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Ted Chang on being naive

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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Thursday, February 24, 2005 - 04:26 pm:   

http://withboots.blogspot.com/2005/02/adventures-in-publishing.html
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Christopher Rowe
Posted on Thursday, February 24, 2005 - 04:50 pm:   

Chiang.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Thursday, February 24, 2005 - 05:45 pm:   

Jeremy LEssen typing like shit. Thanks. Noticed that as soon as I posted it.
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Simon Owens
Posted on Thursday, February 24, 2005 - 08:35 pm:   

Yeah, I'm surprised that more people aren't linking to this blog. You'd think it'd be a big deal that Kelly Link and Ted Chiang among other heavyweights have an online blog.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Thursday, February 24, 2005 - 09:35 pm:   

I'm too busy communicating on this message board. This is my blog. And I also regularly check out message boards at TTA, HWA, SCIFI.COM. I periodically skim some friends' blogs but I find most blogs boring.
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des
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 09:19 am:   

There are some blogs worth checking out from time to time. But I agree with Ellen. The action is on message boards like here, TTA, Shocklines...
des
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Glurg
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 09:26 am:   

http://www.fionaraven.com/Pages/testimonials.html
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Scott William Carter
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 09:57 am:   

"The action . . ."

I found that pretty funny, Des.
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Vylar Kaftan
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 10:00 am:   

I'm going to ask, because I honestly don't know.

How does cover art for books usually work? How much say should a writer have? Is this something that's usually negotiated during the contract signing?

I read the story, and it sounds like an awful experience. I want to make sure I understand the point here.
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des
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 10:26 am:   

"The action . . ." I found that pretty funny,
*********

Well, real 'action' is in real life, true.

This is where the electronic action is.

Otherwise, I don't know what you mean.
des
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Kage Baker
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 10:37 am:   

With the giant publishing houses, a writer customarily gets no input at all. If the editor is considerate, he may send you a jpg file with the image at some point; but generally you don't have a clue what's going to be on there until it's already a done deal.

With publishers like Night Shade and Golden Gryphon, it's a completely different story. I was invited to brainstorm with the artists and (on Mother Aegypt) given my choice of sketches.

Nice. Me happy. Covers got good reviews too, which just shows it makes economic sense to do it right.
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JV
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 10:41 am:   

It depends on the publishing house and the editor. I've had great experiences with every publisher I've worked with, in terms of their willingness to either entertain the idea of using art I picked or giving me some review of the cover prior to finalizing it. Most lately, Pan Macmillan and Bantam have both been very nice about soliciting my opinion, and both listened to my comments and took them seriously. I'm very happy with the results in both cases.

In Ted's case, it really sounds like both parties got a little obsessive and hung-up over details. I find it odd someone would commission artwork for $3.5k with zero commitment from the publisher to use it--i.e., you can't get upset when they then don't use it.

And my understanding is that while an author as a courtesy is usually given an initial look-see at cover art before it's finalized, a large publisher is under no obligation to incorporate any author comments or point of view in the process.

Anyway, I'm sure it varies by writer, editor, and publisher. Some writers don't really have an graphic design or artistic sensibility and would be a hazard to themselves if they were involved. I can say this from the experience of doing Ministry books. One author would have ruined his book's chances if we'd gone with his suggestion.

JeffV
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 10:41 am:   

Typically authors have no say in their cover whatsoever. I think that's why Jeremy labelled this thread as Ted being naive. Normally it's people who make a lot of money for the publisher who get the chance to say anything about their cover. Pushing for cover approval in your contract can be a good way for a new/newer writer to get a contract rescinded.

It's a balancing act for the art director. I personally liked the cover for Ted's collection. And I know that the art director for Tor puts in a lot of time and effort into making covers. However, sometimes things don't work out. Story collections are notoriously hard to pick covers for, because what do you do? Illustrate one story? Try to illustrate them all?

The two books I had any say in the cover desing for I was lucky in both cases. Alex Irvine's SCATTERING OF JADES [http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0765301164/ref=sib_dp_pt/104-8702217-0827121#rea der-link] I really wanted John Jude Pelincar for, and we were able to get him. But I left that in the hands of Tor's art director, who works with artists all the time. I think we got a great cover. It's not a scene from within the book, but I felt it worked to convey a sense of what the book was going to be like when you opened the cover and started reading.

Liz Williams story collection BANQUET OF THE LORDS OF NIGHT [http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1892389932/qid%3D1109356771/sr%3D11-1/ref %3Dsr%5F11%5F1/104-8702217-0827121] also got a great cover from Tom Kidd. Tom happened to have some artwork he had done for a card game that never really got off the ground, and one of those images worked really well for Liz's book.

In both cases I did not consult with the author on the cover.

In Ted's situation, I know that the book was put through the publishing process faster than Ted wanted it to be and I think there was also some misunderstanding about the dates when things needed to happen. It's unfortunate that Ted was so unhappy with his cover and there was no resolution to be had with it.

JK
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Vylar Kaftan
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 11:11 am:   

Thanks, everyone. That was really helpful.
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Jerem Lassen
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 11:16 am:   

"Jeremy labelled this thread as Ted being naive"

actually, it was Ted himself that said he was probably naive, and thats why I named the thread what I did... ON being naive. not being naive. :-)
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 11:21 am:   

Fair enough. I did read Ted's post outside of this discussion a few days ago, so I should have remembered that myself. :-(

JK
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Kage Baker
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 11:23 am:   

I would like to add that so far I've been pretty well treated by the big houses, regardless of the fact that I had no input on cover design.

