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Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

A common refrain arising out of last week’s Magic Under Glass cover controversy is that authors are afraid to speak out against their publishers — even over racial misrepresentation on their covers. It seems authors fear that if they speak out they could be labeled as troublesome, and that the label could prevent the publication of future books. Enhancing this fear is the fact that often when an author does speak out, other authors offer criticism rather than support. When Anne Stuart complained her publisher wasn’t adequately supporting her books, for example, many authors declared she was lucky to be published at all and noted there were others who would happily take her place. It seems there’s so much repressed frustration that it sometimes causes authors to lash out in odd directions. For example, Mindy Klasky was more comfortable castigating Kindle readers for leaving her one-star reviews than she was discussing the publisher decisions that caused the situation in the first place.

Fear of criticizing one’s publisher evinces a certain lack of faith in one’s work. If speaking out on an important issue like one’s cover might cause an author to become unpublishable, I wonder how saleable that work really is. If the author’s voice is so easily replicated or replaced, why should it make any mark in the marketplace?

By coincidence, during last week’s controversy, I received an email from Barry Eisler, whose French publisher, Belfond, has repeatedly chosen covers Barry finds weak. Barry’s past attempts to persuade Belfond to change course have been fruitless, and Barry found their latest proposed cover so insipid and inappropriate that he decided to pen them an open letter. Would I post it, he asked? In a word: yes.

Will authors ever feel free to criticize publishers? Should they?   Should a conspiracy of silence be maintained? Does that help or hurt?   Is is unprofessional to air out criticisms in public?   If yes, what kind? If no, why?

An Open Letter to My French Publisher (and, by Extension, to all Publishers):

Dear Belfond,

I’m grateful that you like my novels enough to buy the French publishing rights. And I hope it goes without saying that I want you to succeed with those rights, and succeed wildly. In fact, I think I can safely say to all publishers, on behalf of all authors, that we want nothing more than to help you succeed.

But damn, you sometimes make it hard.

The cover you plan to use for my seventh novel, Fault Line, pictured below, is inexcusably bad. It’s not just bad for my book; it would be bad for *any* book. It wouldn’t even work as part of a brochure from a surveillance camera equipment supplier (although at least there it would have some logical connection to the underlying product). Yes, it’s that meaningless. That boring. That unlikely to cause a potential customer to do anything but overlook it and move on.

Eisler Couv fault line - Connexion fatale

Before we go further, let’s acknowledge two things. First, two percent of people are going to love your cover. It’s their favorite color, they find garage doors strangely erotic, whatever. It doesn’t matter. Such reactions are idiosyncratic and will exist in two percent of the population for any cover imaginable. Unless your goal is to appeal to only two percent of your possible customer base, you need to do better. Second, I understand different things work in different markets. But what you’ve chosen isn’t a violation of a particular market sensibility. It’s a violation of the fundamental principles of marketing itself — principles that apply across cultures. We’ll discuss those principles below.

Now, I grant you, Fault Line isn’t an easy story to capture in a cover. Two brothers — a soldier and a lawyer — riven by an old family tragedy. A conspiracy that forces them back together. A beautiful Iranian-American woman each desires and distrusts. Sex, violence, exotic locales. Suspense. A backstory right out of the headlines.

Did you notice how, in describing the book, I’m also describing its potential selling points, the points that might induce a potential reader to buy it? For some books it’s harder, for some it’s easier, but this is always what you need to do.

Now, can you identify even a single *one* of the selling points I mention above in your proposed cover?

I didn’t think so.

Let’s look at it another way. If you knew nothing about the underlying book and could judge only by this cover image and title, what would you guess the book is about? Related and equally important, what would the cover suggest the book feels like? Sexy, gritty, funny, phantasmagoric, scary, thrilling, fast, slow… you get the idea. A cover should convey sellable mood as well as sellable story points.

What you’ve proposed for Fault Line looks like a closed garage door with a couple CCTV cameras top right. The title suggests there’s some kind of fatal connection here, but in the absence of anything else, that’s not much to go on. So you’d have to guess, “The book is about closed garage doors. Or maybe surveillance cameras.” Of course, you’d be wrong — in fact, the book is not about garage doors or surveillance cameras, or even about concepts suggested by garage doors and security cameras. There is some (incidental) surveillance in the book, but even if the pictured cameras appealingly conveyed this notion, is surveillance really one of this book’s key selling points? Really the reason someone might want to buy this book? Is surveillance the reason *you* bought the book?

The proposed cover doesn’t even offer higher-level clues. Sex? Action? Exotic locales? Is a single one of these more general selling points even hinted at in this proposed cover?

As for the mood your image conveys, I’d say: Closed. Impenetrable. Inert. Dull. Lifeless. Empty.

Are those qualities that attract you to a story? Do you expect they will attract readers?

Of course not. In fact, if someone deliberately sought the most insipid, inert image possible, it would be hard to beat what you’ve proposed. I can only conclude from this that you don’t understand what makes a cover work, or what principles you ought to apply in choosing one, and that you’re therefore picking images more at less at random. That’s not good — you’re in the business of selling books, after all — but it would be worse to just accept this level of performance and give up. So I hope the following will help.

You need to start by asking yourself what *you* liked about the book. Why did you buy the publishing rights? What about the book made it special to you? Why are you excited about it, what moved you, what do you talk about when you talk about the book? If you like, you can approach this step instead by trying to articulate to a imaginary customer why he or she would like the book, find it exciting and satisfying, etc.

Next, once you’ve articulated these things and refined them, list them, in order of importance.

Third, try to identify imagery that suggests these things. You can do this yourself, or through a design firm to whom you’ve conveyed the list above (but don’t outsource the creation of the list itself. You might wind up with… well, with a picture of an olive-hued garage door). The imagery you or the designer selects will form the basis for the cover.

Finally, pressure check the proposed cover by asking the question I mention above: If you knew nothing about the underlying book and could judge only by this cover image and title, what would you guess the book is about? If the cover provides the correct answers — that is, the very things *you* liked about the book — you’re doing well. If you want to be thorough and do this test properly (and why not?), show the cover to people who really don’t know the first thing about the book and ask them what they think the book is about, what they think is the feel or mood of the story within.

A good cover will engage the potential customer. Eye-catching is fine, but it isn’t enough — otherwise we could just slap on florescent colors and zebra stripes and call it a day. As a general rule, there should be something in the cover that suggests a story, that makes the reader wonder about something hinted at but not revealed, that causes the reader to want to pick up the book to investigate further, something that’s like a whispered promise on which the book will then deliver. If a cover doesn’t interest a potential reader enough to at least cause her to pick the book up and flip it over, you’ve lost the opportunity to get her to take any other steps that might end with her carrying the book to the cash register. And if a cover doesn’t help you sell books, whatever else it might be doing, it’s a failure.

Stated simply, you must keep two things in mind: what a cover is for, and how your cover will achieve it. If you can’t clearly and persuasively answer both these questions, your efforts are likely to be substandard.

For what it’s worth, you’re hardly the only publisher that finds itself, shall we say, book packaging challenged. See, for example, Stephen King excoriating FSG for their inexcusably anodyne packaging of Mischa Berlinski’s Fieldwork. Or browse the shelves of any bookstore and see how few books are packaged effectively. Or consider this example of a publisher’s proposed author bio. But why not be better? After all, a poorly thought-out cover doesn’t cost less than a well conceived one. Mediocrity doesn’t save you money. It only costs you. And with so many poorly-packaged books out there, it’s easier for a good one to stand out.

Forgive me for discussing your packaging shortcomings in public, but I’ve tried before in private and to no apparent effect. I hope that by addressing you in this context, I might finally get your attention. And though I recognize this kind of communication might irritate you, a reaction authors generally fear, what do I have to lose, really? If you go ahead with this cover, you’ll have killed the book in France anyway (not for the first time, let’s be honest). So for me, there’s not much to lose in beseeching you to do better. And even if you don’t listen, others might learn from your mistakes. A conspiracy of silence on ineptitude in this business is slow suicide for everyone involved, and I’d like to see other authors push back harder when their publishers propose ineffective packages. If this letter encourages or enables other authors to improve their own publishers’ efforts, it would be some measure of consolation for stillborn sales of Fault Line.

But come on, you can do better than this. My British publisher did. Their initial covers for the UK Rain books were almost as bad as what you’ve proposed for Fault Line, and my sales in the UK reflected it. But to their great credit, the Brits acknowledged how poorly they had done, did a complete rethink, and dramatically repackaged the books with stunningly good covers (images below). My UK sales immediately shot up, I earned out, and my UK publisher is now firmly in the black with me. You can do the same, if you want to. I hope you’ll let me help.

Sincerely yours,


Cloudy formations First British cover for Rain Fall, looking like… a thriller about cloud formations?
First British cover for Hard Rain, looking like a thriller about… the color mustard yellow?
rainfall Now we’re talking.   Apply my test for a book package to this cover and to the previous British covers:   If you  knew nothing about the underlying book and could judge only by this cover image and title, what would you guess the book is about?   Related and equally important, what does it *feel* like?
blood from blood Again:   what does this cover convey vs the first British Hard Rain cover?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Monika
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 04:33:37

    Different countries, different sensibilities, different expectations for genre covers. Foreign publishers base their cover decisions on what will sell in THEIR country and the budget they have.

    The last two covers (Rain Fall, Blood from Blood) are too messy and cluttered for my tastes. I prefer the simpler ones, but then I’m German.

  2. SarahT
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 06:10:03

    What Monika said. I don’t think this situation is in any way comparable to Bloomsbury whitewashing book covers.

    Here’s a link to the French cover of Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’:

    Bearing in mind that the book was also a bestseller in France, the cover doesn’t seem to have deterred customers from buying it. Would this cover appeal to Americans? Probably not.

    German book covers are very different to French ones. UK book covers are often plainer than US covers. While Barry Eisler has every right to object to his cover if he doesn’t like it, it might very well be the case that French readers will.

  3. JoanP
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 06:39:39

    I also prefer the French one. It’s simple and elegant, the surveilance cameras suggest a sense of dreads, of being secretly monitored and manipulated. It’s a cover I enjoy looking at instead of the other ones. But then, I’m also a dirty furriner so there. *shrugs*

    The UK ones look just like every single generic action book out there and maybe that’s the point. Just like romance books with half-naked-couples-in-lurid-poses covers sell more because well, it’s a code for what you can expect in the book.
    I just wish it was different though. The same need to completely spell out the content of each book have lead to those ridiculous Harlequin Presents titles where I no longer know which ones I’ve read and which one I haven’t.

    I don’t know, I read genre books but when I recall a book, I want to be able to see the cover and the title distincly not some vague idea of something that just look like a million other things.

  4. Nat
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 06:42:08

    I find all four of the covers shown really good, even the first two “Rain” covers. But the lazy one with a camera? Not so much. And I’m French.

  5. rebyj
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 07:04:46

    Maybe all the cover artist is trying to say very loudly is “THIS IS NOT A ROMANCE NOVEL ” or however one would say that in French lol
    I’d pass it up thinking it was some DIY book. How to wire up surveillance equipment or something.

  6. Meghan
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 07:24:21

    All of the UK covers look like normal UK covers to me. As earlier commenters said, they are often fairly plain. I’m American and find most British covers don’t appeal to me, but they certainly sell well over there. I’d call it cultural differences. I don’t really like the French cover, I must admit.

  7. Jane
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 07:50:03

    @SarahT Of course it’s not comparable and I hope I wasn’t implying that it was.

    @Monika: It’s my fault, really, that I wasn’t more explicit in the text of the blog as to what the issue I was trying to get at here. Barry’s open letter to the publisher is illustrative of something that authors don’t feel comfortable sharing. Barry’s French publication is not the same as the Bloomsbury whitewashing incident, yet, neither the author of Liar or Magic Under Glass felt comfortable criticizing their publisher for the cover decision.

    All too often when authors do speak out, people are quick to criticize them, particularly other authors. Shouldn’t other authors be supportive of an author speaking out so that that author paves the way?

  8. BC
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 08:08:25

    I like the plain covers above better. Maybe it is me – but I am turned off when covers seem too tacky. I am also turned off when covers seem too male thriller kind. I would be more likely to pick it up with one of the first ones. Covers, specially foreign covers, might be one of those things authors should not complain too much about. You go to any multilingual bookstore and it´s so noticeable how the language of covers, sizes, colors changes across markets. And to be fair, just because I might love an author´s books does not mean I like their taste in covers or website design. ( ok, I will hint, I still hate dearauthor´s new website design). Changing a character´s ethnicity is totally different matter than a cover being abstract.

    regarding Klasky, I clicked on the link expecting to see an author being unreasonable about amazon reviews ( because so often they are and in such entertaining ways), and I am with the lady. A book review should be about the book, not about its cover or publication date, or even price! I have seen amazon reviews which should be seller feedback and wow come on, if I am bothering to read a review I want to know what you thought of the book, not about your rants about shipping delays, or publisher´s policy or whatever.

  9. Maili
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 08:16:43

    The first two Eisler covers are far too similar to many other novels in Crime genre, which is probably why they were overlooked. The cloudy cover was a popular trend for some time. Blegh.

    I liked the changed covers because they look different from other novels of the same genre. If I were in a bookshop, I’d probably pick it up to have a browse through.

    I know some think UK covers are too plain, but it does suit the public well. Subtle is the way to go. It’s obvious with US/UK covers of romance novels. Or used to be as some UK covers of romance novels under Piatkus are increasingly similar to US covers. If I were still a print book buyer, I’d avoid US-style covers of those Piatkus books.


    Here's a link to the French cover of Stieg Larsson's ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo':

    Bearing in mind that the book was also a bestseller in France, the cover doesn't seem to have deterred customers from buying it. Would this cover appeal to Americans? Probably not.

    It’s a bestseller probably because the wild word-of-mouth phenomenon over Larsson’s trilogy. His books are an international topic for readers.

    Same with Meyer’s Twilight. When books are heavily discussed or recommended, readers will buy copies, regardless of covers. I have seen some customer reviews that used this line: “wonderful story, awful cover”.

