My Newest Jacket Art

Depending on the author you speak to, and depending on when in that author’s career you happen to strike up the conversation, one’s jacket art can be a source great excitement or bitter consternation.

I bring this up because my editor has just sent me an image of the art that will grace the cover of my next release (The Horsemen’s Gambit, book II of Blood of the Southlands).  Before I go on, I’ll take the suspense out of this post.  I love the art.  I think it looks great, and, more to the point, I think it will sell books.  Here, look for yourself:

I always count myself lucky when my jacket art comes in looking good.  It’s not that I don’t trust the artist who does most of my covers.  On the contrary, I think he’s great.  His name is Romas Kukalis, and he’s done the art for (now) eight of my ten novels.  It’s also not that I lack faith in Tor’s art department.  Generally speaking, they’ve done great by me over the years.  But the fact is that art and literature are both highly subjective.  When the two are merged, as they are in the assignment of a specific piece of art to a specific work of fiction, the results can be . . . well, let’s just say they can be interesting.

I’m hard-pressed to think of any author, myself included, who hasn’t had issues with at least one of his or her covers.  It probably seems counterintuitive, but I believe that writing is actually a highly visual art.  Authors try to write for all the senses — we describe smells and sounds, tastes and physical sensations.  But humans tend to be a visually oriented species, and much of the descriptive writing one encounters in most books is geared toward visual stimuli.  I know that I try very hard to visualize my characters, my settings, and the action I describe in my books.  And so it follows that by the time I finish a book, I have some pretty specific ideas of what my jacket ought to look like.

My publisher often asks me to suggest scenes that I’d like to see portrayed on the cover, and in fact the cover for The Horsemen’s Gambit that you see above is drawn from the scene I suggested.  Yet, ironically, it looks nothing at all like what I’d envisioned.  And, deepening that irony, I love it anyway.

Does jacket art matter?  If by “matter” we mean, “can jacket art impact sales?” the answer is:   absolutely.  Good art can certainly help a book, and a cover that isn’t distinctive or eye-catching can hurt one.  I had terrific art on the cover of my first book, and I think it helped me quite a bit.  I was unknown, and that good art, a few nice quotes, and some generous reviews were all I had going for me.  On the other hand, I have friends who are certain that some of their books have been hurt by poor covers.  That said, there are several factors other than the jacket art – reviews, distribution, an author’s name recognition, “buzz”, to name just a few – that are far more determinative of a book’s ultimate fate. 

Does that mean that authors who get upset about jacket art that they don’t like are overreacting?  I don’t think so.  It’s not just the sales that we worry about, though we do worry about them.  (After all, this is our livelihood we’re talking about.) It’s also the fact that every book we write is the product of a huge amount of labor and time.  I know that I invest enormous emotional energy in every novel.  I struggle with the books, at times I rail at them.  But ultimately I care deeply about each one.  And I want to see it presented to the reading public as well as possible.  I want it to look wonderful on the shelf.  I want people to see it and say, “Wow!  That looks cool!”  Maybe they’ll buy it; maybe they won’t.  But at least it will be noticed.  Vanity?  Yeah, sure.  I’m a writer.  Of course I’m vain.  I write stories and I assume that you should want to read them.  How vain is that?!  Can you blame me for wanting them to look good?

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  1. 1. chrisweuve

    “It probably seems counterintuitive, but I believe that writing is actually a highly visual art.”

    I am coming more and more to the conclusion that an (if not often the) most important element of any medium is the types of supporting media that go with it. Take, for instance, movies. You can’t be blamed for thinking that the visual element is the key, but try watching a horror movie with the sound off. Even better, watch a Hitchcock movie — he never actually *shows* you anything (because he coudln’t), but they stand out.

    Can anyone even think of the shower scene in Psycho without hearing the screechy music in their heads?

  2. 2. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Okay describe the scene this is from a little. Cause I really can’t tell what’s going on (I think my screen is a little dark). What I can see, I like a lot. I like the action of her pose and the two swords. And can I just say what a really cool title that is? Gambit is a lovely word and pairing it with Horsemen just makes me happy.

    Congrats on a lovely cover!

    I’ve liked all my covers by the way. In fact, one of them which isn’t quite right in the accuracy front, ends up resonating in a lovely way across several scenes. I count myself lucky on my covers thus far.

  3. 3. David B. Coe

    Thanks for the comment, Chris. I recently went on a long car trip with my family, and to keep all of us entertained, we listened to the Jim Dale audio version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (Over the last couple of years we’ve listened to the first 5 books in the series.) Listening to a book is very different from reading it, at least it is for me. The visual aspects were diminished for me as I listened, but the role of different voices, accents, and tones was much enhanced. I think that speaks to your point in a way. We receive art (visual, written, sung) in a multitude of ways, and sometimes it’s easy to lose track of one because it’s overwhelmed by another.

  4. 4. David B. Coe

    Diana, it’s actually a stylized interpretation of the opening scene of the book. The woman’s name is Tirnya, and she is participating in a battle tournament. She becomes the central character in this volume and the expression on her face really captures the nature of her personality — strong, but also flawed and vulnerable. (It’s hard to see at this size, but there are scars on her face — a key detail. I love my cover artist.)

  5. 5. brian

    Love the new cover. Id say the top 3 things that get me to buy a book are 1) the cover art, 2) the reviews by other authors who I know, and 3) The opening paragraph. So far this system has been good to me, since I have only not completed 2 books I have bought. Of course if I know the authors work thats a big factor too.

  6. 6. Robin Maria Pedrero

    Yes I admit it I often buy a book based on the art on the cover.

  7. 7. jere7my

    Color me disappointed — until I clicked the link, I thought the subject was “My Newest Jackal Art”.

  8. 8. David B. Coe

    Thanks for the comments, Brian and Robin. I have to admit that I’m drawn in by good jacket art, too. It’s not the only factor in my book buying decisions, but it plays a role.

    Jeremy, if I were yoiu I’d be disappointed, too. Jackal art sounds far more interesting than anything I wrote about!

  9. 9. Adam Heine

    It’s true for me too. If I haven’t heard of a book or author before, then what sells it to me is the cover art and (to a lesser extent) the premise from the back.

    I tend to ignore quotes the same way I ignore movie critics. I’ve liked too many things that supposedly Big Name Critics hated, and vice versa.

  10. 10. Stephen Kelly

    First off, let me state that I love your writing. I don’t, however, like the cover art on the majority of your novels. I actually avoided your novels for years, being under the impression the novels would read more like a superficial soap opera romance-fantasy, than a well written epic fantasy. I finally started reading the “Winds of the Forelands” series after running out of epic fantasy books to read, and I am so glad I was able to overcome my “cheesy cover art” phobia! This is a wonderful story! Well, it just goes to show, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”… I think MY problem with the cover art is the characters look too real. When I read epic fantasy, I like to visualize myself how the characters look without too much assistance from the artist. I will sometimes even buy the UK releases because I sometimes like the covers better. Alas, the UK releases have the same covers. Oh, well… I still love the writing!

  11. 11. David B. Coe

    Thanks for the kind words, Stephen. Given the choice I’d rather have someone love my writing and hate my covers than the other way around. That said, I like my covers, though I agree with you that they’re of a certain “type” and if you don’t like that type, you’re not going to like any of them.

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Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.

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