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Book covers and design: Whose art is it?

Okay, reader Mike Perry raised the question about cover iterations and what authors have to go through. He asked: Do you see many changes to the artwork as the book matures? Is it something you decide relatively early on in the process and it stays kinda static?

Well, for many—make that most—authors the answer would be “not much.”

In traditional publishing authors have little input and are usually as surprised as the next person when the cover art is finalized and sent. Some houses will provide a form asking for author input that will be provided to the art director or illustrator; however, that doesn’t mean anything offered will be followed. There are always exceptions and often as the author’s sales ranking climb, their input in cover design rises.

When we turned in the manuscript for our first travel book, Exploring Houston with Children, we pretty much ducked and prayed for a great cover design. We had absolutely no input. Luckily, we ended up with a wonderful cover that generated comment by booksellers and created great display effects. For the second book, so far we haven’t had any input other than our reminding them this is a “companion” book to the first. For the third travel book, we have been asked to fill out a form with suggestions. We’ll have to see how the two covers play out next year.

Divided Loyalties, on the other hand, is being published through a non-traditional publisher—Awe-Struck E-books, and I was able to work with the illustrator of my choosing to create the cover design. So far, the comments from viewers, such as yours (“The artwork above now grabs the attention with the eyes on the page and makes one wonder about what happens within the book…”), have been great and it appears to be accomplishing what a cover is supposed to do: generate interest and make the viewer want to read more. We went through a series of design changes—five, I think, with the first being totally different and the next four designs moving in this direction. After the basic design was selected, we then went through about four to five fine-tuning edits.

One last caveat: aspiring picture book writers in traditional publishing should not expect to be involved in the creation of the illustrations at all. Many editors prefer to keep the author and illustrator apart and allow the illustrator free reign to be inspired from the text alone. So the burden on picture book writers is immense in that they must make every word count and every sentence must be crafted in a way to provoke the images perfect for the telling of the story.

Hope that answers your questions, Mike.

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