That’s how long it’s been since my first novel, The Bluejay Shaman, came out. April 1994 was a heady month but not as exciting as nearly a year before when I sold the book to my first publisher, Walker & Company. I had already run through a couple of agents and found my editor on my own at a writer’s conference. He had liked the book but told me it was too long. I demurred about cutting it (oh my precious words!) then came to my senses, whacked away the fluff, and sold it.
Yes, I wax nostalgic about that first book. As a writer it holds a special place in your heart. An older writer told me to buy a box of books and stash them in the closet for posterity. (I did.) I remember silly things like the UPS man who asked me about the box then wondered if it was about the Toronto Bluejays baseball team. My first book signing, my first public reading. Good times.
I didn’t sell a zillion copies of The Bluejay Shaman. But that didn’t matter because now I was a professional writer. It would be a rocky road, these twenty years, with ups and downs, falling outs with editors, divorcing agents, new editors, new series and long stretches without books. I’ve probably done everything wrong with what I laughingly call my “writing career” but really – I don’t care. One thing twenty years in the writing game teaches you is to develop a thick hide.
When Katy Munger and I decided to get our out of print books back into print and started Thalia Press we became cover designers by default. We had a graphic designer set up a template for our first books and we put the photos, stock or otherwise, into that. Here’s how The Bluejay Shaman turned out. I still love that tepee shot and I’ve never changed that cover.
Other covers to come: yes, there has been evolution. Some I got tired of, or decided as we transitioned from just print-on-demand books to e-books, that the type was too small when seen in a thumbnail size. Over the years we’ve learned a lot about covers from trial and error. I have decided I love to fiddle with Photoshop! But I’m not great at it, just barely competent. But I do love the control.
Control of the cover image, the emotion that it projects, the story that it implies, the tone it offers, is a two-edged sword. As writers we love to gripe about our covers. Sometimes the publisher gets it exactly right in our minds, and yet the marketing department hates it and says it won’t sell. Or we hate it ourselves and the sales guys love it. And now as author/publisher/cover designer I have no one to complain to but myself.
This first cover of Blue Wolf, the final book in the Alix Thorssen series set in Jackson Hole, was just short of abysmal in my opinion. Everyone thought the wolf looked like a puppy and it was a children’s book.
The next version, left, from the mass market edition, was an improvement.
But it wasn’t until I convinced Montana artist Carol Hagen to allow me to use her fabulous and colorful wolf painting that I got a cover I really loved, right.
In 2009 Thalia Press published its first original novel, my women’s suspense book, Blackbird Fly. In my role as She-Of-Many-Hats I designed the cover. It’s set in France so I used what I thought were iconic French images, lavender and wine corks, on the cover. The only problem was the corks looked like cheese. I redid the cover in 2011 and now, in conjunction with the publication of the sequel in a couple weeks, there is a brand new cover. I’ve learned my lesson. This time I got a real cover artist, the fabulous Lisa Desimini. She also designed the cover of the new book, using the blue French shutters in both to connect them.
Twenty years — of hunching over the computer, blundering through covers, and proofreading. Of neck pain, expanding ass cheeks, and eye strain. Twenty years of waking up at night with ideas, of following false leads, of plodding to the finish and rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. I loved it all, mostly. Please excuse me for a second while I have a glass of wine and toast the young innocent I once was. 🙂