Book

DO JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER

Writing a book is a major achievement.  Ask anyone who has ever kissed their manuscript as they mailed it to their editor, or fist pumped right before they pressed “send.”
 
But the writing is just the beginning. With the traditional publishing industry undergoing liposuction in every way, the marketing, the talking it up, the endorsing, and the window dressing are even more critical.  That makes the cover (always an important factor in selecting your next read) of critical importance. 
 
Choosing a cover feels a bit like deciding what outfit to be buried in.  It’s an eternal, fairly final choice. Unless of course you write “The Help “ and you get a do-over on the paperback cover, swapping out the mysteriously ambiguous ravens for a picture of the movie stars.
 
So when choosing the cover do you go bold?  Or do you stick with the little black dress?  Do you tantalize or reveal?  If your book touches on a serious subject do you make the cover more…airy?  Do you merely hint at a suggestion of real life sadness?  Flap copy is designed to preview the contents of the book, but let’s be honest, don’t we all judge a book by its cover?  Aren’t we quick to flick our eyes over what appeals and then pick it up for closer inspection?
 
This is the era of Facebook and Match.com.   We can go right to the visual and decide if we want to fondle the goods or click on by.  The cover of a book is the eye candy for the IQ inside.  It’s the hooked worm on the bobber.
 
And the cover is where the author (unless they wield major New York Times Book Review list-rattling power) is merely one voice in a chorus of marketing experts. 
 

With my first two books, “In an Instant” and “Perfectly Imperfect,” this process was largely out of my hands.  My photograph appears on each of the covers, something that still makes me slightly uncomfortable.  It’s like the wealthy WASP homes I visited as a child where the ubiquitous oil portrait of “mother” in white dress and garden background lurked over the mantle.  You will never find a picture of me over my fireplace.  Not even if I was the Queen of England.  I’m not judging here, I’m just…inwardly cringing at the thought.

I framed a black and white photo of myself that was taken with one of the last giant portrait Polaroid cameras left in the world.  It was shot by iconic photographer Mary Ellen Mark and I am most proud of this picture because it was an award I got for being a mother first and an advocate second.  You can bet your sweet bippy that professional make up artists and stylists helped curate the illusion of a better me. But I will tell you that this picture hangs in my closet.  I’m frankly about the only person who gets to see it besides my husband.

In that photograph I’m fierce and strong, a warrior mother, my arms are on my hips like Linda Carter and I’m ready to Wonder Woman a lobbed spear right back at the bad guys.  But on the cover of my first book I’m in a bowel movement brown sweater looking… terribly sad.

“In an Instant” was an honest book about our family’s journey and recovery after my husband’s injury in Iraq.  It’s also a love story of sorts. So the cover had to say—“hey, remember the anchor guy on TV who got hit by a bomb, along with his devoted and egregiously sad wife?  The story lies within these pages… come get the poop.”  And then the color of the sweater kind of underscored the poop part for folks if they managed to mistake my winsome expression. 

My second book, “Perfectly Imperfect,” is a book of essays about life, some funny while others are more poignant.  I had hoped to have one lone, single inanimate object on the cover, like the jar of cream on Nora Ephron’s “I Feel Bad About My Neck.”   I loved that cover.  My husband gave me a hideous turquoise ring once and I wrote about it in one of the chapters. I fancied that ring in its heart shaped fuzzy red box on the cover of the book like a whimsical smirk.  But since I am NOT Nora Ephron and people DON’T instantly recognize my name, it was decided that I myself would appear on the cover, (marketing calls this branding) bright colors and plaid sneakers and all.  

The “Perfectly Imperfect” cover showed readers that I’d regained my sense of humor, cheered up and had bought more fashionable clothing than that of my previous fecal-brown V-neck sweater-wearing phase. The carefree yet scrunched expression on my face, a kind of “what the hey” look, was meant to invite readers to sit a spell.  Looking at myself, forever preserved on the cover like a fly in amber, I am reminded of the need for more roughage in my diet, or perhaps a Metamucil colonic.

For “Those We Love Most,” a work of fiction, the sky was the limit in terms of cover choice.  Smarter marketing minds at my publisher Hyperion Voice would need to put their heads together. 

