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Last Friday I went into Manhattan to have a meeting with my editor at Bloomsbury. I was 15 minutes early for our 10AM rendez-vous, so I walked across 23rd Street to Madison Square Park. (This is a plaza in the middle of Broadway, which Mayor Bloomberg paved part over to make in to a pedestrian oasis of sorts. It was going to be a 65-degree day and already it was a grey but balmy 50.)

I saw this from a distance and immediately wished my meeting was at 10PM. I wish I could see this “sculpture” at night:

I don’t know what it’s called, probably something like “Illumination of Beingness”, but it’s a neat idea.

And then I wandered over to the dog run in the park:

I wish I had a dog. It must be nice to be able to take your buddies out for a cup of coffee on the first day of the Winter thaw.

I turned and headed back to Bloomsbury.

Yes: my publisher is in the famous Flatiron Building on 23rd Street. I meant to take a photo of what it looks like to have an office in the very tippy-point of this weird tri-angle-shaped building, but I forgot. I forget the most shocking things. This morning, I forgot that I’d set down my tote bag in the driveway behind the car, and I drove over it when I backed out.

But this is what it looks like right outside my editor’s office, which is near the tippy-point of the Flatiron Building. If you are a Bloomsbury author, and your editor likes you, you are allowed to browse their bookshelves of Bloomsbury books and take any book you want. I got a copy of The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize and published by the home office, Bloomsbury UK.

Every now and then I get a beautiful card, or note, or letter, from a new reader who sent it to me c/o my publisher, BloomsburyUSA. Whenever I get such a card, note, or letter, I picture the excitement in the mailroom when it first arrived, like this:

“Look here!” cries the Princeton-educated English major, working his way up the corporate ladder in the publishing business; “One of our own dear authors has a beautiful card, or note, or letter from a new reader!! ” He thinks it’s his lucky day, to have come this close to the real stuff of dreams between published writers and their readers.

Everyone gathers round and examines the postmark, the penmanship, the tooth and hue of the envelope.  Everyone is in awe of this proof of the power of the printed word to create bonds across the land. Then, after entering the magical piece of mail into the gilt-bound log (it has gold letters on it: Author Mail), the lucky Princetonian carries it over to the special velvet-lined mahogany box where all the Author Mail waits to be forwarded to the grateful Author (who, trust me, has a special place in her heart and her vault for all her Author Mail).

Seems that’s not how it works after all.

So after I talked with my editor about her edits (the narrative structure works very well, she laughed at the funny bits, the part about Omaha Beach gave her chills, she cried at the right spots; but it seems that I don’t know how to punctuate dialog). Then I went upstairs to the Production Department to use their spiffy Canon Color Copier to make five color copies of the manuscript.

See that desk on the left? That’s the desk of the wonderful production editor of my first book, Elizabeth Peters, who moved back to England two years ago. That’s where we sat, back in 2007, going over every page of Wanderers, deciding about the best way to mount them for scanning in Thailand. Liz is the only  person at Bloomsbury, back then, who ever talked to me, and I’m still grateful that she was so caring and careful (even though my book had been an “orphan” for over a year by then).

These days,  there’s a new young girl there, and she was working on a YA book cover on her computer when I set up my station by the Canon Color Copier.

The soigne young lady, standing in this picture, doing quality control over a freshly-copied page of my Damn France Book manuscript ,is Keely, the intern from the  University of Virginia.

Keely and I pulled out the top drawer of the flat-file cabinet in front of her, and laid down a board (I found it leaning against a bookcase — it’s a shelf that no one was using) and that became her “desk” for this project. (It was our second choice for “desk” for Keely. Our first choice was to use the desk right behind her, which we thought was empty for the day seeing as how it was 11:00 and the computer hadn’t been turned on and the girl we asked — “Is this person out today?” we asked, said Yes, kind of – she said, “Uh, I don’t know, I’m just an intern”. But about ten minutes into our work, the occupant of the desk showed up and boy, was she in a snit to find us stacking our pages on her desk.)