    It’s a different story for browsers, especially those with no fixed target in mind. They rely heavily on covers (books and DVDs*) to make them pick it up in the first place.

    Usually, when a book browser is in a bookshop, they go to a section that interests them, e.g. Crime, then they consider in order:

    Author’s name
    Cover art
    If it interests them, read the first few pages

    Of course, they don’t do this to every book, so what makes them pick a selection? Colours. In this country, for Crime it’s white, blue, black, or red that usually get browsers to take a closer look.

    We see this with each genre that has its colour palette and cover conventions – according to each country, of course – that are designed to attract specific groups of readers. Horror? Dark, broody and creepy. Romance? Overall, nature/autumn colours (romantic comedy? Bright, vivid colours. Paranormal? Blue, black, dark, red, etc.) Comedy? Illustrations against white background, usually.

    For what it’s worth, anyroad.

    (*Admittedly, actors’ names have a key role in DVD covers. No different from authors’ names on book covers, I suppose.)

    Back to topic, I hope this letter and blog post will improve communication between publishers and their authors. It’s in best interests for both sides, after all. Both sides want awesome sales, so it’d – or should – make sense they would discuss ways to sell their books best. I may be wrong, though.

  10. joanne
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 08:28:20

    I’m sorry but I feel very much the same as others who have commented.

    I DO think authors (and readers) should support authors who speak out but I can’t see how this open letter –especially here, especially in the U.S.– will have any affect on Eisler’s French publisher. It’s comes across as more of a whine then an active push for change in publishing.
    I’m sorry Jane, I know you want to support this author but it just didn’t bring out my sympathy vote.

    More to the point is that a bland cover won’t do anything but annoy his fans.

    Many successful authors have overcome bad covers. See all of Ellora’s Cave early (and some recent) releases.

    I think it’s unfortunate to make the connection here between the whitewashing of YA covers of dark skinned characters and the other ‘nondescript’ covers many authors suffer.

    And if people are worried about being judged by their covers and not selling, then they only have to look at poor J.D.Robb and the indignities that her Eve Dallas character suffered– and the huge success the books have had internationally anyway.

  11. Sharron McClellan
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 08:40:55

    Shouldn't other authors be supportive of an author speaking out so that that author paves the way?

    If they agree, of course. But we don’t always agree and there’s the rub. So I ask, should authors be castigated for not supporting another author when they don’t agree with their stance or opinion?

  12. Jane
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 08:43:38

    @joanne Wow, I really have missed the boat here. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for Barry. I don’t think he wants that either.

    His letter is merely an example of how authors can make a public stance against their publishers.

    My question is whether this is wise; whether readers would support this type of action; whether readers believe that authors should merely take their lumps and move on; whether the culture of silence can or should be changed.

    To me, this issue is far more important than Barry’s fight with his French publishers (no offense Barry), but rather addressing the issue of professionalism in authorial behavior.

    To extrapolate a bit further, Barry asks the French publishers to think about the reason that they bought the book; what made the publishers excited about the book? In the same way, what was it about Liar or Magic Under Glass that excited the Bloomsbury acquisition team?

    In a case like Magic Under Glass or Liar, if the authors have been in a culture where it was more acceptable, after private negotiations, to make a public stance, would they have? Should they have?

    Is the culture of silence, this idea that professionalism means to be quiet and take one’s lumps, good for authors and readers?

  13. Jane
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 08:45:16

    @Sharron McClellan So only if you agree with an author’s stance, would you be willing to support the actual making of a public statement ?

  14. Sharron McClellan
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 08:52:22


    Not at all. I totally support anyones decision to make pubic statements on whatever they please. But they have to realize that not everyone will support their opinion and be prepared for both negative comments as well as positive.

    Supporting their decision to speak and supporting what they actually say are two very different things.

  15. Jody W.
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 09:12:11

    Professionalism is found as much in handling issues with your publisher/business/etc OUTSIDE the blogosphere as much as it is the posting of letters and publicizing of one’s woes. I realize when authors handle things that way, it makes for less blog fodder for everyone else, but so be it. That’s not automatically a conspiracy of silence! *laugh*

    I also disagree that when an author (or an author’s AGENT) chooses not to take issue with her publisher about certain things, it means she (or the agent) lacks faith in the work. Each author’s reasons for doing what she does, for tackling what she does, can’t be summed up like that. Perhaps the author who didn’t complain about one thing handled something else with great aplomb, however she felt it appropriate to do so.

  16. Sharron McClellan
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 09:20:55

    @Jody W.:

    Totally agree and well put. Now why didn’t I write that. :)

  17. Maili
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 09:22:59

    @Jody W.: But I sometimes feel some authors use their publishers to avoid being held responsible.

    When readers react poorly to something in her book, she would point at her publisher/editor and say, “They told me to do it that way”. Or use that well-used mantra, “Authors have no control over their books!”

    The idea that authors have no control over their works or body of works? They tend to be quick in blaming readers or reviewers, but publishers or editors? Oh, no. Let’s focus on readers, reviewers or anyone who’s not involved with publisher.

    Piracy? Readers’ fault! Never mind it’s DRM and lack of availability that are most likely causes. Poor sales? Reviewers’ fault! Never mind it’s likely that the marketing didn’t understand the book. Poor coverage of their books? The media’s fault! Never mind it’s likely that the publicist didn’t do their homework. And so on.

    I think if we take a proper look, we may see that the largest portion of ‘blame’ belongs to their own publisher and to some extent, authors themselves.

  18. roslynholcomb
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 09:34:32

    I think it would depend on the circumstances. I’ve never had a cover that I was violently opposed to. I’ve talked endlessly about what I wanted for the cover of my first book, and how it wasn’t done for fear that white readers would think they’d been “tricked.” The covers they chose weren’t misleading or offensive, so I didn’t feel the need to go on a campaign or anything of that nature.

    I’ve asked that minor changes be made to another cover and it was done and I was satisfied. If it’s simply an issue of aesthetics, it’s probably not worth objecting to publicly. After all, I’m no marketing guru, and presumably the publisher knows more about what makes a book visually appealing than I do. Then again, I’ve never had a dog ugly cover. Certainly, I’ve had a couple that I absolutely adore, but none that were repulsive. I guess I’ve been fortunate in that regard.

    However, if it in some way grossly misrepresented what the book is about or the characters in the book I would have to protest. It would probably be smarter to remain silent, but that’s simply not acceptable.

    Would I support an author who did the same? Sure, if I agreed with them.

  19. Gennita Low
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 09:38:51

    One must also consider that this is an author’s debut novel. My first year of having sold my book and the year my first book came out were very much a learning period. It’s also a lonely experience if one is fairly new to the industry. I can imagine her looking forward to people talking about her story, not the controversy about the book cover, over which she had no control, hence her post that seemed to have irritated many readers enough to threaten boycott.

    Also, in my experience, what an author says on her public blog doesn’t always reflect what she’s been saying to her agent, who might have asked her to tone down her posts while she* makes a few phone calls. Her lack of reaction appeared to have angered quite a few readers, here and on Twitter.

    Some people are just not confrontational. How does one respond to accusations of “how dare you profit from writing about people of color and not making a stance about race! I’m boycotting you and your future books” anyway? I’m imagining a public apology (“I apologize. This cover is bad, very, very bad and I hate my publisher. Please don’t boycott me”) from this author would have rubbed you and her critics the wrong way too.

    OTOH, it could be seen as the most brilliant marketing ploy ever–make everyone, especially reviewers, so angry that they blog about it till her publisher actually changes the darn cover! Mission acommplished.

  20. Monika
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 09:44:06

    From what I’ve heard publishers see it that way: A covers’ primary job is it to sell the book to the book chains. Grabbing the reader's attention comes second, accurate representation third. Publishers want to earn money and they like to use what has proven to be successful. Whitewashing only becomes an issue for them if it blows up in their faces (see Liar, Magic Under Glass) and threatens to hurt their sales.

    I think we on the bloggosphere tend to forget that we are a vocal, well informed minority and place much more importance on certain aspects than the casual reader. It’s the casual reader the publishers are vying for.

    Also, I’ve heard many blogger, author and even publisher opinions on the matter, but nothing from the book chains.
    What are their experiences with covers displaying people of color? Some number would be nice.
    Did Liar do better or worse than expected after the cover change? It got a lot of free press, but on her blog Justine Larbalestier mentioned that it doesn't sell all that well.

  21. Barry Eisler
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 09:47:19

    Thanks for the thoughts, folks. As Jane notes, the question is when and how author’s should publicly disagree with their publishers (obviously I don’t think the question is whether, or I wouldn’t have written this letter). A direct comparison of my cover situation to Jacyln’s isn’t going to yield that much. Fault Line is my seventh novel, for example; Magic Under Glass, Jaclyn’s first. I didn’t have the knowledge or the confidence to speak up about my publisher’s bad cover decisions on my first books. At this point, though, with a bit more hard-won understanding of what makes an effective package and with a reasonably good sales track record, I’m less reticent. What to say and how to say it is going to be a case by case decision for each author, but I do believe the industry would be better off if more authors would speak up.


    Indeed, and I acknowledged this point right up front. Marketing outcomes will differ across cultures. Marketing principles never will. Some cultures prefer to bow while others shake hands (outcome). A show of respect (principle) is important in all cultures. The French cover fails at the level of principle.


    Again, outcomes will be different, but there’s no culture in which it would be to your advantage to use a cover that conveys no sellable element of the story. I do believe some French (and American, etc) readers will like this cover — as I noted, you can always find some small percent of people who like any cover, no matter how random the cover’s elements. That’s an accident and an artifact and shouldn’t become an excuse for a publisher’s failure to think seriously about how the cover can convey the sellable elements of a given book.


    The reason I like the new UK covers isn’t because I agree with the particular elements the Brits have chosen to convey (gritty, martial arts, urban). There’s a lot of romance in the books, too, for example, and the Brits might have chosen to emphasize sex in the covers instead. No, the reason I like these covers is because the Brits chose a certain demographic (here, I’d guess 18-35 year-old males), teased out the elements of the books they thought would appeal to that demographic, and appealingly presented those elements in the covers. Was the underlying decision on which demographic to go after correct? I couldn’t say — and here, we get into elements of culture Monika and Sarah note above. You could argue, for example, that maybe the Brits should have gone after young women, instead. But that’s not the point. What matters is that the new UK covers were done thoughtfully and deliberately — they were carefully chosen means in the service of a defined and defensible goal. The earlier UK covers, like the new Belfond cover, were the result of laziness, not of thought.


    Again, there will be cultural differences. But the earlier UK covers conveyed nothing and sales were poor. The new UK covers convey something, and sales are strong. Correlation isn’t causality and there are other factors in play, but at a minimum I think we can conclude it’s unlikely the new UK covers *hurt* UK sales. More likely, in following fundamental principles of good packaging, the new covers were responsible for the sales turnaround.


    No worries, Joanne, I’m not really interested in sympathy. My career is going reasonably well and I’ll be okay even if Belfond kills this book with a poor package. I’m more interested in getting Belfond to improve their game, if possible, and to provide a case study from which others might learn, regardless.

    The fact that Nora’s J.D. Robb books did well despite poor packaging could be the result of many things, including writing so stunning it overcame a lame package. Even a wagon with square wheels can be pushed, if there’s enough force behind it. I wouldn’t call that an argument for outfitting vehicles with square wheels.

    @Sharron McClellan:


    @Jody W.:

    Agreed. Again, these things are case by case, and as I note above, the issue for me isn’t whether authors should speak out (I obviously think they should), it’s when and how.


    Fair points all. I would just say: if Belfond (or any of my publishers) does what I ask, I’ll take responsibility for the results. If Belfond proceeds with this cover and the book dies… well, it’s going to be hard for me to feel responsible for that. I’ve done what I could to get them to do better.


    For me, the issue isn’t aesthetics, it’s sales. Not how it looks, but will it work.

    @Gennita Low:

    Agreed. Case by case.

  22. Gennita Low
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 09:48:05

    @Gennita Low:

    I can’t seem to edit. Please excuse my typos and spelling mistakes. I see them but can’t change them. ;-(

  23. Quizzabella
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 09:50:32

    I remember about ten years ago an author (I wish I could remember her name. I have one of her books but alas it’s in the loft somewhere) came and gave my GCSE English class a talk on creative writing. She had a couple of Young Adult books published and I remember being suprised at how little creative control she had over the presentation of her stories. She hated the cover of one of her books (not suprising given that it was a weird brown based picture of a factory that had nothing to do with the story), and when they re-published it there was a lovely picture of the Irish coastline on the cover. Shame it was obviously southern Ireland when the story was set in Glasgow.
    I suppose I can understand writers being leery of biting the hand that feeds, but you have to wonder what goes through the art department of some publishers’ heads. Hardly suprising that Barry Eisler is pissed off – the cover for his latest book is quite mind boggling banal, and since reading the description of the plot, the word “why?” is the first thing that comes to mind. Was there a contest for creating the most boring image for a book that day?

  24. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 10:05:28

    Barry's French publication is not the same as the Bloomsbury whitewashing incident, yet, neither the author of Liar or Magic Under Glass felt comfortable criticizing their publisher for the cover decision.

    I think we need to acknowledge that there’s a difference between publicly addressing a publisher who bought your foreign rights and taking on your main publisher (aka the people who bought you in the first place), which is what the authors of Liar and <Magic Under Glass would have been doing.

    There's no way for us to know how hard these authors may have fought for a truly representative cover, unless they choose to tell us. What I do know from having been published myself is that the author often has little to no say about their title or cover (we only have as much say as our editor/publisher chooses to give us; some houses are more open to author input than others).

    I just got through the process of picking a title for my next book with my new publisher. It was night and day from what happened with my last one. They consulted me. We discussed it. They took my concerns and ideas seriously. It was WONDERFUL! And now I have a title I love. One I feel invested in. But if they'd given me one that I hated, I'd have put a happy face on and run with it (as I did with Lord Sin, which I loathed and fought tooth and nail against).

