Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cover Love

I have a new book about to be released! Siren Beat, my paranormal urban fantasy novella (sans vampires of werewolves but featuring murderous sirens, a kraken, tentacle smut and a very sexy sea pony) is now available for pre-order over at Twelfth Planet Press as part of an Ace Doubles style publication (back to back, two covers), also featuring "Roadkill" by Robert Shearman, World Fantasy Award winning short story author (as well as "omg he wrote Dalek" Doctor Who tv/audioplay writer).

But what I really want to talk to you about is... isn't my cover AWESOMECAKES?

Hee, getting good cover art has to be one of the top 5 author experiences, up there with The Call and earning out royalties for the first time... there's just nothing like seeing a piece of artwork that has been inspired by your writing. Something you could never have produced yourself, but instantly adds value to your own work.

Especially when it's really good!

Covers are a tricky business. You only have to have been following Justine Larbalestier's blog and lately to understand that. An author rarely has control or final say over the look of their book, and can end up disappointed. Sometimes that disappointment is seriously warranted - as with Justine's story, where the wrong cover seriously misrepresented the book, dragged in very uncomfortable race issues, and simply makes the author, book and publisher look bad.

More often, though, the author has to suck it up. Covers are about selling a book - and the publishers and marketing departments, though they are usually interested in author input, especially in the initial 'inspiration' stages, are rightly more interested in producing a cover that will sell the book than which will conform exactly to the author's (or even the reader's) expectations of how certain characters, places or items should look.

There are many brilliant covers that get stuff wrong. I remember as a young fantasy reader being utterly bewildered by some of the David Eddings covers - they were beautifully painted and yet who was that Amazonian redhead? Couldn't be Ce'Nedra, everyone knew she was the height of a small garden gnome...

While it's nice to have covers that get important character details right, more important is getting a cover that sells the right kind of book - that draws the eye of readers and lets them know what they will be getting.

In the case of this particular cover, Alisa the publisher asked me if I had any particular ideas to give the artist, and I suggested a couple of scenes that might give the right kind of action-y mood. Later, I realised that the one key and iconic thing about my story was tentacles. Nancy Napoleon's paranormal world revolves around threats from the sea rather than the more traditional vampires and werewolves, and one of the main villains is a seductive cecaelia (octopus siren). I pinged Alisa with the request that a tentacle of some kind be involved in the cover.

What the artist, Dion Hamill, ended up producing was the above image from an important piece of Nancy's backstory - her battle with the Kraken. I love the strength of Nancy as depicted here - it's a sexy image but not in a demeaning way. She is fighting underwater, and I like that she has exactly the right look - an athletic, practical and dangerous woman. There is a detail that's very wrong, which is that Nancy's hair is short, whereas the story reveals that she only cut her hair short after her battle with the Kraken. It never occurred to me to even mention this to Alisa and Dion, though, because it's irrelevant - and an image of Nancy with long hair would give the wrong impression to readers about who she is now. It's a tiny compromise of consistency - and one I was perfectly happy to make.

And I do love my tentacle.

Okay, this is definitely a cue for authors and readers alike to chime in with their stories of covers got right and covers got wrong... do you like covers with characters depicted or is this just asking for trouble?


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Yay, Tansy. Very nice cover.

I like the idea of bringing back the old Ace doubles. Two books for the price of one!

Flinthart said...

I can only say: lucky you were working with Alisa and the small press in general. These days, combining women and tentacles in pop culture is fraught with peril!

Dion Hamill said...

Ha ha! Flinthart makes a good point and it never crossed my mind when I did the cover, but now that you mention it.... I won't go there. That is the beauty of small press though, they generally treat you like a professional "you're the cover artist = you know what you're doing". The problem with larger companys these days is that you no longer work with an Art Director who would make an objective decision on the art, now the art goes direct (in most cases) to an editor who tends to make a subjective decision but doesn't have a real background in art or image marketing. Not to mention that the work then gets passed on to about 5-10 other people in the office including the tea lady who all feel they have to say something otherwise they might feel like they're taking up space. Publishers need to realise that many full time illustrators generally have a background in design and marketing so we kind of know what we're doing. I mean I drew the Siren Beat cover about 15 times before settling on that composition because I wanted to make sure I was capturing everything the book was about and do it justice. Best cover ever - Alex Ross Kingdom Come Special, worst - hmm... they're all good in their own special way. Nuff said, Dion

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dion, as someone who used to illustrate children's books ... I feel your pain!

Dion Hamill said...

Thanks Rowena, its nice to know there are people out there who know what its like. I should probably mention after my last rant that working with Alisa at TPP was and is a blast, they let me run wild with my ideas which in turn I think allows for a better creative process. On the subject of cover art, one of the best ever cover artists would have to be Chris Moore, it doesn't matter what genre you read chances are you've picked up a book with his artwork on the cover. Just brilliant!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


You'd know the work of Frazetta, Kaluta, Jeff Jones and Barry Windsor Smith.

I like to feast my eyes on sumptuous art!

Dion Hamill said...

Frazetta! I think I just started drooling when I read his name, what a master. And all the others, what genius, they inspire me every day. I'm guessing you would be a fan of Julie Bell, Boris Velejo and Joe Jusko too.

Satima Flavell said...

My fave is Kinuko Y Craft. I can never afford to buy her calenders but I look forward to seeing them in the shops!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I googled her, Satima. Lovely!

TansyRR said...

Hey Dion, nice to see you here! I LOVED my cover so much. Especially that she is strong and sexy without being remotely a sex object - I think that's a pretty impressive thing to pull off, regardless of the gender of the artist. We're so surrounded by objectified images of women in today's media that they can easily become the default.

The book comes out next week, eeeee!

Tehani Wessely said...

Ooh, Dion, I LOVE Boris and Julie - have for a LOOOONG time (well, loved Boris for a long time, and Julie too, since she's been on the scene :) ).

Dion Hamill said...

Hi Tansy, I had a blast working on the cover for your book Siren Beat, I hope its going to be a HUGE success. And thankyou for your kind words its really important to me to capture that balance of sexy energy but not making it crass or demeaning. This is a book anyone can read so I wanted the cover to reflect that. And for all who love Sci Fi and fantasy art, pick up the Spectrum books, INSANELY BRILLIANT!

Dion Hamill said...

Tehani, if you haven't already come across it check out Boris and Julies official site, Mountains and mountains of work, it takes a couple of days at least to see everything.

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