I'm a sucker for pretty book covers. I always have been. As a kid in libraries, I’d scan the shelves for anything that caught my eye. I picked up Twilight in a bookstore knowing nothing about it other than it was a vampire story—I fell in love with vampires in 6th grade—and that the cover was beautiful. The striking red of the apple against the stark white of the cupped hands and angled forearms, the black background and silver title sold me in about two seconds. I didn’t love the book and didn’t read any of the sequels, but every time I pull Twilight out to get rid of it, I end up admiring the cover like a work of art and put it back on my shelf.
My bookcases are filled with pretty books. I mean, all books are beautiful, but those with pretty faces as well as words are likely to go far in our visual culture. It may not be fair, but it’s true: people judge books by their covers all the time. So we authors cross our fingers that we’ll get a good one, because the thing is, we don’t have much control over the cover.
When I sold my novel, it was a Word document on my computer; a manuscript I hadn’t printed out in its entirety for years. It wasn’t yet a physical object, or rather its physicality was blank. When I pictured my book as a thing, it looked like a pile of papers, a faceless body of words.
Then one day, an image magically appeared in my email inbox. No one had told me exactly when I’d see my cover, or what it might look like. No one had asked me for any ideas or input, though I suppose, if I’d had strong opinions about my vision, I would have said so. I know other authors who sent photos or drawings, or other covers they loved. I did none of that and yet there it was as an attachment from my editor. I held my breath as I waited for it to load. Suddenly, my book was looking back at me.
I didn’t immediately fall in love. At first, I didn’t know what I thought. How do you react to finally seeing the face of a being you know so intimately? My book and I were like one of those couples who meet online or through the paper and write to each other and talk on the phone for months, revealing every detail about themselves without having seen any photos, the internal so familiar and the external only imagined. A face-to-face encounter changes the whole relationship in a second.
Generally, an author is shown a cover from the designer. She then has three options: reject, accept, or request changes. Of course, there are always those horror stories of authors who had no say at all and hated their covers, but I have also heard of authors going through three or five versions to find one that’s exactly right. For good reason—a book’s cover is how it presents itself to the world. It’s important. Like you’d choose an outfit based on your activity, your cover should fit your audience, should give a sense of the book’s mood, should make people want to pick it up and hold it in their hands.
It’s a partnership, working with a publisher, so you may not get exactly what you envisioned all those years as you built a relationship with your book. And some authors have told me that was a good thing: that the design their publisher presented was so much better that what they’d asked for; better than they’d imagined. The designers are, after all, designers. Try to be open-minded.
When you do see her face for the first time, it’s less complicated than meeting your internet boyfriend in person because, unlike his, the book's face isn't permanent. You can change it. If you hate your cover or you really feel that something isn’t working, speak up! Be polite and respectful, but say something. Your cover is what everyone will see, what your book will wear out in the world, her shining face. It should be something that feels right for her, and for you.
|Isn't she pretty?|
Find out more about Hand Me Down at www.melaniethorne.com