  25. joanne
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 10:13:10

    @Barry Eisler:

    What to say and how to say it is going to be a case by case decision for each author, but I do believe the industry would be better off if more authors would speak up.

    I think the arguments -or mine, anyway- are coming from not whether authors should speak up about issues pertaining to their books but rather where, when and how. What does this letter, published here in the States in a readers/authors venue, accomplish for you and your publisher?

    That the earlier U.K. books had poor sales may have more to do with readers ‘finding’ an author and then glomming the back list later rather then sooner then with the covers. There are, as you say, many factors that go into the success of a book.

    I think many of us are so upset about the horribly wrong covers that need to be shouted from the rooftops that we can’t get too interested in the ‘meh’ covers.

    By the by, I wasn’t offering sympathy to your plight but an apology to Jane for disagreeing with her, on her site, over this particular open letter being a way for authors to deal with their publishers

  26. Gennita Low
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 10:18:35

    @Kalen Hughes

    Ahem, at least it’s not Sleeping With The Agent, a third title to a trilogy called The Protector and The Hunter. AND that title had vehement objections from me (in private, through my agent and my editor, both of whom were understanding) and yeah, none of my 60 suggestions changed the Marketing Dpt’s minds. But at least I loved my cover ;-).

  27. Terry Odell
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 10:31:49

    I appreciate the question, “Should an author be required to behave according to Thumper’s mother’s rule?”

    Certainly in my position as an unknown author with small press publishers, I feel obligated to follow that advice. (And being outspoken, sometimes biting my tongue is a tough call.)

    I wish there could be more open dialogue between author and what seems like everyone else between the manuscript and the book on the shelf.

    I appreciate Mr. Eisler’s standing in the industry. Maybe we little fish have to rely on the bigger ones to make speaking out in a rational manner more acceptable for all of us.

    On the cover issue, two of my publishers say, “You’ll get a cover. Unless we’ve spelled your name wrong, it’s final.” We dutifully fill out multi-page cover requst forms, including descriptions of characters, etc. But the art department doesn’t read the book. And small presses often rely on stock photos, so they’ll say, “there are no characters who look like yours, so deal with it.”

  28. Jane
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 10:33:40

    I’m curious why authors don’t use contract negotiations to include things like if I get a book cover with a character on it, I want it to represent the character in the book to the best of the publisher’s ability.

    Sometimes I wonder if contracts are being utilized to the best of their ability.

  29. mythicagirl
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 10:41:42

    I don’t know if any of you have seen this article from Editorial Anonymous, but it also addresses this issue:

  30. Robin
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 11:05:13

    Huh. I wonder what the response would be if Nora Roberts’s name were on the end of that letter, instead of Barry Eisler’s.

    Would she receive the Anne Stuart treatment (which read to me like a bit of the crab mentality), or would authors and readers alike be standing behind her rallying for change?

    And if not authors, who is supposed to catalyze these changes?

  31. Jody W.
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 11:20:31

    @Jane: How do you know no authors or agents do negotiate such things? Because they don’t tell the blogosphere about it so therefore it doesn’t happen?

  32. Jane
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 11:21:44

    @Maili I think readers are asked to speak up for a lot of things. Piracy, for example. But also we are asked to buy new and buy on a particular date. Help your favorite author get on the bestseller list. Don’t be too pushy in emails asking when the next book is coming out. Don’t criticize in a certain way because it might hurt someone’s feelings. Do share your positive thoughts on goodreads. Don’t give away spoilers. Don’t give away spoilers early. Create the market for the books you want. Don’t complain if there are not enough multicultural books because you readers aren’t buying them. Don’t complain about ebook delays, just buy the print. Don’t do this and do that. Lots of things asked of readers and lots of blame placed on readers’ shoulders.

  33. Jane
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 11:23:09

    @Jody W. It clearly didn’t happen in either the Larbalestierr case or the Dolamore case. I would be interested in knowing if it does happen. Do you have evidence that those sorts of things are commonly being contracted?

  34. joanne
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 11:36:32

    @Jane: Based on this comment @#32 I’m going to nominate you for the Nobel Prize in Getting It Right.


    Huh. I wonder what the response would be if Nora Roberts's name were on the end of that letter, instead of Barry Eisler's.

    You really wonder? I wonder if Nora Roberts would make her problems with her publisher/s public.

    I wonder if she would use sales numbers rather than public forums to make changes to her books. I wonder why, when called out on SBTB with laugh out loud, OMG covers (see the link at post #10) she responded with laughter rather than a rant about things that were or weren’t covered in her contract/s.

    I, for one, didn’t say here or anywhere that authors shouldn’t speak out for change but I did wondered if this particular letter, in this particular place, would be a catalyst for change.

    Now, I’ve broken my own personal rule of posting no more than twice on one thread and I’m angry at me. blah, some days you just can’t win.

  35. Mindy Klasky
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 11:39:23

    Thanks for pointing to my blog post again! A minor point of clarification: my post was not about Amazon reviews of *my* books. (My publisher has always released Kindle editions at the same time that they release print.)

    Rather, my post was a plea for reviewers to review the content of all books, rather than the format, particularly when the format remains beyond the contractual control of most authors.

  36. Robin
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 11:48:30

    @Jane: And let’s not forget the ever-popular ‘don’t reveal any possible author plagiarism or have the nerve to complain about it.’

    I used to be much more susceptible to calls of ‘well, you don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes’ as a silencing tactic, but over the years, I’ve become less so, and I can’t even recall an issue where public comment was unwarranted.

    And while I agree that professionalism is an important quality, it always strikes me in these situations that authors are NOT publisher employees. So the question of what’s professional changes, IMO, because it’s a question of what’s professional in terms of the writing career, not in terms of how an employee speaks or doesn’t speak of their employer (which, honestly, is how it often appears to me, at least in Romance).

    Since we see different standards of professionalism across genres (and perhaps genders?), I think it would be interesting to compare these differences. Since many authors of different genres work with the same publishers (albeit sometimes with different imprints), it might be an interesting cross-check.

    I mean, seriously, do authors like feeling so powerless against their publishers? Don’t they want to feel more empowered and independent and proactively engaged? Is it just the ‘independent creative spirit’ thing? Because it’s not like other creative artists don’t have unions.

  37. Barry Eisler
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 11:54:05


    “What does this letter, published here in the States in a readers/authors venue, accomplish for you and your publisher?”

    I’m confident Belfond will be reading my letter. If they improve their game as a result, what the letter will have accomplished for Belfond and for me is improved sales.

    Now take another look at the title of my piece. It’s called, “An Open Letter to My French Publisher (and, by Extension, to all Publishers).” As I would think the title and the letter itself make clear, Belfond and I aren’t the only possible beneficiaries of this kind of public discussion. As I note in the letter and in my comments, even if Belfond doesn’t change course, other authors and other publishers might learn something useful from this exercise.

    Of course, if you’re correct that Belfond won’t read this and that there’s no value for anyone else in it, either, then I agree, my letter and this discussion can accomplish nothing.

    “That the earlier U.K. books had poor sales may have more to do with readers ‘finding' an author and then glomming the back list later rather then sooner then with the covers. There are, as you say, many factors that go into the success of a book.”

    Yes, there are many instances of books with poor covers doing well and of books with great covers doing poorly. But the exceptions aren’t important. What matters is the odds. A good cover improves the chances of a book’s success, while a poor one diminishes those chances. That we can’t scientifically isolate the precise factors responsible for a book’s performance isn’t an argument for abdicating our judgment or for abandoning our efforts.

    “I think many of us are so upset about the horribly wrong covers that need to be shouted from the rooftops that we can't get too interested in the ‘meh' covers.”

    And thus mediocrity plods on.


    I can’t speak for others, but I’ve tried very hard to get packaging veto power via contract and so far haven’t managed it.


    Yes, good discussion over there. I left a comment.


    Heh. Good question.

    As I noted in my comment to the Editorial Anonymous piece Mythicagirl links to, I think it’s obvious that, with certain exceptions, publishers aren’t very good at what they do. Accordingly, I believe this kind of feedback, even if (or precisely because) it involves a bit of public shaming, can help them do better. But I could be wrong.

  38. Robin
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:03:39

    @Barry Eisler:

    I think it's obvious that, with certain exceptions, publishers aren't very good at what they do.

    Which is why it surprises me more and more that authors so vigorously defend and defer to their publishers and criticize authors that don’t, all the while ceding > 90% of their books’ earnings to the publisher.

  39. Barry Eisler
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:05:57


    Well said. Authors who think of themselves as publisher employees are mistaken and they’re doing themselves a disservice. Our publishers are our customers and our partners, and it follows from this that we are our own CEOs. For anyone who’s interested, I wrote an article on this a while back called The Writer as Entrepreneur.

  40. DS
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:10:36

    This discussion and the one on on Editorial Anonymous linked to above leaves me with the feeling that some authors are very concerned about not rocking the boat or anyone else not rocking the boat.

    Professionalism in these discussions is starting to sound like a word that is being used to cover something else– maybe fear?

  41. Magdalen
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:12:33

    Barry Eisler’s welcome to write to his French publisher. It probably won’t change the garage door cover, but if they don’t have a multi-book deal for the French rights to his novels, he may find himself looking for another publisher. Who may do better covers.

    It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see why publishers don’t want to give authors any say at all ever over covers. Eisler may be right (or wrong) about the garage door cover, but if a publisher had all their authors (or 98%, as I think it would be 2% of authors that would love their proposed covers) complaining, that could get both annoying and expensive. How would any publisher know which authors are as sensible as Eisler and thus can be relied upon to raise sensible and worthy concerns about the proposed covers?

    And it also doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see why other authors aren’t necessarily happy when one author pipes up about the design aesthetics and marketing savvy of a specific cover. “If he gets to, why don’t I?”; “I didn’t complain — I was the “good author” — so he should be too.”; “He’s going to piss off his publisher and reinforce the impression some publishers have about whiny authors.”

    But I’m confused about why Eisler makes his letter to his publisher public. To market his books in a new & creative fashion? To put pressure on his publisher in France? To reinforce his power as an author? To take a stand for authors everywhere?

    Whatever the reason, I do see a distinction between a cover that seems like a bad visual image in a foreign market, and one that offends a racial group.

  42. Jane
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:23:03

    @DS I think that is my question. What does the term professionalism encompass in terms of public discussion of authors interaction with publishers?

    I think it is okay to have that fear too. I think the question is what can be done to diminish the fear and/or should it be diminished.

  43. Anion
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:29:17

    This is where I love being pseudonymous.

    First, totally agreeing with Jody W and with Gennita. Public and private are different, and being a debut author is a very different experience–in the way situations like this are handled–than being someone already on the lists.

    But here’s something else, too. We don’t always know. We’re not always right.

    Case in point, me. (And I’m changing a few details, but the story is the same.) I had a debut novel, first in a trilogy. Got my cover, very very excited. I looooved it. I thought it was fantastic.

    Unfortunately, my editor and others at the house ultimately decided they wanted to take the covers in a new direction. They changed that cover completely. And I was devastated. I hate the model they picked (still do, to be honest.) He didn’t look like my character, physically. He didn’t convey my character’s personality in any way. The background was too flowery and pastel-y. The font looked like something you’d see on the cover of a light 50’s-era romantic comedy. In short, I felt the cover had nothing to do with my book, and I was horrified.

    I told my editor (yes! I did speak up!) and we had a discussion about it, where she said, basically (and in the nicest way, as she is a fantastic person), “Sorry you don’t like it, but we do.” My agent called her. My agent sent several emails. Still we got, “Really sorry you don’t like it, but we do.”

    I still don’t like the cover, to be honest. I don’t actively hate it anymore, but I still don’t LIKE it, and I don’t think I ever will. But what’s funny is, readers do. I saw so many comments about how much people loved the cover, and how gorgeous it was, and how it made them want to read the book.

    I don’t get it. It looked generic to me and it still does. But apparently the bookstore buyers loved it, and I know the readers did, and the only thing I can conclude is that clearly I, or my friends, are not always the best at choosing/judging covers that sell.

    And the point of this is that, honestly? I figured that. That’s why, although I did discuss my unhappiness with my editor, and my agent did get involved, I didn’t make a big stink. I wasn’t happy, I hated the model they used, and I told them that (politely and even apologetically), but that was pretty much it. Because what the heck do I know about marketing books or designing covers?

    That cover I hated increased my sales. To me that’s more important. It is, in fact, what this is all about. So while I felt strongly that my target audience would skip my book after seeing it, I was clearly incorrect. And while I still cringe when I look at that model–and thus avoid doing so as much as possible–I sure do like looking at the royalty checks.

    My book isn’t about the cover. It’s about the words inside. And I’ll do whatever I have to in order to get people to read those words.

  44. Robin
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:32:19

    Am I the only one here loving the symbolism of Eisler’s disputed cover — that it’s of a closed door…so perfectly, coincidentally appropriate.

  45. katiebabs
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:36:00

    If an author is very vocal or public and disagrees with their publisher in regards to a cover, does the publisher care enough and would they take great lengths to “fire” that author from their company?

    Again, the publisher gives that author a paycheck and many authors will remain quiet for fear of losing that money and the possibility because they rocked the boat.

  46. Anion
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:38:18

    I should point out, though, that because of my reaction to the model, I was allowed to at least choose the model’s pose on the third cover, and was given some input into the background, and yes, a few minor changes were made with the first & second covers at my request. I wasn’t crushed under a heavy corporate boot, I was just disregarded about the model I hated.

  47. SarahT
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:45:24

    @Jane: Sorry, Jane, if I misunderstood the purpose of your post. You referenced the Bloomsbury incident in the first sentence and I assumed you were making a comparison between it and Barry Eisler’s situation.

    Regarding the wider context of authors expressing their displeasure over their covers: I believe every author *should* feel confident to speak out if they are unhappy with what they feel their cover represents. However, I can understand why many authors are reluctant to do so. It’s very easy for us to dismiss their fears, but they might well be justified.

    In Barry Eisler’s case, I still wonder if the disputed cover would be more effective in France than in America. It doesn’t look much different to the French books we have on our shelves. And no, I’m not a fan of French covers in general, but then I’m not French.

  48. Robin
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:47:47

    @Anion: Would you have felt the same if the publisher had changed the race of the character on the cover?

    @katiebabs: “paycheck” suggests employment, though.

    While I don’t know if it’s the same authors who make these different arguments, as a reader I hear two contradictory things from authors: a) that an author’s work is sacred and readers should respect that by paying full price, not sharing, not buying used, etc., and b) that authors have to be quiet or their publishers will “fire” them.

    And though I can see why the reaction of some authors is, ‘why do you, reader, care if we speak out against our publisher or not?,’? it’s become an issue precisely for the reasons Jane pointed out in comment #32 — that readers are being asked to shoulder the burden for so many things that IMO are clearly in the author’s purview and control.

    So when an issue arises that does directly affect us — what we’re being sold on the cover — we’re speaking out of turn, not understanding professionalism, etc. We should just take the author’s word for x and y and accept that things are the way they are. Except for all these OTHER issues on which we’re supposed to be actively engaged on behalf of the author’s interests.

  49. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:48:19

    @Gennita Low

    Ahem, at least it's not Sleeping With The Agent, a third title to a trilogy called The Protector and The Hunter . . none of my 60 suggestions changed the Marketing Dpt's minds.

    I think it was the lovely Madeline Hunter who told me sympathetically You can't fight Sales and Marketing (she'd had Lord of Sin published just the year before my own Lord Sin hit the shelves, which was one of my major objections to the title).

    @ Jane

    I'm curious why authors don't use contract negotiations to include things like if I get a book cover with a character on it, I want it to represent the character in the book to the best of the publisher's ability.

    Because if you're not one of the BIGGIES, they just laugh at you and say no. And frankly I'm not going to chose to NOT be published at all if I can't control the cover and title (which would be the choice most of us would be making). I don't know anyone who's ever managed to get this kind of clause in their contract (though I've heard tales that few 800lb gorilla authors have managed it).

  50. Barry Eisler
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:55:54


    “Barry Eisler's welcome to write to his French publisher. It probably won't change the garage door cover, but if they don't have a multi-book deal for the French rights to his novels, he may find himself looking for another publisher. Who may do better covers.”

    This is indeed the beauty of a free market, for everyone concerned.

    “It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see why publishers don't want to give authors any say at all ever over covers.”

    I agree. I don’t blame publishers for not giving authors packaging veto power — I wouldn’t, if I were a publisher. But if I were a publisher, my books would have good covers.

    “And it also doesn't take a lot of imagination to see why other authors aren't necessarily happy when one author pipes up about the design aesthetics and marketing savvy of a specific cover. “If he gets to, why don't I?”; “I didn't complain -‘ I was the “good author” -‘ so he should be too.”; “He's going to piss off his publisher and reinforce the impression some publishers have about whiny authors.”

    Hmmm, this one does take some imagination, at least for me. I’m welcome to write my publisher, as you note, so presumably other authors can write their publishers, too? If complaining works, probably more people will complain. If complaints piss publishers off and reinforce whiny impressions, other authors will probably remain silent in an attempt to look good by comparison. Either way, I’m not sure I understand your explanation for why one author speaking up would irritate other authors.

    “But I'm confused about why Eisler makes his letter to his publisher public. To market his books in a new & creative fashion? To put pressure on his publisher in France? To reinforce his power as an author? To take a stand for authors everywhere?Whatever the reason, I do see a distinction between a cover that seems like a bad visual image in a foreign market, and one that offends a racial group.”

    I can’t explain it better than I already have — if you like, have a look at comment #37.


    “That's why, although I did discuss my unhappiness with my editor, and my agent did get involved, I didn't make a big stink.”

    Nothing wrong with that. As I said in my comment at EA, I bite my tongue more than I speak up. And again, these things are all going to be case-by-case, situation dependent.

    “I wasn't happy, I hated the model they used, and I told them that (politely and even apologetically), but that was pretty much it. Because what the heck do I know about marketing books or designing covers?”

    The problem is, publishers often don’t know, either. And that they think they do makes it worse. As the saying goes: “It’s not the things you don’t know that will hurt you. It’s the things you know that just ain’t so.”

    “That cover I hated increased my sales.”

    I hope it’s clear from my letter that I would never hate a cover I thought would increase my sales. The point of a cover isn’t to create art. It’s to sell books. More precisely, primarily to get the potential customer to take the next step closer to buying a book — picking the book, for example, and flipping it over.

    “My book isn't about the cover. It's about the words inside. And I'll do whatever I have to in order to get people to read those words.”

    I wouldn’t go quite this far — the painting matters more than the frame, true, but the frame affects perception of what’s inside it — but overall, I agree. And that’s why I think “whatever I have to” sometimes includes calling out my publisher and shaming them into doing better.


    Here’s hoping my letter will open it!


    I guess we’ll find out…

    FWIW, my publisher doesn’t give me a paycheck (Robin, agreed). Rather, they buy my products: publishing rights to my books. This may seem like semantics, but I think it’s more than that. If you believe you’re an employee, you’ll act like one. And why would you want to do that, when in fact you work for yourself?

  51. Tweets that mention Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary --
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:59:42

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Barry Eisler, Erotic Romance, Elise Logan, dearauthor, Jennifer Cloud and others. Jennifer Cloud said: Is speaking out against publishers dangerous? […]

  52. Anion
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 13:00:47


    Well, considering they basically did, yes, I’d say I would feel exactly the same. The character I wrote was extremely pale/Irish. The model they gave me had olive skin and dark hair. Yes, it was one of the things I complained about. And yes, they responded with “We like this model and we’ve already done the cover and this cover is going to sell.”

  53. Jody W.
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 13:02:46

    @Robin: I hope you aren’t implying I personally intend for “you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes” to be a silencing tactic. I didn’t say that, I didn’t mean that, and I doubt anyone in this conversation would want that. I merely object to the generalization in the article that if authors and their agents aren’t publicly complaining or publicly revealing the various aspects of their contracts or the negotiation process, it means we don’t have courage to stand up for our work. We all handle our careers differently.

    I am all for people speaking up if they feel the need–as long as they don’t castigate me for not doing things the same way. I am all for people handling things behind the scenes if they feel the need–as long as they don’t castigate me for not doing things the same way.

    FWIW, I lost a contract once due to speaking up. If we go by this quote from the article: “If speaking out on an important issue like one's cover might cause an author to become unpublishable, I wonder how saleable that work really is.” — it means I really lost that contract because I was an unsaleable luzer anyway. Which may or may not be true for me, but IMO it’s not a safe assumption for everyone in that situation :)

  54. Anion
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 13:06:13


    Hey, you speak up all you like, and more power to you. :-)

    And I’m not saying it’s always a situation where the cover we hate increases our sales, or that we’re always wrong. Not knowing the French market I can’t really speak about yours, to be honest.

    My point was simply that it IS a complex situation, and sometimes we don’t speak up publicly because it turns out the publisher was right, or because we’re focused on other things, you know?

  55. Barry Eisler
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 13:12:41


    Thanks, Anion, and agreed — how, when, and whether to speak up is a case by case thing. I do think the industry would be better off if more authors would speak up more often, but it doesn’t follow from this that every author ought to pipe up every time (I know I don’t).

    I don’t know the French market either, but again I’d maintain that culture isn’t a factor here. There’s no culture in which watching paint dry is stimulating, and this cover is just that.

  56. Robin
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 13:15:05

    @Anion: I’m not sure I made myself clear, so before I respond, I’m going to clarify my question: do you think that it’s okay for a publisher to choose a cover for the sake of sales when it involves de-racinating the image?

    @Jody W.: No, I don’t think that’s the case in this thread (and you’re not even the only one who said something akin to it here). But I have seen that type of statement offered in instances where readers have spoken up, including the Cassie Edwards and Anne Stuart situations, as part of a protest to the public conversation.

    I completely understand why single authors, in isolation, are afraid to take a stand against a publisher. FWIW, my biggest problem with Dolamore was what she said when she DID speak up — in some ways I think she would have done better to keep quiet, sad as that is to say. What confuses me is the fear that often exhibits itself when another authors does speak up. With so many ways in which authors feel powerless in business relationships where they are, legally speaking, at least, merely contracting parties (I like Eisler’s term “partnership”), it seems there’d be a hearty welcome for authors to band together behind someone who successfully challenges the status quo, or at least not charging someone who speaks up with lack of professionalism (and again, not suggesting that’s what you are doing).

  57. Castiron
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 13:16:05

    @Magdalen: Yep. Speaking on the publisher end, I’ve seen some author cover ideas (and the occasional mockups) that made bad romance ebook covers look professional and elegant. Sure, we want the author’s suggestions, and we do our best to accommodate them, but there’s no way that we’d give absolute final cover power to an author, because we don’t want something that looks like crap going out there with our name on the spine. (And I’m in scholarly publishing; the casual bookstore browser isn’t our main audience!)

    @Jane: I don’t know enough about big trade publishing to say how much of the fear of speaking up is legit. In my experience with scholarly publishing, I’d say that authors can complain a lot to the publisher without repercussion; the author also has far more freedom to switch to another publisher if they don’t like their current one, though. It’s not like the fiction author who could end up with half a series at one publisher and half at another.

  58. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 13:39:01


    Well, considering they basically did, yes, I'd say I would feel exactly the same. The character I wrote was extremely pale/Irish. The model they gave me had olive skin and dark hair.

    Apparently your book and my second book swapped covers, LOL! My hero was half-Turkish, dark, and golden skinned. I got a blonde model with a furry chest, LOL! Didn't hate it, but the guy on the cover was soooooooooo not the hero described in the book (but I liked it so much better than the guy they'd used on book one that I didn't say anything).

  59. Anion
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 14:07:56


    Here’s the thing, Robyn, and I’m honestly quite reluctant to speak about this for fear of being misconstrued, but I will, since you asked.

    No. I don’t think it’s right.

    But I also think that, sadly, we’ve seen again and again that covers with AA/multiracial/PoC on them simply do not sell as well (IN GENERAL). It’s been bemoaned over and over again. It’s shameful and it’s wrong, but we have all seen excellent books featuring CoCs, with accurate representations of them on the covers, be passed over by Caucasian readers because “It’s a black book,” or whatever.

    We see excellent books stuck in the African-American section of the bookstore willy-nilly, simply because there are PoC on the covers.

    Is it right? Absolutely not. It makes me ill.

    But does the possibility that readers who have previously avoided books with CoC in them, whether consciously or unconsciously, may pick up a book featuring a strong, smart, fun PoC as the main character, and love it, and it may open their minds to new reading possibilities and options, bother me? Does the possibility that that book in particular might be saved from being shoved off into the AA section, bother me? Well…no.

    It doesn’t make me happy. I don’t think it’s right. I think it’s shameful. But I can see why a publisher might be tempted to do it. I think they have other, better options, and should exercise them, but I can see why they might be tempted.

    @ Kalen

    Ha! We should make stickers of each model, and swap them out.

  60. Jackie Barbosa
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 14:39:09

    @Jane: Mainly it’s because, most of the time, authors are so thrilled to get an offer of publication at ALL that they don’t want to demand “too much” and risk losing it.

    Of course, that applies more to newer authors than someone like Nora Roberts or Barry himself. Those with an established track record have a lot more pull than those without. Even then, however, there are only so many things that are negotiable in these contracts, and it takes a lot of balls to walk away from a good offer because the publisher won’t give you veto power over your cover art. I know I wouldn’t.

    Here’s the thing–I don’t see what Barry’s risking by complaining publicly about the French publisher’s cover for his book. I don’t say that with any disrespect intended, but he’s an author with a track record of good sales, especially with his primary publisher in the US. The chances that any of his publishers are going to cut him loose because he’s complained (and eloquently) about one cover (or even five or six) seem pretty slim. MAYBE the French publisher won’t buy the French rights for future books, but honestly, if the French book sells well, it’s not going to amount to a hill of beans.

    Authors are uncomfortable complaining about their publishers when they fear they’re “on the bubble.” When they are trying to ESTABLISH a track record in publishing and anything they say might give the impression that they are temperamental divas who will never be satisfied. And it isn’t just the CURRENT publisher they’re worried about offending. They’re worried that OTHER publishers will see their gripes and conclude it’s not worth buying from a primadonna who doesn’t have the clout to back it up.

  61. RRRJessica
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 15:10:22

    No one — least of all Jane, IMO — is saying there is a moral equivalence between whitewashed covers and boring covers. But there is a conceptual framework under which both types of covers can be placed, having to do with author control over the packaging and marketing of their work.

    I also find it ironic that so many people are taking Eisler to task for not being brave and not risking anything, when he’s the only person in this discussion– or any discussion in Romland as far as I am aware — who has done anything so public on this topic.

    As for professionalism, I agree with Robin that it can be used to silence dissent, and it seems clear to me that the publicity of a commentary has little to do with how professional it is. Had Eisler written something along the lines of, “Listen, you fuckwits, get your heads out of your asses and help make me a rich man!”, THAT would have been unprofessional.

    As far as the issue at hand goes, I would like to see more than anecdotes or surmising when it comes to establishing a connection between how a cover looks and how a book sells. I don’t think publishers have any data to support their “theories” (and I am using that term loosely and generously), but I doubt many authors do, either. Let this be a call for some rigorous investigation.

    And no, I don’t think data will settle — or trump — the serious moral questions that are raised by whitewashed covers and implicit racism in packaging and purchasing books. But I think it is one large piece of the puzzle that is missing from both sides of the debate.

  62. регистрация фирм
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 15:35:07

    Как бы то ни было, но с вами я полностью согласен

  63. Robin
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 15:56:05

    @Anion: Thanks, and I will try not to misconstrue what you said.

    I think for me, one of the problems with the ‘POC covers/books don’t sell’ assertion is that I’ve not seen anything along the lines of comprehensive research on the topic. Much was made, for example, of Jade Lee’s Blaze historical not selling at good levels, but no one addressed the fact that her other books, under Jade Lee, her Tigress series, were clearly marked as books featuring non-white characters. In fact, if you check out her books page on her website, her books — of which there are many — are hardly sold as lily white Romance tales. Why didn’t The Concubine sell well? I don’t know — maybe because it was called “The Concubine,” which some found offensive? But in any case, it’s hardly a dispositive case.

