The Bujold Nexus

Cover Stories

(the inside story) by Lois McMaster Bujold

This was originally posted to the Lois-Bujold Mailing List 19 Jan 1998

Komarr cover on Baen site

The cover up presently at the Baen website is the first of two versions of the cover art. Though it was quite well-painted, I had severe problems with the ways the characters were represented (though I liked the background), and Baen very obligingly (and at their expense, mind you) sent it back for a re-paint. While not as well-composed or executed as the original, the second at least came back looking more like the characters as described in the book; or at any rate, the woman looked very like herself, and the Miles face replicated the one on the Mirror Dance cover, which I've at least got used to by now. However, due to pressing time constraints, Baen had to go with the original painting for what are called the "solicitation proofs", the batch of dust jackets printed up in advance of the real printing to use to sell the book to all those middlemen.

The second cover painting is the one which is supposed to be finally used; at any rate, it had my vote. We'll see. Jim liked the first version and hated the second, I hated the first and preferred the second. The mob of people I showed both to split their opinions. Argh.

The moral of this story is, don't speculate too fondly upon the contents of KOMARR based on the cover art. There is no exploding flying cuisanart in the story, nor any redheads.

Ta, Lois.

This was originally posted to the Lois-Bujold Mailing List 8 Jul 1997

Hi, all --

I promised to give you some back-story on my covers....

So anyway, my first book sale THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE had got in over the transom at Baen in 1985 and been accepted, along with SHARDS and ETHAN. For reasons unknown to me Baen had in stock a piece of unused cover art by Alan Gutierrez originally intended, I was later told, for a Keith Laumer novel, which had not been used. This was "recycled" onto WA by sending it back to the artist to paint the Miles-figure in the command chair. Jim Baen was at the time quite uncertain if a short hero was going to sell, so was happy that Miles's height would be ambiguous that way... My (female) editor assured me that the Elena-figure was also going to be better clothed, but for some reason that never happened. The deed was done, and the Miles-figure was returned from the artist -- dressed, alas, in that "space nazi" black leather uniform which proved such a plague upon my books in the perceptions of people who hadn't actually read them thereafter. Sigh, grit. I was, however, assured that since this was a "wrap" cover (where the art goes all the way around onto the back), ordinarily more expensive, it would signal book middlemen (who don't actually read the product they handle) it was a "more important" book. Well, all right.

Because it was important to give the books a recognizable look, Baen went with Gutierrez for the other covers as well. I'm still not sure if SHARDS and ETHAN were stock art or commissioned for the books. The FALLING FREE cover of course was, as was the one for BROTHERS IN ARMS -- made to look like WA 'cause WA had turned in an excellent 70% sell-through, well above average for a paperback, and Baen hoped to make that happen again, please.

For reasons unknown to me BORDERS OF INFINITY then got that striking cover by Gary Ruddell, and went on to be my top-seller to date, quite unexpected since it was a collection and collections aren't supposed to sell as well as novels. Baen, trying to be responsive to all the whining about my covers (and not just from me) then embarked on a period of cover-art experimentation.

Letting the author in on the cover process isn't the cure-all, because I actually got to see the cover sketches by Tom Kidd for THE VOR GAME. I really didn't quite like any of 'em, but I didn't have any better ideas, so Baen chose the most dramatic-looking one. I had to content myself with the reflection that at least the Miles-figure wasn't dressed in black leather this time. Let's just say that Tom Kidd has done much better work.

About this time Stephen Hickman did that dynamite cover for McCaffrey and Moon's SASSINAK, which I admired loudly at the Boston Worldcon. So Baen got me Hickman, who did the cover for BARRAYAR. Whatever magic Moon got out of him was a frustrating near-miss on mine, alas. I then ventured into cover design by asking for the cover of THE SPIRIT RING to be just a close-up of the ring, on red or black background, and Hickman did the job you have seen. Via a long 'nother story, I was finally breaking into hardcover with THE SPIRIT RING, and Baen did another experiment with the dust jacket, choosing what looked in the office like a striking velvetly-black finish. Unfortunately, it proved to be quite fragile and rubbed off showing white underneath, so brand new hardcover books came out of their shipping boxes looking battered and used, which didn't help those sales any; THE SPIRIT RING had a poor sell-through in hardcover, setting me up for problems later. I thought the cover looked classy, but it sure didn't sell the book.

Michael Whalen gets more for a piece of cover art than I got as an advance for any of my first seven novels, so I figured it would be useless to ask for him. So, OK, I said, let's try something that did work to sell the book, let's try Gary Ruddell again. At least he usually had a slightly more sophisticated, adult-looking style than one or two of the other guys.

Thanks to the science fiction convention Boskone, which brought us both out as guests, I have actually had a chance to meet and talk with Gary face-to-face. Baen gave Gary my phone number, and we have had several pre-art talks about cover designs. I never have had a good idea to offer when he calls, particularly for the new cover for THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE. I mumbled around about it being a very important book to the series, but didn't quite muster the nerve to say, "Gary, I want you to paint something as good as Michael Whalen". What we got has some roots in a garbled description I gave him of my Japanese WA cover. Yeah, I can see what I said -- it just wasn't what I meant...

Gary is blond, by the way -- I keep wondering if that has anything to do with Miles's sudden change of hair color. He does read the books, and says he likes them.

I liked the MIRROR DANCE cover thematically, but of course three thousand people have come up to me and said, "That looks like ENEMY MINE"... Yes. I know. Shut up.

I did have a long phone talk with Gary prior to the CETAGANDA cover, too, to good effect I think, except if I'd known he was going to do the two facing profiles again I'd have told him not to. Other than that I think CETAGANDA's a pretty successful piece of art. Except now I finally put Miles in a black suit in the text, he got painted in his Dendarii grays, which he of course wasn't wearing in that book... There are certain traps inherent in trying to discuss visual images over the phone, and I've fallen into several of them.

I do think both Gary and the Baen designer did a bang-up job on the MEMORY cover; I thought it was just spectacular. If only Baen had printed more books...

Baen keeps bracketing the target on my hardcover print runs. SPIRIT RING had a generous one, and was an embarassing failure. MIRROR DANCE, following, had a tight one, and so they ran out of books in the warehouse -- sixteen days before the book was even officially released. Baen did a small second printing to close the gap. They now have some modest quantity in stock again from returns, so the book is still actually available in hardcover. CETAGANDA I don't have numbers on, but they had plenty of copies. MEMORY they under-printed again -- they ran out in January, and are now going on fumes, re-cycling returns as fast as they trickle in. No paperback till October, and so it's hard for people to find copies of my Hugo nominee to read before the voting... It's so frustrating.

Let it be noted, if you want a copy of the hc MEMORY by now you have to order it. It will not be spontaneously appearing in bookstores any more. It's too old and there aren't any left.

And people wonder why writers tend to be manic-depressive.

Ta, Lois.

PS -- Foreign covers are a whole 'nother story too. I try not to get emotionally involved at that distance, but some of them are extremely, um, bemusing. I will let people who've seen 'em on the hoof discuss them, if they want to.

© 1997-98 by Lois McMaster Bujold

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