Well WHAT a to-do. No sooner did Pat post Orbit’s US cover for Best Served Cold on his redoubtable Fantasy Hotlist than the inter-tubes BOILED OVER with hyperbole, bloggers, commenters and forum members spouting outrage from every orifice. Which caused both the US and UK covers to be plastered all over the place. What a shame, what a shame…
So what do I think? Let me be completely honest here (DISCLAIMER: The management wish to point out that Joe Abercrombie is never completely honest about anything, especially where commercial realities may be on the line. Actual honesty experienced may fall below accepted EU standards of honesty, and bear no relation to “the truth”. Always read the small print on any claims of honesty.) I really love the UK cover, and believe me, it looks a lot better in the gloriously textured wraparound flesh than as a flat JPEG.
But the folks at Orbit US, who are publishing Best Served Cold in America, wanted to go a different way, and since they are extremely highly paid professionals who know their market, being the SOUL OF MAGNANIMITY that I am, I permitted them to do so. A ha ha ha. Of course, no sane publisher would really give right of veto to an author, especially me. But they indulged me by attending to my opinion. Fundamentally, they felt it was a good idea, as far as selling the book went, to show a person on the front, that the book might appeal beyond confirmed parchment-lovers, and I kind of understood where they were coming from, and was interested, if nothing else, to see a different treatment. The first version they sent me was-a-this-one:
And I was like, “Hmmmm. Don’t know.” I thought with the half-cut-off face it looked much too much like a ladeeez historical novel. Kind of Other Boleyn Girl-ish. Kind of lowly scullery maid runs off to join the crusade and experiences adventures, romance, and big-sword-holding beyond her wildest dreams. Nothing wrong with that, except I did not write that book. Maybe I should? And, to be fair, no one that side of the pond had read the book yet, cause, erm, I hadn’t written it. So I said words to the effect of, “is it possible for it to, I don’t know, kick more ass?” They didn’t have to, but bless their kindly hearts they listened to me, and they came back with this:
And I was like, “Ooooh, that does kick more ass.” The figure was much closer to how I’d imagined the central character (I mean, not how did you get inside my mind and see exactly what I was thinking close, but close enough). But now, ingrate that I am, I was concerned that it had taken on a kind of a paranormal romance-y/urban fantasy-ish sort of a look. A gritty example of such, and not from behind like they often are but still, I was concerned. Now it is a bit of a weird book, this is true. I wouldn’t call it urban fantasy but I’m not entirely sure I’d call it epic fantasy either – in fact I’ll be interested to see what people do call it when it gets reviewed (obviously providing it doesn’t get called, you know, shit).
But I was worried that epic fantasy readers (the core of such established audience as I am cringingly grateful for, let us not forget) would look at this and think, “uh oh, he’s changed, man. He thinks he’s outgrown us. He’s trying to get him a slice of that sweet, sweet paranormal pie, and that jazz ain’t my bag.” When this jazz IS your bag, readers of epic fantasy, it IS! It’s EVERYONE’S BAG. Plus I was worried there was no sense of continuity with the trilogy, and also that the cover would not match with some design stuff we’re thinking of tinkering with on the inside of the book. I furthermore felt that the parchment-y covers of the First Law have kind of a unique look – there’s a bit of recognisable branding going on there that stands out from the crowd without standing out TOO MUCH, if you know what I mean. This cover seemed, well, a little bit like a lot of other stuff I’ve seen. I was worried, in spite of the texture and the rest, it might fade in amongst the many leather-clad swordswomen on today’s genre shelves. So, bless ’em again, they didn’t have to, but they listened to me (probably with teeth well-gritted) and they came back with the cover shown at t’top of t’post which, y’know, combines the two.
Some might say it’s a bit schizophrenic, a cover in two halves, but I actually quite like that aspect, think it makes it quite striking, odd, potentially attention drawing (which is kind of the point, after all). And textures, foils, embossing and so forth (which you don’t get the benefit of on your new-fangled computer screening devices) will hopefully further underline the divide. The inclusion of the map (which I understand will wrap around the spine and back as it does on the UK version) gives it some continuity with the trilogy and also some of that sense of unique-ni-ness.
Of course, some still complain that there’s a woman with a sword on the cover, so it still looks a bit like paranormal romance/urban fantasy but, you know, the main character is a woman. With a sword. If you want to put someone on the cover, who are you going to put on there? Some big barbarian in a posing pouch? That’d be weird. We’ll probably do that on the next book.
Anyway, Lauren Panepinto, the art director responsible for this internet tempest has put together an interesting post over at the Orbit site explaining some of the reasoning and process along with showing some other prototypes, which in turn brought out some more measured responses from the blogosphere. Someone’s even running a poll to see which one folks like best but, aside from the UK version, they seem to like the lowly scullery maid one most, so, you know, some people are completely beyond help.
In summary let me be completely honest again (and I hope the hard-working folks at Orbit US won’t take this the wrong way and blow my marketing budget on opium) and say I still prefer the UK version. But – if I can still find my own opinion under all this clutter – I see the commercial sense of the US one, and I do feel it’s faithful to the content. And here’s the thing – the one person they don’t need to sell it to is me. I get free copies. And, what’s more, I’ve already read it. Here’s the other thing – and this may hurt some among you just a little bit – the other people they don’t really need to sell it to are people who already like my stuff. They’ll probably buy it because of all the wonderful little word-gifts they know I’ve wrapped up inside just for them. The idea of this is to bring in new readers. Poor, pitiable folk still sleepwalking through their lives unaware of my genius. If it can bring some of them in from the cold then I’ll be well pleased.
There’s room in here for everyone…