A few words of gratitude
The last year has had the ups and downs, fear and thrills, panic and joy of the craziest roller-coaster ride, and it’s only because of your amazing support that I’ve stayed securely in my seat as my novel has made its way into the world.
You’ve thrown me book parties and hosted me for book clubs and listed me in your auctions and poured me fine wine. You’ve sent me nice notes about what the book has meant to you, and you’ve recommended it to friends. You’ve been a fan on Goodreads and talked the book up at your local bookstores. You’ve left me beautiful reviews on Amazon and lined me up for speaking engagements. You’ve signed up for this newsletter and followed my Facebook author page, and you’ve posted and tweeted and liked and linked and shared. You’ve spread the word about my events and turned out en masse all over the country, then joined me afterward for a beer (or two).
I’ve never felt so loved and supported, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Who chooses a book’s cover? Or: sex sells
I’m often asked at readings and book groups who decides what a book’s cover will look like. From what I can tell, this depends on the publisher, the editor, the author and the book. When Jonathan Franzen launched Freedom at the Herbst theater in San Francisco, he turned the book face in, away from the audience, because he hated the cover so much. “No birds,” he’d told his publisher, apparently, but a bird ended up on the cover anyway.
I was much luckier. Although my contract stipulates that my publisher has final say over the cover design, it was clear from the start my editors weren’t going to insist on a cover I didn’t like. Still, it was a long and difficult road. I was asked to submit covers I liked, and any ideas for directions. After a couple months of silence, I received a cover design, FedEx, at the hotel in Hawaii where we were vacationing with my husband’s family after Christmas. I’ll admit that receiving that first FedEx package thrilled me; the cover didn’t.
My agent and I liked the concept (the red scarf, below) but we wanted something more striking, and asked for iterations. Instead, after another protracted silence, we got the cigarette (right, below) and after we rejected that, the pearl necklace. I started to get worried, and wrote a long document with excerpts from the book highlighting various tropes that might be appropriate for a cover (lighting, photographs). My editors were, as always, gracious and accommodating, and the art department went back to the drawing board. A half dozen more concept sketches arrived, this time electronically, but none were quite right. Time was running short by then, and I was starting to panic. I found a freelance designer whose covers I liked, my publisher approached her, and in another incredibly gracious and generous move, hired her. The new designer found a photo we liked, the Random House art department improved the text treatment, and we had the final cover within two weeks.
When it came time to consider the trade paperback cover (Feb. 9th 2016), we all agreed we wanted to try something new. The art department sent a photo of a girl sitting on a bench with her legs crossed, and high heels on the ground. I thought it was an attractive image, but I worried the heels were cliched. We considered a photo of a couple in trench coats, and an image I found of a girl standing before a flooding Seine in Paris holding an umbrella.
I posted a survey on Facebook which received more than 300 responses. Many liked the trench coats but worried the man looked like a flasher. Some, including most of the men, flat out loved the girl’s legs. Others wondered if it might send the wrong message, and whether Annie Black’s legs and toes would be so perfectly manicured. The red umbrella received twice as many votes as the other two covers on Facebook, but Random House felt that photo was too neutral and quiet; they wanted something bolder. So I agreed to the original legs, but at the eleventh hour, the rights to that photo could not be secured.
The Random House art department saved the day by finding a different photo of a woman’s legs—grittier, edgier, more real, with no high heels. My agent and I liked it right away, and to everyone’s relief, we had consensus. Many of you who voted on the original photo of the girl’s legs left comments along the lines of: “Sex Sells.” You might just be right.
Baby steps toward a feature film
I don’t want to name names until we’re a little further along, but I’m happy to report that a fabulous Hollywood producer has optioned the film rights to A Small Indiscretion, a well-known writer is on board to adapt the book into a screenplay, and an independent film company has expressed interest in financing the project. Now we just need a few more folks to sign on the dotted line. This is still a long shot at this point, but if it were to actually happen, I’d get an Executive Producer credit and a role in the adaptation. No idea what that really means, but I do know that fingers and toes are officially crossed.
The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud
This book is not for everyone, but The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud blew me away. If you like an intimate narrator with an intelligent and emotionally authentic voice, flawed (i.e realistically drawn) characters, and brilliant sentences, give it a whirl. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:
“Above all, in my anger, I was sad. Isn’t that always the way, that at the heart of the fire is a frozen kernel of sorrow that the fire is trying―valiantly, fruitlessly―to eradicate.”
NaNoWriMo: Set a timer and write a novel with me in November?
I just signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo): “On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.” Anybody else want to join in?
I’ve never done this before, and I already have hundreds of pages of material, so I’m cheating a little, but I thought it might be a good kick in the pants for my second novel, The Safest City. I’m sharing my commitment to write 1,500 words every day in November here in the hopes that it’ll help keep me honest. I’m going to work to get back to a habit I established with the first novel: set a timer for 45 minutes each morning and begin, even if it means writing about the weather. For more on that trick and others, you can check out my list in Writer’s Digest: 9 Practical Tips for Finishing Your First Novel.
“The scarf I was wearing had been hand-colored a blunt red. It was tied around my neck like a choker, like a noose, but it wasn’t me who was about to hang.”
—A Small Indiscretion
Book-Bag-Scarf November Giveaway
Looking for a holiday gift for a voracious reader? As a thank you to all of you for subscribing to my newsletter, I’ll be holding a drawing for two holiday gift packages that include:
- a silk scarf in a color I like to call “Indiscretion Red”
- a sling-style book bag in black cotton canvas
- a copy of the hardcover of A Small Indiscretion, personally signed by yours truly
Cilck the red button below to enter (you don’t have to type anything, just click). We’ll draw two names in November, alert the winners by email, and announce them next month.
Thank you for reading and for cheering me on. See you in December, 50,000 words richer.