Tor has a great track record so far especially.

The one exception was with Harcourt on THE GRAVEYARD GAME-- they came up with a preliminary design which they then fired off to all the catalogs and online dealers like Amazon. Then, at the last minute, they substituted a completely different cover, so that what was advertised in catalogs looked nothing whatsoever like what was physically on the shelves. To make matters worse, some jobber in their publicity department gave it the wrong plot summary-- for a kiddie book by Kevin Baker about whimsical alligators.

So people attempting to buy the book had no clear idea what it looked like or what it was about.

But by then the writing was on the wall that my relationship with Harcourt was over. And the writing was in dripping bloody letters and said RACHE...
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al duncan
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 11:39 am:   

Vylar: My understanding is that it's ultimately dependent on the editor and the design and marketing departments at the publisher. They'll have their idea of what kind of cover will sell the book best, aiming it at the right niche. How much they're willing to accomodate the author's views depends very much on their respect for the author, it seems. That respect could be be deference to BIG NAME selling power, but it could just be common decency. Some publishers will be totally unswerving, I'm sure, but others will happily listen to an author's ideas (as long as they're not out-and-out bugfuck crazy, I'd guess). Contractually speaking, you probably could play hardball to negotiate creative control, but I would have thought that unusual. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd think many publishers would just shrug and walk away then, unless you have a BIG NAME that will force them to at least pretend respect.

As a positive example of how it can work well with a good publisher... I noticed that Ted says, in a response to a comment, that for the Pan MacMillan edition they actually based the artwork on what he'd had designed himself for the US version. That level of author input doesn't really surprise me from PanMac. I've found them pretty damn straight-up and respectful in my dealings with them. Early on (though well after the contract was signed) we talked about what kind of cover would be appropriate; they gave me a chance to throw ideas at them, and they threw some back at me. The designers have moved away a bit from what my editor and I discussed, but in a way that's creative and totally in sympathy with the book. I can see where they got their take on it from and the result is, in my opinion, superb. My editor did seem genuinely concerned when my email saying how much I liked it got lost en route, worried that an apparent silence meant I was busy furrowing my brow in brooding discontent; if I'd absolutely hated the suggested cover I very much think they would have gone out of their way to fix the problem, and in a way that wasn't just a matter of riding roughshod over my objections.
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al duncan
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 11:52 am:   

Out of curiosity, I had to google to find out which cover he was talking about. Is it the one with the bald giant looming up / growing out of a strange Eiffel Colloseum construction with a wee white horsie running at the bottom of the picture?
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 11:54 am:   

Yes, that's the one.

JK
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JV
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 12:31 pm:   

Yeah, Al--that's my experience with Pan Mac, too. Love that Peter Lavery and his staff. (Same with Bantam. Haven't interacted with Tor yet, but I expect it'll be the same.)

JeffV
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gary gibson
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 01:04 pm:   

I'll say I had good experiences too, with Tor UK over covers. So I'll second (third?) what Jeff and Al are saying. Maybe we've been lucky in that respect.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 04:09 pm:   

I've had good and bad experiences with cover art but I certainly wouldn't huff and puff and try to sink my own book over it.

I've had art at Tor that I haven't been wild over and had no say over and I've had great art at Tor and was actually able to approve which I preferred and got it (for The Dark).

Sometimes authors get "cover consultation" which means they'll show you the art and you can complain about it but that doesn't mean they'll change it.


No matter how bad the art, what's inside is what counts and it behooves the author/editor (anthologist) to support her own work.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 07:02 am:   

Eh, I liked the bald giant cover. Thought the silver lettering, purply background one was shite.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 10:25 am:   

Does this mean I shouldn't give Ted the giant print of the Comrade Stalin's World Fair art I had made for him?

Eh, I'll just save it for Mother's Day.
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Michael Walsh
Posted on Monday, February 28, 2005 - 07:33 am:   

How does one know this is Ted Chiang's blog? Could someone point out where his name is on it?

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John Klima
Posted on Monday, February 28, 2005 - 08:07 am:   

This is a shared blog. On the left-hand side of the main page is a list of the people who post to this blog:

Barb Gilly
Richard Butner
Christopher Rowe
Christopher Barzak
Gavin Grant
Gwenda Bond
Kelly Link
Karen Joy Fowler
Kristin Livdahl
Alan Deniro
Ted Chiang

Please correct me if I have any of those wrong! :-)

JK
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Minz
Posted on Monday, February 28, 2005 - 11:06 am:   

It was indeed Ted's post; I've chatted with him about it.
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Michael Walsh
Posted on Monday, February 28, 2005 - 01:06 pm:   

None of the surnames listed by JK show up on my browser, which is Firefox.

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John Klima
Posted on Monday, February 28, 2005 - 01:09 pm:   

The surnames are not there. Except for Barzak. I added them.

JK
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Michael Walsh
Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 12:13 pm:   

Ah, so unless one is "in the know" there's no way to know (sounds rather Rumsfeldian...)?
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Ted Chiang
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 01:18 am:   

I've had good and bad experiences with cover art but I certainly wouldn't huff and puff and try to sink my own book over it.

