Please join us in welcoming author Caroline Leavitt to the Ball this weekend! Caroline is the New York Times bestselling author of PICTURES OF YOU, which was one of the best Books of 2011 from the San Francisco Chronicle, The Providence Journal, Bookmarks and Kirkus. Her new novel IS THIS TOMORROW is a May Indie Next Pick, that Vanity Fair has called “riveting.” You can find more about her at carolineleavitt.com.
Since we’ve been talking covers all week, Caroline decided to give us her take on cover art. Take it away, Caroline!
Can you tell a book by its cover?
Covers count. That’s the truth. But the other truth is that often they are out of your hands. Covers are actually a marketing decision and sometimes what the author wants is not what the publisher has in mind. The sales force weighs in, the top honchos. Everyone wants your book to sell as much as you do. I had even heard rumors that the head book buyer at Barnes and Noble would weigh in on a cover, as well.
I’ve been lucky with most of my covers, though no one has ever asked my advice until I got to Algonquin. For my novel Coming Back to Me, the hardcover was this dark beauty. It looked like an Edward Hopper painting of a young father feeding a bottle to baby late at night in a diner. Behind him, the night sky was spangled with stars. Perfect, right? But for the paperback, they went in a softer direction. The cover was pink and green, with a bathrobe hanging on a hook and in an inset of a GQ looking smiling guy carrying flowers. Now, in this particular book, the main male character was taking care of his newborn child because his wife was mysteriously ill. There was no way on earth he’d be smiling! I called my agent upset. She called the publisher but they refused to change anything except to make the guy’s smile a little less bright. Ever since then, when people ask about that book, I show them only the hardcover. That terrible paperback still haunts me.
You want a cover that will make people curious. You want a cover that has something to do with the novel itself. I loved the cover of my novel Girls in Trouble about open adoption, which showed a pair of young legs walking on a fence, but I would have loved it more if the legs were so disembodied, if there had been a whole figure.
When I got to Algonquin, I told them how I worried about my covers and they assured me that I would never have to have a cover I hated. And they asked my input. They showed me sketches and gave me choices.
For Is This Tomorrow, my editor and I knew we wanted something eerie, haunting and literary. I kept seeing an image of a boy running across a lawn, maybe in shadow. Andra, my editor, thought that might not be unique enough. And then I found a photograph, black and white, 1950s looking, of a mother and three kids looking up at the eclipse with special glasses! It even had the right sexes of the kids to fit in with my novel! Even better, Andra happened to know the photographer. I thought everything was all set, but then Andra called a few weeks later to tell me they were going in another direction and would I take a look.
Of course I was panicked.
But then I saw the cover. An eerie, unsettling image of two hands holding a box, and inside the box–right there–is the running boy I wanted. The whole cover, too, was this strange suburban green. Like grass on a hot summer day. I loved it. In fact, the truth is, I loved it so much, I bought a spring coat to match it, and I’m now wearing it on tour.