Who Decides Titles and Cover Design?
How much say does an author have in the final decision regarding the title of a book to be published and in the artwork for the cover? And who are the people that come up with the design/photograph for the covers. Does each publisher have a team of people or a department that does this?
Good question. As with many aspects of publishing, there is no set answer. Remember that there are many different publishers and thousands of different situations, and no two are exactly alike. (This applies to many of the questions I get asked, by the way.)
Typically a first-time author without a lot of clout (i.e. they’re not a celebrity or other “hot” property) doesn’t have a contractual right to make final title and cover decisions and doesn’t have final approval of whatever the publisher decides.
However, most publishers do a pretty good job of at least consulting with the author on title and cover design. I’ve seen situations in which the author (even a first timer) and agent have gone back to the publisher with ideas for improving the cover/title, and the publisher has been quite willing to listen to the rationale and make changes. I’ve seen other cases where the publisher has said, “This is what we’re going with and it’s our final decision” even when the author hated the title or the cover, but those situations are less common.
Who decides the title? Usually a group of marketing people along with the editor, or maybe the editorial team.
Who designs the cover? Larger publishers have art departments with multiple designers who work full time designing book covers and ancillary materials. Small and mid-size publishers still usually have art departments, but they often outsource the actual creation of a book cover to a design group—an outside company who specializes in book covers.
Sometimes authors have very strong ideas about the title or cover they want for their book, and sometimes they have these before the book is even written. I want to caution you against holding too tightly to those preconceived notions if you’re pursuing commercial publishing. And definitely avoid sending ideas for cover art along with your query—the time to discuss the cover will be after you have an agent and a publisher.
Q4U: How much thought have you given to your own title and cover? How important is it to you personally? (As opposed to from a marketing standpoint.)
© 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent
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>I've never thought much about covers except that I want something which will properly convey what my story is about.
The title for my current ms is awesome hahaha. It popped into my head before I had even written the first chapter. I met with an agent recently and she requested pages before I was done pitching just off my title.
>I've gone so far as to make mock covers for one of my novels. Just in case I ever do have a say, I'll be able to show, not tell. 🙂
>This is good information.
Elements of my manuscript had been floating around in my mind, but when a title came to me that I liked, it set the rest of the manuscript on course. Having a working title, even if it's not the one that stays in the end, has helped me to sustain a tighter focus throughout the manuscript.
>My current manuscript has gone through several working titles – I hope I get to keep the current one because knowing my genre I think it works on a marketing level, but I wouldn't throw a tantrum if the publisher insisted on changing it to something even better 🙂
As for covers, I know my own limits as a designer, so as long as it's reasonably classy and not hopelessly inaccurate I really don't mind what they put on it. I've seen some hideous SF&F covers in the past (mostly on US editions, I have to say), with badly-proportioned, even anatomically-impossible people on them, so I'd be a bit upset if I got landed with one of those – but UK publishers are usually better than that. The past decade has seen some gorgeous covers (e.g. any of Joe Abercrombie's books) so I'm not too worried.
>I adore book covers! I think it's a great art form that is often under appreciated. The recent releases of 1984 and Animal Farm or gorgeous, as are the line of Cormac McCarthy books. All perfect examples of what to expect on the pages.
I've done a series of mock ups for various projects, I find it helps me think of it as an actual book. I posted a series of them on my blog a little while ago ( http://www.lyndoncr.com/blog/2010/11/24/evolution-of-a-cover.html ).
That said, I would have no issues if any publisher wanted to change it.
>Generally, I trust the publishing house to know what they're doing with regard to title and book cover. Of course I daydream, but ultimately, I have no illusions about the author's influence over the cover.
That said, I think the one thing I'd raise heck over would be the whitewashing of a character of color.
>What the f… do I care what they call my story or what artwork they put on the cover of the book. Their job is to sell the damn thing. Mine is to write the story.
…As if anyone is actually publishing first time authors these days, anyway.
