Friday, March 30, 2007

Don't Judge a Cover by its Book

I recall Grumpy Old Bookman remarking with some asperity a while back that a jacket and title ought to damn well give you some idea what the book is about. As discussed in my last post, the title Smite the Waters seems to fall a little short in that department--and I was always hard-pressed to say what possible jacket design would give a clear sense of the book.

Have you seen those crowded, late-60s/early-70s, paperback-original, James-Bond-wannabe covers (usually rather badly drawn)? You know, the ones with some smug after-shave-ad guy in wraparound sunglasses leaning on his sports car with his arms crossed but with a silencer-equipped pistol in one hand, and an overvoluptuous girl in a bikini somewhere, and a variety of weapons scattered about, and a rocket launch in the background, and maybe a little fistfight off to one side and a passionate embrace off to the other, and usually at least one more unlikely item--typically a palm tree or a Chinese dragon or a prowling lion--to suggest the setting?

My novel doesn't have the smug guy or the sports car or bikinis or rocket launches or dragons or lions (though there is indeed a certain amount of violence and even some sex, and if I recall there is the trunk of a dead palm tree.) Unfortunately, there is certainly no single image that would state what the book is "about", and any attempt to convey content in a literal sense would run the risk of--well, see previous paragraph. If I'd had to design my own cover, it would be a mess.

Will Atkins long ago invited me to toss in any ideas I had on this topic, but the best I could do was mumble about how 'something involving water' might be nice. (Well, it was in an e-mail, so the mumbling was with my fingertips, but you know what I mean, don't you?)

Will recently let me have a look at the proposed jacket design. It's still in the development stages--and now I guess it will have a different title slapped down across the jacket art--so I suppose I can't show it yet, and I won't try to describe it except to say it's stunning. (And worked in glorious harmony with the title, I might add.) I've had it up on my screen as the background for some time, and I keep sneaking little glimpses. Nice. (And they've even put my name on it.)

Does it meet the challenge of saying what the book is about? Not directly, though the images draw on the book. Metaphorically, however, I think the design nailed the book with great precision. The novel is a noir piece, much of which nonetheless takes place in harsh sunlight. The designer managed to come up with something that is dark, and also blindingly bright. And wet, too.

But now we have another problem--will our new title suit the great jacket art?

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