You do it. I do it. We all do it. We judge books by their covers. That's what covers are for.
No lie: I spend more time dreaming/worrying about the cover of a book accepted for publication (and sometimes one that I'm just writing the first 50 pages of) than I spent planning my wedding. Picking names for our children. Reading about childbirth when I was pregnant the first time. (Okay, maybe not that last thing. I was really, really scared of childbirth.) And yet I had more control over all of those events than I've normally had over the way our books present themselves.
When I talk about being a writer, formally or informally, people always ask if I get to choose my covers, and I think that's because they picture it more or less like a wedding: you get to choose your own dress, right? I mean, wouldn't you?
The short answer is no, and there's a good reason for that: the publisher is paying for the wedding, not you. The medium-length answer is what I once said to Tom after a book I had written got a cover I didn't like and I said so and my editor (whom I love and respect) said they really liked it. The marketing team liked it. All of them. Everyone except me. I hung up the phone and said, "It's like you spend years going to college and studying for a career and then you go through a whole bunch of interviews and you finally, finally get the job, and you're so happy, and then on the first day you show up for work, the boss says, "This is what we want you to wear. Every day. This is who we want people to think you are."
This sounds ungrateful, I know. But it might be a clown suit, and you pictured yourself in Chanel with these very sleek, very tasteful pumps that show just a tiny amount of toe cleavage. I'm going to be a little academically obnoxious right now and talk about the semiotics of covers. I've thought about this a lot (see above, under More Time Than Planning Own Wedding) and there's a clear set of signifiers, symbols, what-have-you in play:
Children's and young adult books follow similar rules. Illustrations on textured cotton paper signify Seriousness and Artistic Intent and Good for You while Glossy Color Photos in the above-mentioned hues signify Fun Thing You Would Pick Yourself Not What the Librarians Give Prizes To.
Obviously, there are exceptions, as there are exceptions to everything, but this is generally and broadly true. So when I finally sold my first Adult Book (as opposed to Young Adult) after I'm not even going to tell you how many years of rejection, I began to plan my book wedding dress (the one it would wear until it died) even though I knew, from long experience, that the publisher was going to pick my book's wedding-every-day-until-it-dies dress.
And the loveliest thing happened. Little A, my publisher, sent me a questionnaire in which I was allowed to do on the page what I had been doing all of these years in my head. The questionnaire asked what kind of cover I thought my book should have in order to convey to readers the kind of book it is. The questionnaire asked (I'm talking very high and loud now and slapping the table with both hands) what symbolic objects from the book might be featured on the cover, which was like asking if I wanted to fly to Paris and try on some dresses there? And then--feel free to jump up and down with me on the carpet of the wedding-gown store!--I was told that sometimes authors make a Pinterest page of the kinds of images they think the book would like to wear.
Are you JUMPING with me, people???
I had already, at this point, actually started a Pinterest page of covers for The Practice House, but I was kind of embarrassed about it, and I knew it was just a thing I was doing for myself, like the Pinterest page I have of things I might knit but definitely never will.
That Pinterest page, called "Ansel and Aldine" is right here, if you want to see it, but it's okay if you don't. I'm just putting it there to show you that the wedding-and-forevermore dress my book will be wearing on April 1st is not that different from some of the wedding dresses I let it try on in my head, and it incorporates a lot of the things I described at length in my questionnaire. The cover Rachel Adam designed signifies, I think, the very things I hoped so much it would signify, and it also does something Little A pointed out is crucial in the Internet Age: when the picture is smaller than a postage stamp on your screen, it's still recognizable and intriguing.
So please, I hope you will all come to my wedding on April 1st and buy the book and read about Aldine and Ansel and Ellie and Charlotte and Clare and Lavinia and Neva, or at least look at the picture of the cover the book is wearing until death do us part and know that there is happiness sometimes.
Books by Tom and Laura McNeal