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I have finished a fantasy novel I have been writing for the past few years and I am now in the process of meeting with representatives from publishing companies toward the goal of publishing my book.

I do not yet have a satisfactory cover but I am working with an artist now on one and the drafts are coming out magnificent. However, I am not sure if I am wasting my time since I've heard that the publisher can dictate the cover that they prefer.

More generally, must one (or is it at least strongly advised) to submit a manuscript with a cover already designed or does it not matter? Also, does an author have any say over what their cover looks like?

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It sounds to me like you may have been meeting with scam artists, or are severely confused about what the actual terms of being publishing are.

When your novel is published with a reputable, honest publisher, the publisher provides the cover. Period. Not only are you not required to have a cover, even offering or mentioning a cover of your own design is seen as unprofessional, since it betrays a lack of knowledge of how the publishing industry works. There is no real publisher that would ask you to provide a cover, and publishers will not usually even look at a cover that you provide.

When you self-publish through Amazon, Smashwords, or any other reputable self-publishing service, you provide your own cover. Of course, in this case, the self-publishing service is emphatically not the actual publisher of your book---they just provide a marketplace and a clearinghouse for self-published works. Your are your own publisher in this case, which is why they call it self- publishing.

So if you are actually in talks with a real publisher, don't bother with a cover. They will provide one. However, reading between the lines of your post I wonder if you aren't talking to a scam publisher which pretends to be a real publisher, but expects the authors to foot most or all of the cost of producing the book. If the "publisher" that you're talking to expects you to furnish a cover, pay for editing, or do anything else of the sort, then run away quickly. Paying for those things is the entire reason that publishers exist (from the writer's perspective), so if you're being asked to pay for those expenses then you're better off simply self-publishing.

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The golden rule can be summed up thusly: Money flows TOWARD the author! If you aren't self-publishing, then under NO circumstances should you be paying anyone any fees for anything! If you have an agent, they'll take a cut out of your earnings, and of course your publisher will get the lion's share of the money, and they'll get paid first, but you NEVER pay ANYONE directly! –  Michael Kohne Apr 1 '13 at 23:01
    
Thanks for arming me with this strong information. Can you tell me, are you talking from experience? –  Imray Apr 3 '13 at 1:35
    
@MichaelKohne In my case, the cover is practically made. Is it a bad idea, as JSB says, to present the book with the cover to the publisher? –  Imray Apr 3 '13 at 1:41
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@Imray - I really don't know if it will help or hurt. I can't imagine a large publisher using it (they'll want to design something to go with whatever marketing plan they come up with). If it were me, I wouldn't mention it until I had a deal, then I'd offer it and not get offended if they were not interested. –  Michael Kohne Apr 3 '13 at 1:49
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