Uncovered – On finding the perfect book cover and losing it

Twelve months ago I was going to do a blog about cover design for The Sky So Heavy. But I couldn’t because I was just feeling too many feelings. I’ve always found the process of book-cover design overwhelming. This goes back to high school days and ‘design the cover’ assignments. The expectation that I would put on myself would be crippling, so determined was I to get it perfect. I was a drawer and a reader, so it should have been my thing, right? RIGHT??!! To get it wrong was unthinkable. THE SHAME! The potential for me to produce a work of stunning insight was only equalled by the potential to fail. (I’m not sure that was as profound as I’d hoped it to be. See? I’m struggling. This is why I haven’t written about this before.)

When my own book is concerned it’s about a thousand times worse – if that’s even possible without full psychological breakdown. (First World Problems, anyone?) Imagine if you had to sit down and decide what you wanted your child to look like. That’s the kind of brain explosion I experience when it comes to discussions about cover concepts.

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If Fin got his shirt off more I could have had something like this for The Sky So Heavy. Shame.

Just to be clear, writers generally don’t design covers for their own books. (If you’re unsure as to why, check out the self-published book covers tumbler. Or just look to the left. There’s a reason professional designers have to go to uni for three years.) Book cover design is tricky and could well be the catalyst for a full-scale psychological breakdown if the level of neurosis exhibited by my fourteen-year-old self is anything to go by. But editors do have a discussion with the author about what they would like or any ideas they might have. As well as what they don’t want.

For The Sky So Heavy I really had no idea. I wanted to put it in the too-hard basket. I eventually nutted some vague ideas out with my editor and we ended up with something that I don’t love, but which seems to be selling well. Which means I’m finding my readers, so the cover’s done it’s job. It’s also worth pointing out that the process took place in the first year of my youngest son’s life, so it’s fair to say I had other priorities and only so much (read: very little) head space to devote to the whole thing.

Then along comes book two – not a sequel, but a stand-alone on which I have worked, off and on, for the last nine years. I have rewritten The Protected completely, not once, but twice. I guess you could say I’m kind of attached to it. (UNDERSTATEMENT.) I have also been far more emotionally present during the whole publishing process this time around, compared to The Sky So Heavy. I won’t go into details, but if you understand the level of pressure I put on myself when it came to designing an imaginary book cover when I was in high school, you can probably guess how my brain copes with the pressure of raising a tiny helpless baby. It’s not pretty. (There’s not going to be a trilogy as far as that narrative is concerned.)

The initial design the publisher sent to me for this next book was one they were very keen on, but I was not. My reasons for disliking it were partly to do with ideas about gendered book covers and partly to do with my aversion to dark close ups of pretty girls’ faces. My editor was gracious and understanding, so sent me another alternative. Which I absolutely loved. Really, truly, loved. We were in agreement, it was done. Over the last two weeks I have gazed at it on and off for long slabs of time in which I probably should have been doing other things.

But then my editor discovered another YA book, newly released in the US, with the exact same stock photo on the cover.

So it’s back to the drawing board, quite literally.

I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, if you want to read more about cover design and the myriad of aesthetic travesties that have been created in its name I highly recommend Caustic Cover Critic. Here you will also find many examples of unfortunate cover double-ups that weren’t caught in time…

Deer Dairy: blogs, diary writing and appalling spelling

Social media is the death of society, no? There been loads of studies by people with Ph.Ds banging on about how we don’t communicate properly anymore. Apparently our only fulfilling relationships are with our communication devices rather than with the people they are designed to enable us to communicate with. (Note, I am generally referring to electronic gadgets such as phones, tablet thingies etc. Far less people are believed to be attached to their morse-code devices.)

I listened to a Radio National program this morning (it appears I have become a grown-up at some stage) which discussed social media’s relationship to the demise of writers’ diaries. Writers’ diaries being those fabled, leather-bound objects bursting with page after page of scrawled inner-thoughts, many of them private at the time of writing. These private, presumably genius, insights into the human condition are usually ‘unearthed’ after their writer’s death and promptly published for all the world to read. Yes Virginia Woolf was intensely private, but look! Here’s all her innermost dreams, fears and desires now downloadable from Amazon for only $3.99!

I suspect that if a similar fate were to befall my daily scribblings, the majority of the said book would be about the bread and Diet Coke that simply MUST be purchased post-haste. Do reminders scrawled on ones hand count? I wonder if Ms Wolfe referred to lists scrawled on her arm in biro. (Were biros around in her time? Questions, questions!)

Finish Mrs Dalloway

Remind Leonard to fix the tap

Buy gin

And what of the young folk? Do they still keep diaries locked with a flimsy keys hidden under their mattresses? (I kept one such treasure trove which today only stands as a testament to my appalling spelling skills and my relentless monitoring of Tim McCallum’s hairstyles, rather than pithy insights into the human condition.)  Now that they have FaceKick, Twitter and SMS and all that, do kids still keep journals or write letters to each other? DO THEY EVEN KNOW HOW TO HOLD A PENCIL?

For the entirety of years seven and eight my BFF and I kept an exercise book in which we wrote letters to each other. The cover was a contacted collage of teddy bears and pictures of a pre-teen Leonardo DiCaprio torn from Girlfriend magazine. We would take turns writing in it at home and bring it to school to hand over. I remember all too clearly the time it was confiscated by our Science teacher after we were sprung reading it in class. How dare you indulge in the sordid practice of daily handwritten communication, thereby improving your writing and general comprehension skills!!!! (The Science teacher did not speak like this, unfortunately.) I kept up my own journal writing for years afterwards: mainly declarations of love for various unworthy males, complaints about my physical appearance and complaints generally.

I don’t keep a journal anymore. But I do blog. And the knowledge that what I write may have an audience  generally keeps the standard higher and stops me droning on endlessly about the size of my thighs and how many pieces of banana bread I have or have not eaten. And that can only be a good thing.

It also ensures that I write whenever I can. If I set myself the vague goal to post a good few paragraphs once a week, I do my best to meet it. If I was only writing for myself, no doubt in one of the multitudes of overpriced notebooks I have purchased from Pentimento, I wouldn’t manage once a month. The fact that all those notebooks are still mostly empty only proves this.

ImageBut what if the knowledge of future publication sensors my brain and stops me getting to the pithy stuff? Well, I found one of the journals from my late teens and it includes a page with a movie ticket sticky-taped to it. Beneath it is written:

Just like in the movie ‘Elizabeth’, when Elizabeth I keeps Joseph Fiennes alive as a constant reminder of how she was blinded by the affections of her heart, so too will I keep this movie ticket bought for me by the one who has broken my heart. 

Because having ones lover plot ones death in a treasonous conspiracy is quite similar to when the guy that took you to two-for-one Tuesday at Penrith Hoyts dumps you. Bloody hell. I think that pretty much concludes the argument doesn’t it? (Excuse me while I vomit quietly into a bag.) I shall keep that diary as a constant reminder of how unbelievably melodramatic and indulgent ones private writings can be. Thank you, social media, for saving me from myself.