Yesterday, Mr. Coke Zero himself, John Scalzi, took my publisher to task for the cover of Zombie Raccoons and Killer Bunnies [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]. Others have offered up alternate covers, or just chimed in about how bad it is.
Disclaimers up front: Zombie Raccoons is the latest DAW anthology. DAW is my publisher as well. I was invited to write a story for this one, but the editor decided that my tale (“Mightier than the Sword”) fit better in her other project, Gamer Fantastic. So I’m hardly unbiased.
This is not my favorite cover from DAW. It didn’t really work for me, and I was happy to end up in Gamer Fantastic, which had a cover I liked better.
That said, I think the criticism is over the top. Scalzi says he’s genuinely offended that a major publisher would produce such a thing. (He also claims it will make blood shoot from your ears, but I’m chalking that one up to hyperbole.)
Is it a bad cover? The editor loved it. It certainly stands out, and it’s stirred up more buzz online than any DAW anthology I can remember. On the other hand, the raccoon’s mouth gave me nightmares, and I find myself wanting to delete the Photoshopped rabbit and raccoon and see what’s behind ’em, which seems to be a totally different piece of art.
I wanted to make a few other points, though. Starting with the fact that, to my knowledge, DAW is the only major SF/F publisher still putting out a monthly anthology of short fiction. These aren’t moneymakers; very few short fiction anthologies ever earn out. But DAW continues to produce them, more reliably and consistenly than most SF/F ‘zines.
Does that excuse a bad cover? Of course not. But no publisher gets it right every time. Sooner or later, no matter how good the publisher, they’re going to have a stinker. I could fill the rest of this post with examples of bad cover art from Baen, Tor, and the rest.
That’s no excuse either, of course. It’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a reminder than nobody’s perfect. That when you’ve put out thousands of books over the years, you’re not going to hit it out of the park with every one. It’s easy to sit around online and boast about how you could whip up a better cover in five minutes on Photoshop. And hey, maybe you could.
Now do it 99 more times. If you think they’ll all be brilliant, you’re sadly deluded. Even award-winning artists produce the occasional stinker.
I wasn’t in on the meetings at DAW. I don’t know what they were going for here. Maybe the original cover didn’t work, so the bunny and raccoon were an emergency fix at the last minute. Maybe they wanted to try something different, and they went for the over-the-top kitsch angle. Maybe the artist backed out at the last second, leaving them only a week to whip something together. Maybe, like the editor, they just liked this cover and thought it worked for the project.
I’m not saying Scalzi’s out of line in his critique; he’s not. I like John a lot, and folks have every right to express their distaste. No cover will work for everyone, and this one does seem to have failed for most.
But to say you’re genuinely offended by that failure? That bothers me a little. By all means, hold publishers to a high standard. But people also say they want publishers to try things that are new or different, and every time you do that you risk failure. High standards, yes. Perfection? I prefer my publisher to be human, thanks.