Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 14, 2011

What’s Wrong with this Cover?

Charlotte’s latest book, Big Sky Family is out October 19th  – If you’ve read her, I don’t have to tell you how wonderful her stories are. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and pick it up!  Here's Char:

The creation of a book cover is a collaboration of the author (most of whom claim their suggestions are ignored), the editor, art department and marketing. Sometimes things go wrong.

One of the most infamous cover calamities happened to Christina Dodd, author of Castle in the Air, an historical romance. The hero on the cover is standing behind the heroine in a lovely red gown, holding her with, um, all THREE of his arms. Amazing fellow!

Jill Marie Landis, who writes western historicals circa 1880, got an early peek at one of her covers. It featured a cabin in the woods with a TV antenna. Oops! The publisher had to reprint ALL of the covers. Boy, was that an expensive mistake.

I think my cover for Big Sky Family is both appealing and charming; the colors are positively lovely. It’s hard to beat a cowboy hero (Arnie), the heroine’s young daughter (Torie) and a golden retriever (Sheila) for getting reader attention. But there’s just one small problem.


Arnie, our hero, is sitting on the porch steps. He’s a paraplegic. In every scene in the book he is sitting in a wheelchair (with the small exception of rounding up cattle on a specially equipped ATV).

I’m guessing, and I really don’t know, that marketing has ‘discovered’ that heroes portrayed in wheelchairs don’t sell. Okay, I really want to sell lots of copies of Big Sky Family.

But what will readers think when they get to page 10 and find Arnie in his wheelchair? Will they blame me for the misleading cover and write nasty notes? Ouch!

And what about readers who read Big Sky Reunion, a previous book which featured Arnie’s brother Daniel? Won’t they remember that Arnie was a paraplegic in that book? When they see the cover will they think he’s been cured? And write nasty notes?        Oh dear . . .

So do you think marketing is right? Would you be more or less likely to buy a book with the hero on the cover in a wheelchair?

Let me know.

Happy reading.......


Big Sky Family, Love Inspired, available 10/19/2011

Written With Love, working title, Love Inspired, 10/2012

Books that leave you smiling by


0 comments on “What’s Wrong with this Cover?”

  1. That's a difficult one. If the publisher knows that wheelchairs don't sell books then you have to accept that for your personal sales goals. You might well get irate reader letters about being misled. An explanation could be that it's how Arnie sees himself - you could even include something in the book about his self-perception which doesn't make him a paraplegic in his own eyes. But wait! That would be changing the book to suit the cover! Sorry, you need a different cover or else get ready for those readers.

  2. This has got to be an author's worse nightmare, Char. Something SO important, and you have no control over it - yet the readers hold you responsible. Thank God it happened on your umpteen-zillionth book, not your first

  3. Char, I agree with Laura. A recent "loop" swirled around our RWA-WF group on this very subject. One member is published in both the US and the UK at the same time and each pub chose different covers for one book. Actually, the publisher made a terrible mistake. Because they have issues with disabilities they robbed readers of the poignant effect the same man would have produced had he been sitting in front of those steps with the little girl.

  4. I'm a freelance photographer who often has to produce pictures to designer specifications or layouts. The cover designer could have handled this differently. If you used a head & shoulders closeup you would not be showing the wheelchair and not misleading readers. The girl and dog could then be placed in the background if you think it's necessary to put them on the cover.

  5. My opinion mirrors Les's. Why go for the full body shot in the first place? The cover has a lovely background. Love the big sky image and colors in the background. Did they go out of their way to select a foreground of a house with porch stairs? Yes. I suspect a hero in a wheelchair would impact sales.There's a reason they put those hunks with six packs and vixens with 12 inch waists on book covers. And, aren't you making a promise to your reader with the cover, not unlike the promise you make in the opening chapter? Put him in an open-topped SUV out there with the cattle and have the girl and dog playing along side. Doing something cute.

    Using a cow patty as a frisbee, perhaps?

    Sorry. I know it's a serious subject. I couldn't help myself.

    Slinking away now to work on my own book, so I have a cover to review some day. Good luck, Char!

  6. Charlotte, I can't wait to hear how all this turns out (because I think you're right and you'll hear from readers). It will be interesting to see if there's any push back from various equal rights organizations to the publishers.

    It all gives you publicity, but still...I agree with the above that they could have resolved this just showing a picture of the hero from the waist up.

  7. I agree with the consensus here, that they should have used a head shot with those broad, well-developed shoulders he must have, perhaps even looking heatedly at a vixen standing beside him. Shots like that have been used in the past to great effect, both artistically and marketing-wise.

    I'm afraid you will hear from readers on this one and it really isn't fair. I also agree with Laura that this would have been much worse if it had been your first book!

  8. Interesting post. I do have one thought on this, IF, Arnie dreams of being free of the wheelchair or IF he ACTS as if he is not impaired by his condition, thus displaying freedom, then cover is not misleading, but shows his inner self rather than his external self. In this case, I think that any misgivings a reader might have at first would be cleared up. Hope this helps, overall, the cover looks great. All the best 🙂

    1. Hey, Gene, that's a great point! Char, maybe that's what you can say when readers complain . . .they'll feel very shallow for not catching that!

  9. The tension between author and the publishers' marketing arm can sometimes be quite palpable. I've run into that even with book titles - then been hammered by critics because the title promises content that isn't in the book. As if it's the author's choice (there's that annoying clause in the contract that gives titling rights to the publisher). Covers are much the same. I have never quite known the answer because, on the one hand, the author's entitled to object to derogatory treatment of their work ('moral right'), but on the other, publishers are usually right when it comes to marketing and slots. Difficult. It's a great cover, though, of itself. I guess conceptually it could be that he's out of the wheelchair and maybe sitting on the step? Does that fit with his character? Good luck, anyhow & I hope you can find a resolution.

