Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Covers and Genres

I'm close to being done with the latest draft of the latest project. I just have a couple of chapters to rewrite, but they're the ones that will require a lot of rewriting. It's nose-to-the-grindstone time.

I haven't had any specific Enchanted, Inc. questions posed for the blog, but there is something that seems to pop up in e-mail a lot, so I'll address it here. I get asked a lot about the cover art, usually in the context of someone wanting me to hire them to illustrate my books.

That's not something I have any say over. I know nothing about how you break into the art business and start getting cover art assignments. I also don't have the clout to choose who does the art for my covers. I did have a little say over the style of covers on my books. When the first book was first bought, I had some long talks with my editor about how we wanted these books to look, and I sent her links to book covers I liked. The cover look I got was very close to what I'd imagined, and I love my covers, though I'm not sure they were the best way to go to sell the books in the long run.

When I first sold the series, back in 2004, the hottest trend in publishing was "chick lit." It had grown so big that it had started to splinter into subgenres, and they'd only just started doing some paranormal chick lit. Meanwhile, urban fantasy was barely on the horizon, especially not in the form it has eventually taken. There were the Charles deLint books and some of Neil Gaiman's stuff, but much of what we now think of as "urban fantasy" spun off the chick lit genre, with the mix of real life and fantasy, the snarky heroine and the romantic subplots that didn't necessarily follow the romance genre rules. My agent suggested we try to sell my series as chick lit rather than as fantasy because at the time, it didn't look like there was anything like it in fantasy. It was more likely to get more attention in chick lit. Those were the books coming out in trade paperback, being put at the front of the store and appearing in places like Target.

Thus, the chick lit style covers. I really liked the kinds of covers that appeared on British chick lit books that were more line illustrations than outright cartoons. I also, for some weird reason I'm not sure of, wanted the covers to be white. That does make them pop on the shelves, but the books also get really grungy really quickly (the copies in my library look awful already). The covers don't actually depict any characters in the books. The fairy who keeps appearing on the cover doesn't correlate to a book character. I did end up writing the frog guy into the books just because I liked him so much. The covers work more to convey the mood and style of the books. You see those covers, and you know what you're getting.

Of course, the chick lit genre completely cratered not long after the second book was published, so the bookstores cut their orders of similar books, which led to the decision not to publish more in the series after the two more that were already contracted. I think the fact that the publisher sees these books as chick lit and not as fantasy has a lot to do with why they're being so weirdly stubborn about not wanting more books. They've distanced themselves from that genre and don't want anything like it. I don't know if my career would have gone a totally different way if we'd tried to sell the books as fantasy. A lot of fantasy editors are big fans of the series, but I don't know if they'd have bought them to publish them at that time, and I don't know what the response would have been. I also can't imagine any other covers. I've got friends who do cover art, and we've had chats about that. The covers sort of pigeonhole them as chick lit and may have kept some fantasy readers away, but we can't think of any other style cover that would fit the books. I definitely can't imagine the Generic Urban Fantasy Cover -- the black cover with the tattooed chick in black leather, holding a weapon and looking back over her shoulder.

I guess this is my career Sliding Doors moment. Maybe there's a reality where we took the fantasy route and the books became fantasy bestsellers and I'm living a JK Rowling life. Or it's possible that in that reality the book never sold at all and I've had to go back to having a day job. Maybe this will turn out to be the best reality, after all, because those books help pave the way for the books that really make me famous. It's probably best to not spend too much time dwelling on that kind of stuff because it will drive me crazy. All I can do is focus on the future and keep writing.

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