Bennett Madison's The Blonde of the Joke is a really great book. I missed a subway stop while reading it last summer, which is a high compliment. It's funny and dark and sad and light and sparkly all at the same time.
And the reason I read it two summers ago but it just coming out in the fall has everything to do with the cover. So Bennett's here to share that story:
"I definitely had an idea of what my ideal cover would look like when I was writing the book. I even drew a picture of it when I was at a writing impasse. Everyone does this, right? I never mentioned it to my publisher though, cause I know that although I am a good drawer, I don't know anything about designing a book cover. And I know that people who are good at what they do get annoyed when you try to do their job for them. So I try to stay out of it.
"I will spare you the details of what my imaginary cover looked like, except that it involved cigarettes, a map of the shopping mall and nudity, because all of my favorite book covers involve nudity.
"My publisher didn't really ask me for input until the art department had come up with something. I used to be a publishing intern and there was one very famous author who would clog up the fax machine with terrible cover ideas all day and night, so I can see why they try to discourage writers from getting too involved. Anyway, if they'd asked my opinion I probably would have just asked for some kind of nudity, or at least lots of skin. Because nudity suggests glamour and sophistication.
"This gets kind of complicated, but basically what happened with my book was that it was supposed to come out last year--in September '08. They had the cover all finished and were about print it all up and everything, and then at the last minute decided that the cover they had just wasn't going to work. I think the basic feeling was that it just wasn't commercial enough. I can understand that--I thought the original cover was super-hip and reflected the tone of the book really well, but hip and weird doesn't always sell books. And I want to sell lots of books and be as rich as Danielle Steel.
"That first unreleased cover changed significantly. The first version they showed me was dummied up with a stock photo and then they shot a real photo and also changed the typeface and added some pink (pink is apparently an important element of any book cover), and all kinds of things like that (right).
"The very very original version was very gritty and almost creepy-- my boyfriend said it looked like something out of some weird/kinky German porno. The final version of the original cover was quite different in the details, but was totally the same in concept. It was just a lot slicker, which also meant it was less unsettling. Honestly I never had a problem with the kinky German porno look in the first place, but I thought it got better and better with every new version.
"Anyway, they pushed the book by a year so they could do a new cover. Now it's finally finally finally coming out, and it looks completely different.
"For the first version of the cover they shot an original photo. For the new version, I'm pretty sure the image is stock. I do hope it doesn't show up in an Activia ad or anything. Although I would be interested to know what the rest of that girl's face is like.
"The second cover--the one which is going to actually be on the shelves--changed very, very little from the iteration I first saw. It might not have changed at all, actually. They might have fooled around with the typeface some.
"Both covers had to grow on me. I think that's normal. I think when you write a book you spend ages fantasizing about what the cover is going to look like, and nothing can live up to that fantasy. So when you first see it you're kind of like, 'Oh, well, that's it?' Then you spend hours staring at it and you fall in love. At least I did.
"In the end I have come to love both of my covers--old and new--but it's kind of like loving two different children. They're so different. Sometimes I get cross with one or the other. I think I'm going to get the original final cover framed, because it really was a great cover and I think it deserves its propers.
"I'm happy with the final cover. There are a few things I might change if I had the chance, but that's unavoidable. I like it 20 million times more than I ever liked the covers of either of my previous books, which looked like clip-art (MW note: see Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls, left, also a really great book!).
"The final cover is very pink and sparkly and girly, which I think took me by surprise at first. But it also has a real moodiness and a sense of humor that I love. I love the visual irony of the trashy typeface bling juxtaposed with this very mysterious and pensive image. The book is all about artifice versus reality and why it's funny, so I think it works.
"Basically I think the new cover is funny in the exact same way the book is funny. (It may be a kind of funny that only I get, but OH WELL.) And maybe sad in the same way the book is sad too. So many books have covers that don't reflect their tone at all, and I've had two that reflect the tone perfectly in different ways, so I guess I'm lucky."
And here's that final cover again:
This is rare! Having your book pushed back a year for cover redesign doesn't happen often. But I'm glad everyone wound up with a cover that works. I like both covers--I know the wig is weirdish, but I adored its originality. And I see how #2 works, as well.
What do you guys think?