A few days back, I saw someone on Twitter talking about the fantasy writer Terry Goodkind, and how he’d written a Facebook post in which he described the cover to his latest novel, Shroud of Eternity, as “laughably bad.” Which, as you might imagine, is a rather remarkable thing for an author to say publicly. Here’s the cover, so you can judge for yourself:
Now, Terry Goodkind’s particular brand of “epic” fantasy isn’t my thing, so I make no claims for the goodness or badness, laughable or otherwise, of the novel’s contents, but I will say that this artwork seems fairly representative of the field—not exceptionally compelling, but not substantially worse than anything else in the genre.
Anyway, enough people—including the cover artist—took umbrage at Goodkind’s insulting comments that he backpedaled ever so slightly, issuing a “sorry you didn’t get the joke” non-apology, then suggesting that he hadn’t meant to slam the artist by calling his work “laughably bad.” No, Goodkind insisted, what he really meant to do was “to instead encourage my publisher to devote more thoughtful consideration with the artwork they wrap around my books.”
Right, because if there’s one thing that’s sure to make your publisher to pay more attention to you, it’s when you piss all over their efforts for your book in public.
Goodkind says that he didn’t see the cover art until just before the book went to press, and he told the folks at Tor Books he didn’t like it, and they overruled him and went with this artwork anyway. And I don’t doubt that’s what happened. Lord knows, when I was an acquiring editor, I sometimes had to inform my authors that the cover art they had voted for wasn’t the cover art my boss decided to go with. In some cases, I had to tell authors that the cover art everybody had loved had been dismissed by the buyers at a certain book chain, and we were going with a backup choice because we wanted that chain to like the cover enough to order many, many books for its stores.
In at least one case, the first cover was the better cover.
The authors I worked with never complained to their social media followings about it, though. Because they were grown-ups. Yes, they were disappointed. Hell, I was disappointed. But we commiserated privately, and then got back to talking about what we could do to get people excited about their books. That’s what you do.
If I were Terry Goodkind’s publisher, I’d be taking a very close look at his sales figures. I know he’s fairly popular in the genre, with a couple bestsellers to his credit, but I’d be thinking very carefully about what direction his sales have been going in over the last few books: Is he still growing an audience? Is his audience stagnant? Is he losing readers over time?
And if the Terry Goodkind train has started to lose momentum, I’d give some serious thought about whether it might be time to jump off that train once the current contract comes to an end. Because even though a publisher is willing to go through a certain amount of grief if there’s enough money coming in to compensate for it, there are limits—and those limits get even tighter if the money isn’t coming in.
There are enough non-assholes in the book world that nobody wants to work with an asshole if they can help it. Be one of the non-assholes. And if you’re fortunate enough to get a book deal, and it turns out you hate the cover your publisher designs for you, tell them about it when they show you the cover. If you’re not able to change their mind, take the hit and keep moving forward. You might just find that it makes them that much more willing to hear you out the next time something comes up.