Q&A with Anna Valdinger from HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Today Anna Valdinger, Fiction Publisher from HarperCollins Publishers Australia answers 7 questions about publishing we readers have always wanted to know.

Does the designer have to read a book first before designing the cover?
No, and many designers don’t have time to read all the books they’re working on, although certainly sometimes they’ll read some of a manuscript to get a sense of the book’s tone – usually for fiction. The publisher will have given the designer a comprehensive brief which includes where the publisher sees the book sitting in the market and the type of book it is, comparative titles, and often visual motifs from the book that could work on the cover. I always ask my authors for their thoughts as well so that their vision for the book is included from the start. Some authors are very visual and will send over mood boards and others prefer to wait to see concepts that we’ll discuss. It’s a fascinating process to get to something that is artistically in line with the author’s (and designer’s) vision and that will also work commercially.

Anna Valdinger, Fiction Publisher HarperCollins Publishers Australia

What’s the most expensive kind of finishing for a book cover?
Probably a cut out. Those can be easily damaged and I don’t often use it. Flaps are expensive as well, though they look lovely. Foil is probably the more expensive option of the ones I tend to use. Emboss and spot UV on a matt finish are my favourites. I wish I could do more colour printing on inside covers but that can get pricey. Soft touch is amusingly divisive – some people find it quite creepy. (I’m definitely in the ‘soft touch is creepy’ crowd; it also shows your fingerprints quite easily).

Why do so many books have the text ‘A Novel’ after the title?
This is a convention that tends to happen mainly in the US. But sometimes if we are concerned that people will mistake a novel for non-fiction, either because of title or subject matter or the author’s profile, we might add it on. I prefer to make it clear through the cover treatment, title and shout line.

What are the blank pages at the end of a book for?
Books are printed in batches of 16 pages called an extent. So if a book has, for example, 8 pages of preliminary matter (title page, copyright page, dedication, list of other books by that author, and so on) and 383 pages of main text, you’ll have 391 pages plus 9 blanks to take it to a total extent of 400 pages. If you only go over an extent by a page you’ll have 15 blanks which is a lot, so usually you would see if you could save a page somewhere. Typesetters can do a lot to help here! We tend to use any blanks we have for things like ads for other books by that author or reading group questions.

Do readers still send fan mail to authors?
Certainly. Less so by snail mail these days although we do get post coming in for authors which we will forward on. Most people tend to connect with authors now via social media or the author’s website. Authors love to hear from their readers – it can be a lonely process to create a book from nothing, and to hear from someone that they enjoyed or were touched by the work is really special.

How does a bidding war between publishers start? Don’t authors have to submit their work to one publisher at a time? How do they engage in a bidding war?
You definitely don’t have to submit to one publisher at a time but it is courtesy to let people know your work is on multiple submission. If you have an agent they’ll usually submit to the major publishers all at once. Authors can do this too but not every publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts, and agents know which person is the best one to approach for a particular title. If one or more publisher is interested the agent will let the others know – at which point everyone can get competitive!
If more than one publisher makes an offer, then the author and agent will assess them and decide if they want to accept one or take it to an auction. These can take various forms but often include the publishers putting together marketing and publicity pitches to accompany the financial offer and – depending on convenience and geography – going in to meet with various publishers to get a sense of the team and which might be the best fit for them and their work. Publishers then put in their best offer and the author decides which to accept. It’s not always down to the money; sometimes you feel a certain publisher ‘gets’ you better than the others, and the author/publisher relationship is really important, both editorially and because the publisher is your and your book’s champion.

Which book has surprised you the most this year?
The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape. It’s rare to see a financial advice book take off in such a way but this one has sold 300,000 copies and almost all of that through chains and independent bookstores rather than through the big department stores. It’s a really impressive bit of publishing.
In fiction I am hugely excited about a book I acquired that will be coming out in March 2018. It’s a crime fiction novel, the first in a series by Perth writer Dervla McTiernan. It’s incredibly pacy and compelling and heartbreaking and tense – I couldn’t put it down and am still shocked that it’s a first novel and yet is so good. It’s called The Rúin – look out for it!

 

14 Books With Keys on the Cover

I’m always influenced by a well-designed book cover or dust jacket, and a book with a key on the cover almost always grabs my attention. Once I started taking notice of the symbolism of keys in book cover design, it didn’t take me long before I started making a list (because I love a good list).

First for the ones I’ve read:The Observations by Jane Harris

1. The Observations by Jane Harris
2. 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz
3. The Servants by Michael Marshall Smith
4. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
5. The Collector by John Fowles

It should be said that for these 5 books, the covers were much better than the novels. I gave The Collector a 4 star rating, 3 star ratings to two of the books in the list and one 2 star and one 1 star rating to the rest. Now that I consider these ratings alongside their appealing cover designs, perhaps there’s some truth to not judging a book by it’s cover. Just because a book speaks to you, doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it.

There’s a plethora of keys decorating all kinds of book covers out there, some old and some new, some enticing, and some less so. One of my favourite classics cover of all time is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, number 13 in the list and the cover of The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon calls out to me whenever I see it. I can almost hear those keys jangling in the snow.

Jane EyreThe Scottish Prisoner Diana Gabaldon

 

6. The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon
7. Secret Obsession by Kimberla Lawson Roby
8. Altar of Bones by Philip Carter
9. Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
10. Veil of Lies by Jeri WestersonDays of Abandonement Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante is popular this year, and the keys on the front cover (pictured right) speak to me about unlocking the mystery of the author’s identity almost as much as her novel The Days of Abandonment.

