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More on covers

I answered this in the comments to the last post, but decided to break it out and expand on it.

radiosilents said:
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.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 7th, 2009 11:32 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it looks like a wargaming site.

The cover in question looks to me like a professionally-designed cover from the early 90s, with a distinctly shoot-'em-up sensibility. Which I am fairly sure is not what that book is (not that I've seen it, living as I do in a stupid tiny town with crap bookstores.)
Dec. 7th, 2009 11:00 pm (UTC)
Um, you've got a typo -- it's barbarienne, not barbienne.
Dec. 7th, 2009 11:03 pm (UTC)
Um, you've got a typo -- it's barbarienne, not barbienne.


Writer without enough coffee and short on words. Thanks, I'll fix.
Dec. 8th, 2009 08:20 pm (UTC)
No one can ever spell it. Even I end up typing "barbrienne" a lot of the time. :-)
Dec. 8th, 2009 01:19 am (UTC)
I was discussing this with my mother earlier today since I'm really curious as to the upsurge in skepticism - she mentioned that there was an ad that has been running on television about how getting published is not out of reach, you can self publish. I'm not sure which channel as she couldn't remember - but the advertisement made an impression on her as she was thinking, "... but that's not why I go to the bookstore."

Now mother mainly watches the news and home improvement networks. But like I said it made an impression and not a great one at that. It was food for thought on yet one more reason customers could be asking.
Dec. 8th, 2009 03:49 am (UTC)
I'll be sure to ask about this issue when I finally get up to the store.
Dec. 8th, 2009 01:16 pm (UTC)
Took another glance at a few Pyr books (I was only able to find 3 quickly on my shelf, Joel Shepherd's Cassandra books, though I know there are more somewhere). The cover design is sharp. The non-standard (at least, for the US?) size of the books (they're the same width as a mass-market, but three-quarters of an inch taller) is irritating, as my paperback shelves are very tightly spaced. Something feels a little odd about the typography, but I don't know that I would have thought that if I hadn't been specifically LOOKING for things to comment on. Really, there's not much to point at, and these aren't giving me quite the same reaction some of the others did. About all I'm spotting is the PYR logo itself, which I'm realizing says 'comic book imprint' to me for some reason.
Dec. 8th, 2009 08:24 pm (UTC)
they're the same width as a mass-market, but three-quarters of an inch taller

-->That's the "prestige" format that many of the mass market houses were playing with beginning a few years ago. It was a way to charge more for the book and perhaps reclaim some of the people who were buying trade paperbacks (5.25" x 8", roughly) because the price difference wasn't so large anymore.

I don't work in that side of the industry anymore, so I don't know if they're continuing the prestige format. As a reader, I hate it.
Dec. 8th, 2009 08:31 pm (UTC)
I don't work in that side of the industry anymore, so I don't know if they're continuing the prestige format. As a reader, I hate it.

You are not alone. I hear more complaints about that format than any other format in the store, usually when someone brings one to the cash register *wry g*.
Dec. 8th, 2009 01:37 pm (UTC)
The comment you quote is evidence that people who work in the industry (and have professional knowledge & experience about stuff like art and typefaces and layout) view book covers differently than people who buy them. And the reaction of the buyers is more important: "The meaning of your communication is the response you get." Since there are no Trained Professionals stationed at the bookshelves to explain to customers why the cover really is excellent quality and not a cheap&cheesy self-published cover, the publishing houses really should take your advice and provide covers that the customers view as Professional Quality.

Dec. 9th, 2009 10:32 pm (UTC)
"The meaning of your communication is the response you get."

Yes, this. ...As I once said to someone protesting my critique of her poem, "You aren't going to get to argue with the reader who doesn't believe you."
Dec. 9th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
Rusch is one of my favorite authors. I hadn't even realized this was released yet so I went to find it on the internet and check out the cover (ok, and buy it too XD). If I didn't know this author already or have her recommended to me, I doubt I would buy this. My first impression was '70s, James Bond, a-dime-a-dozen scifi book for 12 year old boys. So for what it's worth, there's a real customer's impression of the cover.
Dec. 15th, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC)
I can be somewhat clearer. The end user's response to a produced object, for the the most part, is a learned response. There are ways around that (deft use of symbology, psychology of color, etc), but the first response is always hard to get over. If the end user has "learned" that "glossy cover stock = self-published" you're design is going to have to work four kinds of overtime to break that initial connection.

So, looking at a cover and thinking, "Well, I don't get it, this is clearly the work of a professional designer" 1) doesn't enter the equation and 2) isn't what the end-user is responding to, and 3) requires a discriminating eye the end-user may not possess. And as a stealthy 4) self-published authors can also either contract with a professional or could be a professional designer themselves (::waves at crowd::).
Jun. 5th, 2010 10:46 pm (UTC)
Diving the Wreck
I wasn't hampered by assumptions about the cover because I only buy ebooks these days. However, I'm afraid it'll be the last one I buy in this series - what is the deal with first person, present tense these days?! Whenever I read FPPT, it reads like two teenagers talking about their weekend..."then I say 'What?', and she says 'Yeah!'"

I can't get past the first couple paragraphs.

(Having said that, I really hope your books don't shift to this style!)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )