Saturday, February 12, 2005

adventures in publishing

Recently I came across some blog entries in which authors display or discuss the cover art to their recent or forthcoming novels. For those who haven't heard, here's the tale of the cover art for my story collection:

When I was first shown the cover art, I hated it. I tried to get used to it; I waited to see if it would grow on me, but it didn't. I offered to pay for new art, but my editor refused, saying that money wasn't the issue; it was a matter of the appropriate relationship between publisher and author. I asked about the possibility of new art for the paperback; he said there was none.

The hardcover came out, and I couldn't stand the sight of it. I decided to commission art on my own. I found an artist who has done many covers for the publisher, paid him $3500, and told him what I'd like to see. Once he was done, I offered the resulting art for use on the paperback. The answer was no.

(The artist told me he was told they would consider using the art for a subsequent book of mine, but they weren't going to change the art on this one.)

I made one final, last-ditch attempt to salvage the situation. I figured I could print up my own dustjackets and hand them out for free at conventions, as a kind of promotional item. That was when my editor told my agent that I absolutely could not do such a thing. He said that the publisher had friends in every branch of publishing, from printing to distribution, and those friends have long memories, so it would go badly for me if I made the publisher angry at me. My agent believed they were capable of following through with this threat, and convinced me to scrap my plans for printing up my own dustjackets.

Then I asked my editor if I could buy the paperback rights to the collection. This would have been expensive, turning the collection into an enormous financial loss for me, but I was willing. As usual, my editor did not reply to my e-mails, but told my agent he would look into changing the art for the paperback.

How had the situation changed? I didn't know, and was skeptical. I continued to ask my editor for the chance to buy back paperback rights; all he would say, to my agent, was that he was working on changing the art, but it was a delicate process. Finally, after four months, he told my agent that they would use the art I had commissioned "as a springboard" for the new cover. He said they'd "send a few different sketches" for me to look at.

So then I repeatedly asked about the status of the new cover, and the message conveyed back to me was not to worry, there was plenty of time. Then, after three months, my editor sent the new cover for the paperback. It had NO ART WHATSOEVER on it, just the title and author name in a generic font. It was a done deal, no room for discussion. When I asked about buying back the rights, my editor replied (again, through my agent) that it was too late for that.

It was at that point that I asked my editor to make a textual change to the paperback edition and remove his name from the book's acknowledgements (which I had written a year and a half earlier, back when I thought he was on my side). He told my agent he would. He did not.

What is perhaps most painful is the realization that I could have avoided all of this. When I was first shown the cover art, the contract for the collection hadn't even been signed yet. (My editor had scheduled the book without securing the contract first.) I could have backed out. But at the time, I still thought my editor was on my side. At the time, I thought he was doing his best to help me, and I wanted to maintain a good relationship with him.

How naive I was.

19 Comments:

Blogger Richard said...

Right on, brother Ted. Amen.

10:15 AM  
Blogger gwenda said...

What Richard said. But I really don't think you were being naive, I think you were being a good human being and trusting that your editor would return the favor.

10:48 AM  
Blogger chance said...

ugh.

thanks for sharing the learning experience with us.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

That's a really terrible thing to have happened to you, Ted. I don't know what I'd do in the same situation. What's really horrible is how many things you did on your book's own behalf, without asking the publisher to pay for any changes, and how it was still refused. I will keep one of my mom's superstitions and say, "What goes around, comes around," and one day that editor will get back threefold the same treatment he used with you.

3:08 AM  
Blogger Jon Hansen said...

In retrospect, I'm sorry I asked you to sign my copy at WFC.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Responsible Artist said...

I'm sorry. For people without any expectation about how the book should have looked, it was just a dumb cover, like most covers. For Ted it was much worse and also the shenanigans around the cover sound as ugly or uglier than the cover itself.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Sean said...

It seems like you tried to micro-manage your editor and publisher—why are you particularly surprised by anything that followed?

12:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about this, Ted. Did you get any more say when you came to the UK edition? For what it's worth, I think the UK cover suits the book quite a bit better than the US one.

-- Niall

4:39 AM  
Blogger Ted said...

Sean: as I said, I was naive.

Niall: the UK cover is actually based on the art I commissioned. It's a close-up view of the original, so the face is a bit harder to make out, and the color scheme is different, but that's essentially the image I wanted. I was very happy with Pan Macmillan's willingness to work with me.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

A possible solution to this might be to add some new material to the collection and resell it to a small press - I'd imagine someone like Night Shade or Golden Gryphon might be interested. You'd almost certainly get cover approval, and maybe internal art etc, and it would be something you'd be a lot happier with. If it were some kind of expanded or deluxe edition people would want it, and if you were reselling limited edition rights it probably wouldn't conflict with your mass market contracts.

