You know how they say friends don't let friends drive drunk? Well I have a new one: friends don't let friends use crappy books covers. Sure, one can argue that some book covers are an acquired taste, and this is true. There are many covers out there that don't float my boat but I can still appreciate what the artist or graphic designer was going for. But then there are covers that literally make my jaw drop open in awe at the insane terribleness. And I think: Am I the only one who sees just how godawful this is?
But I know I'm not. Others see it too but, oftentimes, they're too kind to say anything. And what, exactly, is the point of that? Are they afraid they'll hurt feelings? Have we really gotten to the point where we all just grin and bear it and not say a word? It's like when you critique a friend's story; do you want to be completely honest and say what's wrong with the story in hopes that your friend will learn and grow stronger as a writer, or do you want to be nice? In the end, "being nice" doesn't benefit your friend at all. It just perpetuates the problem. And that, my friends, is what is happening with these terrible covers. Nobody says anything, and so they continue and get worse and worse. The bar has been lowered so far that crap has become the standard. And what is anybody doing about it? Absolutely nothing.
Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of presses out there who produce great books with really striking covers. ChiZine Publications is a press that consistently creates great looking covers.
Well, some will say, ChiZine has quickly established themselves as a top small press publisher. Of course they're going to have great covers.
That, I will answer, is not always the case. There are some "top small press publishers" who continue to produce really crappy covers. And why? Well because they use the same artists who have become well-known and who become overworked and do a half-fast job. Or at least that's what I think, giving them the benefit of the doubt. These presses commission artists to do the artwork and then take that artwork no matter what it looks like.
But even newer small press publishers can come up with great covers. I really love what Aaron Polson did with the cover for the second volume of 52 Stitches. It's simple yet creepy all at once. It's perfect.
Why am I bringing this up? Because the Q & A with Grand Mal Press last week got me thinking. One of the things the publisher mentioned was eventually having "original covers designed by professional artists." And that reminded me of something that happened not too long ago, something I swore I would never share on this blog. But, well, I like to think one of the things readers of this blog appreciate about me is my honesty and straight-forwardness. And with that in mind, I'll let you in on a little secret.
(I have to admit I'm embarrassed by the next image, so read the rest after the jump.)
Back in September I knew I wanted to publish In Solemn Shades of Endless Night as an e-book. I wanted to try something different this time around, so I decided not to bother my friend Wyatt who had done my two previous covers and contacted a professional artist who had once done an illustration of one of my stories. I told this artist what I was looking for, this artist quoted me a price, and while it was a pretty penny, I figured it would be worth it. So I sent the story and waited a couple weeks until I eventually received the cover (I've blanked out the artist's signature).
I was, as you can probably guess, speechless. I immediately sent it to a friend of mine for her opinion, and she said, "Well, it's not that bad."
I e-mailed the artist saying thanks but this isn't the direction I'm headed. But I had commissioned the artist and even said I would be happy to pay the fee. The artist replied asking what direction did I have in mind. I knew based on this cover that nothing was going to work, so again I said thanks but this isn't the direction I'm headed. The artist sent the invoice which I promptly paid, what I have come to think of as a lesson learned (and I figure since I paid for the damned thing, I might as well share it).
Sure, the cover captures certain aspects of the story, but it just ... wasn't at all what I was going.
But October was quickly approaching and I still needed a cover for my e-book. So what I did I do? I started browsing around deviantART.com and came across this wallpaper:
I contacted the artist asking permission to use part of it as an e-book cover, and she replied saying sure, just as long as I credited her and sent her a copy of the e-book. And I said certainly, sounds great, and came up with this:
All said and done, it took about a day to find the original image, ask for permission, and create the cover. And it was free.
So what's the lesson here? Even "professional artists" create crappy covers. The cover the "professional artist" did is on par with a number of other covers floating around the small press. It's that way, I believe, because the bar has been set so low. And it's up to us -- all of us -- to finally put our foot down and say nooooooooooooooo.