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John Picacio
Posted on Sunday, August 24, 2003 - 06:20 pm:   

If you're an author, publisher, editor or art director, what are some of your favorite and least favorite cover experiences for your own works? What made the experience good or bad?

Being primarily a cover illustrator, I've found that every book job that I get is unique. When I'm at conventions, I always enjoy hearing authors and editors talk about their favorite (and least favorite) covers on their own books. I think there's always something to be learned from these anecdotes. And a lot of times it isn't even the cover on the book that they comment on. It's the experience that they went through to get the cover done. Sometimes it's the surprise of the cover versus their expectations. The gamut of reaction is infinite.

I recently moderated a panel at ArmadilloCon in Austin. The panel was called BOOK COVERS: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. Sara Felix, Rick Klaw, Harry O. Morris, Elizabeth Burton, Peggy Hailey, William Browning Spencer, and myself were the panelists. I asked each panelist to bring one good, one bad, and one ugly jacket from their personal libraries and tell why they evaluated each jacket that way. All had great things to say, but it was William Browning Spencer that I learned from the most. The guy had some HORRIBLE cover experiences with his own books. Some of them weren't even a matter of bad illustration choices, as much as bad design and lack of thought. But still, it was interesting to me to hear an author's perspective about covers for his own books.

So if anyone has any thoughts regarding their own covers, I'm definitely interested in hearing your perspective, and your tales of joy, or tales of woe.
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, August 24, 2003 - 07:16 pm:   

Hi, John....

I;ve had pretty good luck with covers generally. Probably the weakest was the recent edition of the Jaguar Hunter where the publisher took a kind of blown-up photo of a tabby cat and spread it across the front of the book -- I'm still not clear on the reasoning there. But I've been covered by some pretty great artists, JK Potter and yourself included. But I know some folks who've been handed covers that didn't have a thing to do with the subjects of their books -- just a piece of genre art the publisher had lying around.
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John Picacio
Posted on Monday, August 25, 2003 - 07:21 am:   

Hey, Lucius --

I've always wondered how it must feel for authors to work so hard on a book and then hand it over to a publisher and have almost no say in the cover. That can't be the greatest feeling.

I'm still relatively new at the game, but it seems to me that there is a way for an illustrator to avoid creating a cover that has nothing to do with the words inside -- READ the book.

I've always thought that was part of the job of being a cover illustrator. It's part of the joy, really. I get to read those manuscripts. I get to connect with all of these great idea-makers and in my own small way, collaborate with them in getting their ideas into the hands and minds of their audience. That's fun stuff.

It still doesn't mean that it'll be a great cover! Not by a long shot. But it sure does help to move things in the right direction.
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Rick Klaw
Posted on Monday, August 25, 2003 - 08:22 am:   

John,

As most people know I have some very strong opinions about this subject (what subject don't I have strong opinions about?). A cover should not be seen as a lone piece of art but as an extension of the book. It's like the outside of a business. It must reflect the business to get people inside the doors. An ugly or unclear store front will chase people away. Same is true for a book cover.

And I'd nominate poor Jeff Ford to what I like to call the William Browning Spencer Award for career/title mangled by cover. The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque was one of the finest novels of last year, yet Harper had no idea how to package or sell the book. Not surprisiningly it tanked. Luckily for Ford (unlike Spencer who has had only one decent cover but never a great cover), he also had The Fantasy Writer's Assistant which had a gorgeous John Picacio cover, so the year wasn't a total waste. 'Course that was Ford's only decent cover in his ENTIRE career (to date).

Are there any other nominees for the Spencer?

Rick
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Rick Klaw
Posted on Monday, August 25, 2003 - 08:28 am:   

John,

I've had some amazing covers for my anthologies and especialy for my collection. I've cheated though and have always had a degree of creative control... ok, most of the time I was managing editor for the company or with Geek Confidential I had a long standing working relationship with the artist (not to mention we are good friends). I'm sure my day will come, but the only anthology cover I can think of that I don't care for was still my fault since I was in control the entire time.

Rick
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John Picacio
Posted on Monday, August 25, 2003 - 07:42 pm:   

Rick --

Thanks for the love.