11. Magician by Raymond E. Feist
12. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante
13. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
14. The Inquisitor’s Key by Jefferson Bass

Can you recommend any of these? Have I missed any of your favourite covers in this list?
Are you influenced by cover art? Let me know in the comments.

Best YA Covers of 2015

I get sucked in by amazing covers all the time. And I’m not even sad about it! I think an extraordinary cover is a must for a book considering you spend more time with it on your shelf than you do reading the insides. (Although, one mustn’t judge a book solely by the cover…but it is hard, right?!)

And is it just me or are Young Adult covers just getting more gorgeous every year?! 2015 showed some absolutely GORGEOUS designs. I’ll be listing my favourites below and be sure to tell me of your favourites in the comments and what you think of my picks!

Note: All book covers link to purchase pages on this website! Click away!

 

F A N T A S Y

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I quite adore the variety of these fantasies covers…from city illustrations, to old book vibe to crow feathers! And just look at that typography. A book that makes letters look delicious enough to eat definitely wins favour with me.

 

W I L D    W E S T

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Apparently stories of the Wild West were quite popular in 2015. HUZZAH. (Yes, I am Australian, but I grew up with a slight fascination of the Oregon trail.) I adore Walk on Earth a Stranger for using the magic of gold dust on the cover. And Vengeance Road makes use of those famous wild west skulls. While Under a Painted Sky looks…painted?! The colours! The silhouettes! Help. I fell in love with a book cover.

 

D Y S T O P I A N

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It might be just my picks of the year but…the dystopian covers seem dark this year! And they totally make use of stunning pinpoints of colour. I adore how 5 to 1 has made use of Indian henna patterns to reflect the country the book is set in. Forget Tomorrow just zings with that perfect shade of blue-green. It’s like the ocean. It’s delectable. Zeroboxer just looks like it’s going to thump you in the face at any moment — and that’s what a good dystopian cover should probably do.

 

M E N T A L    I L L N E S S

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Apparently BLUE IS IN for books that deal with mental illness and disorders! Which makes sense since blue is often a colour that signifies pain and sadness. I also really like how simplistic the covers are.

P R E T T Y    D R E S S E S

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I will forever be addicted to covers that are just astounding gorgeous in the dress department. Plus it proves that you can be awesome and rule the world (as each of these girls are doing!) and were fabulous gowns. Blues and purples are obviously fashionable too in the fantasy rulership world. I shall keep that in mind in case I want to take over a fantastical country some time…

 

S C I E N C E    F I C T I O N

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Basically: STARS. If a book has a sci-fi label, it is largely missing out if it doesn’t make use of stars and galaxies. I haven’t met a sci-fi cover I didn’t love!

 

H I S T O R I C A L    F I C T I O N

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Historical Fiction seems very varied this year. Of course these are only 3 of the many YA books published, but I do like how hands are prominently featured in the first covers. Velvet Undercover falls prey to putting faces on covers….which usually is a no-no for me. But I love the colours so much. And the typography! So it still wins!

Some book covers

You can’t judge a book by its cover. A very true statement. Many good books have crap covers and many crap books have good covers. But people do often judge books by their covers… or, at least, they make their reading choices based on covers. Unfair? Yes! But a fact of marketing. A book’s cover can affect sales. Today, I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite book covers.

Clive Baker’s The Thief of Always, a children’s horror novel, has gone through quite a number of different covers over the years. Here are a few examples:

But it is this cover, that I like the best. It’s eerie, it’s intriguing and it captures the feel of the novel.

The Jelindel Chronicles, a series of YA fantasy novels by Paul Collins, have all had good covers, but for me the stand out cover was the final one. Cathy Larsen created this beautifully stylish cover for Wardragon.

Author Neil Gaiman has had a long association with artist David McKean, who has illustrated and designed the covers of many of Gaiman’s comics. McKean illustrated and designed this cover for Gaiman’s collection, Angels & Visitations.

Covers are often designed using stock photographs and illustrations, rather than being specially commissioned illustrations. One of my favourites in this vein, is this cover for Iain Lawrence’s children’s novel, Lord of the Nutcracker Men.

Interestingly, there was another version of this cover, where the photo of the toy soldier is larger and more prominent. I prefer the version with the smaller soldier. There was also another, more cluttered cover, which lacks the impact of the simpler cover.

I also really like this one for Caiseal Mór’s YA fantasy, The Harp at Midnight.

Let’s return to the specially illustrated cover. Here’s the cover for Andy Mulligan’s YA novel, Trash, illustrated by Richard Collingridge. I love the way the title is actually formed out of trash. Have a look at Collingridge’s website to see more of his fantastic artwork.

Christopher Pike has written lots of YA horror novels, and Paul Davies has illustrated many of them. This is my favourite, for the novel Master of Murder, which also happens to be my favourite of the novels (mind you, I’ve only ever read three of Pike’s novels).

Finally, I’d like to mention Kerri Valkova’s Ditmar award-winning cover for Richard Harland’s weird humorous horror novel, The Black Crusade. Yes, okay, I’m slightly biased as I happen to be married to Kerri… but I still think this is an awesome cover. I love its graphic, cartoony quality. I live in hope that one day Kerri will get to illustrate one of my book covers.

Do you have a favourite book cover? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

And tune in next time for series book covers.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

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