Cover Story


“Hey, do you get to pick the cover?”

If you write books for a living, you’ve probably been asked that once or twice. 

It’s a funny one to answer, because the answer is yes and no. 

Why the answer is Yes:

Because – speaking from my own experience – coming up with a jacket design is often a respectful process wherein your editor acts as a go-between, shows you a potential cover (sometimes more than one), solicits your opinion, and would never force you to live with a cover you’re dead-set against.

Why the answer is No:

Because there’s a lot that goes into jacket design that doesn’t really involve the author. The art department usually drafts up a few options, while editorial and marketing people weigh in.  And sometimes “outside” forces weigh in, too.  Example: For the UK edition of The Other Typist, my publisher had settled on a cover, but Waterstones – one of Britain’s largest retailers of books – expressed a preference for the American cover, so my publisher went with that in the end.  So, the author is really just one decider among many.

American cover:

UK cover they didn’t wind up using:

(I should probably mention that the "shout-line" -- that bit that reads, "When friendship becomes obsession..." etc -- was always only a placeholder. I think they'd planned to ultimately put a blurb there).

In my opinion, the email containing a PDF of your potential future cover is one of the most exciting emails an author can receive.  You see that email in your inbox, and it’s like, “Ooooo, exciting!”  It’s a bit odd, when you think about it.  I mean, this is the part of a book an author can’t really take any credit for.  But then, perhaps it’s not so odd, because in opening that email, you are opening the gift of someone else’s creativity, that will forever be linked to yours.  It's also a little like, SURPRISE!!!!

So far, I’ve been really lucky.  Here are my cover stories: 

The woman who designed the cover for The Other Typist did an amazing job.  She also turned out to be really nice.  Publishers don’t always make a point of introducing you to the person doing your cover – don’t ask me why.  You wind up seeing their name on the flap of your book, “Jacket design by X.”  But Lisa Amoroso, the woman who designed my cover, came to one of the events for the book and introduced herself.  I really loved that she did, because it gave me a chance to thank her for being awesome.  People were giving me compliments on the jacket design and I was thinking to myself, “These really need to be forwarded on to the person who deserves them.” 

Now I’ve got a new novel coming out in April, called Three-Martini Lunch.  The book takes place in the world of 1950s publishing, to give you a really basic idea of the mood/theme. There were a few potential jacket designs, and I thought I’d share them with you here. 

The first one was a photograph – a really, really pretty photograph: 

three martini lunch_102215_Page_1.jpg


I certainly thought this cover looked pretty and the designer did a nice job, so the fact that I didn’t wind up wanting this for my cover was no reflection on quality.  I just wasn’t sure it totally fit with my book.  Quite a few of my characters are beatniks, bohemians living in crappy apartments, running around Greenwich Village boozing it up.  I thought I maybe needed a grittier cover.  My agent and I were also hankering for a very retro illustrated cover.  

The kind, responsive art department came up with these three illustrated covers:

The third one above is the "almost final" cover.  The final design is still being tweaked.  I'll post the final cover on when it's ready, but I thought it would be interesting to blog about the ongoing process here.  

Now, this is the cover process from the author's point of view, and I'd say far more interesting than any of this is the cover process from the designer's point of view.  Linda Huang wrote a great blog entry on LitHub, describing this process when she designed the paperback cover for Jenny Offill's Dept of Speculation.  Read about it here and marvel at the 30 different covers Huang created!  That's a lot of covers.  And yes, to answer your question: More often than not, books have separate hardcover and paperback designs.  May I just say? -- Let us raise a glass to the hardworking jacket designers of the world!