I never tried to sink my own book. I thought that offering an alternate dustjacket might actually sell more copies.

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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 05:05 am:   

Not to belabour the point (which I made on your journal, Ted) and not to beat you up on it, but you did try to micromanage your editor, above and beyond what would be considered reasonable, by any publishing company. However, the problem is that you then went a step further and went public about it, which most people might consider in very poor taste. I'm not entirely sure if the publisher actually did anything wrong, in this.
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Martin
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 06:01 am:   

went public about it, which most people might consider in very poor taste

Who are these "most people" of which you speak? I think Ted did exactly the right thing in publicsing this issue. Shit covers aren't a law of nature despite what a lot of publishers and editors like to claim. The standards of design in the US genre publsihing industry are awful. There is no need for this to be the case and the more people people liek Ted bring attention to this fact the more likely it is to change.

It's naive to expect a reasonable standard of design on your work? First time novelists shouldn't expect to have any input into the production of their work? This is only received wisdom in this industry: no recording artist would stand for it.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 08:13 am:   

I did not see anything wrong with the hardcover design. I'm sure that when Tor went to their sales department (who then shows the cover to their distribution channels) that the cover helped sell that book. That's why generally the decision over the cover art is in the publisher's hands, not the author's. They can suggest or advise, but the decision ultimately rests in the publisher's hands.

One assumes that they generally know what they're doing(they've been around since 1980)— and after all it's _their_ money. Considering that publishing is a (calculated) crap-shoot every time they publish a book, they're investing a _lot_ of capital in printing a title.

The upshot of all this is that Ted overstepped his rights as an author and then went public, when things didn't go his way. He may have been well-intentioned, but it didn't work out and it blew up in people's faces.

The more attention Ted brings to his own situation I imagine that it might actually make things worse.
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Minz
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 09:34 am:   

Deep breath, people. I've friends on both sides of the actual events, and I'd rather it be kept civil. (This is why I haven't weighed in previously.)

The situation was much more complicated and involved than what the original blog post shows--it wasn't intended to be a complete blow-by-blow. There was some serious miscommunication and misunderstanding involved. Neither side is to be completely blamed, neither side is completely without fault.

There was definietly some grave misunderstandings. I don't want to encourage or get into "he said-he said" arguments, but there were any number of ways and opportunities where the situation could have been handled better.

On Ted's part, it was more a matter of naivete (as he says in his post). I think he went too far in going so public the way he has (mostly because I don't think he's helping himself, no matter how frustrated and disillusioned he is)--though I bet he's a little surprised how much his blog post has been noticed and discussed. That blogboard of theirs is usually little more than a shared letter among the writers themselves.

As for his editor, from what I've heard about this, he should've done a much better job of communicating with Ted and staying on top of the situation. I wish I could go into this more, but I wasn't an actual witness to the conversations and events, so I don't want to go into details--but my understanding is that it wasn't just about the cover, more about trust, and it began before there was art. I will say this, since the editor was the one in the position of power in this, the greater responsibility clearly lies on his shoulders. Period. (I can't believe I'm going all Spidey here.)

And that has nothing to do with the subjective take on the cover art. Personally, I do think the hc cover is fine. It didn't make me go "Gosh-wow", but I don't think it hurt the book one bit. There are plenty of bad covers in this business, but I don't think this was one of them. For the sake of honesty and fairness, if I had been the editor, given the timing of the book, I would've almost assuredly kept the art for the hc as well.

And I really don't think the comparison to the recording industry is a valid one--their sales aren't nearly as driven by the look of the cover as is the book industry. And, in the most basic of terms, the cover is undoubtedly the perview of the publisher. It's at the core of what they do. You're not signing on with someone to print up your book, you're signing on to have them publish and market it, and there's nothing more important to that marketing than the cover. Sean's absolutely right on that account. And while that is germaine to this situation, as with everything in life, it's more complicated than even the most fundamental of rules.

I gotta stop coming to this board. I'm taking too much time writing posts.
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Martin
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 11:03 am:   

And I really don't think the comparison to the recording industry is a valid one--their sales aren't nearly as driven by the look of the cover as is the book industry.

Do you have any facts or figures for that?

Sean, I'd like to respond to your post but it was so fucking stupid I don't know where to begin.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 11:25 am:   

I'd probably be the last one here amongst the professional editors to have the stronger opinion in this matter, as my experience with publishing isn't as comprehensive as, say, Ellen's or Minz's or Mamatas' or Klima's . . . but, Martin, we can certainly agree to disagree, civilly.
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Minz
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 12:13 pm:   

Do I have facts? Not on the recording industry. But based upon how I buy music. On how my friends buy music. Do you browse cds looking at covers before deciding to listen to the music? How many people here have bought cds based on the cover art? How many people decided to NOT buy a CD based upon the cover art? I ask this in all sincerity.

As for books, while I don't have the Gallup study in front of me, I've heard Tom Doherty quote it often enough to remember many of the numbers. The reason people buy the books they do: THe number one reason, accounting for a little more than half of total book sales, is based upon recommendations and the like (recommended by friends, name recognition for the author, it's sitting in a NY Times bestseller slot), i.e. the elements that really can't be controlled, bought & paid for by the publisher. The next highest factor is based upon cover, accounting for roughly 25% of sales. The next factor, which I'm blanking on, is about half of that. And at the very bottom: Advertising, which accounts for 3% (that's roughly 1 % each for print, radio and TV).