>I have some covers worked up for my novels already, mostly because I figure it's so hard to get published today that I might have to self-publish first. I have a title for every novel I've written so far, and as far as the two I'm working on right now… I like the titles but I'm not particularly attached. I think they make a lot of sense and they're not too long or cheesy.
BUT. Should I get a contract and the publisher come up with better ideas than I have, by all means, I'll let them. 😛 But I would hope to have a say in it.
>Another great topic.
I always have a working title, even if it's just the name of the lead character.
Sometimes the first glimmer of an idea for a story is a title. I have a list of potential titles, as a matter of fact.
As an artist, I've also worked freelance on book cover design. I had the extreme good fortune to be involved not only with the publisher but with the author on cover design.
The Writer's Market has a section for artists, too. At least the edition I have lists publishers who accept freelance design work. I was quite surprised by that.
>I have ideas in my head of what I would like to see as my cover, but ultimately I think I'd love whatever the publisher could come up with- better than I could do! As far as title, I had that in mind before I wrote the book so that would be harder to change. But again, I would feel like the publisher probably knows best in these situations and what would sell best.
>Aamba: Sometimes the designers read the books, but not always. They're given a detailed rundown of important elements of the book – tone, theme, protag, plot elements, environmental elements, etc.
>Great question! I seem to get a title first before I ever have a story.And my stories seem to evolve from the title. That is just my process I suppose. It would be hard not to see the original title on the cover of my book.
Cover art is beyond me and that would be an area of great flexibility. I have no clue, what it should be, but I think I would know instinctively what I would not want the cover to look like
>I've never thought about covers, but I often use working titles while writing first drafts as a way of reminding myself what the central theme or problem of the story is and keeping on track.
>Great post! I'm fairly attached to my title but that's about it. I certainly wouldn't be completely opposed to changing it either. Thanks for the information.
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover
>I do give thought to my titles. Even if they change later coming up with a decent title can be a good marketing tool in the finding an agent and publisher phases. That said, I can't imagine hanging on tightly to my title if a publisher wanted to change it later. I mean they know the business and it's in their best interest to only make a change that improves the chances of success for my book.
As for cover art I used to think about it, but now realize it'll probably be out of my hands and other people are more talented at design than me. If something was designed that I was really against I would hope to be able to calmly articulate what objections I might have with my agent and go from there.
>Very interesting, Rachelle. Thanks for sharing! My latest wip is on its 3rd title, the first two tossed away based on advice from industry professionals. So I say if the marketing department has a better title that will get the book in more people's hands, I'll go for it. 🙂
As far as the cover, I'll leave it in the professionals' hands too, unless of course they try to put UFOs inside an Amish buggy.
>Ohhhh, this is a good post.
I just recently changed the title of my manuscript, the result of some gentle prodding. I was pretty wedded to my original title — it's even the name of my blog — so I had a really hard time coming up with something new. In my head I still think of it under the original title, but if it ever gets published, I am more than happy to go with something snazzier.
I left the blog title as is, so now they don't match, which is challenging for my OCD tendencies.
>I've always been curious, do the people who design the covers read the book?
>Thanks for the informative post! For most of my YA novels I write, since I'm also an artist, I really enjoy mocking up a cover for them. Some of them I'm more attached to than others, but I could let go. For the most part, I would expect a professional designer working for a publisher to come up with a more striking cover than I would!
>My publisher has been really great about this, and like Rachelle said, even as a first-time author they let me see different covers they were working on (they had about five different concepts they were considering) and weigh in with my favorite. There were a few I didn't like at all, and I was really pleased when they chose my favorite. It was pretty clear, however, that I was giving input and they were making a decision.
Right now we're in process of debating whether the title for my second book needs to be changed. I'm really attached to the current title (Night of the Living Dead Christians) but we're throwing around some other possibilities and doing some focus groups about it. At this point a lot of trust has built up between all of us, so I'm not really worried about it… I know they're trying to make sure my book gets the widest possible audience and that they'll at least take my thoughts into consideration in the process.
