So, you’ve got your contract with a publisher and you’re working hard on your re-writes. And you’re being paid - yippee, you’re a professional writer now!
And, finally, you get to plan the dust jacket of your book. Of course, you’ve been planning it probably from the time you started writing the book - or maybe even before. Or perhaps from the moment you decided to be a writer. What writer - or would-be writer - hasn’t stood in a bookshop and imagened their book there on the shelves, their own name beaming out from the best cover design ever in the whole world?
And this is exactly the reason why all new writers arriving at this point in their careers will need to navigate with caution. All your blood, sweat and tears and hopes and ambitions for your beloved book, your baby, will be tied up in the dust jacket. After all, for the first time, you are handing control over to other people - it will be these other people who will dress your baby and present it to the public. It is an alarming moment for Mommie Dearest.
My sense of it is that publishers don’t really want a bug-eyed, frothing, hysterical mother on their hands trying to tell them how her baby should be dressed and presented to the world. For this reason, they are hesitant to let their first-time authors authors go anywhere near the design process.
In my podcast conversation with Lucy Luck, the UK literary agent, I described the negotiations over the dust jacket for my first novel “The Flame Tree”. I was not too happy with the first design for the cover - it was staid and dull, I felt. I spoke to my agent, who agreed that it was too un-thrilling for a thriller. On her advice, I played it cool and let her handle the discussions. She was able to negotiate a re-design. This time, I got the chance to talk to the illustrator and give him my take on what elements the cover could show. I was also invited to watch the photo shoot - “watch” being the operative word: I was careful not to do the whole fussy, interfering mother thing. The result was a brilliant cover that captured the essence of the novel.*
In contrast, I heard the story of a first-time author who was unhappy with the cover design of his book - it had a “Boy’s Own” feel to it, signalling the action/ adventure genre of his novel. Unfortunately, in his mind, he had written great literature and he had expected a cover to denote that gravitas. He had a row with his editor that lasted for weeks - against the advice of his agent, who shared the same view as his editor - and worst of all, he completely lost his cool. The publishers retained the “Boy’s Own” style cover and subsequently, rejected his next three manuscripts. Now, it may be that those later manuscripts lacked merit in their own right. But, in my mind, I don’t think the tantrum over the first dust jacket helped.
Would you have a head to head row with your colleagues or boss in your day job, complete with the chest pushing and going red in the face? Not the greatest career move if you did, I’d suggest. So, too, with navigating your way through the business of being a professional, published author. It can be very difficult especially as one’s life and soul can be bound up in one’s literary baby. So, if you’ve managed to get this far on a bit of luck and a lot of talent, do leave Mommie Dearest at home….
* This first edition of the book is now out of print. “The Flame Tree” is now in its second edition.