Oh, and thanks for being civil, Martin. By the way, Sean has been far and away the most on-target throughout the whole discussion, at least in terms of how publishing works in general. And Ted is potentially doing himself harm, because what other big house is going to want to publish an author who will publicly excoriate them if there's a difference in opinion about the cover art? That's just common sense. I say this with absolutely no intent of undermining the validity of Ted's complaint, or to provide a blanket statement on the issue. In fact, I sincerely hope that one day I will get a chance to publish a Ted Chiang novel.

By the way, Martin: Have you even bothered to look at the cover art that Tor used on Ted's hardcover? Just curious.

But feel free to curse away. That'll change the basic facts and add to the discourse.

Bad enough I deal with idiots like TCO when politics is being discussed . . .
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 01:18 pm:   

Is the missing factor price point?
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wandcoker
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 03:22 pm:   

Harlan Ellison is one author who has creative control over cover art. HE also mails bricks and dead gophers to publisher comptrollers. You guys should try that.
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wandcoker
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 03:23 pm:   

And who the fuck is Ted Chang anyway? Is he stealing Chiang's water?
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Jonathan
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 03:48 pm:   

I doubt Harlan has cover control when he deals with a major publisher. I'm actually surprised he has a major publisher at all, given what he's like to deal with. I'd add that Ted would have been best advised to go with a small press. Why? Because they would have given him what he wanted most (I suspect). A handcrafted book that met his vision of what his first book would be like. That's pretty reasonable to expect of a small press. For a major...not so much. As Sean and Jim have pointed out, once you deal with a major you have all kinds of serious marketing considerations to deal with. I've, coincidentally, had some awful covers (can anyone beat a rocket powered platypus on the cover - go on, try!) and some great ones, so I figure you take it on the chin and move on. Nothing's going to un-publish the book.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 03:54 pm:   

Uh . . . willing to show us that rocket-powered platypus cover? I'm fascinated . . .
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 04:18 pm:   

Don't tell me that it was the first volume of The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy? There is one image up on the internet of the cover, a very small one, mind you, but I can't tell . . . is it really a platypus?
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Deborah
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 04:33 pm:   

But, you know, Jonathan, we very small presses can't always do exactly what the author wants either...we generally have a lot less to spend on cover art than the big guys.

And, frankly, to back up what Sean says, as a small press owner I would be very hesitant to deal with an author who gains a reputation for being extremely difficult. Let's face it, Tor will survive one author complaining about them, but if I only work with four to six authors a year and one of them decides to bury me by telling everyone that I ruined his publishing experience, he can do it. End of show.
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Jonathan
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 05:21 pm:   

Sean: Yeah, that's the cover. I don't have a close-up here, but the main image is a platypus with rocket engines coming out of it's....rear. It even has some kind of fur. shudder.

Deb: I know. And I'd also imagine, given the labour of love that small presses are, that any small press publisher would want the a book to look the way they felt it should. Still, I stand by what I said. Ted would have had a much better chance to have had a result he was happy with if he'd gone to a small press. And, to be frank, unless something extraordinary happened, I'd imagine someone like Golden Gryphon would have done about as well with the book. I remember Patrick Nielsen Hayden saying something to the effect that Tor couldn't have done better with Andy's Beluthahatchie.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 05:45 pm:   

Jonathan, you assume that his experience with a small press, of his choice, would have gone swimmingly well. What if he had a different issue with something else the publisher did, either before, during, or after publication?

The results would be the same.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 05:46 pm:   

Perhaps, in this case, had he self-published it, might he only be happy with the final result.
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Minz
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 07:51 pm:   

I suspect Jonathan is right in that Ted would have been more involved with the process and felt connected to the publication. It would have gone better as a process, regardless of the final cover, and that would have made a huge difference with the whole situation.

But, while I don't know what kind of numbers small presses enjoy with collections, I don't know if they could've matched how Tor did with Ted's (a rather unique situation, given the ridiculously high quality of fiction Ted has written--of course, there's no way to know. Maybe a small press would have done better.)
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Simon Owens
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 09:28 pm:   

Well, despite Ted's displeasure with his cover, the collection obviously sold well enough for Tor to release it in paperback (I've talked to another Tor writer who will remain nameless who said that in order for his first novel to be published in paperback, it had to sell close to 5,000 copies in hardcover, so we can assume Ted had similar numbers) and it also looks like Ted is having a U.K. edition come out, so it appears that it sold well enough to warrant that. Overall, I found the journal post interesting, but whenever he said that he paid that ridiculous high cost for an artist to do his cover art, I inwardly cringed. And then when he later said he wanted to buy back the paperback rights, my eyebrow definitely raised an inch or two.

If anything, this gives us insight into why Ted Chiang isn't very prolific. His view on writing appears to be very un-materialistic -- in that he was willing to not only pay over 3,000 dollars for the cover art, but then however many thousands in order to buy the paperback rights. This attention to detail and artistic merit probably indicated why he's such a highly-regarded fiction writer.

