Welcome to our first installment of (In)expert Advice, in which I, an avowed non-expert, tell people what to do anyway - and then have an actual expert weigh in on my advice! This column is made possible by my wonderful Patreon supporters. Got a question for us? E-mail me!
Today we've got a question about the world of publishing, so our guest expert is Kate Testerman, lit agent extraordinaire and founder of KT Literary. Follow Kate on Twitter and check out what the agency's up to on Facebook!
(Note: This question originally came from Twitter, so I've paraphrased for clarity and anonymity.)
THE QUESTION: An author just got the proposed cover art for her new book and she likes it, but there's a detail wildly wrong - let's say the main character's dog is the wrong breed. It bothers her a little but she's not too upset. Should she bring it up to her editor? Will readers be mad about it?
MY INEXPERT ADVICE: Okay, I have a few thoughts here. First of all, the straightforward answer to the first question: Sure, mention it. If they're asking for your feedback, I see no harm in saying "It's really cute, but would it be a big hassle to change the dog to xyz to match the text?" Maybe it would and maybe it wouldn't, but you might as well find out.
But then... I'd try to let it go. In a pragmatic sense, it doesn't seem like you care about it enough to make this a hill you want to die on - and I agree that cover art generally shouldn't be, as long as it's not an issue like whitewashing. I am in no way saying that you should let people walk all over you, but as in any business (or personal, really) situation, you want to pick your battles and not make such a big deal over something non-essential that you risk the people you're dealing with gaining a negative impression of you (earned or not). Save that for the things you care about deeply.
And in a larger sense: I think the sooner you can practice letting go of tangential things readers might complain about, the better. Most readers will not care about the cover, or at worst will notice the dog breed is off but not be so rude as to yell at you about it. But there exists a small minority of readers who will always find things to which they object, some of which are mostly or entirely out of your control - the cover, the font, the price, the shipping time. (That might actually be easier to deal with than those who yell at you about things like your plot or characters. That will happen too! People are terrible.)
Interacting with readers is great, but in order to keep that up in a healthy manner as your career progresses, it's useful to create a bit of emotional distance. You don't owe anyone anything beyond what is in the book. If someone asks politely about the cover, you can tell them that authors aren't in charge of covers. Maybe they don't know! If someone is rude about it, you can ignore them. The fact that a person has purchased or read your book does not override your right to basic civility.
But really: Most readers are great and supportive. The rest will find something to be mad about no matter what. It's not your problem. Try not to take it personally. Good luck!
THE EXPERT WEIGHS IN: Kate's response is on the nose, though I will note that there's a couple of other variables that may affect whether or not your editor can do anything about it when you bring up your concerns. First of all, what type of cover is it? If it's an original piece of artwork commissioned for the cover, depending on what stage you see it in, you likely will be able to let the artist know that the dog is the wrong breed, and maybe even send along some reference images to help the artist correct the cover drawing. If the cover was shot for the book, you might have several images to choose from, but you're likely to be constricted by who and what was in the studio when the photos were taken. You can ask perhaps for some Photoshop, but if the publisher has already committed to a photo shoot, they may not want too much digital manipulation. Many covers, however, are some version of stock photos, and in that case, I would suggest doing some googling of your own on various stock image sites to provide further reference photos.
But really, if you can -- let it go. Most readers will understand that the author's responsibility begins and ends with the words on the page, and the cover and the rest of it is the publisher's responsibility.
THE VERDICT: Hey, my answer wasn't terrible! Yay! Thanks again for joining us, Kate!
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