Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guest Blogger A.B. Gayle: A Good Cover Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

“They’ve got it all wrong!”

How many times have you said that when you’re well into a book and then you flip back and stare at the cover? Where’s Nathan’s goatee beard (K.A.Mitchell’s “Bad Company”)... I thought there was only supposed to be a few years age difference between them Tristan looks sixteen and Michael in his thirties instead of 28 (Z.A.Maxfield’s “Crossing Borders”)

It shouldn’t matter, but sometimes you just wish they’d get the finished result closer to the text.

It wasn’t until I got published that I realised that sometimes the cover design is the last thing to be done and many authors, no matter their expertise in the graphics field, never get a say in the finished product.

The procedure varies from publishing house to publishing house. For example, Total Ebound has a few artists on contract and suggested I look at their different styles. Then they sent a list of details they wanted: Where the story is set, Hero Description, Heroine Description and Short Summary of Story. Is there anything you would specifically like to see on your cover or any comments? Is there anything you don’t want on the cover or any comments?

A few cover artists are much sought after and do contract work for a number of publishers: Catt Ford, Reese Dante and Anne Cain to name just a few.

When Dreamspinner Press asked for my input for the cover of my novella “Caught” I was stuck with a problem. My hero was a young Asian guy with long hair. Part of the plot centred on the fact that very few Asian guys have long hair, so when I started looking for a photo, I was stuck. This is where my friendship with Kayla paid off big time.

She thumbed through her vast collection and found a couple of great looking guys:

The last one was perfect but we couldn’t track the photographer down to buy the royalty. In the end, after scouring through literally hundreds of stock photos we decided that this next guy had all the right elements: he looked sufficiently Chinese (though I suspect in reality he may be Korean), had the long hair (vital for the plot), and had beauty without being traditionally pretty (again vital for the character). I’d seen this guy in other poses but they always included weapons and markings. In them, it’s almost as if he’s hiding his beauty. The photo was taken by Raisa Kanavera, a Russian freelance photographer

So by melding it with a photo I had taken of the lighthouse which also features in the story, Mara, the artist at Dreamspinner Press came up with the final result:

 Luckily the text wasn’t fixed in stone, so I was able to insert a few sentences about Daniel removing his shirt and staring out to sea into a scene where they were taking photos near the lighthouse, so the text matched perfectly.

Too often, though, publishers treat the cover as an almost irrelevant entity, designed more to attract a reader because of its perviness rather than accurately reflecting the story or the characters. While the finished product may sell a few extra books, the publisher risks losing readers who get angry when the picture doesn’t match the story.

Even well known authors report they have little control on what finally gets chosen for them. The publisher knows best what “sells” is the standard catch cry.

 Personally, I feel that if they started the process of finalising the cover earlier, text could be tweaked to match if needed rather than the other way around.

The standard of artwork on the covers is improving. Elisa Rolle’s annual LGBT cover competition showcases the variety that is now out there.

Ebook covers also have their own version of Fabio, with Jimmy Thomas now reporting he’s on over one thousand covers! I was fortunate to have him on Silver Publishing’s 2010 Christmas Anthology that includes my story “The Go Between”.

Given that ebooks don’t require expensive printing presses, I believe the day will come when illustrations are peppered through the text, giving a result half way between a straight text book and a graphic novel.

But what about doing the whole process from the other angle though. Producing a cover first and then writing the story to match?

This is the concept behind “Inspired Writing,” a Facebook group started by our very own Kayla. Photos are posted and the 139 members are encouraged to write their own stories based on pictures like these two:
This is a great way for beginners and established writers to fine tune their craft. Who are the characters? Why are they in the position they’re in? Who took the photo? Who else is in the story with them?

The first photo inspired “Over-Exposure” and the second, “Sex, Love and Videotape” both by Kayla writing under her other pseudonym, Kei Chan. Contact Kayla if you want to find out more.

The concept was also adopted on Goodreads this Summer with their Hot Summer Days reads. Established authors and newcomers sent in stories to match photos and a short blurb sent in by readers. The result was over one hundred stories and Kayla’s “Controlled Fall” is the latest:
The brief from Deanna Wadsworth was: I know I'm writing one of the stories but I just found this pic online and DAYUMMM, I wanna know why these two hunks are playing on the side of this waterfall.

But my muse is suspiciously absent!!!

Anyone out there wanna let me know what these two are up to?

Just a quick browse through Elisa Rolle’s covers will show the variety that’s out there nowadays. Some readers love P.L. Nunn and Paul Richmond’s covers with their original artworks. Some like the realism of actual stock photos. Some prefer torso only shots, so that the model’s features don’t impinge on their visualisation of the character.

I’d be interested in getting feedback on what covers work for you and which ones really don’t.

A.B.Gayle is a published Australian author with two short stories about Cedric the Sex Slave cyborg in scifi romance anthologies and two novellas: “Mardi Gras” a tale of Sydney’s Pride Parade and “Caught” both set in her home town. She’s also co-written a book on one of Australia’s wine regions with William Maltese “In Search of the Perfect Pinot G!”. Two other full length novels are at the submission stage. She’s also a regular contributor to the free m/m online soap “Redemption Reef”. She loves talking to authors as well as reviewing their books, and the reviews/interviews page on her website includes some interesting chats she’s had via email with people such as Heidi Cullinan, Jay Lygon, Syd McGinley and Hank Edwards.


  1. *waves* Hi AB, Hi Kayla! It drives me crazy sometimes when the cover pic doesn't match the book. Now that I've met and play with some authors, I get a kick out of seeing pics that THEY say matches the characters. I'm totally into that. Lol one of my little "things".

    Great post darlin'. Hope you two are having a great night!

    Later taters!

  2. Hi Amara! Thanks for dropping by to see AB's post.

    I agree with both of you. There is very little that is more annoying than misleading cover art. I always wonder what was so hard about just asking the author if the details, and sometimes the whole setting, are correct.

    I guess as time goes on and I am exposed to the process that generates cover art, I may learn to see it from the other side. But for now I like my stories and the art to match.

    AB, thanks for blogging today with me and promoting both our works. I really enjoyed "Caught" and "The Go Between." Two stories that I can definitely recommend that everyone read.

  3. Thanks, Amara. Glad you enjoyed the blog. I'm really interested in hearing about specific covers and what irks people about them.

  4. There was a SciFi cover for one of Andre Norton's books that featured a woman wearing just a cloak, standing in the mountains. I knew right away the cover had it wrong because that isn't the kind of thing that Andre Norton writes.

    When I read the story, the woman in the mountain pass was eight months pregnant and wearing several layers of clothing because it was the middle of winter!

    Not even close. I read that decades ago and it still annoys me.