8:16 PM  
Anonymous Dario said...

Ted,

I'm with you on the high irrelevancy (and dubious taste) of the original cover art. More, the common arrogance and lack of responsiveness within the publishing industry appears breathtaking. I can't think of many other industries which could stay afloat if they adopted the practices which appear so common in the world of publishing.

A good friend of mine whose (nonfiction) book I recently copyedited encountered a very similar problem, and had a book on stress management saddled with low-grade, generic cover that makes it look like a software manual. I don't for a minute doubt that it hurt his sales, and am sure that the hardback cover you were stuck with hurt yours. The irony is that in his case, the publisher had thrown an unusually hefty advance at him, so one would expect some attention to detail throughout.

It seems to me entirely appropriate that an artist should be allowed some input -- or at least be politely listened to -- where the marketing of their work is concerned. Why you met with such a wall of a brick wall, we can only speculate -- poor listening skills, arrogance, entrenched corporate attitudes? Likely you ran up against some insecure little tin god in the marketing or design department.

Jonathan's suggestion is good. And I'm looking forward to seeing more of your work.

Dario

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Sam said...

Hello there,

Ted, why did you hate that cover so much? I actually like it (I'm assuming the cover in question is the one with the gigantic man with buildings and other stuff intermixed with him). Definitely it doesn't seem so horrific as to go through all that trouble for.

regards,

Sam

10:05 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

Sam, in my opinion, the original art had nothing in common with my work, in either subject matter or tone. Some people like it, but I've also had people tell me that it's one of the most inappropriate covers they've ever seen.

Everyone has different tastes; there's probably a cover image out there you think is atrocious, but it too has its fans. I just hope the author of the book is one of them.

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Er, you're out of your mind to care so much about the cosmetics of your book. Your words are what's important. The stories, remember? The inside? To offer to buy back the rights to the book just because you don't like the cover is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. I mean, really. And as a published author who HATED the cover of his first book (and had a similar experience with his publisher over it; they said, "Send over some ideas," and then didn't use them and published the cover they wanted to all along), I feel your pain, but really, it's the wrong battle to have. You can't keep badgering your major league publisher with issues over your not liking the cover. It's really not important whether or not you like the cover. The most important thing is whether the buyer at Barnes & Noble likes the cover. Publishers know their marketplaces and their distributors and buyers; that's who they're trying to keep happy, not the author. And it's really you and your agent's fault for not having it put into your contract that you had approval over the cover; don't blame the publisher when they were just exercising rights you'd already given up. Remember signing on the dotted line and getting that cash? That meant that book was no longer yours...

12:28 PM  
Blogger EVV SLV said...

grumble grumble grunt grunt grrr grrrr rage rage hate

Now when you search for a book title on amazon, the "Kindle" result is always returned as Number One.

FUCKERS!!!

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Clarisse Thorn said...

I think a writer has every right to *want* to manage their work to whatever extent they choose. The vast majority of writers aren't going to have any power to actually do so, though. I think the reason some writers react negatively to Ted's anger is that he has so much more control than most writers that his nitpicks strike some of us as ridiculous overprivileged whining.

Personally, I love Ted's work and I also feel his pain. But I have to admit that I'm somewhat jealous that he has enough self-assurance, enough name recognition, and enough control over his work to be getting upset over the cover of a book distributed by an internationally recognized New York press, rather than (say) edits forced upon his words by a minor company against his preference. I'd love to be in his shoes.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous steven said...

The cover in question is the one with the muscular guy whose guts are made of... things, right? It looks like a choose your own adventure book. In fact, I'm sure I've seen that reddish moon/sun on a choose your own adventure book in exactly that same color and position. All it needs is a seventies gold and brown border.

9:52 AM  
Anonymous steven said...

Is there a spam filter? I'll try posting again. Here's a quick choose your own adventure book I made out of the Stories of your Life cover: http://i.imgur.com/sdFEp.jpg

12:18 PM  
Blogger Mike88 said...

I'm sorry you had to go through that hellish experience with your publisher and agent. But sometimes it doesn't pay to be nice to these kinds of people. I hope you will never fall into that naive thinking again. I wish to read more of your writing. Good Luck.

5:02 AM  

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