Book covers are crucial for readers to decide whether they are interested in a book or not. Although authors are the brand behind their books, unfortunately, covers do not always fit the brand, because, in traditional publishing, writers often do not have a say in book cover design. I would love to see more authors and translators involved in the cover design process – and not just in self-publishing
Some writers hate their book covers
Imagine you are over the moon, because you wrote a book, landed a deal with a publisher and cannot wait to hold a copy in your hands, but when you do, your jaw drops…
Several years ago, I attended a book reading with an author who spent a long time telling us how much she hated her book cover that she was forced to put up with. This could have been avoided if the publisher had involved her in the design process.
In this case, it was the all-dominant colour that the writer resented the most.
Authors can dislike their covers for various reasons, and here is another example: author Maureen Johnson said in a Guardian article how her covers implied she was a romance writer and because of that, a lot of men told her they didn’t want to read her books, which were intended for young adults and “no romance at all.”
I do wish I had a dime for every email I get that says: ‘Please put a non-girly cover on your book, so I can read it’ … signed – A Guy.
Due to her frustration, this author decided to self-publish.
I translated a novel whose cover did not look like the book I had worked on
When I received my translator’s book copies from a publisher, I thought there had to be a mistake.
The book was set in Australia and as Australia has a large countryside, maybe the old, shabby shed on the cover was meant to symbolize this?
But the book was not about rural life and why was the shed so shabby? Perhaps the shabbiness was supposed to represent the events that led to the suicide in this novel – although the overall atmosphere was actually not as bleak as the cover suggested.
Translators are arguably the ones who, (apart from the author, of course) work so thoroughly on a book that we are more likely than most to get a deep understanding, yet I have never come across any traditional publisher who wanted to hear my opinion.
It can make financial sense for publishers to involve authors and translators
Professional in-house editorial, sales and marketing teams are usually the ones that know best what will or won’t sell and decide on the book cover.
As you can see in the example above about men who resented certain covers, however, this can obviously mean losing out on potential sales, if the author doesn’t have any say in the design process.
In addition, as the majority of authors are expected to do most of their marketing themselves, I cannot imagine any writer being motivated to promote a book if they resent its visual appearance. Again, this means publishing houses could probably make more sales if the writer loves the look of the product.
And whenever I have been mislead by a book cover, I will probably not buy another book by the same author again. As publishing houses tend to sign on authors for more than just one book, they can also lose out, when a cover has attracted the wrong audience.
Self-publishers have the freedom to participate in book cover design as much or as little as they like
I am currently experimenting with the cover designs of several books and I am loving it, although some people might say I should stay away from it and let trained professionals do the job.
To this, I answer I am a professionally trained translator, but will always say people who want to try their hands at literary translation without professional training should go for it if they have certain skills, are passionate about it and willing to learn.
Finding designers who have created book covers in the past that we liked and briefing them as well as possible is one way of dealing with cover design as a self-publisher.
A major reason for DIY cover designs is, of course, a lack of money, but this is not my only reason, because I want to learn and experiment and make book covers look exactly the way I want them to look.
I am the translator and not the author of one of the books I am working on and cannot ask the author’s opinion anymore, because she died, so it is an interesting additional challenge.
I know what kind of emotional reaction the book evoked in me, I would like to evoke a similar response in other people and want the cover to reflect just that.
Everything I do as a self-publisher, is a work in progress, I make mistakes along the way, tweak the results and move on. Freedom is important to me.
I strongly believe, if we do not allow ourselves to make mistakes, we cannot come up with truly new and worthwhile solutions in any area of life, including self-publishing.
The following quote by Mahatma Gandhi is one of my favourites:
Freedom is not worth having, if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.