Friday, August 04, 2006

Unleashing My Inner Punk, Part I

Regarding the Cover of My Book, And Whether or Not to Judge It Based Upon That Criteria

So. It’s official. I will have a new publisher for my next book, which I am very excited about (more to come), and as such, I will nibble on the hand that once fed me, with regard to the cover of the paperback. By saying this: I don’t care for it.

I’ll backtrack a bit. My former publishers did very well by me on my first book, When the Messenger is Hot, and I need to say up front that I adored my editor there and still do, and that she had everything to do with why I landed there, but that unfortunately for me, she is not the boss of them. They promoted the hell out of it, and it got great reviews, and sold a respectable number of copies for a short story collection, and I didn’t go on a world tour but when I did go out I stayed at hotels that had Aveda shampoo, which is enjoyable. Various stars failed to collide the second time around, and although the press I got for All This Heavenly Glory was good, it was just not as ubiquitous as with Messenger, thus proving to be the all-around disappointment that ultimately propelled me to my new home.

So. Back to the cover. The original cover of Glory was okay enough, if a bit subtle. It was dark navy with a starry sky and the outline of woman in stars, like a constellation. I felt okay about it except for the fact that she was wearing sandals, which, if you read the book, is very very wrong. Fortunately it wasn’t that noticeable, so I remained calm. And then the book didn’t sell anywhere near what Messenger did, in spite of the fact that it could easily have been marketed as a novel, and has often been reviewed (favorably) as one. (In France, it almost seems (from my poor French, anyway), that they have no idea that Bonte Divine, as it’s known over there, is actually a book of stories.) In any case, conceding, as much as a company can do so, that a mistake was made with the publicity, they agreed to attempt to make up the difference on the paperback. Which I interpreted to mean a new round of publicity, advertising, touring, and which in the end, amounted primarily to a new cover.

Everyone at my former publisher loved this cover. Most people I’ve met have told me they love this cover. Which I have tried, and, I’m sure failed, to accept graciously, but depending on the person offering the compliment, I would, occasionally, say, Really? Because to me, this cover, has almost no relationship to what’s inside the book. This cover depicts a young girl who looks pretty darn comfortable in her green sunny world of blowing bubbles.

Let me tell you a little bit about what this book is about. This book is about the life of a woman, from girlhood to adulthood, who lives not in a green sunny world, but in the gray, often claustrophobic, crime-ridden, world that was New York in the early seventies, and follows her through alcoholism, recovery, failure, success, obsessive relationships and successful ones, and even into her imaginary future. It is comprised, among other things, of a seven-page personal ad without a period, many lists and parentheses, a timeline, several fantasies, a few obsessions, and a sexy film strip featuring Benicio del Toro, Christina Applegate, and some dogs.

I’m not even saying I know what I think the appropriate image for this story might be. (I have do have a great idea for the new one, and I know these folks will be 100% willing to consider my fantasies.) But I feel like someone out there, one of the many people employed at a big publishing house, ought to consult designers who actually read the book, then, I dunno, brainstorm with the author about it, and then, er, get the author’s approval. Let’s put aside the issue of wanting a cover that will make people want to look inside the book. Everyone wants that. I was happy enough with my first cover, as it was simple but eye-catching, even the spine, which had punchy red and black stripes, although I don’t know that it really captured the essence of the contents (if that’s even possible – although I think it is, even a complex book has an overall feeling that could be translated into some kind of single image, I think). Of course, I was so happy to be publishing a book that I might have been equally happy then with a picture of a big steaming pile of poo on a bright pink background.

I was chatting with my future editor the other day about this. She was the first person to say, out loud and unsolicited by me, that she was “shocked” by the cover. I thanked her. I said I was never sure if other people were telling me the truth, and that even if they were, I didn’t get it. She said, “Yes, damn those people who complimented you!” She is a very funny person. But she knew why I was glad to hear her say she thought it was ridiculous. I thought I was being a cranky, diva author type who should just be grateful and shut the hell up. I am grateful. I’m insanely grateful. My life as a writer? Kicks ASS. I’ve been incredibly lucky, particularly as a story writer, I am realizing more and more. But in the greater scheme of things, I am still relatively unknown, and I still want the most possible people to read my stories. To read stories, period. But that’s another rant.

So. Now you know what my book is about and what it isn’t about but what you think it might be about because of what it looks like it might be about and for which you couldn’t be blamed, if it were someone else’s cover I would think the same thing, and I hope this will encourage a few more of you to read it, whatever your feeling about what it looks to be but really isn’t.

Stay sweet.


lb said...

So I just deleted a rather rambling response to this post in which I

1. agreed with everything you just said,

2. reaffirmed my love of the Messenger cover and admitted using said cover as an excuse to give it to various friends on Valentine's Day (made appropriate disclaimer about the superficiality of such a means of cover-judgement, but suggested shameless promotion in February just the same) and

3. continued on to re-request your permission to teach "Privacy and Coffee" to my sophomores this fall.

Hm. My condensation of the rambling response seems to have ended up equally rambling. But in convenient list form. Apologies!

Betsy said...

1. much appreciated
2. much appreciated
3. much appreciated
4. no apologies necessary

.25 life crisis kid said...

See, this is intriguing. I feel like I am on E! True Hollywood Story--Elizabeth Crane...finding out the juicy gossip is always something I can sink my teeth in to--especially when it comes to design! BUT. I would like to say that I TOLD DAVE that that cover they used(though sharp photography and a nice cover for a magazine devoted to the joys of parenthood) was a little confusing. I gave a positive spin on it thinking--"well, maybe they want the reader to know that through all of this, there is optimism to be had?" And then I said to myself..."well, I am glad that I bought the hardcover anyway--it leaves more for the imagination(plus, stars usually signify a sort of hope--"reach for the stars" and a sort of struggle-which is sort of true to your book...) Long story short I had many inner dialogues about this same situation which makes me think I need to take up another hobby. But congrats on the new editor!

Betsy said...

"A nice cover for a magazine devoted to the joys of parenthood."
Perfect. Thanks, Byron!

carolyn said...

this post really cracked me up. but i have nothing insightful to say.