You know that saying “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover”? Baloney. we do it all the time. It’s an essential part of how we process information. If the cover catches your eye, you look inside. If the cover is blah, you move on. That sorting is part of our brain’s strategy for effectively managing the massive amount of information that comes at us nonstop.
So I have been pretty fussy about my book covers.
I have also been blessed to work with some fantastic cover designers. To do that work, you must have talent, but also the patience, wisdom, and willingness to try yet another thing when a client like me says “No, that doesn’t capture what’s inside.”
I wish I’d kept all the iterations of the covers I have eventually used. It’s always an amazing progression and a long process. There has been only one exception to that. Cathy Campbell with Gorham Printing nailed it on the first try on a little e-book I did as an experiment with over three years of articles I wrote for Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold. Cathy did such a nice job, I hope to eventually go back and improve the book itself. (The good thing about e-books is you can go back and make them better whenever you decide there’s a need.)
The other books I’ve brought out involved far more back and forth with the designer.
When Greenleaf Book Group took distribution of a retirement book I already had inprint, they recommended redoing the cover and changing the name to give the book new life in terms of the copyright date (which is a particularly big deal with nonfiction books). What had been Bold Retirement (with a convincing cover Cathy had designed) turned into Supercharged Retirement . We ended up combining two photos to get that same “adventure when you’re older” message to resonate. It worked–during one of the first radio interviews I did, the host–who was not yet retirement age–said “I want to be that guy on the cover.”
That experience gave me a much greater appreciation for what you can do with the help of a good cover designer and stock photos.
Next up, was my first novel, Widow Boy, which I just published. In fiction, the need for a good cover is even more critical. I was again blessed with a good designer–this time Mary Holste of Side X Side Creative. The original plan was to use an artist they’d worked with before to create original cover art. When she showed up a half-hour late for the initial meeting, I sensed it wasn’t the answer. When she offered a cartoonish example as what she would do–for a helfty price, I suggested we forget the original art idea.
Mary came up with three different cover designs. One of those seemed like it could work with a little “Photoshopping.” We needed to make the image of the woman look like she was from the 1890’s instead of the 21st century. She was holding an antique gun so roughing up the hat and adding sleeved to cover her arms seemed like all we needed. But I wasn’t keep on how she looked even then, so I showed the cover to one of my sons, who’d read a draft of the story. His first reaction was that the gun was all wrong. Then he volunteered to help me create the right image.
So we circled around from original art to original photography. What we ended up doing to get it is a long story. I will tackle it in another post.
This is my first published fiction and I have learned a lot about how to go about getting a book to market. Since I didn’t want to print a lot of copies, I couldn’t use Cathy (who is the printer’s designer). Side x Side Creative, a Tacoma firm, stepped up to the challenge.
Since the book is fiction, art–rather than a photo seemed like it would work better. They recommended and artist and we met. I knew it wasn’t going to work when she showed up a half hour late. So Mary and Erik (of Side x Side) came up with text only and stock photo designs. More than one would have worked, but I really liked one that showed a woman in a western hat aiming a rifle combined with the hills of the Cripple Creek area where the story is set.
We needed to photo shop the image of the woman though…she looked entirely to modern, thought she was aiming an antique gun. Mary added sleeves and tired to “rough up” the hat via PhotoShop. It was looking pretty good.
Then I asked my younger son–who had read the story–what he thought. His reaction stunned me. “Mom, that gun is all wrong. It’s a flintlock; she would never have used that.” It was chilling to realize how close I had come to making a really big mistake. It was also disconcerting that he knew that much about guns, since I made a point of not having them in our house when he was growing up.
What happened next was a delight of help from diverse sources and needs its own post. I’ll deal with that next time.