People occasionally ask me how much input authors have into the cover art, and I guess it varies greatly, but contractually, the publisher usually has no obligation to involve the author at all. For the vast majority of books, the cover will be the main selling tool at the publisher’s disposal, and that’s far too important an area to be left in the hands of an author who, let’s face it, most of the time doesn’t know shit about selling books. A lot less than their publisher does, anyway. And let’s not forget, this isn’t necessarily about making something pretty, or classy, or even relevant to the content of the book, this is about making something that the greatest number of people will want to buy.
This is particularly true with foreign rights deals. I’ve had no input whatsoever into the covers of any of the foreign editions of my books. Title changes either, for that matter. The feeling is, and I think it’s probably a wise one, that tastes and traditions vary from one territory to another, and the publishers in that territory, having bought the rights, are the people best equipped to know what’s going to sell.
Things are somewhat different in one’s home territory, however, and in general it behooves a publisher to at least run their ideas past an author (in much the same way as it behooves the author to give serious consideration to their editor’s recommendations about the content) if only because they will understand the language in which the author is complaining. Enjoying, as I do, a fantastically close relationship with my UK editor and publishers (Gollancz are like FAMILY, man, at least until I get a better offer), I am lucky enough to be consulted at every stage. It’s a collaborative effort. They provide the talent, I provide the complaints.
Now I’m not that brilliant on concept – I think that’s a very particular and valuable skill, one that you develop partly through long experience, and I don’t have it. Once I see something I get a feel for whether it’s right or not, and I get ideas for how to improve it (at least from my point of view), but I rarely have any sort of notion in advance of how I think a book should look. So when my editor Gillian picked my brains to see if I had any brilliant notions about what to do for the cover of Best Served Cold, I didn’t really. We considered going for a different look, since it’s not part of the same series. We floated a few things back and forth, but nothing was very compelling. Vague talk of graphic novels. Some mention of snow, and a female main character, but, you know, not that obvious, but, you know, not that un-obvious. I mean, a bit like that book what’s-it-called. Well, not like it, but not UN-like it. You know. You don’t know?
Simon Spanton, meanwhile, who is one of the two editorial directors at Gollancz, and who’d been responsible for the cover treatments for the First Law, was pretty intent on continuing that blood-spattered parchmenty theme, which had, after all, proved pretty successful. Possibly upgrading it by having a dagger stuck into it. I forget exactly whose idea it was to put a map on the parchments. Either Simon’s or Gillian’s, so let’s say mine. I have an idea we’d been discussing some recent impassioned chat from readers about maps in fantasy, and the absence of them from my books, so the issue was on our minds. Simon is, shall we say, not the greatest fan of the knee-jerk inclusion of maps in epic fantasy books, so possibly the idea of putting the map on the outside, then setting it on fire and spraying it with blood and vomit amused him. I think it was Gillian’s idea to go for a sword rather than a dagger, possibly because she was aware of the work of the artist in question. So there you have it. Map. Sword. Blood. Bingo.
Initially I was a bit worried, I must admit, about whether the map and the sword could be made to hit the right note, and whether they’d bind together into a consistent whole or just look like two entirely separate and mismatched bits of art dropped onto a page. In a sense it’s a much more complicated and specific idea than the more abstract covers for the previous three books had been. But I’d been pretty unconvinced by the cover treatment for The Blade Itself, when I first heard it (what, a load of burned paper? You sure that’s going to work?) but have ended up really liking it (and in the end barely making any changes at all, aside from incorporating the magic-circle thingy on the back) so I didn’t object this time around, having nothing much to offer as an alternative, and having learned the lesson that I don’t really know what I’m talking about when it comes to concepts for covers and I’m better off doing what I’m told, at least in the early stages. Later on I would have earth-shaking impacts on the design process, as we shall see over the coming week…