I’ve heard a myth that when it comes to designing book covers, the publisher’s word is law. Maybe authors have a say in the early phases – but forget it – the final decision comes from the all powerful publishing house. At least in NY, I’m told.
Not so, here in the Floridian tropics of HCI. The beat of our drum is more on the Caribbean side than Manhattan and authors have historically been allowed to stretch traditional publishing rules.
Don’t get any ideas, we’re trying to fix that.
But for the time being, we suffer from too-many-cooks syndrome when it comes to cover review time.
The process, sans the recurring frustrations felt by the ed board, is actually fun.
The editors either start with a germ of a visual idea suggested by the author (who at that point is welcome) or an image or two or three is plucked from the thin air floating around the second floor editorial offices.
Then it’s off to see the wizards in the mac-infested art department. (I‘m a mac fan, so I say that with love)
It’s their turn to interpret usually vague ideas of color, image, font selection, and other cover minutia.
Make sure the title can be seen on the shelf from a reasonable distance.
That’s a key requirement for the art people to obey. Then many, many other factors come to play. Might it subliminally resemble a current or classic bestseller of similar genre? Resemble it too much? Does the image suggest anything about the subject matter? Should the author’s photo be on the front of the book? The back cover? Not at all?
How about no image? All type. Big bold letters, authoritative, traffic-stopping.
When people say “never judge a book by its cover” they’re not speaking to authors or publishers. How it’s judged may or may not reflect the book’s content, but the visual effect both aesthetically and intellectually can make or break a purchase opportunity.
Covers are a big deal.
Today’s smorgasboard of cover ideas didn’t disappoint.Again, we were talking spring 2009. And, trust me, by the time pub dates roll around, the cover design can change 360 degrees. If not more.
Suffice it to say, that everyone’s opinion is voiced. Mine probably a bit more frequently than others. Big surprise. But, you know how I adore the creative process.
Since I have a sister who’s an artist and I take cool pictures with my iphone, you might as well consider me an expert. I do. All right, all right. At least I’m interested.
Sales people, marketing mavens, publicity hounds, editors and artists alike sit around the table and comment. I still marvel at the unpredictability of people’s tastes. If like them, how could they not agree with me? A lifelong question for me probably best reserved for the therapist’s couch.
What comes to mind when you think of words like “wealth” and “sexual healing” and “infidelity” and “food disorders.” See anything yet? Now put it on a book cover. Not so easy, is it?
It’s nothing short of a miracle how the cover evolves and every so often we get it just right. If you want to see some of my recent favorites, go to www.hci-online.com and check out, You Lost Him at Hello; Staging Your Comeback; The Green Beauty Guide; Purr More, Hiss Less; Officer & A Junkie; and one of my all time faves, God’s Shrink.
You can never understate the importance of a good cover. We all know the experience of a book yelling across a room saying “pick me up” “take me home.” It almost sounds dirty. But attraction is attraction is attraction and the visual creates mysterious and powerful chemistry in the human brain. And other places.
Like it or not. Book covers sell books.Comments (1)
Thank you for your guest blog post ideas. I’m going through them now and finding some pretty good stuff. Keep ’em coming!
p.s. there’s some kind of poetic justice when a publicist takes charge of content!!Comments (0)
Speaking of humble men, I think I’ll talk about one who is very much alive.
Tom Wilson, THE Tom Wilson of the Ziggy cartoon strip and famous signature sat with us in the HCI conference room (you remember, the one without the clouds painted on the ceiling) to talk to us about the spring book he’s doing with us.
Oh joy!! Really!
It’s called “Zig-zagging” and will appear in a store near you in March ’09. It’s so early to talk about it that there’s not yet even a cover. And, I am blatantly breaking my cardinal rule about letting the book out of the bag too early. I even expressed my pre-publicity credo to Mr. Wilson. Forgive me.
This time, I can’t help it. I’m too excited!
I mean, it’s Tom Wilson.
I’m sure there are lots of Ziggy fans out there but having met his creator, I see the sweet attraction of the character comes from a genuine human heart. Here’s a man who inherited an iconic cartoon character from his father, has achieved worldwide notoriety, and still comes across as a regular guy. Even self-effacing.
I guess Ziggy wouldn’t tolerate being drawn by a diva.
And, we learned that, after 35 years, Ziggy earned the distinction of being a classic icon in the commercial sense of the word. My favorite part of Tom’s conversation was when he called Ziggy a cross between Forrest Gump and Peter Seller’s character in Being There.
Why would HCI be publishing a cartoonist? Are we coming out with our own Ziggy book?
Well, some years back, Tom had the misfortune of losing his wife to cancer and fell into a depression. In Zig-zagging he talks about how he came through this dark period, and with the help of his old friend Ziggy.
That’s all I’m going to tell you. Mostly, because that’s all I really know and I’m still working with the Bandler books and Jess McCann’s dating book and helping Staging Your Comeback gain more sales momentum – among others.
I’m still straddling spring 08 and fall 09. I can be in three seasons at once with a sprinkle of backlist books here, backlist books there. Sometimes my head spins all the way around.
Remember, a little ADHD goes a long way in book publicity.Comments (0)
I know. I know.
Sounds maudlin. Is maudlin. But it happens.
At the end of the day today, I watched a videotape on the book site. It was Randy Pausch giving the commencement speech at CMU just this past May. I dug into his publisher’s website, www.thelastlecture.com and visited his personal online account of the state of his health, for the second time.
His last journal entry was at the end of May. A lapse in entries until someone blogged on his behalf on July 24th. He was dead on the 25th. I think that’s pretty remarkable.
On the publisher’s site, there’s a nice tribute to the professor. I can only imagine how they feel there. The editors who made sure the i’s were dotted. The publicists who told his story. The sales people who told it once more to the buyers of books.
