By Its Cover

Hard Cover and Mass Market

I’m always interested to see what the publisher will do when they transform one of my books from hard cover to mass market format.

May 2011 sees the release Five Odd Honors in mass market paperback. Let’s see what the folks at Tor decided to do…

The original cover was a matte full page illustration featuring (top to bottom) a silvery-grey carp, a yellow-gold monkey sitting in what looks like a chrysanthemum blossom and holding a sword, and a young man of vaguely Eastern European appearance wearing nothing but interesting green trousers and a lot of ropes.

My name is in black at the top, over the fish. The title is enclosed in a blue banner on the middle of the page, with the series title in black beneath the banner. All of this is over a misty, sage-green background.

As in the previous two covers for the series, Sam Weber’s art is excellent. I’ll admit the young man puzzles me a bit. I guess he’s Flying Claw, since that’s the only young man of the right age, but Flying Claw is ethnic Chinese from a version of China where Europe never existed.

Oh, well. Puzzlement about such choices on the part of writers is long-standing.

The re-design of the cover is interesting. All but one trailing fin of the fish is gone. The top of the jacket is now the same blue as the original banner, ending in an inverted curve that frames the remaining art. My name and the title are rendered in brilliant goldenrod. Below this is an ivory banner noting: “Bestselling Author of Through Wolf’s Eyes.”

With the reduction of space, the art emphasis is now on that sword-wielding monkey and the mystery man… Neither of whom, as far as I can recall, are in the book.


Let’s turn the book over. Here, against a khaki background, a variation on the jacket copy is reproduced. Following this is a quote from Kirkus Reviews: “Lindskold’s overall vision is unique, and fans of urban fantasy with a magical focus will be satisfied. A fine continuation of a complex, one-of-a kind urban fantasy series.”

Nice… The repeated use of the term “urban fantasy” is a bit of a problem, of course. Until a few years ago, the term “urban fantasy” did indicate this type of book – non-Tolkienesque fantasy set in our modern world, often heavily informed with myth and folklore. Think of almost anything by Charles DeLint, of Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks, and my own Changer and Legends Walking. It’s a type of fantasy I like both to write and to read.

However, in the last three or four years the term “urban fantasy” has expanded and now tends to mean what I think of as “Buffy-Fic” – tough chicks with tattoos battling and romancing both supernatural critters and their own insecurities. That’s not what will be found between these covers…

Still, so far, so good. Attention was paid in this re-design. The cover wasn’t just shrunk down.

Time to turn to the inside front matter. Will the editor have taken the easy way out and re-used a couple of standard “praise for the author” quotes?

Here’s evidence of a lot of care. First comes a great quote from Don D’Ammassa’s Fantasy Reviews. It starts: “There’s something for almost everyone here: urban fantasy, ancient legends, flawed characters and outstanding ones, treachery, redemption, hope, despair.” It goes on for another couple of sentences and ends, “Try it. You’ll like it.”

This is followed by glowing bits taken from reviews in Publishers Weekly, Baryon (“A superb thriller”), Library Journal, SFRevu, and others.

The selection of review material ends with a long extract from BookPage that ends: “…Five Odd Honors offers readers a wide cast of characters and a multilayered drama rich in magic, treachery, raw courage, and true friendship.”

That’s lovely… Unlike a lot of authors, I don’t go hunting for reviews of my books. Even when I do get sent one (several librarian friends are kind that way, and my editor, Melissa Singer, has shared her collection), I don’t spend a lot of time with them, so many of these are fresh to me.

So this is the book that will go out to compete with the masses in increasing shrinking bookstore space. Will it stand out among the sepia print covers of girls in low-rider jeans with cryptic “tramp stamps”? Can you judge a book by its cover, especially when that cover features elements not included in the book?

10 Responses to “By Its Cover”

  1. Nicholas Wells Says:

    The cover, to me at least, has always been second in importance to the first paragraph. The cover has to be interesting, or I won’t bother to even look at the blurb. Or if I do I won’t read it very hard. It’s almost like a hand shake. The cover says hello. Your first paragraph introduces yourself to the reader. Well if your “Hello” is flat, dull, and/or unenergetic, readers might not listen to what you have to say. But if it’s vibrant, alert, perhaps even a little mysterious, the reader will listen closer to learn just a little more about you.

    I mean, for goodness sake. What dose a monkey, and fish, and a (hot to some people I’m sure) dude in a bind have to do with any odd honors, much less five?

    Just my two cents. Take them or leave them.

  2. heteromeles Says:

    I get annoyed about many covers. My favorite bad design now days is chick toting bare broadsword on her bare shoulder. Ummm, is that blade sharp? Why isn’t it cutting her? Never mind.

