Every blogger in Ireland has been blogging about our rare once-in-a-lifetime snowpocalypse this week, so I’ve decided to be original and not even mention it once.
Anyhoo, I’d rather blog about Terry Goodkind. He’s been plastered over both social and anti-social media this week regarding the news that he hates his new book cover. For the record, it looks like this.
Goodkind made the headlines (well, in the Guardian anyway, which as we all know is the Books section I read the most, so naturally, principles of materiality and relevance are 100% satisfied) by calling this cover “laughably bad” in a Facebook post.
Goodkind said that it was “a very good book with a very bad cover”, and offered readers the chance to win a hardback copy by participating in a poll, voting on whether the cover was “excellent” or “laughably bad”. He was subsequently snowed under (oh, for Blog’s sake) with votes, accruing around 12,000 votes by the time the Guardian went to print.
Cheek Of Him
Well, the people were outraged. Although we don’t know if many of the outraged folk were fans of Goodkind’s books, or people who had ever heard of Goodkind before, or illustrators, or people who liked the fantasy genre, or people who read books, I’m sure some of them were involved in the mass-being-outraged event which raged like a blizzard (oops) online, for all of three hours.
An avalanche of derision (I’ll stop now) ensued from the illustrator himself, Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme, who said Goodkind’s post was disrespectful, and his behaviour unprecedented.
So far, so Facebook. Man makes statement. Nother man takes offence. Man who made statement may not have intended offence taken by Nother Man, and might even apologise, but a big row happens anyway because it’s already snowballed (okay, I lied) and everyone has an opinion. And so on.
But the thing is, the wrong person took offence here. The illustrator pointed out that he’d merely done exactly as he was instructed to do. So who instructed Lecouffe-Deharme? Was it Goodkind himself? Or is it not far more likely that it was his publisher?
He Said Bad, The Cad
The way I read it, Goodkind thought that the book cover was bad. He did not say the illustration was bad, or the graphic design, or the illustrator. He said the cover was bad. That’s the difference.
Some authors don’t see their book covers until they’re a fait accompli. Others, like Goodkind, not only see them, but get to tell their publishers they don’t like them. And then their publishers get to completely ignore that because they believe (not unfairly, it must be said) that they know better.
A book cover is an advertisement. It’s a merchandising tool. It’s supposed to be a representation of something which makes someone want to buy that something. A bad book cover, therefore, means that it’s either not representative of what’s inside the book, or that it may not help the book to sell. It does not mean that the art is bad, let alone the artist.
If anyone should have been taking offence, it was his publisher, or his editor, or the person working for his publisher who gave the illustrator that specific brief. Not the illustrator.
One More Pun And We’re Done
But because the illustrator went all snowflakey (you knew that was coming), taking offence at what he perceived to be a personal attack, Goodkind’s publisher didn’t have to address the charge at all. The argument became about two men having a difference of opinion in public, rather than authors having a say in their own book covers.
I’m not saying that I or anyone else not working in publishing knows better than the person working in publishing who commissioned this cover: but I will say, subjectively, that I don’t like it either.
Then again, I am not a major fan of fantasy. I read some, but not lots. For all I know, it might be the best fantasy book cover ever. But the thing is, Goodkind is a New York Times bestselling fantasy author who has sold 25 million books. In this matter, my opinion doesn’t matter. His, on the other hand, does.
Think about it: the most beautiful, most skilled painting of a tree is not going to sell weedkiller, or pencils. But if an advertising agency commissions a beautiful painting of a tree in order to sell either of those things, then the agency will have failed. Not the artist who painted the bloody tree.
We all know that thousands of authors have taken at least one of their books into their hands only to have that “Oh my! My book has been made into a book!” feeling ruined by another feeling of “Oh my God. They did this to my story? Why? Why??”
(For example: every female author who has ever written about a serious issue, only to be presented with a pink cover featuring high bloody heels. Sigh.)
Goodkind doesn’t think that his book cover is a fair or good representation of his story. Should he not be allowed to think that? And having written the book, should he not be allowed to say so?
To sum up, a very public row has managed to be about something that I don’t believe it was about at all.
And if we can learn one thing from this week, it’s this: I need to find whoever does Goodkind’s publisher’s PR. Then I need to offer them some higher-paying job immediately, because they are obviously some kind of evil genius, and I want them on my side.