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The You I Never Knew was written, sold to a publisher, and edited…and then it was orphaned. In publishing, this means the editor who acquired it moved on while the book was in production. This is usually not the best news for a book,  because that acquiring editor loved the book and was its in-house cheerleader. The project was handed off to a new editor. This is a bit like getting a foster child you didn’t ask for.

In my case, it turned out to be a mixed blessing. They were right in the middle of designing the cover, and it looked like this:

cover never used on the you i never knew

the art i never used on the you i never knew

literary collection of stories

Now, this is a fine piece of original art. The design and layout are Image result for the horse whisperer nicholas evansreminiscent of both The Horse Whisperer and a Nicholas Sparks cover, so those are pluses. It also looks a bit like Annie Proulx’s Close Range.

Does this mean the cover is right for this book? Probably not. First of all, The You I Never Knew would be a paperback original, not a hardcover book, so the art needs to “pop” on the shelf in order to stand out. The colors of this cover are muted and the mood is chilly. It might work on a hardcover jacket, but it doesn’t look instantly warm and inviting, like a “feel-good” novel.

The new editor came into the middle of cover design, knowing nothing about me or the book. There was a bright spot, though. The new editor was the extremely smart Maggie Crawford, and she was the kind of foster mother the book needed–an experienced editor who understood the market for this book. She’d worked with many bestselling authors and had a fine eye for marketing women’s fiction. She took on the cover art issue with aplomb, and came up with this.

The You I Never KnewIt’s one of the least-relevant yet most commercial covers I’ve ever had. Here’s my analysis: Splashing my name on the cover in huge letters gave the illusion that this was a big book by a big author. The lettering itself–big, graceful block lettering–was reminiscent of the font used for blockbuster author Sandra Brown. 22 Indigo PlaceAnd of course, it capitalizes on the galloping popularity of the biggest novel of the ’90s, The Horse Whisperer. Cover Image

So I’m back on track, right? My new editor rescued the novel from obscurity and now all I’d need to do is kick back and let the sales roll in. Oh, and I’d be working with Maggie on the next book, brainstorming the plot and building on the success of The You I Never Knew. Right? Right?

NOT.

The lovely and talented foster-editor for this book was so lovely and talented that another publisher hired her away. By the time my novel was published for the first time, there was no one home. My calls were fielded by hapless assistant. With no in-house cheerleader, no marketing budget, and no PR, my book was destined to die of slow strangulation in that publishing twilight zone known as “the midlist.” If sales were poor, the publisher wouldn’t want anymore books from me, and my days as an author were numbered.

BUT.

I had a secret weapon, and that secret weapon was YOU. The You I Never Knew, aka READERS.

One of the great things about publishing is that readers don’t care what a book’s marketing budget is. They don’t care how it’s positioned on a publisher’s list or catalog. They care about the story. Not only that, when they like the story, they tell their friends. And their librarians. And their hairdresser. And the next thing you know, the book is a bestseller.

Against all odds, the first edition of The You I Never Knew made the USA Today bestseller list. Thanks to readers, the book is still in print, in a fresh new edition this week.

The You I never Knew 2016

The latest edition – in stores now!

The You I never knew-SP

the 2010 edition

 

 

 

 

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.

Here is the final tweaked version. Coming to bookstores everywhere September 26.

Lakeshore Christmas jacket

Oh, and our good buddy Dan has a new book coming out, too, in case you haven’t heard. They’ve unveiled his cover today, too:

Lost%20Symbol%20cover.jpg

Whatcha think?

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.

One of the most-asked questions of a writer: Where do you get your ideas?

I rarely know; my novels are stitched together with bits and pieces like a crazy quilt. By the time I finish, the inciting idea has morphed and changed so much that it’s virtually disappeared into the fabric of the story.

Not so Isadora. She appeared full-fledged before me, demanded her story be told and refused to morph. I don’t recall why I was paging through an ancient book about Boston, but I came across this illustration:

And…voila! Isadora was born. I knew she was miserable and smart and repressed, and had a fine story to tell. When I finished writing The Charm School, I sent a copy of this portrait to the publisher because in their art questionnaire, they wanted to know what the main character looked like. >>sound of art director howling with laughter<<

Here is Isadora in the illustrator’s imagination, along with a toothsome Ryan. It’s a before-and-after Extreme Makeover. Also note the butterfly, mentioned in yesterday’s post. It’s visible through the die-cut window.

 

And finally, in stores now, is the 2008 Isadora. She’s looking very fit indeed, Ryan is as flamboyant as ever, and I kind of like that their facees are left up to the imagination.

 What about you? Which cover do you prefer?

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