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.