paulwitcover (paulwitcover) wrote in theinferior4,

The role of the artist

A recent series of posts on John Picacio's FB page -- and though I can't imagine anyone reading this doesn't know John's award-winning work, here's a link to his web page -- has got me thinking of the relationship between an author and the artist who illustrates his or her fiction.  In my own experience, as writer and editor, mainstream publishers accord most of their authors very limited rights in respect to cover art.  Most contracts, I believe, call for a "consult"--which in practice means that the publisher simply has to show the author a sketch of the final art--no approval is required, and if input is solicited, it may be merely pro forma, and can in any case be ignored.  The artist often works without having read all or even a portion of the novel in question, having been supplied a synopsis by the publisher.  I suspect this may be quite a bit different with smaller publishers.  These remarks pertain to mainstream publishers. 

I consider myself to have been quite lucky with the cover art for my first novel, Waking Beauty.  Here it is:
 Unfortunately, the art for my second novel was less satisfactory:   

Now, I'm not going to comment on the artistic merit of either picture, because I don't have any particular expertise on that.  But I do have some expertise on what kind of cover appeals to what kind of reader, and what kind of cover is apt to draw certain readers and turn off others.  Without rehashing an unpleasant episode, I and my agent fought hard with my publisher against the Tumbling After cover -- again, nothing against the talented artist responsible.  Our concerns were dismissed, as they say in the legal biz, with prejudice. 

Subsequently, in the paperback edition, the publisher made a token effort to change the cover along the lines my agent and I had suggested, belatedly recognizing the validity of the issues they had rather arrogantly discounted.  If there is a word for shadenfreude at one's own expense, I do not know it and don't wish to have any further experience of it.

But what I want to ask readers and fellow Inferiors is, What do you think the proper relationship between author and artist should be?  Do you think that the artist and writer should be kept in isolation from each other, any contact mediated through the publisher, or should there be a more active collaboration?  Should the writer have more than a consult:  should he or she have outright approval over cover art?  Or should the artist, rather, have the final say, as sovereign in his or her sphere as the writer?

I think that effective cover art can help a book, regardless of what is between the covers.  And ineffective cover art can likewise hurt a book, again regardless of content.  But I also feel the potential harm is disproportionate to the potential benefit.  No book ever succeeded solely on the basis of its cover, but I'm willing to bet there are thousands of books whose covers did them a disservice.

John raised the analogy that, when going out to eat, he doesn't tell the cook how to prepare his meal.  Nor, when traveling, does he presume to instruct the pilot in the finer points of flying the plane.  But I thought to myself, that if I had grown and prepared all the ingredients the chef was using, I might very well have an opinion, and a valid one, about how he prepared my meal.  And if I were an engineer deeply involved in the design and manufacture of the plane, I might well have an opinion, again a valid one, as to how it is to be flown.


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