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So after telling you about the process of writing a novel, I promised to talk about cover art. How does a publisher get that sucker all spiffed up and ready for the bookstore?

Oh, so carefully. Most publishers have an entire dedicated art department whose sole purpose is book design–the image, the fonts, endpapers, you name it.

Back when I was self-publishing, I designed my own.

bringing you bad books since the age of 8

bringing you bad books since the age of 8

p10603411

Art was not my forte, clearly.

Book cover art is the topic of endless and passionate debate among writers and people in publishing.

Because it matters so freakin’ much. It’s the reader’s first glimpse of your work. You’ve got a split second to grab her attention. And in that split second, you have to convey that a) this is YOUR kind of book and b) it’s a particularly great read and c) she should just ignore all those other books on the shelf nearby that are vying for attention.

How does a book get from the mess on my living room floor…

Barkis is bored. He just doesn't get it.

Barkis is bored. He just doesn’t get it.

…into the reader’s hands?

Buy a book from Wendy!

You need not just a beautiful cover, but the RIGHT cover. For example, this cover is beautiful:

Where's the romance?

Where’s the romance?

…but it doesn’t scream “sweep-you-away-historical-romance” the way this one does:

Sexy tiiime!

Sexy tiiime!

The Drifter reissue

They’re all nicely done, but guess which one sold the best? Yep, the one that looked the most romantic, dramatic and compelling to the reader most likely to enjoy that kind of book.

After the original edition of The Drifter was published, the art department took another look at what my books were about and what my readers love–romance, fantasy, passion. So my next book, THE CHARM SCHOOL, went through a major transformation. Here is the cover-in-progress:

I sent my editor a little thumbnail image from a book of clipart. I just thought it was pretty. The main character was a bookworm with a rich fantasy life, and this image made me think of her:

Clip art that inspired The Charm School cover

Thanks to my very smart editor, she got this sketch out of the art department, and I knew we had a winner on our hands:

sketch for Charm School cover

I was hoping it would turn into a pink valentine of a book because, well, we readers love pink valentines. And Lo:

Now, THAT's a cover.

Now, THAT’s a cover.

Flowers, purple foil, generous endorsement from iconic romance author. It even had a peek-a-boo window with a glimpse at the illustration inside. And although the real Isadora looked like this:

Isadora, the main character of THE CHARM SCHOOL

Isadora, the main character of THE CHARM SCHOOL

…she got a makeover for the cover art. This image is inside the front cover. It’s known as a “step-back.”

ready for action

ready for action

I’m proud to say, The Charm School was my first national bestseller. The book got good reviews, won some awards, made some best-of lists, but I credit the sales to the right cover on the right book. 

Oh, and here–with apologies to the redoubtable Erik Larson–is my nomination for the worst book cover ever. On one of the best books, ever.

Foreign edition of Erik's iconic work, Devil in the White City, with unfortunate cover art.

Foreign edition of Erik’s iconic work, Devil in the White City, with unfortunate cover art.

So as you well know by now, I am obsessed by book covers. It’s all part of my obsession with books. Now I need your opinion on an upcoming cover. Just Breathe has a strong, sophisticated cover, clean and light, with a single evocative image:

it was a bestseller

it was a bestseller

Next hardcover is Lakeshore Christmas. Marketing-wise, this cover has a big job to do. It needs to straddle the line between a hardcover and the Lakeshore paperbacks. It needs to attract readers who have never heard of me but who might want to give it a try. It needs to be memorable. It currently looks like this:

it wants to be a bestseller

it wants to be a bestseller

The shot above is an early mockup that was sent. The title is wrong (no “A”) but the general idea is there. Next we saw the full jacket. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what I think of Barkis’s star turn:

book jacket laid flat

book jacket laid flat

There are a couple of tweaks. The title script is nicer, I think, though my agent wanted my name bigger. There’s a #1 in front of “New York Times” which makes me proud and could be a selling point. I don’t love the text at the very top and hope they’ll move that. It looks cluttered, and remember, we want this to appeal to people who haven’t yet discovered the series, so it’s not much of a hook and might be off-putting to people who don’t want to read a book out of order.

The Lakeshore Chronicles have a “look”–small-town charm in miniature. In that sense, this cover works. It’s a pretty image, too. Reminds me of those little collectible Christmas villages. No complaints about that. The question is, will it stand out? When you view Just Breathe from across the bookstore, the image grabs your attention. The Christmas cover…maybe not.  My concern–the eye doesn’t know where to go. To the couple on the bench? The gazebo? There isn’t something strong, standing out. Up against all the other books on the shelf, it might end up looking like wallpaper. At this point, it probably can’t be radically changed, but there could be some tweaking. My thought is maybe they could bring up the light around part of the image–maybe the gazebo and tree?–to give book browsers something to focus on. Better yet, it needs to look like something they want to take home with them. C’mon, put on your art-director hat and chime in.

