First, business and gloating...
You will have surely noted that I now have forty followers. Thanks to Jason for making it a nice round number. (And for choosing Ponch as your image.) I've been a little lax in welcoming the new people, so without further, welcome to Amy, Katie, and MG Higgins. May your presence here lead to my eventual domination of the Webosphere.
Also, I co-won a contest and I'm getting a book! Bully for contests, books, and especially winning.
Now, there's been quite a bit of hubbub over the cover for Justine Larbalestier's novel Liar. Most of you have probably already heard about it, so I'll keep this part short. Liar's main character is a black girl. The cover of the book shows what is quite obviously a white girl. The decision was made by the publisher because they presumably have some data that show white girl covers sell better than black girl covers. (You can read Justine's much more detailed take on this here.) Naturally, lots of people are offended. They're probably right.
At Pub Rants, Agent Kristin Nelson shares a story in which an editor gives her a heads up regarding the cover of a client's book in a publishing catalog. The editor wanted the agent to know that the sucky cover wasn't going to be the real cover because no one likes sucky covers.
In fact, lots of writers and agents really kind of freak out about sucky covers. Now, since I don't want to be called a hypocrite in the event that I ever, you know, actually publish a book that has a sucky cover, let me say that I get it. I especially get it if it's a writer's first book. We writers read a lot of books. We spend a lot of time in bookstores looking at covers. We know what sucks. And we don't want our babies coming out of the womb and greeting the world looking like Eric Stoltz in Mask.
So I get that covers are somewhat of a big deal.
But, let's not overdo it. If your book blows, then I don't care how great your cover is, your sales are going to eventually taper off (if they were ever robust in the first place). And let's be real. Most of the covers these days are at least decent. Yeah, you see some stinkers on occasion, but most of them aren't awful. And not all of them are going to be bestsellers.
Conversely, if you write a real knock-out, you're going to sell books no matter how terrible the cover. Evidence:
Those covers suck. Real bad.** Moral of the story: Writers should worry about writing a really compelling book and stop worrying so much about other stuff. ***
*Yes, picky, I know that this isn't the original cover for Catcher, but it is the one most of us are familiar with and I'm guessing you probably did the same thing I did when I first picked it up. "This is what everyone's so jacked up about? Pssh, nice cover."
**I'm sure some of you are tempted to disagree and come at me with some jive about the merits of minimalism or how the lack of a flashy cover actually supports the themes of the book. Bah! These covers stink. Don't let what's inside change that fact.
***Unless the other stuff is a controversy that allows you to take the high road and make it seem like you're much more interested in the integrity of your work than in your sales, all while making the big bad, faceless, for-profit publishing industry the bad guy and maybe even assuaging some white guilt.