    I like old-style urban fantasy. Nowdays, I wonder whether “there’s a sucker born every minute,” is a double- or -triple entendre. I’m certainly not buying the newer stuff.

    Perhaps we can just start calling the new stuff “paranormal fantasy” and get on with it?

    However, compared to what Ms. LeGuin’s had to suffer with Earthsea books, it isn’t bad. I think that, over the decades, one cover had Ged’s skin the proper (black) color. Maybe two?

    On a more serious note, I know some authors (Dean Wesley Smith for one) are talking about how covers are starting to get more “online” in their design, meaning that the cover is designed to look good at postage stamp size on Amazon or Apple. That leads to big fonts, simple titles, and simple images with a few big elements. It will be interesting to see whether this catches on or not.

  3. Tori Says:

    I’ve only ever bought a book for its cover once (it was done by a favorite artist) and it was a big disappointment. I learned from that mistake and have only done the cover-picking method in the library since. It hasn’t been any more successful. It’s weird how some covers are spot-on for books but with others the publisher must give only the tiniest hint of guidance to the artist. But I have to say the covers that grab my attention, without knowing anything about the author or series, are on lousy books 90% of the time.

  4. Alan Robson Says:

    I never look at covers. I simply don’t care about them. I doubt if I could describe any cover on any of the 12,000 or so books that I own. All I ever look at is the title, the name of the author and the blurb. If it is an author I know, I simply buy the book. If the author is new to me and the blurb is even mildly interesting I’ll read a few random paragraphs to see if I like the style. And then I’ll probably buy it anyway!

    I’m an extreme case. I don’t have a visual mind and I don’t see pictures in my head, except perhaps as a result of words describing a picture; then I get a vague impression. But I am very, very strongly word oriented. I even have evidence that I dream in words, rather than pictures. Very odd, I know. But there you are!

    So as far as I’m concerend, books may as well just have plain brown wrappers…


  5. Paul Says:

    I do tend to look at covers. But they aren’t the determining factor in whether I’ll buy a book. Maybe their purpose is to draw attention so you’ll look, and that’s why sometimes what’s on the cover has little to do with what’s in the book. Remember all those Richard Powers covers on SF paperbacks? Not pictures so much as “modern art” squiggly stuff? But they must have been popular, there were so many of them. I’m trying to think of a book where the cover accurately reflected what was in the book, and I’m drawing a blank.

  6. heteromeles Says:

    There’s the question of whether it’s a scene or symbols. To pick a well-known example, in the later Harry Potter books, a number of plot elements are typically present on the covers.

    I’ll admit, I loved Michael Whelan’s artwork when I was younger.

  7. janelindskold Says:

    I agree with heteromeles about Michael Whelan. A favorite for me is his cover for Joan Vinge’s WINTER QUEEN. It’s lovely art and it fits the book.

    The book is fabulous, too…

    I also love Kinuko Y. Craft’s covers for Patricia McKillip.

    Nicolas Wells says the cover is less important than the first paragraph, but he adds something that I know is true for me, too. If the cover isn’t interesting (and I don’t have some other reason to look at the book) I won’t read the blurb or the first paragraph.

    For an author, it’s a real Catch 22 situation. You can write the best “narrative hook” (as that first paragraph is often called) in the universe, but if no new reader picks up the book, will it matter?

  8. Emily McKinnie Says:

    Strangely enough it was the cover of the book that intorduced me to Ms. Lindskold’s work. I saw a young girl dressed in a silky looking robe, knife at her waist. A huge blue eyed wolf at her side. It instantly pressed me to pick up the book (since I happen to love wolves) I read the first few pages decided I better try it. I’ve developed the first glance technique since. I read the title, look at the cover and the read the back, if the book isn’t terribly disappointed or cliched at that point I read page 69. I pick apart covers after I’ve read the book and I must admit the young man on the cover of Five Odd Honors had me completely confused at first. I later guessed it must be Flying Claw, but I was already into the series so the coverart could’ve been anything and I would’ve bought it still.

  9. Nicholas Wells Says:

    Funny thing Emily. In a way, that’s how I got introduced to Jane too.

    My brother bought me “Wolf’s Head Wolf’s Heart” and “Dragon of Despair” For my birthday. He looked at it because of the Blind Seer on the cover, and by then my love of wolves was in full bloom. He thought the story might interest me, so he bought them both.

    Thus began my fandom, as well as other things I won’t mention here. Course he didn’t realize he’d bought books 2 and 3 in the series, but by the end of book two, it no longer mattered.

  10. janelindskold Says:

    I’ve always thought Julie Bell’s wolves got better and better as her covers for the series progressed.

    She and I corresponded a little and she told me she went to a wolf sanctuary near where she lived and started using the same wolf as a model whenever she did Blind Seer.

    Pretty neat!

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