Me, my “desk” for the day is the big blue trash can that the Production Department uses for recyclable paper. I balanced my manuscript on the trash can, and stood by the Canon Color Copier, putting each page of the Damn France Book  on the copier, one by one. (I have control issues. I’m the only person who can touch my original pages, which is why I have to do this myself, with the help of the kind Keely.) 

(Also, I should note that the Production Dept. kept stopping by, to toss their trash paper into my “desk”.)

The five color copies of the Damn France Book will be bound as ARCs: Advanced Reader Copies. They will be sent to Great Writers who might like the Damn France Book well enough to give it a few kind words that will blaze across the front and back covers in gold letters. The people we are sending ARCs to are so great, and so famous that they have probably read many hopeful ARCs before, and will understand that ARCs are essentially “unedited”, and they will forgive me for not having my commas in the right place when I render dialog. Also, they will not mark me down for the way I keep “misspelling”  the names of the seasons, but for the record I insist on capitalizing each of the four seasons for reasons that I realize make it a one-woman battle against Standard English but People: Hear me now!! – winter doesn’t look right! It has to be Winter!

All told, the copying job took three hours, but we did take a break for lunch. My editor took Keely and me to a swanky Manhattan boite and we all had salads. Due to its unfortunate timing (coming just halfway through our massive color copy job) we were all abstemious, so the bar bill came to nought.

As totally happy as I am with the way me and my book have been treated by Bloomsbury, there is one thing that we don’t agree on when it comes to my Damn France Book. The cover.

Well, covers are always tricky. I know writers who go through dozens of covers before their Art Departments get the perfect cover; I know authors who after all that trouble, still end up hating their covers. 

The Art Dept. and the Marketing Depts. think of covers as the main way books sell. So it has to be your book’s billboard – special, attention-grabbing, and book-shelf fantastic. And the objection to the cover that I’ve designed is that it looks too much like one of the inside pages of the book, and not big-time zippy and graphic.  And that’s perfectly true.

But I also think that it’s OK if the cover kind of looks like one of the inside pages, because the inside pages are really cool.

I have three small-ish images on the cover; the Art Dept. wants one big one.

What do you think makes a good cover? What was the last book you bought for its cover? What book has such a great cover that I should steal it?

Thank you for your help.

16 comments to How Publishing Really Works, Part Two

  • The publisher is matching the dimensions of your two books which I thought was a good idea. The same concept should apply to the covers.

    When put side-by-side how do they look? Do they interact well with one another? As a former bookseller, I know what a huge difference a book’s cover makes. It also makes a difference when the various covers of books by the same author look well together.

    Another consideration is the fact that your work has a certain “look” – a style that your fans will want to see again on this new book. Nancy alluded to this when she talked about how unique your first book was. She enjoyed how it escaped easy categorization and was all the more delightful for it. It would be wonderful if something of that quality – the uniqueness – could be conveyed on the cover.

    Your book needs a cover that says, “I’m not just another France book. I’m a VIVIAN SWIFT France book.”

  • How about choosing one of the paintings in the book that you especially like, and readers will be anxious to get to it while they are reading it.
    It says “here’s a delight to look for- inside. Come on in”
    A painting that shows something unique about YOUR adventure, that even the most seasoned traveler was now aware.
    Covers are important.An invitation.
    I know you’ll do something perfect. Can’t wait to see it.

  • meant to say – seasoned traveler was not aware. – oops/

  • I’d love to see one of your works on the cover, a romantic depiction of the real France perhaps. I agree with the concept of the cover as invitation. Thanks for the tour of the publishing day, fascinating to see in the flesh…


  • Deborah

    I don’t think I’ve bought many books solely for the cover, but there is one: The Fourfold Path to Healing. I had to go on Amazon just now to look up the title (I remembered the cover but not the title), and I realized in a way the composition of the cover is sort of similar to yours, with little pictures inset over the main one — except it violates your rule about white.