“It can’t look sad” was what I heard.  And the first cover concept was an Adirondack chair on a porch with flowers and sunlight.  It looked mystical, hopeful and partially spiritual, like someone was going to slide down Jacob’s ladder from heaven and show back up at the dinner table.  But it just didn’t feel right. Not to mention there wasn’t actually one porch in the book. 

What about a mere suggestion that something is amiss?  I asked.  But the rougher stuff, the loss had to be nuanced a bit—you don’t want to scare anyone off.  We are just throttling out of an economic recession and people want to escape into bondage, Hermes scarves, S & M and futuristic worlds.  If you believe the research, that is. 

Another version of the present cover had pink flowers that seemed to originate in Hawaii, despite the fact that the book takes place in the Midwest.   It reminded me of some of the 70’s feminine hygiene boxes—before they invented the wing technology and got all graphic and real-world on the outside.   But this newer book cover had legs.  We were refining and changing.

In the end we got a cover that feels inviting and homey, like I hope my house feels.  In fact the eerie thing is that without ever having seen my home, the artist captured my mudroom almost exactly.  I figured that was some kind of sign.

So here it is.  The cover.  I hope it speaks to you too.  I hope that when you and others are walking through a book store or airport or scrolling through a website or blog you hear a little… “You hooooo… over here” from my book.  And I hope you will be compelled to pick it up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Comments

  1. Ellie

    May 23, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Oh. My. That's perfect. I have no idea what it contains but it is perfect and actually made my eyes sting. I would definitely pick that up. In fact, I'm going to go right now to my library's website to see if they've preordered it …

    Also! Congratulations! How wonderful to be at the point where the book is written (as opposed to, you know, struggling through the quagmire of the umteenth rewrite of that one chapter that just doesn't want to come out right …).

  2. Virginia

    May 23, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    It's a wonderful cover!

  3. Glenda

    May 24, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Wow! A beautiful cover indeed. Can't wait to pick it up!

  4. Anne Deysher

    May 24, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    I love the cover as well as being treated to an inside account of choosing book covers. I look forward to reading the inviting sounding novel!

  5. Beth

    May 24, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Lee, I love it! It's a big deal and I think it's perfect. The blurb is in a great spot too. In an Instant is still one of my favorites of all time (I'm still lending it out) so I can't wait for this! Congratulations!

  6. Kate Ryan Williams

    May 24, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Love it. I am drawn to this cover, as I'm sure many others will be. And I love this post. I love that you reference Wonder Woman and have a photo of yourself in your closet. You seem so genuine. Thanks for sharing this process with your readers!

  7. Mary McManus

    May 24, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    I love it Lee – congratulations! can't wait to read it and hopefully see you when you do a book signing in Boston. Much love xoxo

  8. Lynne Spreen

    May 25, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Wonderful cover. I will check the book out after I send this.

    I know what you mean, though. I was working with a cover artist and the first two tries were pretty awful. I wanted wide sweeps of prairie landscape, which to me connote positive thoughts. But to my artist the same subject material manifested as a virtual dust bowl. All he needed to add was the horned cow skull. I said, no, convey beauty with solitude! and this is what he came up with:

    BTW, are you on Goodreads.com? It's a great community for readers, and to promote your work. The awesome Jane Friedman talks about the value of Goodreads to authors. I'd add another link but don't want to get kicked out by your spam filter, so here's the title. You can google it: jane friedman 2 ways to make the most of goodreads.

  9. Diane Owens

    May 27, 2012 at 5:22 am

    Lee, it's an amazing cover! And I'd say it was well worth going through the Adirondack chair-Hawaiin floral journey to arrive at this one.

    And for the record, I love your other two book covers and my treasured two books that these covers bind—although I admit I will never again look at your brown sweater in the same way after your description of its color. 🙂

    Thanks for continuing to share the journey toward getting this book into our hands!

  10. Linda R. Adzigian

    May 31, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    I love your new cover and I can't wait to read "Those We Love Most"!!! Will you have any copies with you in August? Your first two books were wonderful and I am anxiously awaiting your next one! It is quite fascinating to be in on the ins and outs of writing, publishing, and the cover of your book. Thanks for the journey.

  11. Karen Putz

    June 5, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    What a beautiful cover! It's like the sexy black dress, totally done up– but with a comfortable fit!

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