My Experience with Apple’s Cover Requirements

August 31, 2013 in General Topics

I’m going to keep my emotions out of this, and simply be as transactional as possible regarding a situation that’s arisen between myself and Apple. Call it a warning, or a heads-up, or a complaint, or what have you.

I use Draft2Digital to publish my ebooks on iTunes\iBooks, because I’m not dropping $600 or whatever on a Mac–a ridiculous requirement, by the way. Draft2Digital is amazing. I’d love to name the person involved in D2D’s camp, because they were a jewel at helping me jockey with Apple, but I’ll refrain. In any event, I want to stress that D2D had nothing to do with the problem I’m about to relate.

Anyway, my covers run me anywhere from $25-$50 a piece. I use a contractor to do them, and I think they do a fine job. It matters if I have to get them replaced. Matters a lot. Matters to the tune of expense. This is a business. Costs aren’t invisible, and can’t be shrugged off.

One of the things I do with my covers is try to stand out, try to be nonconventional, because I think my fiction is nonconventional. So when I started the Beacon Saga, I knew I wanted a different format from the get-go. Looking around the book listings–and I say this with no intent to offend–most of the science fiction covers out there seem to be images of planets, or space ships, or the like. It’s all way too stock. They blend together. I just wanted something different. Something to grab eyeballs.

What I settled on was a concept that I thought would look sharp and really pop, almost an app-like look to the Saga’s covers, something that looked polished on a virtual book shelf. Here’s the ones I have in the wild so far, so you’ll see what I’m talking about:

"Beacon" Part I Beacon - Part II beaconIII_200px beaconIV_200px

The roman numerals in the background of each cover (with the exception of the first) show each installment’s place in the series. Further, titles are included inside each book (hold your shock), also indicating which place in the series they belong too. More on that in a moment.

Apple took these books as-is for Part I all the way through Part III (Part IV is still in the process of being published to the platform). So these titles have been available through iTunes for a long time, in some cases months. Apple has had ample time to express any concerns about the covers, as well as at least three book submissions worth of approvals done by their group to notice something was “wrong” and say something about it. This isn’t counting the minor revisions to blurb, category or description–revisions that, I assume, probably create another “push” from D2D, and another pass across the desk of someone at Apple (by my email confirmations from D2D, it looks like at least nine such publishings at Apple).

Last month I went into Draft2Digital and submitted some blurb revisions. I’d thought the old ones weren’t punchy enough or descriptive enough.

The first hint that something was wrong came in an automated email from D2D dated August 13th:

Apple has rejected Beacon (Part I) for the following reason:
Title has Unnecessary Information
Titles and subtitles must not have extra information that is not necessary to identify the book (such as advertising).
Title and Cover Must Match
The title and subtitle must be spelled correctly and must match the cover art and book asset file.
Please let us know if you have any questions.
The Draft2Digital Publishing Team

I soon got a similar issue with Beacon – Part II. This time, the email was shorter:

Apple has rejected Beacon - Part II for the following reason:
Title and Cover Must Match
The title and subtitle must be spelled correctly and must match the cover art and book asset file.
Please let us know if you have any questions.

At this point, I asked D2D to submit a complaint or ticket with Apple support, since I hadn’t changed anything on my side (other than the descriptions on the product page, of course). D2D did just that.

They sent me back Apple’s response, which the vendor sent sometime around August 15th:

Changes requested in the ticket were not executed. The ticket has been returned to you for corrections. To resolve this ticket, you must make all the changes requested below.
Title and Cover Must Match
The title and subtitle must be spelled correctly and must match the cover art and book asset file.

I wasn’t satisfied with that response, so I sent the following to D2D, so they could forward it back to Apple:

Thank you. The thing is,the title and cover do match. Using Roman numerals to denote the order of an installment in the series is a practice as old as fiction, and it is indeed reflected in the covers. The one exception is Part I, but the installment number for that one should not be necesssary as I am denoting the installment in the title in paranthesis. I am also curious why this is all suddenly an issue for them, and under such scrutiny, after three installments in a series. Please add a note to the ticket asking them to escalate this. I have Part IV coming soon and this is the last thing I need. A non-response is not acceptable.

Thanks for your help.

D2D jumped on it, sending three separate tickets–one for each book. Again, I give full credit to D2D, which displayed excellent customer service through this whole mess. This kind of thing is why I recommend D2D to other authors.

Anyway, Apple’s sort-of “communication” sort-of continued. Here’s what we got about Beacon (Part I) on August 22nd:

The requested changes in the ticket were not executed. This ticket has been canceled.

The D2D rep indicated that they weren’t sure what this meant (that made two of us), but she saw Apple had removed all the “flags” from the book, and it was published. And sure enough, I got confirmation notices on Both I and II a short time later–so it appeared we were good to go.

But here’s the issue: the revised descriptions still weren’t showing up on the book pages on iTunes. I asked D2D to follow-up on this, and here’s what we got–a week later:


Ticket #2367948 of “Beacon – Part II (Beacon Saga, #2)” is valid and remains in affect. The roman number 2 in the background of the cover art does not satisfy our guidelines for series information.

Please add “Part II” spelled out to the cover art to distinguish the different books better, otherwise, in an iBooks bookshelf, all three books of the series would have the same title and a customer would not be able to tell which is which.

Best Regards,

iBooks Publisher Support Escalation Team

At this point, I threw my hands up, thanked the rep at D2D (who apologized for the situation–even though it wasn’t her doing) and walked away from the issue.

As an author and publisher shepherding a startup publishing effort, I was somewhat floored by Apple’s handling of this, from start to finish. You’ll note–as I certainly did–that there was never an apology or an admission that they waited until we were three installments in to raise any sort of complaint. Even then, I don’t think the complaint is valid. But I’ll submit my experiences here to see what my fellow authors and those in the blogosphere think about it.

I can sort of see Apple’s standpoint–they’re arguing usability. I get it. But I just don’t agree that your average reader wouldn’t be able to tell which book is which in the series, and I don’t know why Apple waited so long to take issue with this.

Apple isn’t interested in my opinion. I have no pull with them. All I have is the ability to share my experience. So, I’m doing that.

I guess the “easy” thing to do would be to write this off, and go back to each cover and add the “Part X” designation where appropriate. Here’s the thing, though–that relies on me having graphic design knowledge. I’ve got some, actually–I’m all right in Gimp and Photoshop–but what about the author that doesn’t? What’s their recourse? Or what if they don’t have the .pst or .xsd files originals? That’s my situation. What am I to do? Does Apple really expect me to produce unique covers just for their platform, just to meet their mercurial, subjectively-driven standards? Do they really expect me to eat all this additional expense when Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Smashwords find the covers acceptable?

And here’s the real rub: what if I had been ten or fifteen installments deep before they raised their flag?