I will say that seeing the cover concepts is one of my favorite moments in the process… it feels like the book is almost "real" at that point!
>Love Beth's James Scott Bell hint of creating a cover to spur you on to the next level– which is exactly where I am. First draft waits in a drawer until Jan. 4 when I pull it out for fresh review.
I am fond of my working title, but as a marketing person, I know these things are a process. Maybe I'll get to collaborate and maybe not. Not a big deal.
>My title itself isn't really that important. I actually have a couple in mind, I just settled for the one I liked the best.
>It varies a lot from book to book for me. With the adult novel I'm pitching right now, the title came to me in a flash of inspiration early on, and I am totally attached to it. It's generally agreed to be a great title, so I hope I'll get to keep it. I have ideas for the cover, but nothing I would hold onto if the publisher proposed something better. What I DON'T want is the trend (which seems to be on the wane now, thank God) of featuring non-facial parts of a young woman's body. To me that's dehumanizing, and I hate it.
With the MG fantasy I'm revising, I have a working title, but I'm not particularly happy with it and would be grateful to anyone who could come up with a better one. I have absolutely no ideas about the cover except that it needs a custom illustration (which would be standard for fantasy anyway).
>Should my urban fantasy novel be published, I only have one thing I care about regarding the cover. The urban fantasy genre holds hands rather tightly with paranormal romance. Some novels I've read recently have been little more than soft-core porn.
My main character is NOT a sex kitten in leather, and portraying her on the cover as a very sexy maiden would make promises to the consumer that would not be fulfilled.
>I was fortunate that the team at Strang/Realms accepted my title for my series, The Ravensmoore Chronicles and for Book One, Secrets of the Heart. We'll see what happens with Book Two. 🙂 No cover art yet.
As others have said, I wouldn't get overly attached to title or art work. Keep the attitude of flexibility.
>One thing I really like about Nanowrimo is that for this event, writers are encouraged to make their own book covers and post them to their site. It's really fun to see what each writer comes up with, and I think it spurs them on to finish the 50k. They are proud of their good efforts, and I say, "Good for them!" James Scott Bell even suggests making a cover after you finish the rough draft and before you begin your revisions, with hopes that it will inspire you on the next leg of the writing journey. However, judging from the Nano efforts, there is no doubt that most writers lack the knowledge to make a well-designed cover.
In addition to this, most writers have very little idea of how little control they have once they sign the contract with the publisher. It's no longer just about them. There are plenty of people whose paychecks also depend on the success of the book, and each of these people have expertise which they contribute in an effort to secure the success of the published product.
So when it comes to covers and titles, the publisher won't always be infallible, but they definitely have more experience. At some point you have to give it up and trust them. Also, remember that it's not you against them. You're all working together as a team to make your book the best it can be. I believe the best thing an author can do is to relax and enjoy the professional creativity that he isn't responsible for that will enhance his book when it appears on the shelves. How fun is that!
>There are so many things that go into cover design- now with the increase of ebooks more publishers are considering how will this cover image look shrunk down to a thumbnail size as the person may never see it in a bookstore. If you have multiple books out there is consideration of branding (that is do your covers have a similar feel).
The cover designer for my publisher has been a dream to work with and I've learned a lot as we worked through three covers together. It's an entirely different art form
>I used to think about my cover art allot but realized I was obsessing about it too much. I wanted to make part of the contract that we (whatever agent I attain and I) would have last say. Although now I am seeing that there we as writers have much less control over things like this then originally thought. When everything is said and done this is all about respect, if an agency respects the writer they will give them the some leeway and take their creative ideas seriously. But that is also a two way street, the writer must respect the publisher and let them do their job without much hassle..
>I've (almost) accepted the fact that I'll have no control over my cover. But the title is important to me – it's something I think I'm good at. Hopefully the publisher will agree!
>I have some stand-alone books I'm working on that are also connected to each other (but not a series) and I've thought about titles lately.