So in our interview, Deborah Bouziden asked a key question. My answer is short, because it’s not going to work for every writer.

DB: When creating your characters, how do you choose traits, personality, etc.? Are your characters given your traits, friends, relatives, or are they formed from observation? What traits must main characters have?

Crazy Quilt Rendered by harlotte Winter, c. 1938 from National Gallery of Art

Crazy Quilt Rendered by Charlotte Winter, c. 1938 from National Gallery of Art

SW:

My characters come together like pieces of a crazy quilt. I pull together colorful bits and pieces (traits, issues, background) and assemble them into a person-like creation. The bits and pieces come from people I know, but once they’re assembled, they’re an original creation. At the outset, I focus a lot on the character’s history and the defining moments in her past that motivate her emotions and actions in the story. There are no consistent “must-have” traits for me other than being fascinating! I love the endless variety in people–and in characters.

Who are some of your favorite, most unforgettable characters in fiction?

It’s an art form, surely:

Can you believe how charming this cup is? Get it for your Valentine here. Heck, get it for yourself! Artist Sally Mara Sturman is amazing. I just love her handcrafted, one-of-a-kind wares.

hand painted by Sally Mara Sturman

hand painted by Sally Mara Sturman

Here’s a magazine article about this fun, retro beach house I live in. Rebecca Teagarden is a fantastic writer and editor. Photographer Mike Siegel took some beautiful shots–slide show here.

rat pack decor in the bedroom

rat pack decor in the bedroom

Sometimes, a perfect stranger sends you something like this in the mail…

I have the nicest readers!

I have the nicest readers!

We all know I love book cover art and the whole process of dressing up a novel to be released into the wild. With Fireside due to hit stores any day now, I can’t wait to see its smiling face! Here’s something interesting– another guy who likes book cover art has showcased his faves on his blog, Book Design Review with Joseph Sullivan. Check out his picks here. He has a very distinctive aesthetic that could NOT be more different from my own. Just goes to show you how subjective this all is.

What are some of your favorite book covers of 2008? Here are a few of mine:

best YA cover...by far

best YA cover...by far

gorgeous cover, excellent book

gorgeous cover, excellent book

haunting image...intriguing book

haunting image...intriguing book

Im a sucker for handwritten lettering.

I'm a sucker for handwritten lettering. And this layout is genius.

Look-alike covers:

The one on the left is a sci-fi bestseller by the Twilight author. The one on the right is the Bible. Go figure. Sometimes similar images seem to get into the zeitgeist. How many times before it’s declared a trend? Is this one called the “ominous, upward-looking eye” trend?

(Alison Kent has a good post on cover trends here.) Click here to enlarge the cover image

And finally, last but not least…It’s probably not polite to pick yourself, but this has nothing to do with me. My publisher found a fresh and eye-catching image for the book and I really love it. And it’s not just me. For the first time in 30-something covers, I’ve had readers contact me to ask where they can get a poster of the image! As my agent said, “It looks like a day at the beach.”

okay, so Im biased

okay, so I'm biased

What’s better than a brand new novel from a beloved children’s author?

A free copy plus a $40 certificate to buy any book you want! See below for entry info:

FORTUNE’S MAGIC FARM

fabulous for readers 8-12

fabulous for readers 8-12

In Fortune’s Magic Farm (coming March 1, 2009), Isabelle meets two people who share a very special magical skill.
Imagine your own story in which your hero discovers that he or she has a special magical power. Write a few paragraphs about the moment when your hero discovers that power.
Email your story to Suzanne at mail@suzanneselfors.com. Be sure to put “contest” in the subject line. Or mail your story to Suzanne at Writing Contest, PO Box 10414, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Include a drawing if you’d like.
Four winners will each receive a $40 gift certificate to the bookstore of his/her choice and a signed copy of Fortune’s Magic Farm. Winning stories will be posted on Suzanne’s website. Entry deadline: February 1, 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the last-minute “I had no idea it was Christmas-smack me upside the head” gift guide that will also make you the favorite this year. Not that we’re competitive in this family, but come on. Here’s a project for those snowed-in, shopped-out days before Christmas. Go to Google Images or some other image-finding place and search out some shots of your  mother’s favorite places. You get bonus points for finding favorite childhood places, and if they have a vintage look, all the better. Make some prints on good-quality paper and make a collage in a frame you have hanging around (pun intended).

If that’s not simple enough, check this out. You get a classy (but hilarious) calendar in your e-mail, for printing out on nice paper. There’s a design for girls and one for guys. “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

What are some of your favorite places? Send yourself a postcard.

what’s on my mind right now:

Join me on Facebook. You won’t be sorry.

I tend to spontaneously give stuff away to readers and libraries. Join the fun here. Really.

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