    I hesitate to club Harlequin here, because IMO they are one of the few publishers that does not whitewash covers, and, perhaps not coincidentally, they also market to and research actual readers. But I do wonder in general how committed publishers are to selling books about people of color, at least in the context of YA or Romance, for example. Are publishers willing to challenge the white norm; are they willing to put the heft of their marketing department behind these books; are they even interested in such a thing?

    As for separate shelving, which most often seems to happen to AA-authored and charactered books, I see that as a different issue, because it’s an intentional strategy to actively market to a different reader cohort. It’s not about erasing a racial identity but calling attention to it because of a belief that (to take the most prevalent example) AA readers want those books set apart.

    Thus for non-AA readers, these separately shelved and marketed books are marked with a stamp of difference right off the bat. There’s not even a guarantee that a bookstore’s Romance buyer will be the same as the buyer for AA fiction, exacerbating the problem.

    Both whitewashing covers and separate shelving contribute, IMO, to a message that white is the norm and non-white is *different* in substantive ways. And I think that message is a real problem, and I’m concerned that there’s not enough active resistance to it.

  64. RStewie
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 16:20:00

    @Magdalen: I don’t think it’s about giving the author more control over the total design of their product, it’s more about providing a service (book packaging) that any author would be proud to show. Publishers are both customers and vendors to authors. They buy a product, but they also provide editing and sales services.

    I think Barry’s done a good thing by speaking out. Not a great thing, but not a bad thing, either. Honestly, I wonder about those who don’t speak out…not because it means their work isn’t worth publishing, but this is your work, your livelihood…not taking control of that, or attempting to, would be like me not asking for a raise every year or demanding my benefits package. If this is your livelihood, even if it’s the equivalent of a part-time job, why not fight for it?

  65. Janet W
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 16:45:44

    At the risk of flogging a dead cover, I see/read/hear authors all the time talking about the delicate dance of what their cover is going to be. Barry Eisler is not the first, nor, I’m sure, is he going to be the last author to comment publically on the covers of his/her books.

    This is where I feel for the authors who are being chided (it feels that way to me when I read many of these comments) on their lack of forthright comments on the covers of their books. I don’t get it — they do comment and all except the biggest of the big (we’re talking La Nora and her ilk) don’t get the final decision. Frankly, you have to have some serious chops (i.e., sales numbers) even to be part of the convo … or so it appears to me … again, from what authors have said, publically. On boards, on yahoo groups, in conversation, on blogs … on many many sites. So they do express their opinion, they are pretty much ignored and yet it is suggested that they’re not going about it the right way.

    Maybe on a scale of 1 to 10 there are other aspects of the publishing relationship that are more important to them. Again, if we don’t like covers, we should complain to publishers. Oh wait, I complain All The Time about covers I don’t like and guess what, the Marketing mavens are voting with what cover sells the best. The same group, I daresay, that comes up with the “delicious” titles I so dislike. Not the authors.

  66. Anthea Lawson
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 16:52:55

    Thank you for the eloquent piece, Barry, and thumbs-up to Jane for providing a forum.

    @ Castiron #56
    “It's not like the fiction author who could end up with half a series at one publisher and half at another.”

    Actually, if an author got dropped mid-series, a new publisher wouldn’t pick up that series. The author would need to start with something fresh and their old series would be dead in the water. (Unless they were one of the BIG NAMES.)

    As far as authors speaking up — Do we (I’m part of an author team) wonder if the total lack of a historical vibe on the cover of our debut contributed to lagging sales? Yes. But that’s as far as we feel comfortable taking the issue, because there could have been any number of other factors involved. Are we thrilled with the current cover that’s obviously historical? Yes. Did that influence the higher pre-orders and print run of the second book? Who knows. And no,we had absolutely no say in either of those covers. :)

  67. Robin
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 17:09:41

    @Janet W: I’m thinking that every time I see you thrash Harlequin for their titles, I’m gonna post a non-Harl single title for comparison. How do you think the comparison will work out? ;D And while we’re at it, let’s compare cover images, too.

    In fact, let’s start with the latest Leisure-pubbed Cassie Edwards release, Savage Dawn, which seems especially fitting given the fetishized treatment of race on the cover. And note the position of the cover model’s knife:

  68. Janet W
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 17:18:07

    @Robin … I know I have been vocal about some covers and titles from HQN. In particular, I’m not wild about the new Harlequin Historical titles. I personally don’t care for them. But I did not mention a publisher in my post and why would I? No one has a monopoly on titles and covers that I don’t care for. I’m sure if I put my mind to it I could, in the words of Gilbert and Sullivan, come up with quite a little list!

    In fairness, I should probably mention titles/covers that I really like and thank the publishers. I just got my copy of “Pieces of Sky” by Kaki Warner — published by Berkley. Simply gorgeous!

  69. Jackie Barbosa » Blog Archive » Trash Talking Tuesday: Publishers Aren’t Always Wrong
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 17:19:15

    […] with the publishers. This particularly round has to do with cover art. You can read the post on Dear Author if you’re interested in the specifics of the […]

  70. JA Konrath
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 17:19:24

    It’s a terrible cover, that would have taken a teenager six minutes to create using Photoshop.

    I’m not interested in the argument of whether an author should or shouldn’t publicly speak out against bad decisions made by their publisher. Publishers make so many bad decisions, so often, it is refreshing to see an author who does speak out, though I’m not convinced how helpful it is.

    I believe the more interesting issue here is why a company, which is supposedly trying to make money off of a property it paid for, is so oblivious to how ineffective they’re being.

    This doesn’t only apply to publishing. How many media companies kill something potentially profitable with ignorance and indifference? We see examples all the time with movies and television.

    I would love to hear a response from Belfond, defending their logic behind creating this awful cover, and explaining their reasoning why they decided to go this route.

    Everything Barry does, he’s able to justify using logic, experience, and a hard-earned knowledge of the industry. He thinks before he acts. Always.

    If publishers acted based on logic, knowledge, and experience, I wonder how much the biz would change for the better…

  71. Barry Eisler
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 18:13:22

    @JA Konrath:

    I swear that wasn’t a paid endorsement.

    Thanks, Joe. And thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts. I’ll keep you posted on what happens with Belfond…

  72. DS
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 18:14:04

    @Jane: I can understand being afraid on behalf of one’s own career. My last career move (10 years ago!) felt like I was walking on an invisible high wire without a net. It’s the desire to hush other people up that puzzles me.

    In addition to covers and publicly speaking out negatively about one’s publisher, there is also something wrong, per one anonymous poster on EA, with revealing one’s royalty statement online.

  73. Jackie Barbosa
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 18:20:18

    there is also something wrong, per one anonymous poster on EA, with revealing one's royalty statement online.

    I know one author who did it, and while I support her right to do so, I wouldn’t share my paycheck from my day job online. Would you?

    It’s not a matter of being embarrassed or ashamed of the information, but of it being something that’s between you, your employer/publisher, and, of course, the income tax authorities.

  74. Robin
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 18:23:08

    @Mindy Klasky: Obviously I’m biased here, being a reader myself, but I didn’t read your blog post as a “plea” to Kindle readers. I read it as a blaming of Kindle owners for not utilizing other options on Amazon “that don’t jeopardize the sales — and thereby, the careers — of authors.” You said the situation “enrages” you and that “Kindle owners, though, should not deflate other sales by giving the unwarranted impression that an author’s best work isn’t good enough.”

    But do you really think most readers even know all these things you talk about in your post? Hell, we aren’t even the direct customers of publishers, and we’re sure as heck not in any kind of contract relationship with them. So how much responsibility should readers shoulder for authors’ careers? I feel like we are being asked to shoulder a lot — to join fan clubs and “street teams,” to write letters to publishers, to purchase within the first week but only after the release date so authors can make lists, to buy new rather than used, to tell all our friends to purchase, to publicly denounce piracy, etc.

    But honestly, why is that *our* responsibility? And further, why should we put ourselves out while the author is telling us, over and over, that you can’t influence the publisher’s views. If *YOU* — the person whose creative work the publisher has purchased and is investing in — can’t sway them, why would we readers believe we can, even if we feel we should try?

  75. Anne Stuart
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 18:30:29

    @Robin: Uh, I just wanted to point out that the Cassie Edwards and Anne Stuart situations were totally different.
    I happened to make what I thought was a fairly gentle comment about my publisher and an anonymous blogger went on a vendetta, making it the scandal of the week a few years ago. And I got thwacked big time for it. In case no one noticed, I’ve never talked publicly about it since. People just got too crazy.
    It’s all part of the very toxic side of this business. I’m just hoping no one ever asks me a direct question again, because I never lie, and I really don’t want to go through that mess again. It was a ridiculous over-reaction to a simple statement of truth.
    Ahem. Anyway, Cassie Edwards allegedly plagiarized. I was tactless and outspoken. Big difference on the moral scale.
    And Barry — love the Rain books!

  76. Barry Eisler
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 18:44:45

    @Anne Stuart:

    Thanks, Anne, and glad you’re not judging ’em all by their covers… ;)

  77. Robin/Janet
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 18:48:54

    @Anne Stuart: Oh, I’m well aware of the differences! But your situation and Edwards’s were both met with a chorus of admonitions to both authors and readers that public criticism of an author or publisher was a Very Bad Thing. That’s the point I was trying to make, not trying to equate your situation with that of Edwards.

    And in case it’s not clear, I’m all for speaking out publicly.

  78. DS
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 19:08:12

    @Jackie Barbosa: The decision to publish the royalty statement or not is the decision of the owner of the statement. They could put it online for a good reason for for no reason.

    But why was someone who was not connected to the statement upset about it being revealed?

    Actually part of my income used to be published in a local newspaper with my name attached and I’m not sure that my current income isn’t available on-line with my name attached.

  79. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 19:10:28

    @Jackie Barbosa:

    I know one author who did it, and while I support her right to do so, I wouldn't share my paycheck from my day job online. Would you?

    With my SSN and any other really personal details redacted, I would if I thought it would help other people or illustrate a point I felt I needed to make. Seeing the one that was posted to illustrate the #s and profits for a “best seller” was valuable to me. One of the major issues for writers is that a lot of us operate in a vacuum when it comes to stuff like this (a major reason that I’m glad I have an agent!).

  80. Jackie Barbosa
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 19:32:34

    @Kalen Hughes: I think what makes me uncomfortable about the idea of sharing a royalty statement (or my paycheck) isn’t whether it’s morally right or wrong, but whether I’m comfortable with sharing that kind of information with total strangers. I’m generally not.

    That said, the whole issue of how much your advance was is such a hush-hush secret, and I really don’t get why. Yet when I’ve said I’d happily tell people publicly how much I got for my book, they almost uniformly say “Don’t do it.” I’m still puzzled about why that’s such a no-no.

  81. Chase
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 19:41:00

    I agree with Mr. Eilser on all points. Good luck.

  82. Mindy Klasky
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 20:21:05

    @Robin: I agree that a lot of readers don’t understand the relationship between authors and publishers; that was one of the reasons that I wrote my original post. Another reason was to note my dissatisfaction with certain Kindle owners who were reviewing certain books without having read the books (and without commenting on the relative merit of the content of those books.)

    Your post and some of the other responses in this thread have been illuminating for me; I did not realize that a group of readers feels pressured unfairly to support authors through the various actions you list. In the past, I’ve considered authors’ requests for support as suggestions (not responsibilities), as purely voluntary options for a relative handful of especially enthusiastic readers to provide extraordinary support for an author whose book they particularly like.

    To answer your question: I don’t think that authors encourage readers to take extraordinary supportive action in order to influence *publishers’* behavior; I agree that publishers are unlikely to take notice of most individual readers’ stated support. I do think that authors hope that a handful of particularly enthusiastic readers will influence other *readers’* actions.

  83. Robin
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 20:55:25

    @Mindy Klasky: I totally agree with you that reader to reader enthusiasm is contagious.

    I think the pressure thing is felt by authors, too. For example, I hear that authors sometimes feel pressured to write faster when readers ask where the next book in a series is. That doesn’t seem to me like it should translate into pressure, but apparently it does. Ditto with readers feeling like they’re being asked to go an extra mile or two for an author.

    IMO some genres are built more on a fan base than a reader base, per se, and there’s an artificial sense of closeness between authors and readers that can create certain expectations on both sides. Ideally, IMO an author should write the books she wants and a reader should read the books she wants, and everything should be simpatico.

    Ultimately, I agree with you about people who register reviews of books without reading them, but I think it’s terribly unfair to put any burden of blame on readers for the way Amazon and publishers deal, or for the career success of authors. Perhaps helping readers understand the impact of certain things will be good for everyone, but in the end, readers are the only party NOT making money in this tangle of relationships, so I think our perceived responsibilities should reflect that.

  84. Magdalen
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 22:22:34

    @Barry Eisler: Thanks for the responses.

    One last thing, completely honest. What I thought of when I saw your garage door cover was the wonderful French film Cache (Hidden) with Daniel Auteil and Juliette Binoche. The film starts with very menacing imagery of — the front of their house. The mundane made distinctly creepy.

    I could make some assumption that French sensibilities are mysteriously different from ours as Americans, but that’s just arguing about the cover design again. But I wanted you to know, for what it’s worth, that the cover really does give me the (suspenseful) creeps.

  85. Heather Massey
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 22:28:03

    Anecdote cover story alert: For many months now, I've been looking forward to Susan Grant's SUREBLOOD (HQN), a science fiction romance. It's going to have space pirates-‘lots of space pirates! And not just the hero, either, the heroine will be one too. Heroine space pirates are rare in the subgenre and a favorite character of mine so I did a big happy dance. Even though I know I shouldn't put too much stock in covers, I hoped the cover for SUREBLOOD would reflect the awesomesauce swashbuckling. I didn't expect a STAR WARS cover or anything-‘okay, I did. Silly me.

