Like most cliches, there is some truth to the saying that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. In reality, of course, we almost always do. Nothing can sabotage the chances of a book more than a cover that is blah and unimaginative. This especially holds true if you are not a name author. JK Rowling could package her books in fish-and-chips paper and they would still fly off the shelves. Lesser scribes like yours truly, need a little help.
As with the title, your contract states that the publisher has the final say. The author is to be consulted, but in the end it comes down to liking it, or lumping it. A good publisher will try to meet the author's concerns but the process can only be repeated so many times. Every revision costs money. At some point, a decision has to be made and the publisher is the commander-in-chief.
Generally, the process starts off with the editor pitching the book to the designer. Sometimes the designer will actually read the manuscript himself, but most of the times he has so many books in his care, he does not have the time to do so. So it's up to your editor to punch the key buttons and try to tell not just the story, but also convey atmosphere and texture.
Once the designer comes up with a design, it is sent to the author and her agent. The jacket is also presented to the marketing team who can either clap their hands enthusiastically or boo it into immediate oblivion. If the marketing team does not think this is a cover that can be sold to book store managers or to the supermarkets, the cover is killed on the spot. Even if the author thinks it is the best thing since Haagen Dasz Belgian Chocolate ice cream, the designer will go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. Sometimes there is ambivalence in the air. No-one is wowed, but no-one is completely disenchanted either. In practical terms, this will have the designer rethink certain aspects such as font or colour wash.
We've had a tough time with Keeper of Light and Dust. The jacket has seen three incarnations and has been surrounded by many arguments. I'm happy to say I think the final version is wonderful and that it does what it is supposed to do. I thought it might be fun if I show you all three versions... but don't tell you which one is the winner until next time around! I'm really interested in your feedback: please let me know which cover you prefer and why. Of course, it is going to be pretty terrible if no one likes the cover we'll be going with, but I'm brave. Let's hear it.
By the way, all three cover versions have leaked onto the internet already – don't ask me how that happened – so keep in mind that just because you may have seen one of these jackets on someone's blog site does not mean it is the ONE.
And then, as you may remember, Season of the Witch was nominated for the International Horror Guild Award. I lusted after that tombstone but sadly, my witches were not victorious. They tried their best but lost out to Dan Simmons's monstrous ice creature in The Terror. From everything I've heard, it is a spectacular read, and a very worthy winner. Peter Straub received the lifetime achievement award.
Right. Send me your thoughts on that jacket! This, by the way, will be the jacket for the American edition. My British publisher is still struggling...