The magic of someone else’s eyes, by Deb Katie

DISCLAIMER: the two images below labeled as “my bad design” are just that — my own bad design. Not in any way, shape, or form did these horrific little tableaux come from the good folks at Hyperion.

When I first began to think of “Bad Girls Don’t Die” as an actual, possible “book”, naturally I began daydreaming about covers. Many moons ago, the book was called “The Girl Least Likely,” and in my head, I pictured a crisp white background with simple text, and (for some reason) the top half of a girl’s face.

Contrary to what a lot of people assume, authors don’t usually have much power in the cover process. Commonly, you get what’s called “cover consult,” which means, “If you really hate it, we’ll take another look. But we’re not making any guarantees.”

My publisher, Disney-Hyperion, has some amazing covers. I knew this, and yet I still found myself worrying. I had a dream one night that the cover was maroon with gold text and a boring portrait on the front, like one of Dr. Phil’s books. (As far as I can recall, the portrait on my book was not actually Dr. Phil.)

So when the day finally came that my editor sent an email with a cover concept, I was a little anxious. The title had been changed to reflect the dark tone of the content (it is a thriller, after all), and I pictured something punky, in tones of pink and black and white. I hoped it wasn’t too cartoonish.

(As you can see by my quick mock-ups, it’s a good thing they don’t let authors design their own book covers. And I never sent these to Hyperion. I actually just built them for this post.)

So when the file opened, I spent the first few seconds processing what I saw: not bright, punky colors, but muted, even pastel tones. Not scratchy, irreverent text, but wire-thin letters. Not an exasperated-looking face confronting the reader, but a character in hiding.

It pretty much blew my mind.

And kind of for the first time, I thought of my book not just as the punk-rock journey of Alexis, my main character, but as a real and true ghost story swirling around her. Ironically, over the course of the story, Alexis learns that she’s part of something bigger, and I, the author, didn’t think about it that way until I saw my book through someone else’s eyes. (Specifically, the eyes of Beth Clark in the art department at Hyperion.)

As writers, we write because we want to impact people. We have something to say and we are eager to get it out there. But one of the most amazing things I’ve learned since I sold my book is that every person has his or her own POV, and it’s a tremendous honor when readers, agents, editors, and graphic designers share theirs with you.

With each new perspective I encounter, I feel that the story and characters are growing beyond me, like seeds I planted in a public garden. Every review I read makes me feel that someone is giving me a gift — the gift of their time, attention, and energy. (Which will probably make it that much harder when a bad one inevitably rumbles in.)

A book is written by the author, but it’s for everyone else. And seeing what others pick up and appreciate, or ignore and dismiss, is a fascinating, flattering, and thrilling piece of this adventure.

~ Deb Katie Alender

P.S. – Happy Inauguration Day! Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, let’s all celebrate this historic day and move forward together in the spirit of change.

14 Replies to “The magic of someone else’s eyes, by Deb Katie”

  1. Katie, this is brilliant. You’re so right about how a book is for everyone. I heard Margaret Atwood speak and she said when people ask her questions about the book that’s out right then, she always feels a little strange talking about it, because she’s already moved onto the next work. She said, (and I’m paraphrasing), I’m not the author of that book anymore, I’m the author of a new book, now.

    Once we let our books go into the world, they aren’t just ours anymore, just like our children.

    On that note, if any author out there hasn’t read the Billy Collins poem “Envoy” (in his current collection BALLISTICS) run out and do it, now.

  2. Thanks, Kristina! I know some authors get prickly about readers feeling ownership, but maybe because all my life I’ve been reading other books and feeling that way about them, I think that’s sort of the natural order of things.

    Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll have to find that poem.

  3. The cover of BAD GIRLS DON’T DIE has reminded me a bit of Kristina’s cover by having the art send a different message than the title. The cover depicts innocence and I’m anxious to see what magic your words create through my eyes, Katie. But right now these eyes are off to watch The Inauguration…an experience that IS always historic.

  4. M, well… LOL. I guess I just need to write the book really called “The Girl Least Likely.” Then I can use that cover design.

    Larramie, I hope you do find magic. And yes, the Inauguration! The only thing people are allowed to do today other than read my blog. 😉

  5. Happy Inauguration Day! I love the script of the letters on your cover. They’re really delicate and pretty. Also, you’re so smart to be open to how others see your book. I’m learning that it takes a whole village to put a book out there.

  6. I liked your first cover design, too, Katie! I think it’s interesting to see how our publishing house sees our books, just as it will be interesting when we start getting feedback from readers… The book, it’s true, won’t just belong to us anymore.

  7. I love your cover- it does the perfect thing of raising a question. It would make me pick it up and look at it which is exactly what we want potential readers to do.

  8. The first cover reminds me of my Beverly Cleary days and gives me the impression of a girl who proves that being sweet will finally pay off in the end! I think the chosen title and cover convey your book in a much better way.

  9. I like the cover too, and the fact that you can’t really see the girl’s face. I’d pick up this book, whether I’d probably only read the others if nothing else was at hand.

    It’s interesting how many people made the analogy between books and children. Once you’ve sent a book out into the world, it becomes an entity in its own right.

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