As I'm working, I call the book what it is instead of by a "title" (for example, "the waiting book"), knowing the title isn't important at this point.
I do have ideas for a few titles, but I'm not committed to any of them. And since I'm still writing, I see "book covers" as the first pages of my manuscripts!
>One of my hobbies is graphic design, so I have covers for all my books already. I'm not so attached to them that I would freak out if a publisher didn't want the covers I made (I would likely be so excited over the contract itself that I'd be in a fog until the release date anyway). I have them so there SOMETHING visual to go with my pitch/blurbs on my website. Something that might give a better idea of the content than my crap titles (see below).
Titles are another matter. My historical romances are all based on constellations, and I've recently changed the names to sound more "romance-y" but I'll probably always think of them by their constellation. I'm terrible at coming up with names, so I've borrowed old Frank Sinatra songs and reworded a few of them to be astronomy related (Stars in the Night, for example). But like with the covers, I'm not too attached to the titles because to me, the books are Gemini, Libra, Andromeda, etc. Oh, and because I'm crap at coming up with titles. *grin*
>Oh boy…The title for my WIP came first. It's what inspired me. But I guess I don't have to worry about how the book looks until I finish writing it.
I think about my title a LOT, but if an editor wants to change it, that would be fine with me. They know how to market a book better than me, right?
As for cover art, I have no knowledge whatsoever of graphic design or anything like that, so I put absolutely no thought into what the cover of my book might look like, other than that I am sure my book will have a cover. Obviously, I would expect that if there is something glaringly wrong – like an Asian MC on the cover when the main character is supposed to be of African descent – I can politely ask the publisher to fix it. But this is their job, and I expect them to know a lot more about it than I do, and therefore be able to do a much better job of designing a cover than I can.
>Miles: Since you're a designer, the publisher may give more weight to your ideas, but it completely depends on the publisher. Some publishers would even be willing to have you go ahead and design it, and then submit to them. Keep in mind that there's a difference between having a good eye for design and knowing specific principles of strong book cover design, and the publisher won't know how good you are until you show them your work. I do have friends who've had tremendous input into their covers; one of my friends is an artist and her paintings have been the primary art on the cover of each of her novels.
Missy: There is no reason to "demand a different cover" because the artist got the hair wrong. In that case, you simply tell the publisher the hair is wrong and ask them to fix it, which they can easily do either with a different model or the magic of Photoshop.
Keep in mind that, while the protag's hair color may seem like a huge issue for the author, and of course it's important to get it right on the cover, it's not the primary issue a designer is thinking about then they're putting together the cover image. They're looking at so many other things – trying to capture a certain feel, a certain facial expression, or a particular arrangement of the cover elements. Sometimes they find a stock image of a model who is positioned perfectly (say, a 3/4 profile with a certain look on her face) and so they forget about hair color.
Then there are always those cases where the designer has been given the important elements of the book — who the character is, what she's like, what happens to her in the story — but nobody ever told the designer that "sleek blond hair" was an important feature.
In any case, the wrong hair color certainly doesn't indicate "such a wrong cover" and doesn't merit an overreaction, but it does require the author make sure the publisher get it right.
I've seen cases, however, where the hair color of the cover model didn't match the story – but the author liked the cover image so much, they changed the hair color in the story.
>I'm not firmly affixed to anything, except one detail–I write historical fiction, and my PET PEEVE is when well-researched HF novels have wrong-wrong-wrong covers. Clothes that just aren't correct to the period. Cute layered haircuts with bangs on the cover models–and it's supposed to be 1750 or whatever. It kills me. So–I secretly hope I someday can have veto power for authenticity purposes only on the cover. Because I would die of shame if it was my cover that had some chick wearing an ill-fitting polyester costume and a ridiculously modern hairstyle. I see that as a part of marketing–HF readers trust writers to be authentic, and the cover can really put one off.
