Hm. I haven't read any of the responses to this post, but I must say, I am looking right at a copy of Rusch's Diving into the Wreck and feel that whoever thought that it looked like it was self-published must be on crack. Seriously.
Full disclosure is that I work for the parent company of Pyr, Prometheus Books, but even if I didn't I'd wonder what the heck those people were talking about. All the Pyr books look fantastic, if you ask me. *shrugs*
Well... I'm not about to tell solid, regular customers that they are on crack. And crack or no, four people have asked about that book in the last 2 weeks.
I'm not, in fact, going to tell them anything beyond: No, it's definitely not self-published.
But I am -- as I did -- going to ask why they thought it was, why they asked; I want a reason for their reaction because I want to understand it. To me the cover is clearly professionally designed. The art is professional; the type and its layout is professional.
But having said that? I can't get past the fact that four of our customers, at least 3 of whom regularly buy hardcovers or trade paperbacks, asked. The fact that it's clearly not a self-published novel to you, Pyr, or me doesn't change that fact.
And the fact that those people are asking at all is significant; the fact that it was more than one person is significant. The fact that people who will never ask might make the same assumption for the same reasons is life in retail.
Let me be even clearer:
I admire PYR and its publication choices greatly. I think some of the best, if not the best, SF being published in North America is being published by PYR books. I am not in any way saying the books look or are unprofessional to me.
I'm saying that the cover-stock, which is in some ways more durable than other finishes (barbarienne covers the production differences in actual stock in her LJ), is causing consumer confusion in my experience.
If a certain typeface or a certain motif is considered inappropriate because it looks unprofessional, no professional artist/designer would use them. If, for any number of reasons, the conveyance of what is otherwise excellent work is becoming equated with lack of professionalism, then I think that's a factor in making a production decision that should be considered with the same awareness as all of the other elements involved.
And I'm willing to admit that this could be a brief blip that has occurred in my bookstore, and nowhere else in the world. But obviously I don't believe that it's that isolated or I wouldn't have written the previous post.