The post also shows that he's obviously loaded since he had so much spare cash to be throwing around, but that's a different story altogether ;-P
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JKS
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 07:44 am:   

If I can poke my nose in with one reader's opinion, I'm sure that on numerous occasions I've picked up a book because of a nifty cover that caught my eye and eventually bought it. But casting my mind back, I think I eventually bought said book because I had heard something about the writer somewhere (with so many recommendations bouncing around, it's sometimes hard to keep track of who said what, and was it positive), or someone's whose opinion I respect had blurbed it on the cover.

In Ted's case, I had heard something somewhere about his work, and so was mildly curious when I noticed the hardcover in the bookstore, not displayed - shelved so only the spine is showing (like 99% of books for sale), and picked it up. Now the cover didn't set my soul aquiver when I saw it, but it didn't fill me with utter revulsion either (it sort of reminds me of the Berkley pb illustration of Heinlein's 'Time Enough For Love'; not particularly my cup of tea, but whatever). No, what caused me to *wince* and put the book back was the price.

However I kept hearing about Ted, so when in short order the TB appeared, and I noticed that the price differential was not that big (in for penny, eh?), I scurried back and bought the hardcover, regardless of the cover. Of course, as soon as I read the first story, I was absolutely blown away. To someone who did part of their degree in Ancient History, the aptly called 'Sumerian Science Fiction' of 'Tower of Babylon', is deliciously irresistible and the rest of the book is just as good. So now Ted's on my 'A' list of authors, and I will buy his books irrespective of cover illustration.

So while I agree that cover has something to do with sales, especially for a new author, and may cause me to buy a book when I'm flush, I'd suggest that ultimately it's the content that'll drive total book sales.

Oh and Jonathan, as for Harlan (who has something like four books coming out this year showing that, yes, many people want to 'deal' with him despite what he's 'like'), I promise you, he has complete cover control even with major publishers, as shown by the recall (the only time I've heard of this happening) of 'Spider Kiss' by Ace, because of labeling a rock 'n' roll novel 'Science Fiction' and other failures to live up to contract. Now Ace went on to happily publish a slew of books by Harlan with the wonderful cover illustrations by Barkley Shaw, so I would suggest the lesson is that if cover control is *that* important to an author, it should be specified in the contract. I'll bet it's all negotiable, but realize that it might mean the writer doesn't make the sale.

Regards,

Jonathan

P.S. And what's wrong with rocket-powered platypuses, anyway? I loved the one on Arthur Byron Cover's Warner book 'The Platypus of Doom and Other Nihilists'! It has fur too, you mammalian snob! :-)
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 08:24 am:   

There's certainly many factors driving book sales on retail and trade levels, including price point, cover, buzz, and more, but I'd imagine that once you get up to the scale that larger publishing houses enjoy, that clinching the sales to the distribution channels is the number-one priority.

Perhaps this will get me tarred and feathered, but the content perhaps almost irrevelant to this target market, in the larger sense that books are products. The end-consumer is at the bottom of the channel (from distributor to trade accounts to end-consumer). And like any product it is price point and packaging that drives the sales.

A small portion of authors, today, have the weight and clout to demand total and complete control over their covers and cover designs. It is not the standard and I would not recommend it, because it's just as easy to kill the contract than to deal with such nonsense. Authors (particularly new authors) are largely replaceable, especially in this market. Replacing the product with another product is not at all very difficult, especially since there's hundreds of other promising authors begging for the chance to be published . . .

Please note: before you tar-and-feather or burn me in effigy for the above statements, I'm simply stating the market realities as I see it (particularly from my personal experience in working in retail). I do not necessarily believe in those statements, things not being clear-and-cut as all that, but when you are working on such scales, market/commercial concerns and realities probably play a more important role than anything else.

I'm sure that many editors following this discussion could probably relate stories where commercial concerns overrode or overshadowed a number of other factors, perhaps sometimes to the good, or to the bad.

But I doubt very much that a small press could have matched what Tor did for Ted's collection, either way.
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JV
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 08:26 am:   

Re this:

"If anything, this gives us insight into why Ted Chiang isn't very prolific. His view on writing appears to be very un-materialistic -- in that he was willing to not only pay over 3,000 dollars for the cover art, but then however many thousands in order to buy the paperback rights. This attention to detail and artistic merit probably indicated why he's such a highly-regarded fiction writer."

I can't see anything in this statement that isn't questionable. First of all, Chiang being prolific or non-prolific would have nothing to do with how he deals with the publishing industry. Secondly, "attention to detail and artistic merit" come to each of us in a different way. Jeffrey Ford is one of the hardest-working, prolific writers out there and it hasn't affected his attention to detail or artistic merit. Everybody's different. I get queasy when I see questions of art being tied up with questions of commerce. It's like separation of church and state...

I also think this thread may now have gone a little too far in the other direction re condemning Ted. I mean, I was thinking about it and if I averaged one book or one collection every 10 years, I'd want to make damn sure every detail was perfect. Put into that context, I think I have more sympathy for Chiang and understand his motivation. There's no second chance for him that doesn't come five, maybe ten, years down the road.

JeffV
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 08:28 am:   

The Playtpus of Doom
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 08:33 am:   

Let me ask you this, Jeff . . . if you got a contract with, let's say, a large publishing house, early in your career for, let's say, twenty thousand dollars, would you really quibble over the cover art, especially if it was reasonably attractive (though not particularly appropriate)? Or would you go public and backstab your publisher?

