Covers too (WasRE: titles...)

cme at MIT.EDU cme at MIT.EDU
Tue Aug 3 19:48:48 EDT 1999

>About book covers, it seems to me to be unfair to an author to pay
>much attention to them, if you can help it at all. Authors must have
>very little control on this point, judging from the number of cover
>pictures that have nothing whatever to do with the story. So I try to
>ignore the covers, and just read the first few pages or go by the
>author or other people's recommendations. It is a delight when the
>whole book is packaged the way it should be, though.  

Authors *do* have very little control over the cover of a book... if
the editor/publisher is feeling magnanimous, he or she may take
suggestions from the author, but it is almost always the case that
that the author has absolutely no control whatsoever over the artist
chosen or the picture chosen or the layout chosen or *anything*... and
most authors, when asked for suggestions as to whom to choose, have
the infuriating experience that we all do when someone asks us for
advice and goes cheerfully ahead doing whatever they were going to do
anyway.. (ahem... MIT administration... but that's another rant. :) I
am reminded very strongly of bit from Grumbles From the Grave
(Heinlein fans, take heed!  Read this one... it's about his life,
through correspondences and essays and other nonliterary things that
he wrote, edited by his wife, and fantastic reading...) where Heinlein
notes that he was asked for his opinion on a cover artist for Rocket
Ship Galileo, made a suggestion, and was told that that illustrator
was too closely affiliated with a rather cheap science fiction mag...
and to prove her point the editor sent him a page from from the
magazine in question (I can't remember the title, but these days
people think of it as one of the true classic magazines), which just
happened to go along with an Anson MacDonald story, "By His
Bootstraps" I believe.  Now, those of you who know a bit about
Heinlein (and it seems, from private correspondences, that quite a few
here do) will recognize one of Heinlein's pseudonyms and one of his
more famous short stories... his comment on the editor was something
along the lines of "if she was too stupid to recognize my writing
style, it was not my place to enlighten her..."

When I had the honor of meeting P.C. Hodgel, I remember she was nearly
ecstatic over having been told that she would be allowed to design and
illustrate the covers for the coming reprinting of her books
herself... I was thrilled, since I expect to get a totally new insight
about her stories from seeing her illustrate them herself... I want to
see what Jame and Marc and Jorin and Torisen look like to her, and
what her world looks like to her.... I really can't wait for these
books to come out!  :)  And she's an impressive artist as well as an
impressve author.

All of the above discussion may lead someone to ask, "well, if you
know that the cover has nothing to do with the author, why do you let
it affect you so much?"  The answer is that I can't *help* it.
Pictures that I consider beautiful are things I want to examine more
closely, and one that I find repulsive make me want to avoid them.
That initial reaction (going out on a philosophical limb here) seems
to sort of be the way that people work.  Things that catch your
attention prod your curiousity, make you want to examine them more
closely... if people *didn't* work this way, what would be the point
of cover pictures?

Of course, this does not mean that I think it's appropriate to read or
not read a book solely on the strength or weakness of it's cover...
but things like that do obviously affect people aesthetically... and
after all, isn't it our sense of literary aesthetics that governs what
we read?

The reason I bristle so much about inappropriate covers on books is
that they are *wrong*... it's a wrongness that bothers me every time I
look at the book.  The same thing holds for illustrations if any...
and the mismatch of story and cover, especially the more blatent ones,
are proof of the existence of yet another oaf who just Doesn't
Understand (tm) in this world... <sigh>

Forgive my fervor... you've struck a pet peeve. :)

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