I remember one of my seminary professors lamenting to us, his class, about the cover of his new book. I don’t want to get into specifics, but the point he made was that the publisher had chosen a photograph for the cover that didn’t fit very well with the very heart of his book. In fact, as I recall, it reinforced a certain shallow stereo-type that he’d been adamant throughout the book to reject. That was one of my first lessons in the limited power authors have over the publication of their own works. Another example I came across was a book where the title, though catchy and memorable, explicitly subverted the central argument of the book itself. In both of these cases, I can only assume that the marketing folks who worked on the packaging – like title and cover – hadn’t spent a lot of time in the text of the books themselves.
The cover for All My Holy Mountain has recently been unveiled on the series’ website, which you can link to here. As visitors to that site have seen it, some have reacted strongly, others not so much. Some like it, others not so much. All of them, though, seem to be engaging in the same speculative game of trying to figure out what it represents and what exactly “L.B. is trying to say” by choosing it for his cover.
Well, now you see where I’m going. I didn’t choose it for my cover, since ultimately, the cover wasn’t my choice to make. Throughout the process of writing and publishing The Binding of the Blade, P&R (my publisher) has frequently consulted me and asked for my opinion. I have appreciated that invitation to be involved, very much. However, my ideas have not always held the day, which is fair enough, since there are editors and marketers and the artist himself involved in the discussion. My main point here, then, is to say that it is a mistake to read too much into any cover, as they are often disconnected from the author, and sometimes from the book itself.
For those who are interested about my connection to the various covers in the BOTB series, I can say there are about 3 different levels of connection between my vision for the covers and what ended up being produced. For the third book, Shadow in the Deep, the cover is very faithful to the idea I suggested. Of course the details of the clothing Aljeron is wearing and the look of the Snow Serpent and things like that were up to the artist, but the essential elements of that cover represent the scene that I recommended for it. So, if you don’t like that one, I’m afraid I deserve some or most of the blame, because I championed that image. If you like it, I’m glad, because I also enjoy it very much.
The second level of connection would be represented in the covers for Bringer of Storms and Father of Dragons, where the covers are in a general way connected to my concept and vision for those books. Obviously, given the book titles, it made sense to have Cheimontyr and Sulmandir dominate those covers. And, to a certain degree, the portrayal of those characters – lightning playing off Cheimontyr’s hammer and the golden sheen of Sulmandir’s scales with the jagged scar on his underbelly – fits very well with how I’ve depicted them. In other ways, not important to mention here, those covers weren’t exactly how I pictured things or would have done it – but then again I can’t really draw or paint, so who am I to talk? In short, I think both of those covers are decent and passable, even if they aren’t all I’d hoped for.
The third level of connection to my vision for the book covers is one that is more of a disconnect, really. The covers for Beyond the Summerland and All My Holy Mountain don’t really correspond to my vision for those books, much at all. (Faithful readers of the blog already have seen the cover my friend Connell drew and know I liked it, but here I refer to more than the choice not to use Connell’s work.) Now, to be fair, the disconnect isn’t total. For both books, it was important that the covers have a summery feel, a more peaceful feel, and I believe both of them achieve those things very well. But, as for the specifics of what is represented, my own ideas were rejected in favor of what you see on those covers. Now, that isn’t to say the covers aren’t good or that you shouldn’t like them, but it is to say that even as an author, you win some and you lose some.
Obviously, assuming that I’m making a grand statement in any particular cover could be risky, as it might not even be a cover that I wanted in the first place. Consequently, my advice is to follow the old adage and to refuse to judge a book by its cover. What matters is the book inside, and if you’ve liked the series so far and want to see how it ends, then get the book and read it. If you haven’t liked the series, then even if you love the cover, I doubt that fact will redeem the experience for you.
Personally, I think that All My Holy Mountain is the best of the five books. That conclusion has nothing to do with the cover. Covers matter to the marketing of a book, and when the cover is sharp and appealing, it can be memorable for the reader, but really, it is the book itself that matters. In other words, feel free to like it or not like it, but I hope that all of you will go beyond the cover and read it, and then I will be eager to hear your thoughts, since my passion isn’t for the cover, but for the book inside.