There's probably been a few cases in the last seventy years in which authors have done this and publishers have simply dropped them, wiped their hands of the affair, and moved on.

Seen from that viewpoint, what Ted did was simply and incredibly whacky.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 08:35 am:   

The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy

Um . . . I can't really tell much in the way of details from this low-quality scan. If anyone can provide a better one, please upload to the board.
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JV
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 08:51 am:   

Sean:

I'm not saying I would have done that--I *wouldn't* have done that (and we know this because I've quibbled with publishers over *cover design* a few times, and never gone public with it). But, remember, I have a lot of projects going on all at the same time. For most of them, I have at least some say-so in the cover art. I have plenty of opportunities to satiate my desire for creativity and control when it comes to that arena.

If, on the other hand, I wrote very few stories, no novels, and I had one book come out every 5 to 10 years, it would at the very least drive me nuts if I thought the cover art sucked or didn't fit my fiction. So, what I'm saying is, the more I've thought about it, the more I can understand where Chiang is coming from. I disagree with how he handled it, but I certainly understand his thinking.

As for why he posted something about it *now*, I have no clue. Either he thought it was a semi-private forum or or he just couldn't rest without getting it off his chest, or it is a tactical move of some kind based on information we aren't privy to.

JeffV
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 08:52 am:   

Stories of My Life

Is this the cover that Ted originally commissioned (reproduced for the Tor UK edition)? If so, I'm not entirely and honestly convinced that this is that much better than the US paperback design. From a commercial standpoint the hardcover design still smacks this puppy down.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 09:22 am:   

FWIW, last year I had a fight with my publisher (conducted privaterly and relatively civilly) over the cover for A Handbook of American Prayer. Their original cover was a motel sign stating the books title and authorship -- It had no relevance to the materials of the book. I floated a concept, which after long debate, they seemed to buy into. When I got the book, I was disappointed to see the cover was a hybrid--I doubt it was more effective a lure than the motel sign. Point is, the time spent in fighting the battle was wasted. IMO, Ted would have spent his time much better in writing more stories and be on his way to giving us another collection than wasting it on battles with Tor -- chances are, they would screwed it up one way or anotther, at least according to his lights.

I agree with Jeff -- if I were turning out ten stories a decade, I'd perhaps be more particular. But I earn my livelihood as a writer and really don't have the energy to waste in getting bent out of shape. Chiang should have confidence in the merits of his work to outstrip his cover art. This is not to say that he should roll over when a publisher tells him, but it does no good to embarrass people in a public forum -- that serves only one's ego. A private declaration of his pissed-offedness, backed up by action, would have, I think, won him a better result.
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JKS
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 09:31 am:   

JeffV Wrote:

...he just couldn't rest without getting it off his chest...

Yeah, I bet that's the one.

Sean: Yeah, yeah, that's the one! Platypuses (Platypui? Platypus'?) are way cool! The first plushie I ever bought for my new-born daughter was a platypus. Frankly I'm surprised JeffV hasn't written a story about them since he just loves weird little beasties. As for the other Ted cover, well whatever. It doesn't really grab me either. Just so you know where I'm coming from: my current favs are Scott Eagle's cover for JeffV's 'Secret Life' and Kirsten Bishop's cover for Zoran's 'Fourth Circle' (my current screen-saver).

As for the other Jonathan's books, I only have a couple, but not that one and I can't tell either from that scan whether I like it or not. But even if I did (like it, that is) it probably wouldn't diminish his dislike for it (Mammalian fascist that he is! :-) )
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 10:25 am:   

The one important factor that you might take under serious consideration, which Nick just reminded me of, is that very few authors actually have a decent visual sense or grasp for art. I've been personally burned quite a few times myself, in listening to authors and not trusting my gut feeling.

Sometimes (not always) you should just trust your editor or publisher, in these matters.
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JV
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 10:56 am:   

This is true, Sean--and something I emphasized before. The number of authors who think they have a good visual grasp of art and those who actually do...well, one's a much smaller group. :-) I still remember an author who wanted his face with a nebula superimposed on it to be the cover art. It basically looked like someone had thrown up in red all over his face.

JeffV
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Jonathan
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 10:57 pm:   

If you'd like to see what caused me so much horror, go here http://www.gregbridges.com/fan9.html and all will be revealed. You can't make out the hair in this scan.
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Ted Chiang
Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005 - 11:06 pm:   

A brief follow up:

The blog post has attracted far more attention than I anticipated. I wrote it because this was something I wanted to get off my chest. If I could have done so without being more specific, I would have. As is, it may be impolitic, but I don't see it as an example of backstabbing. (And Sean, I didn't get anywhere near twenty thousand dollars.)

Yes, now I know that I should have gone with a small press. Unfortunately, this was not clear to me at the time. And once the contract was signed, I don't know what else I could have done that might have been more effective. At the time I certainly asked around for advice, and didn't get any suggestions besides "grin and bear it." (And more than one person thought that printing up dustjackets sounded like a good idea.)

I probably shouldn't have mentioned how much I paid for the art; that's not really relevant. From what I've heard, what I paid was near the low end for cover art. As I said in the original blog post, I hired an artist who has done many covers for Tor, assuming that they liked his work and would be more likely to consider using it on the paperback than if I hired a cheaper artist. It was a gamble.

The art on the UK edition is not exactly what I commissioned, although it is based on it; I like the original better, but I'm happy with the UK edition.

