do, it would really surprise me, not that I doubt your story.

    It would be terrible to find that out about your publishing company, even if they're a small press. Even small presses usually have a design team--or a design PERSON--who knows what they're doing and works specifically on covers. They'll also send an example of the cover to the author first so they can see what it looks like. They (the author) may not have any choice over changing it, but they can at least see if it looks professional.

  4. Tabitha, I've never heard of this before, but I find this most definitely disingenuous on the part of the publisher! Especially since if the book doesn't sell, it not only hurts the author, but the publisher as well. Shouldn't they want to put their best foot forward?

    I'm not sure how normal or abnormal this is since I'm currently unpublished, but the only way I wouldn't expect the publisher to do the mock-up of the cover art is if it's a self-published book.

    I think you've got every right to be angry about this. It's just completely wrong.

  5. Tab--That sounds downright SCARY! Wow. Thank goodness your husband had the presence of mind to take a look at the text and get a feel for the story. And you say this has been done before for traditional publishing houses? I wonder if their authors are even aware that this goes on. That's is really wild!

  6. Hmmm...interesting. I'venever heard of that before. I think here in America, writers don't have a whole lot of say in their cover, but I could be wrong.

  7. Well hey, that explains why so many covers don't fit the books.


  8. I've never heard of this before either but I guess that's the point. Most authors think the marketing department puts painstaking effort into designing book covers. I have seen more than a few that look odd. I've also bought books based on the cover...it caught my attention. The cover is pretty darn elemental in selling the book.

  9. Thanks all for letting me have a rant. I feel much better that I am not the only one who thinks this a tad strange and more than a little unprofessional.

  10. Stephanie- I agree. Book covers that catch my attention are often the ones I pick up. and let's face it, if i don't pick it up I cam not going to buy it.
    Melody- I know!
    Katie- No I think you are right. that's what I thought about here too.
    Crystal- wild. I agree.
    Liberty- yes, I would have thought book publishers would want all the sale possible. Best foot forward. Best book cover forward.
    Cindy- yeah, I think that's how things usually work. Art dept who know what they are doing and what work send cover to author for final check. I hope this story is a HUGE exception to that rule.

  11. Jenn- welcome. Glad you like the blog. As far as I know this printing press was not paid extra for the cover design. Matt was paid. I think their initial quote must have included the cover. Surely?!
    Gary- Thanks for the insights. I'll see if I can fix the link. Thanks for letting me know. Blogger is a beast of a thing at the moment. I gotta have you on here one day to tell your 'literary agent' story. BEST story I ever witnessed. How much do you love pixies?!

  12. What an odd way to publish a book. Like the rest of the people responding, I've never heard of this. I'd be really curious what publisher and what author are utilizing this printer, and whether it's a small press or whether it's a print-on-demand thing. As for me, I'm a traditional kind of gal.

  13. Hi Bonnie, I am VERY traditional where it comes to publishing too. thanks for stopping by.