This microcosm of people are feeling the loss of an inspiring man. How he touched their lives is their private matter.
Since joining HCI in 1994, I’ve unfortunately walked in their shoes.
A tremendous loss happened before I arrived when Janet Woititz died. She shepherded the entire ACOA movement with her bestseller, Adult Children of Alcoholics. Her legacy is obvious but how she touched staff at HCI another story. I’m told that she appears in people’s dreams. Indirectly affected important choices they made. I’m sorry I missed out on meeting her.
There were a few others that were lost during my tenure but none affected me like the loss of Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., psychologist and prolific author. You know how it works. The author “lives” in the domain of the editors for some months and then they deliver them to us in the publicity kingdom.
I was privy to how amazing this author was from the accounts of our editorial director. She was editing, AWE: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion, and experiencing real transformation in her life. This was one of the most important books she’d ever worked on. I believed her and couldn’t wait to work with Pearsall.
Finally, the day came when I was gathering publicity information via email and I was to have a phone conversation with Dr. Pearsall. That conversation lasted an entire hour.
He told me that AWE was truly his life’s work. Yet he warned me that he was in fragile health. He was aware that his own personal despair had weakened his immune system. He had some very rare condition that I don’t remember. He attributed his condition to the recent and very tragic loss of his son. It was clear from our conversation that he would never be the same. From this hour with Paul, neither would I.
My take is: AWE is about that emotion that we never name as such. It’s when we’re at the zenith of our senses yet beyond them when we understand the preciousness of life. When we’re feeling our feelings as fully as we can and when our vision is laser sharp. Living our lives at maximum possibility.
In Pearsall’s words: “Feeling suddenly elevated to the limits of indescribable delight, yet teetering on the edge of fear, we experience our rarest, most powerful, and least understood emotion: awe. It’s an overwhelming and life-altering blend of fright and fascination that leaves us in a state of puzzled apprehension and appreciative perplexed wonder. ”
Almost exactly two weeks after our conversation, Paul Pearsall died. And, before his book was released.
This is a dilemma beyond usual proportions. What would we do? Could we do? There was no man to represent his tome. No one to do radio interviews, appear on Montel, autograph copies. No one who good embody and convey the principle of awe like the author.
Everyone at HCI was stunned. Michele, our editor was devastated.
We would plod on ahead and try to keep Pearsall’s vision alive by selling the book. Of course, it wasn’t easy.
We had the honor of working with a great man and bringing his vision to life. Ironic, isn’t it how he fell away when his most important work was born.
The eeriest part is that I still get requests from the media for interviews with Janet Woititz and Dr. Pearsall. It’s almost like a divinely designed pause in my day to stop and salute these great people. Cliche as it sounds, there is really no better way to keep their work alive than in books. Books don’t die. (they just go O.P.’d – private joke)
I’ve always kidded that the real pinnacle of our publicity efforts will be when we can channel interviews from the “other side.”
Hey, I was just kidding.
Hats off to you Randy Pausch and the lesson you taught us to live our lives with passion and love. I think you and Paul Pearsall would have made an awesome duo.
No pun intendedComments (2)
I promise not to become a movie critic, but in this case I can’t help myself.
If I were, one of my criteria for critiquing movies, not dissimilar to my book criticism, would be whether or not I was aware of my body in the theatre. It would range from extreme twitching, observing people around me and thrashing about in my seat meant – bad movie. And, the disappearance of my body along with time and space would constitute good movie side effects, or lack thereof.
Sure, it’s subjective, but isn’t all criticism?
My body disappeared into the screen last night at the Regal Cinema in Delray Beach. In my unofficial opinion, BEFORE THE RAINS. is an artistic masterpiece.
When I see “Merchant Ivory Productions” in the credits on the silver screen, I have high expectations for visuals. Think A Room With a View, The Remains of the Day, Jefferson in Paris… Always lush, majestic cinematography, in the true sense of a “moving picture.”
BEFORE THE RAINS didn’t disappoint me in the cinematic capacity but it happily drew me into a great story, good enough to curl up with and read in a novel. I checked to see if it was a book adaptation but, from what I could find, the movie is based on a screenplay by Cathy Rabin. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
Without giving too much of the plot away, BEFORE THE RAINS is the story of a man caught between worlds during the end of colonialism in 1930’s India. I perceived his struggle to represent three worlds: loyalty to his British employer, loyalty to his village, and the prospect of joining his former head master in the cause of Indian independence.
All this inner turmoil goes on for T.K. (Rahul Bose) in the tangle of someone else’s illicit romance. Suffice it to say that the English tea plantation owner (Linus Roache) was tilling fields that were out of bounds. When the alluring Sajani appeared (Nandita Das) it’s eary to understand why.
On goes the story with some predictable twists and turns but the outcome is somewhat surprising. I was holding my breath during the finale but walked out of the theatre intact. What was emotionally stirring did not turn out to be depressing.
I much prefer to be dramatically affected by a movie without driving home in despair. BEFORE THE RAINS left me slightly winded by the waves of feeling I experienced, but not devastated. The movie endures in a good way.
Another movie measure for me is whether or not a movie stays with me as I leave the theatre. And, if it lasts even longer, all the better. BEFORE THE RAINS did that for me.
Apparently, I’m not alone. BEFORE THE RAINS was the 2008 winner of the Worldfest Film Festival.
Go see it. Take a break from reading (did I really say that?) and delight all of your senses. It might just inspire you to write YOUR award-winning novel!
p.s. I swear, they JUST put up a website a second ago! What did I find there? A comment by Deepak Chopra. I consider myself in the company of another esteemed non-movie reviewer)Comments (0)
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