Magazine publisher Kenneth Whyte writes an insightful account of his obsessiveness with the cover of his first book, "The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst". Whyte's tale confirms what I have always surmised about the relationship between an author and his cover:
Yet I couldn’t help thinking that I’d spent five years writing The Uncrowned King and that I might never feel up to the chore of writing another book. If this was my one shot, I should do my best to get the cover right, on the assumption that covers are every bit as crucial to books as to magazines. I told myself that my input was important: if I know magazine buyers, I know book buyers—readers are readers.
I also knew, better than anyone else, the story that the cover was supposed to reflect—how in 1895 a wealthy young Californian, William Randolph Hearst, bought a feeble New York daily and engaged Joseph Pulitzer, the undisputed king of American journalism, in the most spectacular newspaper war of all time. By 1898, Hearst had supplanted Pulitzer as the dominant force in New York publishing, and was on his way to becoming one of the most powerful and fascinating private citizens in 20th-century America. It’s a big sprawling story with drama, romance, murder, prizefights, jailbreaks, literary scandals, enormous fortunes, brilliant new technologies, genocidal wars, the most exciting election in American history (with fascinating echoes of the Obama campaign)—and it all raises crucial questions about the role of journalism in our lives. Who, if not me, was going to capture all that in a single cover?
At one point Whyte becomes disgusted with Random House's refusal to listen to his "suggestions", that he stops taking call from the publisher, much to the chagrin of his agent. In the end Random House procedes with their choice for the cover and Whyte concedes. He confesses:
Foiled, chastened, I returned to my endnotes and resolved from that point forward to do with professionalism and good cheer everything asked of me by my editor, and I’m proud to say that some days I did.