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About Writing Right: The Blog


A budding author asked online whether or not a writer has any say over what cover a publisher decides to use for his new book. As usual, the number of silly responses were amazing. Here's how I straightened things out.

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Well, the Queen of Wrong strikes again. In her response, she says that, if you self-publish, yes, you have a say in what the cover will look like. A say, you say? If you self-publish, of course, you have a "say" in what your cover will look like because you (or someone you hired) provided it! You're the arbiter there. But that's not the question you asked, is it?


You want to know if, when a conventional publisher publishes your novel, you have any control over its cover. This is where Queenie really goes awry, assuming her limited history is indicative of the industry as a whole. Let's get real for a change, shall we, and respond to those things about which we actually know.


I have published more than ninety books conventionally by some thirty different publishers, including highly successful and respected houses such as Simon and Schuster and Prometheus. In nearly every case, I have received cover mock-ups (artist's proposals) from the publisher in advance of publication with a request that I chime in with my thoughts on the one I believe is best. One publisher went so far as to invite me to create my book's cover (see below), not totally surprising since I'm also a professional fine and graphic artist as well as a working photojournalist.


Now, with that said, I emphasize that being asked to comment on cover proposals is far from being granted complete autonomy in cover selection. That, I guarantee, will never happen. That's because a cover can make or break a book's popularity and success. That means it can determine a book's profitability, and that bottom line is the all-important motivating factor in today's corporate-driven publishing world.


That's why, if you read your publishing contract carefully, you'll find that not only the cover design but also the book's interior layout and even the copy (your written words) must meet with the publisher's standards of excellence, or the publisher can, if it desires, cancel the contract. Publishers will grant their writers a lot of leeway in constructing their books, but they won't allow them to affect that all-important bottom line. Uh-uh. That ain't gonna happen.


So, in paraphrasing Queenie's misstatement about whether or not a conventional publisher will allow you to have a say in what the cover of your book will look like—not just yes, but hell yes! Will they listen to your advice? Absolutely. Will they heed it without exception? Sure, when pigs fly. A publisher makes cover decisions based upon gut feelings, a consensus of thoughts from the publisher's editors, and (most importantly) input from their marketing, promotion, and sales departments. Period.


But let's be fair to Queenie here. She missed the mark by only 180 degrees. And when you shoot from the lip, that ain't bad!


The bottom line is this: Don't hold your breath expecting your opinions to sway your publisher's cover decision. Instead, do something more creative with your time, like writing your next book.


Hope this helps clear the air and put your mind at ease. If not, you can always ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.


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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack

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