>I hold titles and cover ideas loosely. On that glorious someday when I have a contracted book, I know the publisher's marketing and design teams will do all they can to ensure its success, so I'll give them the information they request from me and eagerly await the fruit of their creative efforts.
>Covers matter to me—a lot!! If I see a wonderful book cover I look to see who the publisher is.
I have seen some book covers that kept me from reading the book, even ones that I had promised to influence. Then when I finally read them I loved the story. I think one of my reviews has the title "Don't judge this book by its cover."
So to me this is all the more reason to want an agent to represent me. Those who think the agent is a waste of money are foolish.
>I'd be open to changing my title if the publisher came up with something better. I've always known that the cover typically doesn't get designed by the author so I haven't given my cover much thought. I hope that I'm given the opportunity to voice my opinion because I've heard of authors getting upset because they feel their cover doesn't match their book.
>The people at Abingdon have cooperated fully with me and with my agent when it comes to titles and cover art. Two of my four titles have been mine, the other two theirs. The covers they designed were great, although it took three passes to get the first one just right.
But the important lesson in all this, and one I'm glad you emphasized, is that it's not a good idea to fall in love with a title or a cover design. These folks are professionals, and this is their business. As I'm fond of saying, "You don't buy a dog and then bark yourself." Listen to the experts.
>Cover design is huge. It plays an important part in my book selection and many others who I know. I have to like it.
>I haven't really thought about the cover at all, of either of my WIPs – really don't care as long as it's not atrocious. Title is another issue. I LOVE my NF working title, but I wouldn't fight hard for it (maybe a BIT – but not hard). Fiction I'd be fine with a change. Great question, and post!
>I'm not a visual person at all. I haven't the foggiest notion of what kind of cover I want for my book that's been completed for over a year and is with an editor right now.
I usually do fine with titles. Nothing life-changing, but there's usually a simple phrase or word that I pick up somewhere in the prose that works for me as a title. But with he same completed book I have a title that I could live with if necessary, but I'd love it if someone else could get me past the title-block I have on this one and suggest something better.
I'm definitely looking forward to having the support of artists and professionals in the industry to handle all that other stuff that goes into publishing a book beyond the writing.
>I think Cover and Title are EXTREMELY important. As a lifelong reader of all types of fiction, I still browse bookstores by title/cover. I recently put a novel on Kindle (The Summoner by Layton Green), and am very curious to know how the title/cover appears to observers (whether it "matches" the book). I suppose I'll know by the sales…
>I'd never thought about covers for my books until a good friend designed one for me. As for titles–well, I tend to get titles pretty early on in the story, and most of them I really like. So I'll probably be ticked at the publisher once or twice if they want to change the title.
>I stalled at hot property, had a robust laugh and then kept reading.
I thoroughly enjoy brainstorming my titles and I have a blast imagining my covers. That said, I’m flexible. I’ve read enough to know how much input goes into a book before it’s published. I know I’ll value solid communication throughout the process.
>My publisher went with the title I came up with although they did have some back-and-forth on it. As far as the cover, I had given it some thought, but the cover they came up with FAR exceeded my expectations. I loved it!! They actually hired a really cool artist to work with their design team to draw it and then draw illustrations throughout my book. It was really fun to see. A few weeks after I saw my cover, the artist contacted me through my blog and sent me a blog article she had written about the thought process/design process she went through on my cover. It was REALLY cool to see what she did. If you want to see that, it's here: http://www.blupenny.com/blog/2010/9/27/sketchbook-stories-monica-lee.html
>I'm horrible at coming up with titles, so I always ask for my publisher's/editor's/agent's input. I began to suspect my ineptitude when I began calling one of my books by an acronym, which was "GUS-GUM." Luckily my editor came up with "Song of the River"!
>I'm a visual person, so covers have always been important to me. I realize of course that great cover art does not necessarily indicate a great book, but for me, an eye-catching cover along with an intriguing title makes me stop for a second look. So yes, I hope my book will have a great looking cover. And I do get attached to my titles. Of course, I'm always open to change if the publisher suggests a different one.