    In December, I learned about the planned cover for SUREBLOOD. Author speaking up? You betcha. While professionally done, it looks like a guy stepping out of a shower. Professional, but bland. There is nothing to indicate the futuristic nature of the story-‘not even a single star. I would have been happy with a clinch, a headless hero dressed a la a futuristic Captain Jack Sparrow, a half naked heroine space pirate-‘anything other than a cover that screamed blandness and misrepresentation of the story.

    Or should I say, no representation at all, of any story (except maybe the one about a guy stepping out of his shower). I cringe thinking about all the readers upset that they bought a book they truly have no interest in reading because they were promised something that didn't deliver. And the fans don't get the cover they want. I know, I know-‘readers aren't the customers. Maybe not now, but in the future…?

    Anyway, I blogged about my disappointment and there was a lot of coverage about the cover. It will be interesting to see if Harlequin's art department tweaks the cover to please the readers. Or at least this reader, lol! Because I like to talk about space pirates-‘can you tell?

  86. Anion
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 23:33:00


    Of course it translates into pressure on us! WE WANT TO PLEASE YOU. YOU ARE THE REASON WE EXIST.

    I’m not saying this pressure is undue or unwelcome, not at all. It’s delightful. I’m just saying that to think we don’t take readers into account, or that we don’t think of what will make you happy and how to pay you back in the very small way we can for all that you do for us, is to ignore the way the majority of us look at you.

  87. Edie
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 00:01:37

    Just as an aside, Harlequin may not whitewash their covers, but couldn’t you claim their content as whitewashed? The white Christian Sheikhs for example?
    And the ongoing racial stereotyping of Greek, Spanish and Italian males?
    So could one argue that their non whitewashing of covers is them continuing/exploiting the stereotypes within?

    And I know it is equalling Harlequin with the presents line, but it is their oldest line and it is what most people outside the genre recognise as Harlequin/M&B.

  88. A
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 00:33:37

    Will authors ever feel free to criticize publishers? Should they? Should a conspiracy of silence be maintained? Does that help or hurt? Is is unprofessional to air out criticisms in public? If yes, what kind? If no, why?

    1. What leads you to presume authors do not criticize publishers, editors, cover art, reviews, or other elements involved in the publishing industry?

    2. “Should they?” That’s probably a matter of opinion. The Bloomsbury thread, given its criticism and boycott threats of “Magic Under Glass” due to the author’s blog comments indicated to me that an author cannot win for losing. The author sympathized with race-conscious readers dissatisfied with the cover model’s skin tone, but pointed out the book was more than a cover. If that’s what she truly believes, why shouldn’t she be able to say without risk of offending readers and instigating book boycotts?

    3. The publishing profession is precisely that, a profession. Authors are not required nor should they be required to reveal to the public every detail of every “issue” encountered in the publishing process. Not everyone likes publicizing their business affairs.

  89. Robin
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 00:54:11

    @Edie: Oh, I think the genre in general has a terribly problematic relationship to race, ethnicity, and culture (Scottish historicals, Native American Romances, etc). Some serious issues around fetishization and demonization there. And what a bitter irony that for the most part (Harlequin has mainstreamed some AA Romance and Avon author Beverly Jenkins is not shelved separately), so many non-white Romances that don’t fetishize race are marketed and shelved separately from the rest of the genre. But I don’t think Harlequin is any worse than other publishers in any of this.

    And in general, I think the cover issue is different in that it relates to how the book is sold — what’s offered to the reader to entice them to purchase as opposed to what’s inside the book itself. That strikes me as an issue of disguise, camouflage, erasure, and so it functions in a different dimension, IMO, even if it’s part of a larger problem.

    Not that Harlequin has helped the genre’s public image in general, but in some ways I think those titles so many seem to dislike are actually much closer to truth in advertising than books that don’t announce their contents quite as directly.

  90. Mike Briggs
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 01:14:22

    In this and the previous thread about whitewashing covers, Authors are chided for not standing up for their creative “rights” and demanding better packaging.

    A publisher licenses the rights to the words for a book, but retains control of the marketable product.

    Similarly, I’ve licensed the rights to several bits of art for use on my web-site. I’ve paid the artists for the use of their creative output, and I’m happy to do so. However, I don’t grant them the right to dictate the layout and content of that site, and would strenuously object if they attempted to assert such control.

    Publishers are in the business of bringing a product to market, and the words between the pages are only one component, albeit a critical one, of that product. That’s not to say that publishers don’t value or appreciate them, but it’s important to recognize that the publisher is buying the right to use those words for their own purposes.

    Just as an author has the final authority to “stet” editorial changes to his manuscript, the publisher has the final say on packaging.

  91. Matt Rohnkohl
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 01:34:20

    Wow, Barry…I couldn’t agree more! As a small publisher, graphic/artist and cover designer…I know exactly what you mean.

    I look at the book stands today and can’t figure out what half the books are supposed to be about…not a great marketing strategy to start with! Cover designers seem to have little knowledge, or little care, for design, typography or marketability when it comes to books. Covers are supposed to be hand in hand with the storyline…intriguing, eye-catching, synoptic…

    If you have a great cover that has nothing to do with the storyline, the reader will think twice before buying your book again.

    I take a lot of care in my author’s covers and they love them! A publisher and author should work together in publication, not against each other.

    Great letter!


    Matt Rohnkohl
    Alexandrian Archives Inc.

  92. A
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 03:32:36

    @Mike Briggs:

    Publishers are in the business of bringing a product to market, and the words between the pages are only one component, albeit a critical one, of that product. That's not to say that publishers don't value or appreciate them, but it's important to recognize that the publisher is buying the right to use those words for their own purposes.

    Just as an author has the final authority to “stet” editorial changes to his manuscript, the publisher has the final say on packaging.

    Great explanation.

    I’ve had some awful cover art where it the artist obviously did not care about my information form. I’ve also worked with cover artists who obviously took my suggestions to heart. It showed in the final product. I’m very grateful for those experiences.

    I think it’s sort of funny how authors are expected to take some kind of responsibility for cover art. It makes no sense at all if one thinks about it.

  93. Angela
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 07:43:19

    Hm…how has Cheryl Holt been forgotten in this discussion? It was about a year ago, I believe, where someone passed around an email she sent to a fan asking about her next book. In the email, Holt shared her frustration and unhappiness with the relationship between she and her new editor. Holt then left that publisher and went to a new one, where she felt much more confident and happy.

    Or how about Delilah Marvelle’s campaign for her readers to email Kensington, etc to convince them to pick up her next book? In the end, she got a new book contract with a larger publisher. (found this through Google).

    In both cases, Marvelle and Holt were castigated, gossiped about, and shredded for daring to speak out “against” and challenge their publishers. Also, Marvelle was a debut author (the book she launched a campaign for was merely her second release), which causes me to believe that speaking out isn’t the sole province of established authors.

    What I take from this? It’s just a conspiracy of fear that keeps an author from stepping out and vocalizing their opinion. Some of the authors who jumped in have said that their first year as a published author was a lonely one–I must ask “why?”

    If you (general you) belong to the RWA and get all the perks of being published, how could you spend your first year or two muddling through troubled and unknown waters? It astounds me that authors are so willing to share advice and encouragement about the actual writing process, but when it comes to the business side, mouths shut tighter than a clam.

  94. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 07:48:11

    Just wanted to point out that a lot of authors were criticizing their publisher during the Harlequin Horizons debacle. I know I was!

  95. Anion
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 08:44:38

    See, no offense, but here’s where I get confused. On one hand, we’re told we should be speaking up and airing our concerns–whatever they may be–publicly.

    On the other, it’s not fair for us to put pressure on readers by asking them to wait until release day to buy books or not to hold us responsible for the lack of immediate ebook release, for example.

    Yes, I see the differences in the situations, but I wanted to point out that a lot of us don’t discuss these things simply because we don’t want readers to have to concern themselves with anything except reading, and hopefully enjoying that reading.

    Publishing houses aren’t huge, faceless entities, not when you work with them. They’re businesses which employ people, and we get to know and like those people. I didn’t keep my mouth shut about my cover publicly just because I didn’t want to bother readers or argue with those who loved the cover; I also did it because my editor, and all of the support people at the house which published those books, are cool, friendly, fun, smart people with whom I love working. Why do that to them? They knew how I felt. I discussed it with them. What benefit would it be for me to attempt to shame them publicly (my situation was different from Barry’s, I should point out, since while I hated my cover I didn’t think it would have a serious negative impact on sales)? When you have a disagreement with a co-worker, do you blog about it, with the name of the business and department included, so anyone can easily find out exactly who you’re talking about?

    This is just stuff that occurred to me reading the comments above, and in thinking further on this topic last night.

    I would never castigate a writer for speaking up. Speaking up is important; in some situations it’s vital (I’m thinking of some of the epublishing scandals, and how many writers could have been helped had others not been shamed into silence). But not every topic or situation needs public discussion.


  96. Gennita Low
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 09:31:37

    I think you were referring to my comment about “my first year as published author as a lonely one.” That doesn’t make me ignorant about the business side of publishing. Nor does it mean that being a member of RWA was a waste of time.

    Most of us muddle through it because it is a NEW experience. We’ve been preparing for it–the RWA articles, other published friends’ advice and explanations, etc.–but each author’s experience is different. There is no way to describe this unless you’ve gone through it.

    Some writers wrote for 12 years before they were pubbed; some sold their first manuscript at 24 or 25. I think you’d agree that each of these groups are going to have different challenges.

    Sure, their contracts might read the same and they may even share it with other noobs, but from then on–the general stuff like cover, picking titles, even agent-type advice–but the relationship each share with their editors and the publisher is unique. It’s lonely because one has to make her decisions herself; it’s lonely because the sales and promotion part is hard (for some); it’s lonely because she’s putting herself out there as a public figure and getting reviews from strangers about one’s work, especially negative ones, is a shock to the system. No matter how much one’s prepared for the experience.

    Ultimately, each published author is an independent contractor who works for herself. The fear isn’t about readers castigating or criticizing her behavior. It isn’t about being afraid of speaking one’s mind. It’s a fear of failure because she’s put her work out there for thousands to read.

    How an author responds to her challenges is up to her. She could make it public, or not. She could stay within her writing world and not participate in talking at other forums and being ignorant of most controversies (believe me, many writers do this), or not. She could go nuts publicly (which the Net loves) or just vent among friends. There is no right or wrong here. All I know is that when an author stumbles, she is alone, no matter how big her support network is.

    Finally, your claim that “our mouths are shut tighter than a clam” when it comes to the business is only from your POV. For some of us, we prefer to keep the business talk to private forums, email, or conventions. We want readers to talk about our books and recommending them, and buying them for friends and family, not about the art of selling books. Really, it’s that simple.

  97. Jane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 09:34:41

    @Gennita Low

    We want readers to talk about our books and recommending them, and buying them for friends and family, not about the art of selling books. Really, it's that simple.

    Ah, Gennita. You cannot proscribe what readers want to talk about. That’s virality. And recommending and buying your books for friends and family is all about the art of selling books. Authors want readers to sell their books for them. I get that. It’s not wrong but it doesn’t work in isolation.

  98. Jane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 09:35:27

    @Angela Your examples are so much more cogent than mine. I’m sorry for riffing off the Bloomsbury cover controversy as I think it clouded the issue.

  99. Jane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 09:42:07

    @Mike Briggs I don’t know that we are chiding (maybe we are) but rather genuinely baffled as to a couple of things.

    1. Dolamore didn’t have to say anything. In fact, I wouldn’t have excoriated her for not saying anything. Her statement was what actually got me riled up in that she wanted to write about POC, use exoticness in her book, but didn’t want to recognize that having a pale girl on the cover would be an issue for readers.

    2. If Dolamore was so passive because she worried about rocking the boat, is this because there is a general culture of silence because the generally accepted standard of professionalism within the writing community is to not publicize any complaints against publishers?

    3. If the answer to the above question is yes, then is that standard doing the writing community a disservice? In other words, if authors would be more open about issues with their publishers, in a professional and respectful manner, would it serve the writing community better?

    4. Which I think winds back to, if the writing community’s standards for professionalism allowed for publicizing issues with publishers, would the cover fiasco of Bloomsbury happened? Because while Barry’s garage door cover might doom his sales in France (and that’s obviously not unimportant) the cover issue with Bloomsbury is a very important topic and it saddens and disturbs me that even over an issue that I perceive to be this important (the whitewashing of covers), authors fear making statements against their publishers.

    Having said all that, it is the writing community that sets the standards for themselves.

  100. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 09:42:14


    That said, the whole issue of how much your advance was is such a hush-hush secret, and I really don't get why. Yet when I've said I'd happily tell people publicly how much I got for my book, they almost uniformly say “Don't do it.” I'm still puzzled about why that's such a no-no.

    I think it’s most likely about no one wanting to be dragged into someone else's negotiations :Well I know So&So got $$$ for her last contract, and I want that too! Also, it may be about trying to keep a lid on the jealousy factor, which can be a bugaboo for authors.

  101. Anne Stuart
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 09:51:40

    @Jackie Barbosa: Back in the olden days before internet a bunch of us started with the Harlequin American Line, and we all shared royalty information and advance information. Scared the shit out of Harlequin. But back then knowledge was power, and we were pretty well-bonded. I used to share numbers and advances with friends who were in comparable situations, so they knew what they could get. It’s always hard to judge — if sharing is just going to make someone else feel jealous or frustrated then better not to. But I have a good friend at Mira who has better numbers than I have and she was getting much lower advances. We tiptoed around it but when she told me what she was getting I shared my advance numbers. Because she needed to know that’s what she could and should be paid.
    Yes, other things factor in. And the internet is a little too public for a lot of stuff, which is why conferences are good for sharing. Publishers would rather we keep quiet about such things — it gives them the upper hand.
    But as someone said earlier in this interesting thread, we are NOT their employees, much as they would love to believe it. And speaking out, as long as you realize how far your comments are going to travel, is one of the few ways we can make that clear.

