Cover Me

papyrus scroll

But where’s the title?

Perhaps you’ve been saying to yourself lately, “I want to publish a book, but I wonder if I can’t just do this in seven easy steps?” Here’s my method.

1) Write a book.

2) Rewrite it.

3) Rewrite it.

4) Rewrite it.

Oh. That actually goes on for a while. It might be more than seven steps. Never mind.

Instead, let me jump over to step 81, but first, let’s consider papyrus scrolls. A scroll has many pages, as you probably recall, just like a modern book, except that when people back in the old days looked at that pile of pages and said, “What are we going to do with all this?” one of them said, “Let’s glue all the edges together like one really long page, then roll it up.” Obviously, someone thought that made sense, so they did.

Much later, another person said, “I hate these scrolls. Let’s stack all the pages on top of each other and sew them together along one side. That’ll make it so much easier to find page 56.” Voila, the modern book. You will have noticed, however, that individual pages can easily be subject to damage, if the cat sits on them, for instance. So people invented hard containers to put the pages inside, and thus we have book covers. With the great invention of a cover, it became possible to put cool stuff on it, like a picture of a man in a fedora holding a pistol and a woman in a bikini in the background.

If you happen to be publishing a book, step 81 is creating the cover. In the old days, a publishing company hired designers who created the cover, and you—the writer—might be able to say yes or no (but I doubt it). These days, if you’re going the self-publishing route, you have creative control, but you have to decide where the cover is going to come from.

Maybe you have a friend who can draw some and kind of use Photoshop, sort of, in which case your friend can create the cover for your book, although it might look like…you know, your friend made it. But if you’re putting out a church cookbook or publishing a memoire to give your kids, what the hell, get a friend to do it. Go cheap.

On the other hand, have you ever browsed through a bookstore looking at the covers? Some are really cool. Some are boring. Some are dumb. In the competition of a bazillion book covers all asking for the soft caress of your eyes, the cover is important. If you want a professional cover for a book, you can hire a professional. You can now get the same level of quality with a self-published book that was once only possible from a publishing company. You have to pay for it, but high-quality services exist.

When I put out the novel The Illusion of Being Here, I used an online company that was recommended to me. I never met anyone in person, but I sent them a copy of the manuscript, I gave them the ideas I had, and they came back with two or three sample covers. You can see on that cover that it uses a lot of blue and green, a color scheme that appealed to me. Based on content of the novel, I had the idea of using a Gullah basket with grasses growing from the edge. The designer took that idea, and since the book takes place in both Moscow and Charleston, South Carolina, she added symbols of both cities. I was very happy with the result.

For the book I’m now working to put out, a collection of short stories, I’m using a local book services company here in Atlanta, called Booklogix. This week I took off work a couple of hours early and drove to their offices (an hour’s drive, even without rush hour traffic), where I met with the head of the design department and the guy who will actually do the cover.

We talked about the book a bit, about kinds of things I like, about use of color (I HATE pastels), and discussed some very broad ideas. Because this is a collection of 13 stories, it seemed harder to me to know what to use, since there’s no single plot or theme to draw on. I wasn’t sure that what I had to say could be very useful to the designers, but before we met, I had spent some time on Amazon finding covers that appealed to me, and I sent them a page with about 10 links. I hoped those samples would give some sense of things I might like. From looking at those covers, the designer told me I seem to like rounded fonts. I hadn’t noticed that. I’m not even clear exactly on what that would be.

The next step—I guess that would be 82—is that they will send me two or three samples, and then we’ll talk about them. As long as there are no pastels and the fonts are rounded, we should be getting somewhere.

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Filed under Giving Birth to a Book (That's Why I'm Screaming), Writing While Living

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