With the UK edition I felt like I was a participant in the process, something which was not true with the US edition. I didn't go in with the expectation that I'd be able to design my cover art; I just wanted to feel like someone gave a damn about what I thought. At the time I knew more than one author who was having their first novel published by Tor and whose preferences regarding cover art were taken into consideration, while I couldn't even get replies to my e-mail.

Few of us can choose what bothers us and what doesn't. I didn't want this to bother me as much as it did. If you have never had something upset you despite people telling you to forget about it, you are fortunate indeed.

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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 03:17 am:   

Uh . . . Jonathan, that surely is horrifying, which is a shame, as some of the rest of the art in his gallery is quite good (though "The Space Elephant" is a bit mind-boggling) I wouldn't have minded the detail from:

http://www.gregbridges.com/images/MegaCity.jpg

for a wraparound for the The Year's Best, myself.
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Jonathan
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 03:37 am:   

Greg's a good artist and I like a lot of his work. That piece I really didn't like, and .... Well, I was trying to edit a serious book called The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy. It seemed almost to send-up the whole idea.
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 04:41 am:   

Personally I think an author should have some say in the cover art.

For a book of mine that is coming out soon (Dr. Black and the Guerrillia), I rejected two covers from the publisher. This led to a big argument, and me ending up more or less overseeing the entire cover design and interior layout. Maybe some people will end up not liking it, and it still doesn^t fit my original vision, but at least it is something I can live with. After all, a book for me is about 6 months to 2 years of work. Maybe it is not 10, but it is a large investment of time. So it should at the very least be something I am not ashamed of.

As for new authors being replacable: I disagree. If an author is replacable, then it means that, long term, they are probably not worth publishing in the first place. And my feeling is that often the more difficult authors are the ones that publishers should try to hang on to. After all, guys like Balzac, Baron Corvo and James Joyce gave their editors and publishers huge headaches. But they are also the ones that helped build the reputation of certain publishing houses - (though Corvo obviously less so).

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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 04:47 am:   

As a side note though:

At the end of the day, of course, the publisher has final say so on the cover. Because that is really part of their job.

In my above post, the main reason I did not like the covers offered, was not because of design, but because they did not strike me as of professional enough quality - which was the case, as the designer was not a professional.

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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 04:54 am:   

The latitude to work with an author on the issue of art is certainly stronger in small press publishing than it is with larger publishing houses, but in most cases authors do not have the background or experience to properly advise on cover suggestions. It comes down to, as you say, the publisher—who does usually have the background and experience.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 05:04 am:   

In the case of new authors, it's not that they aren't necessarily worth it, if they are replacable, but that the market is full of unpublished manuscripts by professional authors . . . I myself have four dozen original books scheduled for this year (with a few falling into the next year), with two or three dozen proposals currently on my desk. (I can't imagine what would happen if I happened up the market; it's been closed for two years, as I get enough material without an open market) The larger publishing houses probably exceed this, but in any case their job is to continuously fill the slots (or shelves). If something doesn't work out, then something else fills the slot.

We're largely comparing apples and oranges here, with the small press and large publishing houses, I suspect.

Sean
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 05:22 am:   

I'm ready to be tarred-and-feathered for my comments . . .
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des
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 05:42 am:   

I'd like to interpolate that the cover of 'Weirdmonger' is brilliant (and without exagerration or bias) *no* book cover has beaten it before or since) - and this was done quickly, smartly, naturally, unquestioningly - the only way to do it.
Very very proud of what they did for me.
des
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chance
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 06:28 am:   

Sean said - In the case of new authors, it's not that they aren't necessarily worth it, if they are replacable, but that the market is full of unpublished manuscripts by professional authors

Now you are talking apples and oranges - I doubt the marketplace has a glut of the first short story collections of 3-time Nebula; Hugo, Campbell, Sidewise and Sturgeon award winning authors.

As far as Ted's experience, I think it is really easy to sit outside something like this and point out where he went wrong. It's a really different thing on the inside. People make the best choices they can at the time.

I'm glad he told the story - if I'm ever in that situation, I think I have a much better idea of how I would approach it.

(And FWIW, I thought the US cover was butt ugly and would have never picked it up browsing in a bookstore.)
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 08:51 am:   

No, no tar and feathering. Always interesting to hear various points of views. Obvioulsy, as an author, I am sort of pro-author, while you (Sean) have an insight into the publishing world that most of us don't.
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Minz
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 09:14 am:   

I hope my posts haven't come across as against Ted--I have more than just sympathy in what happened to him and his book.

I came to Sean's defense because he was putting forth the conventional wisdom from a publishing perspective and being cursed at about it. Ridiculous.

I'm also very glad Ted followed up on his post. I wish I could comment more on my take on things, but I do have certain obligations, legally and ethically, even if I don't work for Tor anymore. And much of what I know about the whole thing is hearsay, regardless of what I believe. Which means if I had half a brain, I'd stay completely out of it.

And all of that being said, it's quite useful that this discussion has happened, I think. So thanks, Ted. (And thanks, Jeremy, for bringing it to our attention.)
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 09:15 am:   

Chance said I doubt the marketplace has a glut of the first short story collections of 3-time Nebula; Hugo, Campbell, Sidewise and Sturgeon award winning authors. I'd agreed. But this means exactly what . . . ? I'm sure that most small presses and larger publishing houses would give their right hand to do projects of this nature, but that's not really the point.