  102. Termagant 2
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 09:53:15

    “Just as an author has the final authority to “stet” editorial changes to his manuscript, the publisher has the final say on packaging.”

    Agree with the second part of the statement. Disagree with the first, since it’s not true in all cases.

    I have an upcoming release in which I was asked to make changes and to accept pieces of text written in “for me” by the editor. I did accept most of them, disagreed with some, so left them “stet” in the submitted final draft.

    I got an irritated communication asking why I had not accepted the editor-written content and had I deleted any more of the editor’s writing, and if so, why?

    I never before believed any author who claimed he didn’t have final approval of the MS. We’re negotiating some of the content as I write this, but I don’t expect to win this battle. Always before, I was asked to accept changes to my work, not commanded to.

    Now, in mentioning this, am I prepared to air ALL my dirty laundry in public? No. I think we authors have to walk a middle ground between truth and our own best interests.

  103. Jane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 09:57:31

    @Anne Stuart Generally speaking, I agree that the advances and money end of the business don’t do much of a service shared publicly but one area in which I would disagree would be this. Some publishing houses offer really, really low advances. Like $1,000 or $2,000 per book. In today’s day and age, writers who are embarking on publishing the first time really need to have that information in order to make a good business decision regarding what direction to take their work particularly if you can self publish through Amazon and get 70% of the profit or if you can go with a digital house and get 40% royalty.

    I’m not saying that it needs to be shared on a reader blog but that it is information that could really be helpful if it was made public maybe at Editorial Anonymous or Publishing Perspectives or something.

  104. Edward G. Talbot
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 09:57:52

    Really interesting post and comments. A lot of stuff I agree with even in comments that are taking opposing viewpoints. My thoughts on some of the topics:

    1.I have seen worse than the French cover, but not much worse. My own personal opinion is that it sucks. I’m not sure I’d want to try to make the distinction between cultural differences and principles, though. Maybe this is in fact just a lazy cover – probably it is. But if the publisher claims that this image conveys intrigue and suspense in France, this becomes just a basic disagreement. It sounds from Barry’s post that the publisher has not said anything one way or the other about their reason for it.

    2.Publishers/authors/covers in general. This was the most interesting piece of the discussion. I don’t think you can separate the context of the cover problems and the flap over bad reviews on kindle from the state of the industry as a whole. Barry pointed out in one of his comments something about “the free market,” and I think that is a critical piece of most of the heated discussion about publishing in recent years. In a lot of ways I think both authors and publishers have failed to truly accept what that means.

    I am sure I will head off on a tangent her, but so be it. For a while there, publishers had a not completely inaccurate view that they were the business part of the relationship and authors should just write. Think about most of the trends bemoaned by authors – harder to get published, diminishing advances, fewer midlist titles, more thrown at a few big fish, less focus on good books and more on what could sell. Publishers could justify all of these by saying they had to make a profit.

    Over the past decade, though, publishers have started to feel the squeeze as well. Between Amazon, ebooks, and the consolidation of bookstores, their margins are falling. And if they are not being willfully blind, publishers can see the trend accelerating, along with POD (and even in-bookstore-POD) at some point actually starting to attract bigger authors. I am not suggesting, as some are, the publishers are obsolete, but I suspect their roles are going to have to shift. That same free market that was biting authors is now biting them.

    It’s gotten harder for authors as well. In recent years, marketing has really come to the forefront. It hasn’t been enough to just write for a while now, but these days marketing by an author is almost as important as the writing. Maybe more in some ways. And some authors feeling the various squeezes have a tendency to turn on each other. With the cover issue specifically, the more publishers expect authors to be out there marketing stuff, the more people like Barry are going to speak up about what they perceive as poor marketing decisions. If the publisher is trying to “use the words for their own purposes” as one comment suggested, they don’t need the other for anything except writing. Otherwise, it needs to be a cooperative effort and places where one party or the other has more power are going to be increasing sources of tension no matter how much logic one tries to use to suggest otherwise.

    And yes, many authors are ignoring the reality of the free market as well. For every published author, there are plenty of unpublished authors. The reality is that most of them will not get published unless they do it themselves, so they start giving away ebooks and other stuff free. Published authors argue that it is not sustainable when the reality is that the whole larger model is not sustainable when even most published have to do it “on the side” of something that generates a living wage. That is not to suggest that published authors are not on the whole better writers than those who aren’t – they are IMO. But in the “all or nothing” current model of publishing, unpublished authors are giving away what the model is telling them has zero value anyway. It is the most logical thing in the world and certainly will continue.

    So the problems discussed throughout this thread all stem from the nature of the publishing model. Bad covers come mostly from cutting corners and occasionally arrogance. Unjustified 1 star kindle reviews come from publishers either making the conscious decision to tolerate them or displaying ignorance in not recognizing that consumers will use whatever tools they have to register disagreement. Authors attacking other authors comes mostly from the increasing squeeze in all areas of the business. And authors speaking out or being afraid to speak out comes from that as well.

    I’m happy to see people speaking out and I also completely understand those who don’t want to. I personally would not leave a 1 star kindle review in the manner that has occurred, but I don’t fault those who do. The sky is not falling on publishing, but to extend the metaphor, it is raining. And it’s not all that surprising that people who write, edit and produce words will have conflicts over the size and shape of the raindrops.

  105. Gennita Low
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:08:03


    Sure, you and other readers can talk about it. In fact I find it interesting because your views give me lots to think about. But that doesn’t mean I’m expected to talk about it in public or feel the need to answer every single internet query about publishing stuff. I leave that to more eloquent and knowledgeable folks ;-).

    Yeah, having people recommending my books is about selling, but I don’t get the point (and I’ve seen various versions of this here and elsewhere, as if there is a threat over those who won’t do it) that authors “want their readers to sell their books for them.” We want people to love our work, no question, but every time someone recommends us, or take time to write a good review, or handsells our book, we are grateful and surprised because we don’t* expect that. Or, at least, I don’t. Reader generosity is the best gift from writing, IMHO.

    Also, I’m a reader too. I recommend my fave books all the time and certainly don’t see it as that particular author’s expectations of me.

    Oh, one more thing about covers, re: Eisler’s. The first thing authors talk about is not the artwork but how BIG the author’s name is in relation to the title and cover ;-). Ck out Evanovich’s covers. Barry, if you’re still reading, get the British publisher to enlarge your name on the covers (sparkly BARRY EISLER //sparkly with cowbells //tongue-in-cheek). Just a suggestion, of course.

  106. Jane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:20:31

    @Gennita Low What is “We want readers to talk about our books and recommending them, and buying them for friends and family, not about the art of selling books. Really, it's that simple.” if not asking readers to sell your books? I’m not sure I understand the difference you are talking about.

    As for your broad generalization of “feel the need to answer every single internet query about publishing stuff”, I think that mischaracterizes the question which isn’t about whether authors need to answer every single internet query about publishing stuff or to talk about everything and sundry on the internet. The question is whether there is a culture of silence. Is that what professionalism is? Is that what it should be? Does it help or hurt? Is it in contradiction to the desire by authors for readers to viralize their works?

  107. DS
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:25:10

    @Kalen Hughes:

    I think it's most likely about no one wanting to be dragged into someone else's negotiations :Well I know So&So got $$$ for her last contract, and I want that too! Also, it may be about trying to keep a lid on the jealousy factor, which can be a bugaboo for authors.

    I worked for a place that made it a firing offense to discuss salary. When an accidental reveal was made– by the boss no less– it was instantly clear that some salary differences were based on impermissible factors. Changes were made.

    I don’t see how the knowledge about the terms of someone’s contracts or sales would harm other authors. I can see how authors not knowing would be to the advantage of the publishers.

  108. Maili
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:33:27


    I worked for a place that made it a firing offense to discuss salary. When an accidental reveal was made– by the boss no less– it was instantly clear that some salary differences were based on impermissible factors. Changes were made.

    I don’t see how the knowledge about the terms of someone’s contracts or sales would harm other authors. I can see how authors not knowing would be to the advantage of the publishers.

    Agreed. A similar incident took place at one of my workplaces some time ago (about seven years ago?). We accidentally discovered that in general, men earned 20-40% more than women.

    This means in some cases, female executives earned less than their male assistants. This oversight was quickly corrected as it was in violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1970. But I digress.

  109. Anion
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:44:56

    @Termagant 2:

    Termagant, I don’t know what house you’re with or who your editor is, but that should NOT be happening. If it’s a NY house and you have an agent, you need to start complaining, loudly, immediately, and get that agent to step in. That’s a big part of what they’re there for.

    If it’s a large ehouse, contact someone higher-up.

    If it’s a small or new ehouse, pull your book; if they’re that amateurish they probably won’t be able to sell many copies for you anyway.

    All that said, I did have an editor who did that to me, back before I realized how wrong it was. I let some of the changes stand (at least I knew enough not to let them all stand), but on our next book together I insisted the editor not do that again, and CCd my agent on the email.

    And, frankly, it’s a large part of the reason why I told my agent I no longer wished to work with that editor.

    (Forgive me if I seem to have assumed you’re new at being published. It’s not my intention to treat you like you don’t know what you’re doing. Just, if you do happen to be new at it, you should know you don’t have to take that.)

    If you want, you can email me. Anonymously, if you prefer. Anion73 AT hotmail.

  110. Gennita Low
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:51:25


    “Want” does not equal “expect,” which IMHO, seems to be the bitter flavor of the month. What I (or fellow authors) want isn’t put onto a big billboard or blared out like some Ten Commandments Readers Must Follow. That’s what I meant.

    That doesn’t mean there aren’t some authors out there encouraging this as part of their promotional effort. And perhaps, by doing so, they’re inviting the image that they too should participate in the readers’ agenda (sorry, can’t think of a better word right now, so please don’t take it that I meant anything negative) and when they don’t, the readers start questioning their relationship.

    I don’t really have an answer to your interpretation of “culture of silence.” If I say yes, it’s “AHA!” If I say no, it’s “Well, why don’t you speak up?” And then I give you the same reply of not feeling the need to, etc., and then it’s “culture of silence” all over again.

    Certainly, there are authors who keep silent because it’s in their self-interest, but isn’t that true of anyone talking about their work in public? If I ask you about your pay and your opinion about your lawfirm, wouldn’t you coach your words with some care? I know you ignored plenty of intrusive questions about your being a lawyer in the early days of your blog. Was that you projecting a “culture of silence”? I didn’t think so, just figured it was professional courtesy on your part to not involve personal/business stuff on your blog.

    There are many authors who write/voice about about publishing stuff on their blogs. Viehl, Konrath, Rose, Lisle, Jaid Black, LKH, Monica Jackson, Somerville, Scalzi off the top of my head. Lots and lots of personal publishing experience out there–some of interest, some not so much–if you care to look. It’s just that they’re talking about other topics that interest them at this moment. For a culture of silence, these authors sure share lots of publishing knowledge.

  111. Patricia Briggs
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:55:46

    My parents were adamant to me that there were some things you did not talk about in polite company — politics, religion and how much you made. With close personal friends maybe, but not with acquaintances. Because all three are fraught with peril. If you make too much — people start looking at how you ought to be spending your money. If you don’t make very much — they look down on you.

    I am happy to tell people that my first advance, fifteen years ago, was $2500 — and my advances stayed there for the next four books. For the first twelve years of my writing career, I made less than $10,000 a year. I also know that the average reportable income for a person claiming writing as a profession is considerably less than that. These I am happy to discuss with the public, because I think it is important that people who are considering writing books as a career know this getting in. Writers, by and large, are not making a lot of money from their writing.

    I am now making more than that — mostly because of luck and timing, which are unpredictable. So sharing more than this is unprofitable for people who want to be authors — and seems more like bragging to me than sharing information.

    Patty Briggs

  112. Jane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:59:33

    @Gennita Low I am getting the sense that you think readers should say on their side, talking about books and recommending them to other readers, buying them for friends. That’s the reader’s role. To push for anything beyond that is intrusive and rude and there is enough publishing information to be shared that there is no culture of silence; no fear of speaking out.

  113. SarahT
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 11:09:38

    On most topics, I’m all for being frank. When it comes to income and professional contracts, absolutely not.

    Perhaps it’s a cultural difference. Is it normal to discuss salaries in the US? I ask because my mother is American and has always been very upfront about what she earns. Her Irish friends find this odd.

    Any contract of employment I’ve ever signed has expressly forbidden me from discussing my salary or terms of employment with anyone. While my freelance contracts were less stringent, it would never have occurred to me to reveal their content publicly.

    Are publishing contracts any different? Are authors allowed to discuss them in the public arena?

    Just curious.

  114. Gennita Low
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 11:11:01


    Not at all. Readers can talk about whatever they want. You guys are and I’m not complaining. Just saying that my not saying anything in support (or not) shouldn’t be interpreted as your definition of “culture of silence.”

    I’m not silencing you, Jane. No one can ;).

  115. Jane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 11:13:58

    @Gennita Low Of course, one person’s silence doen’t create a culture of silence. It’s the weight of an opinion as expressed by people in this thread and over at Editorial Anonymous, in past threads referenced by Angela, in the Anne Stuart incident and so forth that give rise the assumption that authors should be grateful for their contracts and not say anything to rock the boat.

  116. Jane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 11:16:57

    @SarahT There are mock drafts of contracts in several public books. There is a Random House exemplar in one of my legal form books. You can buy one from the Authors Guild. Contract terms are often spoken of in public (although perhaps not enough). Unless a contract contains a confidentiality clause, there is no legal impediment to speaking of them in public. Athletes’ contracts are discussed, music record contracts are discussed. The contract itself is nothing but a legal document apportioning responsibilities.

  117. SarahT
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 11:20:45

    @Jane: Thanks, Jane. Open discussion of contracts is likely a good thing, but it’s just something I’ve never considered doing because it’s such an ingrained no-no here, even in cases when there is no confidentiality clause.

  118. Jane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 11:22:57

    @SarahT As DS and Maili pointed out, not talking about the contracts helps the publishers far more than it does the authors but I think most authors don’t have the patience to read and understand their contracts, relying primarily on their agents to know and do what is best.

