Yesterday, I received a full-color mock-up for the cover of my debut novel, SO SHELLY, set for a February 2011 release from Delacorte/Random House. It led me to thinking about the process of title selection and cover design and the surprisingly limited control the author retains over each. Of course, the given exception is the well-established author with a proven track record whose input, I’m sure, is much more seriously weighed than that of a debut novelist.
As for titles, the fact is that the title under which a novel is acquired by a publisher is often jettisoned for one conjured by whatever magic formula editors utilize and through whatever market research has revealed to qualify as eye candy for potential buyers. As for my experience, I was one of the lucky ones. The first words I typed when I began SO SHELLY were exactly that: So Shelly, flushed right with the page number. In fact, I’ve written four complete novels (two sold) and have at least four partials wallowing in limbo. In each case, I’ve had a title before I penned a single word of narrative. My agent warned that in all likelihood the title would be changed. With each editorial letter, I expected a new title to be foisted upon me. However, that day never came, and yesterday, as I opened the attachment containing the cover, there it was, SO SHELLY: just quirky enough to invite interest and to serve as an inside joke to be shared by those who venture between the covers and roll around inside of Shelly’s sheets.
The cover design was a different story. At best, I had marginal input, and from the beginning, I liked it that way. I’m fully aware of my limitations. I’m no William Blake. Whatever limited artistic talents I have begin and end with words. From the outset, my philosophy regarding the cover was to let the professionals do their jobs. Actually, that not only applies to the cover design but also to the editing process. For good reason, I very well may have been the most compliant author in publishing history: editing is a unique talent for which I have the upmost respect, and my editor, Michelle Poploff, is one of the best. During the process of designing the cover art, Michelle asked for my input and kept me abreast on proposals, but my contributions were minimal. In the end, the team at Random produced a cover that, I believe, visually captures the heart of Shelly, and I have faith that, eventually, it will capture the eye of book browsers.
My advice? Stick to what you do best. Telling a compelling story is your job. Once you’ve sold a few million books, perhaps, you will have earned the right to expand your influence over titling and cover design. Until then, do your job and trust the other professionals invested in your project to do theirs.