>I know a published author who demanded a different cover because the one sent to her did not match the story. The protag was a girl self-conscious about her big red hair. The cover had a girl with sleek blond hair.
How could such a wrong cover happen?
>This is spooky. I've been talking about this a lot lately, but I'm not the one who asked this question… You mean there are other Melanies out there?
>Giving the publisher ideas for my book cover was fun! I'm can't wait to see the cover and to know whether or not they followed my suggestions.
>I have no idea what my covers will look like someday. It's super fun to think about! As far as titles…it takes me forever to come up with a title I'm happy with. I have to remind myself not to get attached to them.
>I always have a working title. The book I’ve been working on the most recently started out with the title Cowtown Homecoming, but I changed the story significantly in the last few weeks and I considered other titles. I considered The Wrong Mother, but that title was used by someone a couple of years ago, so I thought, The Unwanted Mother, which led to Mother Unwanted before I settled on Mother Not Wanted.
I don’t spend much time on the cover until the story is written. There’s just too much that can change, but one of the joys of my publishing choices is that I get to design the cover. I think there’s a good argument for the author to be very involved with the cover design, whether the author has the skills to do it or not. The author knows the story better than anyone else. He knows what these characters look like. He knows the mood that should be conveyed by the cover. We may not want to just turn the author loose with Photoshop, but I believe the author’s input is very important.
>Boy, it would be nice to have the problem of a publisher not liking my title…
Anyway, I really like my current title because it seems like it took me forever to settle on any title at all, but I understand that I shouldn't get to attached to it.
As far as book covers, I know that there are some really talented artists and graphic designers out there who design covers for a living, know what they're doing and are good at it. So while I might have an opinion on the concept, I think I'd mostly leave it to the professionals and cross my fingers that the designer's tastes meshes well the content and tone of my book.
>I'm a graphic designer in my real job. I have a pretty solid idea for the cover of the novel I'm working on now. Do you think my expertise as a designer would lend me any sway in presenting my cover ideas?
>I'm like Shayda – very flexible about title, and not all that bothered about my cover. I would be disappointed if a cover blatantly misrepresented my novel's genre – I'd hate to have it look like a light teen romance.
>I'd be totally willing to change my title if an agent/editor (or even a friend) suggested a title that I liked even more than my current one.
I'm also up for pretty much anything with the cover–I tend to like a lot of different looks and would be happy with something really stylistic and thematic (like THE HUNGER GAMES) or something more character-oriented.
There are a few covers I've seen at the bookstore that kind of make me cringe, though. They're few and far between, but I would be crushed if my cover turned out looking like one of those.
>I give a generous amount of thought to titles and have never even imagined a cover to one of my novels. I would love to have some say in both, but if it's out of my hands I'll trust the powers that be.
>I hate coming up with titles. I would imagine the majority of the time the publisher's suggestions would be better than mine.
I once heard a published author speak on the title the publisher wanted (it was terrible), and the one she wanted. She pushed for her title and they finally agreed (and the book is much better off).
>Great answer. The small publisher I'm an intern for does have a small art department who handles most covers. However, if the author has an artist who can meet the standards required by the publisher, then they may be used instead.
I do tend to think heavily on titles because it really bothers me to at least not have a working title. I've accepted that the title may be changed in the future, but it really helps if during the time of writing I have something that I like. It was really difficult in March when I was writing a novel I had called Hero because I didn't like it as the title but couldn't think of anything better. Now, it has a different title and I'm much happier as I prepare it for potential submission.
On the other hand, even though I've studied art in college, I rarely think too much on covers. It was fun to have a mock cover for this year's nanowrimo but it's not a serious must have type of cover. In the end I'll wait till a publisher picks a book cover and not worry too much over it.
>I've already created a cover for my book that isn't even written yet. So, I guess you could say I've given it a little thought. Overall, it's just an idea, though, and I'm not opposed to a complete change.