I agree with you on Jeff Ford. He's hands-down one of the best writers in the business and yet some of his covers baffle me. The EOS paperback cover for THE PHYSIOGNOMY isn't particularly ugly, but it just doesn't compel you to pick up that book, if you don't already know what an amazing book it is. I love that book. To me, it's already a classic. But that cover just does nothing for me. I wonder what kind of numbers that book sold in that form. Jeff, if you see this, maybe you can clue us in...
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Jayme Blaschke
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 08:08 am:   

I'm holding my breath on "Cosmosis." I passed on John's cool cover work montage to my editor at Nebraska. He likes the work, and is aware of John's rising prominince in the genre so will pitch the idea, but the response had some code in it that I deciphered as "I'd love to have him do this, but the design department is in-house and would pitch a holy fit if we went with outside talent." At least that's my take on it. I could be wrong. It's happened before.
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John Picacio
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 09:15 am:   

Jayme --

Thanks for the generosity. Regardless of the outcome, I appreciate you considering me. I hope we can work together someday.

I never mind being the outsider that shakes things up! But seriously, if the terms of work are reasonable and both sides are amenable, I don't see why it couldn't be a successful collaboration. We'll just have to see how they position themselves.

But I appreciate your effort very much.

Keep up your good work at RevolutionSF.
www.revolutionsf.com
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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 10:43 am:   

John: The Physiognomy had another cover, other than the nice elephant skin with little circle of city in the center mass market edition. The original cover for the trade paperback was black with three different colored pictures of a head down one side. I may be wrong but I don't think it cost a fortune to produce. What was nice about the original and all of them in the larger format was the chapter heading devices inside. I really liked them. They tried to reproduce them in the mass markets but it just didn't
cut it. I agree, though, The Phys. never had a really good cover(with the exception of the French covers for the trilogy, which are really inspired. If you go to the French Amazon.com you can check them out. I just saw the one for The Beyond and I love it.). I did, though, like the cover for Memoranda, done by an artist by the name of Phil Singer. The others, no comment. But if you do see the paper back of Mrs. Charbuque, that cover I only have myself to blame for, though it grows on me as the days go by. The Fantasy Writer cover, I love. A mixed bag, but a good cover makes a big difference. As to how much the individual books sold, even if I knew it off hand, I wouldn't say.
One cover I remember in recent years that I thought was great and was for a very good novel too was the cover for The Rainy Season by James Blaylock. That cover made me buy that book, and I liked the novel.
I day dream sometimes about the Phys. trilogy coming out in an omnibus edition with a new, startlingly great cover, but you have to remember that when you are a mid-list writer, the publisher may not have the funds to spend big cash in order to get the cover you want. It's a game of give and take. My publisher has not been unreceptive to my cover ideas on all occassions. Sometimes they just couldn't afford to do what I was after. That's the long and short of it.

Best,


Jeff
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John Picacio
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 11:26 am:   

Hey, Jeff --

I appreciate that info. I'm going to have to do a little net-surfing tonight and look for some of your foreign covers, especially those French covers. That's very encouraging. And I'll definitely go looking for THE PHYSIOGNOMY in original form. I never saw that one.

Man, I so agree about that Blaylock cover. It is beautiful, isn't it? I need to go back and see who did that illo. But you're right. That was an eye-catcher.

As far as your daydream about the Phys. trilogy, don't give up hope. I'll address that in an email off-line, but I appreciate all of that perspective you just offered.

I have THE BEYOND in hardcover and I always wanted the first two in hardcover, but my understanding is that hardcover editions for the first two don't exist (at least not in English).
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Robert Devereux
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 12:25 pm:   

Those French covers are nice. I'd be more inclined to pick up a book with one of those covers than most of what gets published in the States.

So far, I don't have much experience in covers. I'm still going back and forth with the designer for my first CD (although it's very close to being complete). I'm financing it myself so I don't have to deal with a record label interferring in it.
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Jonathan Strahan
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 05:34 pm:   

Hey John

I'm a book cover junkie. I don't know how 'aware' I was of book covers before my early 20s, but between 1984 and 1990 I spent a lot of spare time in a local specialst SF bookstore, where we tended to spend hours debating the merits of this cover or that, and that interest has stuck with me.