    I can also tell you that what drew me to WWCTR (on an aisle-end display in the self-help section at Borders) was both the title and the soft color of blue of the book’s border — which I realize now I could appreciate more fully because of all the white on the cover.

    The lightbulb tree might be a comment on the demise of incandescant bulbs. Hung out to dry. Blowing in the wind.

  • Jen

    Of course the seasons should be capitalized! Only people who don’t spend any time out in them would think they should begin with a lower case letter! I really don’t understand why you wouldn’t capitalize them. It’s really no different than capitalizing the months of the year, just a different way to divide and name. Wow…this gets me agitated. Who knew?

    As for the cover, I agree with Gitana that an important consideration should be how your two books look side by side. I was actually attracted to the book by the mitten illustration that was used in a review by Nancy Pearl. But the cover art caught my eye because of the distinctive quality of the hand lettering. The cover sort of summarizes what you’ve showed us inside, or rather foreshadows, would be more accurate. The colors are calm, there is space to breathe, the snoozing cat, the piled, well-loved suitcases stacked and being used as a place of repose. It says, “there are stories hidden in these suitcases, and I’ve stayed put long enough that I’m ready to share them with you. Come inside and explore with me.”

    An invitation to explore and discover with a trusted guide by your side. That’s a good cover.

    We are all going to be shocked when it’s not titled “That Damn France Book” anymore. That isn’t really the title, right?


  • p.s.

    I like the way you framed the image on the cover of the first book. Perhaps that could be the unifying design principle for the covers of your books. In other words, the cover images/styles might change – perhaps quite a bit -, but the image is always framed by a Vivian-esque hand-drawn black line border with hand-lettered words for title and author name.

    Also, I love the abundant white space in the first cover.

  • Nadine

    The cover kind of depends on the title, non? Since we don’t know the title to TDFB, so far I agree with everyone that the new cover should harmonize with the first book’s cover. Be sure to put a chat somewhere.

  • Great Idea about the hand-framed-drawn black line border, to make YOUR BOOKS unigue.

    Then, book #3 will have a recognizable cover; whatever it will be.
    Good for Gitana’s idea.

  • nicole

    Honestly can’t remember ever buying a book just because I liked its cover. The last book I bought was A Pacific Northwest Nature Sketchbook by Jude Siegel. I liked the title (really the subject matter I guess); the cover does show two of her paintings, and I like her style.

    But I really do agree, if the new book’s cover can somehow be related to the first book’s cover, it would make a lovely display!

  • JOAN

    I agree with all the others about the cover being compatible with the first book cover. I especially liked the softness of the colors and the amount of white space. It looked “friendly” to me.

    I can hardly pass up a book with a chair or chairs on the cover, don’t know why…must be some weird Freudian thing. And nothing turns me off more than a cover done in block letters only in glaring colors. UGH!

  • Nancy

    The last book I bought for its cover (because the cover made me look inside and the inside was just as good as the cover) is Little Red Riding Hood with absolutely fantastical illustrations by Daniel Egneus. If you haven’t seen it, take a look; I got mine at B&N.
    Can’t wait to get the Damn France Book

  • That was so much fun to read, Vivian. Like being led by the hand on “a day in the life…” and peeping through the keyhole. I appreciate the photos and your honesty. As far as book covers, I loved the covers of MAUS and THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF CAVALIER AND CLAY.

  • Kate

    A few years back, BN relentlessly promoted The Thirteenth Tale (pretend that’s underlined) for several months. The cover, with its stack of deeply hued books, was endlessly shiny. I always talked myself down, telling myself the story could never be as good as the cover. One day, I caved, and I’m so glad I did-the story was as rich as the colors on the cover.

  • Anne L

    A beautiful and unusual cover recently compelled me to look inside this book – Radioactive
    Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout
    by Lauren Redniss. It’s a fascinating story, presented in a beautiful and very creative way. Anyone who is intrigued by visual books (and I suspect all who read Vivian’s blog are), should take a look at this book!

  • emily m

    I am SO impressed with the comments of your readers re the cover. What wise and wonderful women….

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