    Matthew Wright

    1. From Char:
      Hi, Matthew, you're right about the 'tension' between authors and marketing. Then again, marketing is supposed to know what will sell. For the most part, I'm with them. Hope readers agree.


  10. Hi, just dropped by from WRITERS/STORM. Personally, I think the wheelchair wouldn't turn readers away...but that's just me talking...as seeing a man/especially a rancher/in a wheelchair would entice my curiosity as to why/what/how will the character do the job(s) a rancher must do to maintain, especially with a child involved. That would arouse my curiosity and cause me to buy the book (not only because of that, but because I'd want to know how the author handles it 🙂

  11. I have to agree with Gene on this one. A cover wants to capture the essence of the lead character and/or the story so if Arnie acts as if he weren't wheelchair bound, then it's not part of his essence. It's a (albeit huge) inconvenience, is all. And besides, who's to say that the wheelchair in question isn't juuuuuust out of frame? And the reality is that if people see a cover with a guy in a wheelchair it *will* impact how they see the book and their decision to buy it. If the wheelchair factor isn't absolutely central to the story, then it isn't essential for the cover. And besides, once your readers have opened the book, I doubt they'll keep flipping back to the cover, going "WTF???"

    1. The more I think about it, Martin, the more I think you're right about the cover reflecting the 'essence' of the character(s). Certainly Arnie, the hero, is really good with kids, including the heroine's daughter. So maybe I won't get upset readers after all?


  12. Maybe if they had him sitting down ON the porch with the railing, the girl & the dog 'hiding' his chair Jo Reader in the store looking at the cover would think he was just sitting in a rocking chair on the porch (I mean who wouldn't want to sit on that porch & enjoy the gorgeous view) then when she gets to page 10 she won't feel cheated. I think you should press as much as you can on this since you'll be the one to answer to the angry (deceived) readers. It can be done. It's just a matter if the publisher WANTS to do it or not.

  13. Goodness, what an interesting group of replies. I guess it's a case of time will tell about both sales figures and any readers who are upset by the cover image.

    In any case, writing about Arnie and his heroine Ellie was both a challenge and a delight. So I win either way.

    Happy reading, Char.......

  14. Perhaps a shot of him up on the porch, leaning over the railings and strategically "hide" the wheelchair somehow behind the rails if that is the issue. He could have been looking out at the gorgeous scenery while the little girl and dog play.

    Good luck. I hope you don't get too many nasty letters

  15. Personally, I think it would be a bigger problem if he had the wrong hair color. I use the cover to help me visualize the character. The wrong hair color is distracting. With your hero sitting on the steps, it's true that he isn't in a wheelchair, but he isn't standing either or striding over to the house or walking down the steps. If people love the story, they won't care about the cover. And if a few people have a problem, it's a good opportunity to have a post about book covers. 🙂

  16. I don't think the average reader realizes that the author has no control over the book cover. I personally would not turn away from a book with a hero in a wheelchair, but if it affects sales that's a good reason not to show the chair. Like it was said above, why not show the hero sitting at an angle watching his daughter and dog play in the yard. Maybe just give a hint of wheelchair by revealing the handhold near his shoulder and if appropriate make him a hunk.

    1. Come to think of it, years ago I wrote a Silhouette Romance and name the hero Luke. Weeks before the book's release, my editor called. I had to change the hero's name because another book that month had a hero named Luc. Sigh.... It isn't all that easy to change a name, it has to fit with the surname, not duplicate some other character's name, etc. A couple of days later, I called my editor to change my hero's name to Logan. So when the book came out, the back cover copy said the story was about Logan. Inside the book, the hero was still Luke. Weird! But not a single reader complained or even noticed as far as I could see. We'll see how Big Sky Family goes.


  17. I think if the reader enjoys the book, they should have no reason to nitpick about the cover after the fact. Unless it's misleading in an offensive way and what is offensive about a handicapped person?

  18. Char, that is so awful. The cover is lovely but I would like to see Arnie as he appears in the book. It would be shameful to project something else if the hero must be on the cover at all. I hope for your sake this can be changed and that you can at least have a say as to how the cover will eventually end up looking like.

    Best of luck to you!

  19. Hi Char,

    I'm finding the whole discussion quite fascinating. My first thought was, why not put him on his specially equipped ATV and have the little girl standing with him and the dog with them? That would have made more sense than having them sitting on the porch, right? And then he could be portrayed on the cover as not being in a wheel chair, but when readers came across the ATV and how it is equipped so he can operate it, it would make more sense.

    The cover is nice. I don't know if it will cause strife with your readers... they are "your readers" for a reason. Will a cover really throw them into a frenzy of nasty notes? 🙂 I hope not... could you post something on your fan blog about it?

    Claire L. Fishback

    1. I'm really glad so many of you like the cover, since I really do too. Perhaps it is social conscience that troubles me the most: There should be a way to show that a man in a wheelchair can be a hero in both real life and fiction. But then that greedy side speaks up and well......I'm back to wanting to sell books. LOL Thanks to all of you who commented!

      Happy reading.....Char......

  20. As a reader, this wouldn't bother me. I'd probably assume he's simply out of his wheelchair. Plus, I know covers don't always (okay, don't often) match the stories. If anyone has a problem with this, it's their problem. It's a beautiful cover. Don't stress over it.

  21. Charlotte, I think readers will be so blown away by the charming child and the warm love story between Ellie and Arnie that they will be writing to sing your praises instead of dragging you into a defense of your cover...which is, after all, beautiful.
    Good luck with the launch!

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