I've loved a lot of the work you've done for Golden Gryphon and NightShade, especially the cover for The Resurrection Man's Legacy and Two Trains Running, and I've also been very impressed with the work that Les Edwards has done as 'Edward Miller' for PS Publishing. However, the last time that I clearly remember specifically going into a bookstore, not buying a book, and then being dragged back into the store by the lure of the cover was Kinuko Craft's cover of Patricia A. McKillip's Winter Rose. In terms of the combination of physical book design, paper textures etc, and gorgeous art, it remains one of the better and more delightful mass market hardcovers I've seen for some time.

Best
Jonathan
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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 05:43 pm:   

Jonathan: I had the same experience with her cover for McKillip's Atrix Wolf. Those are just wonderful looking books and beautfully written also.

Best,


Jeff
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John Picacio
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 06:05 pm:   

Hey, Jonathan and Jeff --

I gotta testify. I am not a humongous Kinuko fan. I very much respect the craft of her work, but emotionally it's just never quite moved me. That's just me though.

However, with that said, I am very much in awe of her sense of design and composition on those two covers mentioned. Those are stand-out pieces of design regardless of aesthetic taste. They're very thoughtful pieces of work. The surreal quality that I appreciate in the WINTER ROSE cover reminds of the best work of Rafal Olbinski or the Polish poster artist Wiktor Sadowski.

With Olbinski, I've never been overly-infatuated with his draftsmanship, but his idea-making is spectacular. I love looking at his work from that standpoint. He's genius. The same goes for Sadowski. He's brilliant as well.

Les Edwards/Ed Miller is a different story though. This guy's work definitely grabs me. Emotionally, I do "click" when I see this guy's work. His Mieville British covers come to mind, but he's done other even better work elsewhere. The titles just elude me right now. Interestingly enough, I've seen the original artwork for the British edition of PERDIDO STREET STATION and the original painting was so much more moody and intense than the way it printed on that jacket. A shame. Thankfully the British edition of THE SCAR fared better.

I've never met this guy. Maybe someday.

Both Craft and Edwards/Miller are great illustrators, but I must admit to being more attracted to the latter's work.

Lastly, hey Robert -- nice of you to drop by. Thanks for the input about Jeff's French covers. I think I'm going to look those up later tonight. I'm really curious to see them. So what's this CD you're working on? I'm curious to know more about that.
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Robert Devereux
Posted on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 06:00 am:   

John, the CD is a collection of music inspired by Jeff VanderMeer's writing. It's mostly sampler based electronic/experimental music.

I hope to send it off to be pressed within another 1-3 weeks.
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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Saturday, March 20, 2004 - 03:32 pm:   

I heard tell there was this cool cover for a crazy little book called Things That Never Were. You should look into whoever illustrated that. He did a pretty damn fine job.
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John Picacio
Posted on Saturday, March 20, 2004 - 08:43 pm:   

Hey, Matthew --

Good to hear from you, man. I didn't know you roamed around these parts! What are the latest projects in the world of Rossi?

Over here on my side, I'm cranking away and I'll soon have a long-overdue update here and on my website, as to new works. I'll let you know when it happens.
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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Sunday, March 21, 2004 - 05:23 pm:   

Well, not a whole hell of a lot... I have about 37000 words done on a novel I started this month that as yet has no prospects of being published. :-) Other than that, I got a couple of essays up on Fantastic Metropolis and am debating trying to get another book out (I don't know if you know that the original submission for Things was about twice as long.)

I definitely would like to see your newer stuff. To be honest, I've heard from people that your cover was the best part of my book. :D
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John Picacio
Posted on Sunday, March 21, 2004 - 09:50 pm:   

Hey, Matthew --

The only people that could say that my cover is the best part of THINGS THAT NEVER WERE are those that haven't read it yet....that's an amazing collection of work...now that MonkeyBrain has major distribution, I'm hoping that more and more people will know about your book....
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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Sunday, March 21, 2004 - 11:50 pm:   

Actually, it was my girlfriend.

Keep in mind, she has to hear me talking about this stuff all the time. The cover she hadn't already gotten sick to death of.
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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Sunday, March 21, 2004 - 11:52 pm:   

Unrelated to that, though, if I get this novel finished and find anyone who wants to publish it, I'd hope like hell they were smart enough to let me recommend you to do the cover. In all sincerity, you did an amazing job with it, and with the other work of yours I've seen.

Seriously. So much genre writing has shoddy or arcane covers. Yours are clear without being boring and pop right out at the eyes. I'm very jealous of your visual acuity and clarity of expression.

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