A couple people have emailed me asking about whether or not the artists read the books and why doesn't the cover imagery always match the text. It’s a question that I get at every convention so...
I think, to some extent, we currently get blamed for sins of the past. I know that “back in the day” it was fairly standard practice to place any painting on a book cover but that rarely happens at this point. What we do, occasionally, have is lack of information at the time that you need it. As the big bookstore chains asked for sales material earlier and earlier, we were required to start creating the covers earlier and earlier. At this point, I need to be working on a title at least a year in advance of the publication date.
Still, most of the time we do have the manuscript, or a least a first draft that we can use. While most artists do read them, I cannot. Too many books need to be worked on at the same time to meet a catalog due date. I rely on the editors to give me a detailed synopsis and descriptions. We have a form that I ask them to fill out that describes the book, the characters, the plot, the tone. We don’t always want the jackets to be literal scenes from the book (what I call “chapter and verse” covers) sometimes we want more of a “mood” cover or a cover that evokes the story rather than gives an specific example from it. Which approach we take for a particular book is usually decided on in a fuzzy equation between the editor, myself, and how the Sales and Marketing departments want to position the book. In either case, these forms offer a springboard that lets me begin to think about the book and ask the editors more in-depth questions as I go.
Our main objective, of course, is to sell books. An author’s fan base will already buy the book. We need to catch the eye of a casual browser and turn them into a reader. That only gives us a few seconds to make a big impression. My goal is to do that without going so far as to contradict the book. In other words, reading between the lines should be fair game. For the most part, people understand and welcome that interpretation, there is, however, a segment of the sf/f community that does ask for one hundred percent fidelity to the text. We once had a cityscape on a cover. The editor and author loved the artwork....but the fact that one stairway in the art was not described in the book kept eating away at the editor. In the end, he had the author write it into the book. This was inexplicable to me. I don’t imagine that the book described every brick and window that the artwork showed, but, that staircase had to have some textual origin for him.
I don’t require that an artist read the manuscript. Remember, they are often juggling many projects at once -- an author may work on one novel and a few short stories throughout a year, an illustrator will often work on a few hundred covers, gaming cards, and various other projects in that same time. Still, many artists will read, or at least skim, the books. Even so, you’d be amazed how different people perceive the same words. On a number of occasions I've had the author, editor, and artist all have three very different ideas on what something/someone looked like. You'd think the author is the authority, except, if the other two readers both have completely different ideas, than clearly there is a discrepancy between what the author has written and what others are perceiving...Given ten readers, you may well end up with ten different interpretations on what a character looks like. If those readers were intrigued enough to pick up and buy the book, then the first and most important part of our job is done.
“A cover needs to capture the potential of the book as well as give a spring board to the imagination. If we are not careful, we can box in the reader -- give them too much and thus take away their own participation in the read.” Jon Foster
“I do want a cover that people can look back at as they're reading and appreciate...I prefer to create a painting that evokes the book accurately. That's a nice vague way of saying, sometimes a literal scene is preferable, other times you have to be more interpretive, usually because the book has too little visual crunchiness to make a good cover.” Todd Lockwood
“Personally, I think we are responsible for the audience's first and strongest impression of what the characters and their world look like. I feel we owe it to the readers for that depiction to be an accurate one. So, whenever possible, I read the manuscript and attempt to be faithful. However, ultimately it comes down to this: An illustrator's first goal is to make a good cover. His second goal is to make an accurate cover, though never at the expense of the first.” Daniel Dos Santos