When bad covers happen to good booksRomance comes in for more of its fair share of hideous covers--too many acres of gleaming, waxed mantitty, historically inappropriate clothing falling off its owners, contortionist embraces, and so on.
If you're at the bottom of the publishing ladder, you don't have much influence over cover art (and even the big names don't get a whole lot of say in the matter). You may be asked for cover art ideas, which may or may not be used. I sent the designers of the English edition of The Rules of Gentility (Oct., 2008) a picture of Regency era bonnets--they used one in the design and I love this cover! Let's hope you love your cover, too, because generally what you see is what you get. Remember that changing a cover involves a whole time-consuming process which in such a deadline-driven business is done only in the most dire of circumstances.
Prepare to suck it up.
The very worst thing you can do is go public. Cry at home and to your best friends, not to the online world. Find something nice to say about the cover ("I love the font treatment!").
However, if your cover and back cover blurb really misrepresent what your book is about, and/or is being marketed as the wrong subgenre, you do have a problem. Some review sites/publications have very little flexibility; the reviewer will give you a review based on what they're told the book is, not what it actually is.
So, what do you do?
Damage control time. You don't want readers to pick up your book expecting one thing from the cover, and then getting upset when they discover they've put out good money for something they hate. You can't talk about it in public, but your friends can.
And if you're lucky--and send a discreet, nudging e-mail--a high visibility blog may pick up the story. I tell you, you can't buy publicity like that.
You can also mail to bookstores telling them what the book is really about--Borders (at their national headquarters) has a romance booksellers experts list, and the wonderful Pat Rouse offers an amazing subscription service of mailing labels for bookstores and reader groups, updated quarterly, with information on what, and how many, bookmarks etc. to send.
However, and I must say there's nothing like the publishing business for keeping you humble--many people may love your cover. See, the marketing departments do have some idea of what they're doing, and you may have a "good" cover--even if it's the wrong one for your book. So all you can do is lie back, think of your royalty statement, and hope that your readers will still respect you in the morning.
About the illustrations--regrettably, they are all real except for the top Jane Eyre, which was a finalist in a contest sponsored by Slate.com of illustrating the classics in pulp style. The whole gallery of hilarity can be viewed here. And here are some very odd books that probably got the covers they deserved: