Annamaria on Monday
Here are the beginning lyrics to old R&B song:
You can't judge an apple by looking at the tree,
You can't judge honey by looking at the bee,
You can't judge a sister by looking at the brother,
You can't judge a book by looking at the cover.
Oh can't you see, oh, you misjudged me.
I look like a farmer but I'm a lover,
You can't judge a book by looking at the cover.
Caro’s post last week about strange titles made me think about how, a few times, my publishers changed the titles of my books. Most of the time, they turned out to be right. But there have been a couple of instances when the publisher tried to get me to change the title and I refused: Notably for my best selling book every—Never Work for a Jerk. They wanted me to call it HOW to Work for a Jerk, because they thought that a more positive spin might be more appealing. I debated the point. And I won.
On the other hand, I have almost never won a battle about a cover. Almost.
Generally, publishers, not writers, get to choose the cover art. Sometimes we are happy, sometimes not. Except for folks like James Patterson and Mary Higgins Clark, authors have little, if anything, to say about book cover design.
This rule is not confined to fiction. My nonfiction went through similar choices. Never Work for a Jerk started with a jackass in a business suit, a splendid choice in my estimation.
But the paperback publisher thought the design too staid. They came up with something much more lively. I doubt Dell was right about that, because when Barnes and Noble acquired the rights for their own edition, they went back to the jackass cover.
The foreign rights publishers had their own ideas.
Only once did I try to influence what a nonfiction book looked like. Both my agent and I tried our very best to put the kibosh on the cover for Monster Boss. Except for the fake tear, it looks to me like the cover of procedures manual on water heater repair. But the publisher would not budge. Would this catch your eye?
When it came to my novels, I was thrilled when saw the original cover for City of Silver. I had dreamed what it might be many times. During the long years of looking for an agent for the book and then waiting while it worked its way through the publication process, I imagined what the published book would look like. I had, in my mind's eye, the cover of a favorite history used in my research. When my editor asked me for cover ideas, I sent this image of the whole dust jacket, including the spine and the back cover:
The final design for the novel surpassed all my expectations. It was totally beautiful to me, perhaps because it was my first novel. But it really is a lovely physical specimen of a book. (By the way, its interior is also a knockout. The front pages and the chapter beginnings are all designed to look like a seventeenth century book. What a gorgeous touch!)
Then, when Felony and Mayhem Press acquired the paperback rights, Maggie Topkis, the publisher, thought the original cover too staid for what she considered a lively story. She decided to replace it with a cover she thought did the story justice.
When I first saw the new design, it was so different from its predecessor, I was nonplussed. But everyone I asked liked it a lot. And I knew that Maggie had had twenty years experience as a bookseller, which meant she had watched what readers reached for. Sometimes the most aesthetically pleasing is not the most alluring to potential book buyers.
Invisible Country’s cover is a knockout. It never made it into a paperback edition, so here is the only cover it’s ever had.
With Blood Tango, I had a fright on my hands. The originally cover artist never completed the job. His replacement came up with this:
It looked to me like a cheesy romance cover. It said nothing about it being a historical novel, nothing about the darkness of the mystery or the glamor of the historic character who is central to the story—Evita. I put my foot down. In the end, they sent me a different cover, with a historic picture of Buenos Aires. I showed it to my daughter. She liked the photo but said the cover needed a woman on it. She was so right. I asked them to insert a blonde woman in the picture and to give her a red dress. They did.
Then came the African series. Africa is the MOST photogenic place on earth. Have you ever noticed how travel companies that deal worldwide always have images of Africa on their promotional materials. What’s on the walls of photographic equipment stores world wide? Africa! An alluring cover was a foregone conclusion.
I loved the original cover of Strange Gods.
But once again, I am thrilled to say, Felony and Mayhem acquired the paperback rights, and Maggie went for a more striking cover image.
She also created great fanfare for the paperback’s launch last weekend at Left Coast Crime, including a Strange Gods t-shirt and making the Strange God the official cocktail of convention. Needless to say, I was thrilled about that!
And now we are aiming to launch the second in the series, The Idol of Mombasa at Bouchercon in New Orleans in September.
This post is a whole lot of shameless self-promotion. MIE’s rules allow us one such entry each year. I forewent my turn at SSP in 2015 because I had no new book last year. I collected on that rain check today. I will have more to say about The Idol closer to the launch date.