Ignoring for the moment that collections usually don't do quite as well as novels, the slot could have been given over to someone else easily enough, perhaps someone with not as much sell-thru , but perhaps with a lot less headache all around. And just because one has lots of award or lots of sales history doesn't necessarily make you indispensable. That was largely my point.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 09:20 am:   

I wouldn't generally take my word for it, Brendan, as my limited small press perspective / experience doesn't really apply in scaling up, I suspect. Most of my comments are from my retail experience and from my marketing degree, however.

I'm sure Minz, Klima, or Ellen would be in a far better position on this than I am, but I suspect that I simply have too much time on my hands, being chained to the desk 24-7. :-)
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Michael Walsh
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 09:40 am:   

One of the scariest things a publisher can hear is "My friend/wife/husband/whatever is an artist and can design the book jacket". One of the few times this turned out Ok was when, at JHU Press, the friend of the author was Maurice Sendak.

Putting on the "small publisher" hat, designing the book cover is almost always a challenge. How best to get the eye of a)the person deciding to put the book into their store & b)the eye of the book buyer? Eveyone has an agenda.

Sometimes one is lucky, such as last year when attending Boskone I came across this in the art show: http://www.randylagana.net/images/paintings/ACF192.jpg

Painted just for his own amusement, Lagana had never read Simak's WAY STATION. Here's the cover: http://www.oldearthbooks.com/simak.htm

I still struggle over decided what's "right" for a cover.

Anyone have a brilliant suggestion for Christopher Priest's THE SEPARATION? Old Earth has US rights and it should be out for Readercon and Worldcon (oh ghod, I hope so!)

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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 09:51 am:   

I'm so jealous, per Priest. (I loved the Scribner design). What are you generally looking for?
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chance
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 11:35 am:   

Sean - Yes, I got your point. Mine was that Tor wasn't the only fish in the sea for Ted. Just as Tor could have replaced him, he could have replaced Tor. You give the impression that how the publishing house feels about his actions is the only important thing. It isn't.

Likely next time Ted will go to a reputable small press like Golden Gryphon or Small Beer and be much happier.

Minz - not to me you haven't seemed unsympathetic FWIW. But it does seem like there has been a lot of armchair quarterbacking in this thread.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 11:47 am:   

Mike---

Do twin images on the front and back of THE SEPARATION, but with some slight differences. Then swap them for the second printing.

Hmm, that's probably better in concept than it would be as an actual book cover.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 12:09 pm:   

I was going to poll people for something, but I've decided (tentatively) to do two dustwrappers for a forthcoming project. Where should I post the cover images so people can see it?
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 12:11 pm:   

Scratch that. We'll post the images to Catherynne Valente's board in a few minutes . . .
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, March 06, 2005 - 12:15 pm:   

When you put something out on the net, when you send a messenger to deliver an excoriating message to your publsher, when a year after the fact you're still going on about it, I'd say at the least you're asking for reaction...if not armchair quarterbacking. To say you're not, in fact, is disengenuous. All I'm saying, let it go, man. It's done. Getting it off your chest is one thing, but it must weigh a lot because it's sure taking a long time. This has apparently reached the level of obsession. If you think that's healthy, worthy of your time, go for it. Indulge. Personally I'd rather see you write stuff. I realize that's not an either or situation, but this can't help but have a deleterious effect on the ol' output
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Irene Gallo
Posted on Sunday, March 13, 2005 - 11:30 am:   

I just ran into this thread....serves me right, for trying to avoid work. As Tor's art director, I know it's bad form to jump in on this... but hey, Minz did.

I read these comments before reading Ted's initial post. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the story I recognized. (I was particularly glad to see him mention that he was told we would not print the jacket he commissioned -- both by us and the artist.)

I talk to each editor about their books. Sometimes they have good suggestions and I try to utilize them, sometimes they don't. Often times the selling schedule is such that I'm forced to work on books before anyone has had much time to think of it at all.

We have five people creating covers for over 400 books a year. We care about each and every one of them -- every bad looking book is a poor reflection on me -- but it's inevitable that some go awry.

Ted's hardcover was not only a decent looking cover (believe me, I _wish_ that's the worst we've done) but, if I recall correctly, it sold in better than we had estimated. As such, it fell under the "It ain't broke" file. Sales people and bookstores don't like bait-and-switch cover proofs, not to mention what it does to the book's bottom line.

I'm sorry things worked out like this for Ted. I enjoyed the stories that I read. We did tell him early on, before things got out of hand, that we would be more than happy to use the designer he wanted on any upcoming books. Shelley Eshkar is not only a great designer but a good friend of mine. The only reason not to have used him on STORIES was the timing.

Anyway, I agree with some of the people above -- time is better spent getting back to work.
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Ted Chiang
Posted on Sunday, March 13, 2005 - 02:14 pm:   

We did tell him early on, before things got out of hand, that we would be more than happy to use the designer he wanted on any upcoming books.

Unless by "early on" you mean, after I had paid for new cover art and submitted it, this is not correct. No one told me that I might have any more input on upcoming books than I did on that one, or that timing was the issue. Maybe someone was supposed to tell me that, but no one did.

(Also, I had specifically suggested a designer the previous year.)

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