  119. Jane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 11:32:22

    @Gennita Low I’m curious why you construe this post as readers “wanting” v. readers “expecting” since you drew the distinction below about how authors want readers to do things but don’t expect them to?

  120. Robin
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 11:55:56

    I think it’s obvious I disagree with much of what was said in that Editorial Anonymous piece (although I encourage authors to read the part about how as long as you’re not showing up to your kids’ school drunk, publishers probably aren’t going to cut you, lol), but I love one passage that articulates for me why this issue is relevant here:

    And also for the record: those of us who objected to the cover were not objecting on the author’s behalf. We were objecting on the readers’ behalf. And especially on the minority readers’ behalf, because some of us understand how excruciating and demoralizing it is to children to be made to feel that they are the wrong color. This is a question completely outside of the author’s participation or non-participation. No matter who approved or disapproved that cover, no matter what was meant or not meant, that cover on this book was wrong.

    Mike Briggs talked about about authors being “chided” for not standing up for their “rights,” and it struck me right then that this — for me, anyway — isn’t about authors standing up for their rights; it’s about standing up for readers’ rights (or at least our interests).

    Which is why my examples of how readers feel pressured by publishers is relevant — in those examples, readers are being asked to step up to help *authors*. Indeed, this is precisely what Mindy Klasky said in her piece: she wanted readers to exercise options on Amazon “that don't jeopardize the sales -‘ and thereby, the careers -‘ of authors.”

    Okay, so there’s definitely some mutual back patting that’s going on here. Readers know that authors have to be able to write and to do it at a profit, if we are to get good books. And authors I’m sure think about writing the best books they can as a way to serve readers.

    But the cover issue is something that directly impacts readers, either by camouflaging something important or by manipulating us in a way that does not reflect what we get in the book, or merely by not reflecting well the contents of the book so we are “cued” to purchase it. Some situations are more critical than others, some more socially important.

    But when I compare, for example, the anger authors showed toward Harlequin after the Horizons announcement, that struck me as completely self-serving, and RIGHTLY so. Every time the reader’s interests were brought up, I didn’t buy it.

    Here, though, is an issue that actually serves BOTH readers and authors, and that, when we’re talking whitewashing, for example, may have an extra ethical or moral dimension, even beyond the writing publishing processes.

    None of that means I do not believe that authors shouldn’t publicly stand up for their interests; it just means that sometimes readers may want you to stand up for our interests, too, and I think there’s some of both being discussed here.

  121. Jackie Barbosa
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 12:00:13

    @Kalen Hughes:

    I think it's most likely about no one wanting to be dragged into someone else's negotiations :Well I know So&So got $$$ for her last contract, and I want that too! Also, it may be about trying to keep a lid on the jealousy factor, which can be a bugaboo for authors.

    Right. Although in my case, I doubt anyone would use my example in their negotions OR be jealous. LOL.

    If I ever manage to get another contract from another publisher, I may be a lot more willing to discuss the monetary and other aspects of my first deal, both good and not-so-good. In the meantime, I think it’s in my best interest to keep my own counsel. And I suspect a lot of other authors out there, whether under contract or between them, feel the same way.

  122. Gennita Low
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 12:18:26


    My lunch break is ending and alas, the roof needs me to cover it up. Pardon this very brief reply (and hopefully, I can come back later to read yours).

    My thoughts actually came from a compilation of posts from different times. The earlier post on the cover and this one prompted me to comment because I felt a need to point out that many authors don’t voice public opinion is not due to out of fear.

    IIRC, in an earlier post, you gave a list of what you felt authors expect readers to shoulder (buy only new bks, don’t pirate, etc.) and it occurred to me that perhaps many readers, like you, think authors’ wants = expectations. You’ve said this before, in various ways, and most of the conversations usually end up with “you don’t understand,” and “no, YOU don’t understand,” ad infinitum. I wanted to just add my piece, that I DO understand the frustrations from both sides because I’m both–reader/buyer AND author. It’s just that posting as Gennita usually gets read as me with my author hat on. Maybe I’ll start posting as B :).

    Other side of coin: What do readers want from authors? Do they expect the authors to comply every time? (Re: NO DRM, criticize your publisher publicly and not privately, express social/moral ethics at every injustice being discussed) From some comments on your blog, my conclusion is yes, and if compliance is not what is expected, then it’s another series of debates.

    Hope I’m making sense. Writing in a hurry here.

  123. DS
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 12:20:22

    @SarahT: Maili and I both gave examples of situations where the silence about salaries was being used to hide something unsavory.

    While my Victorian grandmother did not discuss money– she also thought women should be in the paper no more than three times– birth, death and marriage– but too much silence can result in allowing the continuance of inequities.

    And @Patricia Briggs:

    My parents were adamant to me that there were some things you did not talk about in polite company -‘ politics, religion and how much you made.

    If it hadn’t been for religion and politics there wouldn’t have been a whole lot to really talk about except our neighbors’ doings. Politics, religion and money were the meat and drink of my family.

  124. Barry Eisler
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 12:26:14

    This is a great discussion — thanks again, everyone, for sharing your thoughts.

    One thing I thought I made clear in my letter, but that I guess bears repeating: the fact that a given person likes a given cover isn’t the point. In fact, in itself, it’s irrelevant. As I said in my letter, I understood from the beginning that some people would like this cover. Nothing could be more predictable — because some set of people will like any cover. To put it another way, it is actually impossible to make a cover that will appeal to no one.

    Think about that for a second. All covers will appeal to some people.

    We can now draw one of two conclusions: either all covers are equal because any cover will appeal to some people; or the fact that some people like a cover is itself irrelevant to the question of whether the cover is likely to be effective.

    The biggest mistake publishers make with covers (beyond outright laziness) is to confuse their subjective taste with an objective analysis of what is most likely to work. “I like it” or “it speaks to me” or “I think it’s great,” if not followed by an objective analysis of *why*, is neither helpful nor a good indication that you’ve come up with something likely to be effective.

    If you want to design an effective cover, you need to be able to separate subjective and objective elements.

  125. A
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 12:32:33


    1. Dolamore didn't have to say anything. In fact, I wouldn't have excoriated her for not saying anything. Her statement was what actually got me riled up in that she wanted to write about POC, use exoticness in her book, but didn't want to recognize that having a pale girl on the cover would be an issue for readers.

    Since “Magic Under Glss” does not feature a “pale girl” on its original cover art (I own the book,) the above is a non-issue.

    It’s becoming quite clear, though, that this “authors should be outspoken” business is somewhat selective in the minds of this blog.

    Numerous times, different authors have attempted to discuss their work and/or the publishing process from the author’s perspective at DA, only to be warned off and advised “this is a reader’s blog” (an exceedingly ignorant comment given that writers are also readers)and that “readers are uninterested in knowing how hard authors work” and other comparable comments.

    Evidently authors are supposed to “speak out” but not in an informal environment like DA and not via any any entity to address matters about which DA feels they are supposed to remain silent.

  126. roslynholcomb
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 12:58:51

    @Angela: I’m not really sure what that’s all about Angela. I remember when my first ebook came out I was concerned about the numbers. I wasn’t really sure what the average was so I asked on an author loop. I got a lot of generalities and such, but no specifics. Interestingly enough, I got a lot of private emails that gave more specific information. (This was before I discovered EREC and thank God I did.)

    As I said before I don’t think I would ever criticize an author for challenging their publisher on an issue. As I said before, I certainly went to war publicly with a former publisher and would do so again if I felt it was necessary. Each of us has to choose what we’re willing to fight for. Obviously, it’s a personal issue. I’m not sure why we would believe that publishers are sacrosanct. Of course, we run the risk of being ostracized, but presumably we’re all grown ups and that comes with the territory.

  127. JA Konrath
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 07:56:55

    “I like it” or “it speaks to me” or “I think it's great,” if not followed by an objective analysis of *why*, is neither helpful nor a good indication that you've come up with something likely to be effective.

    Taking that a step further, how many other companies survey their consumers? There are 3rd party companies that exist solely to figure out what people want. If you’ve ever been asked to fill out a survey in a mall, or after seeing a movie, or if you’ve ever taken a taste test, or been part of a paid research group, you know that a lot of companies actively try to figure out what the consumer wants.

    How hard would it be to do three mock-up covers with different ideas and present them to readers? How much money would it cost to take a single piece of cover art, pass it around the office (without the author’s name or title on it) and ask the employees what they thought of it? Or what they thought the book was about based on the cover?

    There isn’t a single food product launched in the US without extensive consumer testing on taste, package style, portion, and demographic, among other criteria. Companies spend tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on logo designs, which may not appear any larger than a fingernail on a product.

    That a publisher would pay a lot of money for a book, and seem to have zero concern for if it ever earns back that money by producing a terrible cover like this, is inexcusable.

  128. My First Sale by Barry Eisler | Dear Author
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 04:01:44

    […] to back at DearAuthor, and Jane, thanks for the invitation.  No discussion of execrable book covers this time; instead, I'm going to briefly describe how I first got published, with an eye toward […]

  129. Billy-Shane Duquette
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 17:29:28

    Well done. Excellent idea for future book covers. I’ll be judging your self-published book covers extremely critically now. ;)

    My expectations are high!

  130. Barry Eisler: Now Playing on “Team Indie”
    Mar 25, 2011 @ 12:59:36

    […] stupid and that’s costing you money — something like, say, saddling your book with a closeup of an olive green garage door, or writing a bio that treats your date and place of birth as a key selling point, or […]

  131. Ian Bradley Marshall
    Apr 04, 2011 @ 18:09:00

    A very valuable piece of research here. All thanks to Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath

  132. Toni Barca
    May 09, 2011 @ 18:22:43


    Loved this article, it made my laugh in a haha sort of approach. I’m half french, and was raised in Paris. The book covers in the french publishing are infamous, sometimes not being any more colourful then a beige cover with red and black writing (see some of Galimard’s old runs)-Anyway, what I want to know is did they listen to Barry who wants a win win or did they go ahead with the aforementioned cover??? I am curious as hell…

  133. The Importance of the Cover
    May 16, 2011 @ 16:18:41

    […] and finally had to resort to public criticism.  The letter and discussion can be found at Dear Author and makes for some interesting reading.   If he can’t get a publisher to listen to him, just […]

  134. Dustin Ashe
    May 17, 2011 @ 06:44:53

    Great article! I scratch my head at some of the covers that make their way through the big publishing houses & end up in bookstores. The indy scene is even worse at times. Your cover is important! You don’t have to have me design it (although that’d be awesome :), but at least find someone who knows what they’re doing! It’s rough out there.

    Indy Armada – Design for Independent Writers

  135. Suzanne White
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 00:09:50

    I am an American author. I have lived in France for 50 years. I’ve always published simultaneously in Paris and New York or San Francisco. French people will not buy a book with action blood and gore splashed on its cover. They might read it because they know the author’s work or if they are curious to know more about an American writer. But they are not action blood gore exotic location people. The difference is cultural.

    Notwithstanding, publishers everywhere impose their lousy cover art taste on authors. We never win. Not for jacket copy. Not for number of pages. Not for no commas before “and” in a series. Not for nothin’. We are authors. Printing press fodder.

    That’s why Joe Konrath makes such good sense. He’s The Che Guevara of book writers. Now, after 30 years of indentured servitude, we authors can not only write our own books our way. But we can choose our editors, sub contract cover designs, make savvy decisions about how our books will be presented and even decide at what prices they will be sold. And we get paid for what we sell. Handsomely. Every month. Not begrudgingly twice a year – always late.

    Konrath said it first. If our books are good, they will get bought. If they stink, they stink.

    French publishers are like the rest of them: stingy and self-righteous and arrogant. And – despite their monumental failure to stand behind their authors – disgustingly pleased with themselves. Qu’ils crèvent!

  136. The Detachment by Barry Eisler | Rss Blog List
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 15:36:11

    […] a Poor Receptacle For The Head, and Be The Monkey. Then look at what my erstwhile French publisher saddled me with. Coincidence? I think not. Joe: How about the marketing? Barry: They have a comprehensive […]

  137. Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About | Writing and reading fiction |
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    […] Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About […]

  138. Write Well, Write To Sell - Self-publishing 2011: A year of changes and face-offs
    Jan 02, 2012 @ 21:00:28

    […] to shift to electronic copies, physical stores became less important. Authors didn’t dare criticize their publishers for fear of repercussions that would brand them as […]

  139. Pragmatism Reigns: A Conversation With Barry Eisler | Books & Publishing News
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 12:52:11

  140. Eisler & Konrath Vs. Hachette | Rss Blog List
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 13:25:33

    […] publishing marketing disasters it’s hard to know where to begin. So why don’t I just point to: The Green Garage Door (viewer discretion advised).Joe: I gotta say, with so many books losing money, so many authors […]

  141. Crappy Book Covers — What’s An Author to Do? « mmromance
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 14:41:29

    […] So if you’re a reader who’s ever wondered, what on earth is up with that cover, read this. Here’s a taste: Will authors ever feel free to criticize publishers? Should they?   Should […]

  142. Giselle London
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 16:05:01


    That cover is bad compared to 60 percent of poorly-made INDIE covers! My first day using GIMP, and being computer-illiterate and knowing nothing about graphic design, I came up with a cover 1000 times better than that hideous garage door with plain fonts and nothing more than a simple drop shadow on the fonts! Geez, I spend a day on my covers, and some of them I’ve pieced together objects by hand because I couldn’t find stock art I liked. And those other covers at the bottom are 1000 times better than the garage door cover. That’s saying something.

    Man. I might see that cover in my nightmares tonight. What were they smoking when they came up with THAT?? And how on earth did the editors approve of it? I’ve seen worse covers on horrendous indie books, but on a real publisher’s book?? Wow. Just…wow.

    Barry, you have my sympathies. I hope they changed it.

  143. ¿Quién elige la portada de tu novela? | El blog de Paul Pen
    Apr 16, 2013 @ 05:56:13

    […] editorial extranjera había sacado al mercado la traducción de una de sus novelas, que decidió escribir una carta abierta a esa editorial para dejar las cosas claras. La portada fue […]

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