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OK, Damn France Book Focus Group, gather ’round.

Squint your eyes, or take off your glasses, or finish that coffee cup of breakfast tequila you’ve got by the keyboard there, whatever helps blur your vision enough so that when you take a look at the two covers that I’ve put together for your expert opinion you won’t notice the scotch tape and cat fur and crappy collaging.

Imagine that both covers are pristine versions of the slop that I’m showing here.

Imagine that each cover is on a 9-inch x 8-inch hardback book on the front table at your local independent bookstore.

Imagine that you are desperate.

Imagine that you are looking for a book that isn’t about vampires, circuses, autistic kids with talking dogs, women married to guys who travel through time, women married to guys who drive ironic Volvos, women married to guys who are vampires, women who solve crimes while joking about housework, or — please lord, not this — is a story narrated by a precocious 8,9,10,11, or 12-year-old girl.

Now, imagine yourself having to judge a book by its cover.

Which book would you buy?

I know, I know;  I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Why the hell did Vivian put a Cynthia cardui butterfly on that second cover when it’s obvious that a Brenthis hectate is more uniquely French?????

Be assured that if I go with cover No. 2, that papillon will be une Nacre de la Filipendule, and not a Painted Lady, OK?

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

You’re not finished yet.

You might have noticed that each cover has been designed so that there is ample room on the bottom for a blurb. (In cover No. 1, I have taken the liberty to blurb my own book myself, to show you all how it’s done.)

I have one last Advanced Reading Copy of the Damn France Book to send out on appeal for a blurb.

Who should I send it to? Who? Who?

Who‘s blurb has ever convinced you to buy a book? Who’s blurb matters to your own reading choices? And does it bug you as much as it makes me crazy that writers who did not write Eat, Pray, Love describe their friends’ books as “Another Eat, Pray, Love“? (I could name names, but there are already enough people out there who bitch that I always bite the hand that feeds me.)

(P.S. Gitana, I am of course hand-delivering an ARC to your friend when we meet in Seattle, not that your friend does blurbs, it’s just that I admire her taste in books and I can’t visit her empty-handed.)

All you have to do now is leave your vote for book cover in the Comments section below, along with your recommendation for a fabulous blurb, and you’re obligations as a Damn France Focus Group member are fulfilled and you are free to go make yourself another cup of “coffee”.

Thank you.

48 comments to It’s time to choose.

  • OK, you asked. My vote is for #2 with some tweaks to tighten it up a bit.

    Alignment and balance are key to pulling a cover design all together so all the parts function as a cohesive whole. I would:

    1. Increase the point size of the title so that it is exactly the width of the graphic below it.

    2. Get rid of the cork graphic and move the smaller rectangular graphic to the left. Right side is currently way heavier than left.

    3. Stack the subtitle:

    A Traveler’s Journal
    of Freaking France

    Place it to the right of the smaller bottom graphic in the space formed by the two rectangles

    4. Move the stamp slightly to the left. It is currently too close to the right edge of the rectangle–visual tension.

    Terry – retired publications designer

  • Tracey

    I like the top cover (without the butterfly). I don’t buy books based on the blurb – I usually leaf through the book. However, I would suggesy Frances Maynes (Under the Tuscan Sun) or possibly Peter Mayles (A year in Provence.

  • I vote for the top one also, and think Peter Mayles would be a good person to do the blurb. I don’t have any other ideas for people to send it to, sorry. Too much of the “coffee,” I guess!

  • First one.
    I didn’t think it would be named the Damn France Book. Clever title, Vivian.
    Can’t wait to read it.

  • Jen

    My eye is drawn to cover number one more quickly. That each vignette has a road or path ties them all together and makes me want to go for a walk. Those roads/paths invite me into the book.

    As for a blurber – Neil deGrasse Tyson? hahaha…just kidding. Probably a precocious young female narrator would be better. :-) Really, I have no idea about who to suggest. I don’t normally read travel journal style books (you’re the exception). Nancy Pearl, the rock star librarian of Under the Radar books? Is there any precedent for a librarian doing a blurb? I’m guessing not.

    Good work, Vivian!

  • The top one. And why a blurb? How about simply adding “by the author of “When Wanderers Cease to Roam”? (Which I spent another relaxing morning rereading while recovering from flu)Or as you stated above, “Not another idiotic book about vampires etc….” Personally I hated “Eat, Pray, Love” and that would be enough for me not to buy a book. I do read reviews of books, but author endorsements generally do not move me. Your last book captured me with its cover, then illustrations, and completely fresh approach. I love it expecially because it is so unlike other books.

  • Shirley

    I prefer Cover #1..and about a blurb…I agree with Julie…a “by the author of” is sufficient. Otherwise, how about David Downie…I love his book on Paris.

  • Sally

    In the spirit of “Vote early, vote often,” let me register 10 votes for cover 1. It is lovely, airy, enticing. It represents things I love best about France: Paris and the beautiful country side. I like the individual elements of cover 2, but they crowd and overwhelm the title.

    My instant, knee-jerk response to the blurb question was Peter Mayles. For people who are enticed to buy books because of the blurb (not me), I would think name recognition is everything. His name says, “Authority on Americans in France.” There are relevant books that I like better than “Provence,” and their authors might make a reasonable second choice, but I am going to have to remind myself via google what the authors’ names are, as much as I loved their books, and that’s telling!
    “Almost French,” Sarah Turnbull
    “The Piano Shop on the Left Bank,” Thad Carhart

    Purely because I wish your book every success, I will say that I am a bit put off by “freaking” in the subtitle, not so much for myself as for your potential buyers. It may be, probably is, an age thing, but I’d hate for anyone to be turned away by it.

    I’m eagerly looking forward to your book no matter what’s on the cover!

  • august

    I like the second one, because there’s a butterfly and butterflies are pretty. .

    Meryl Streep.

  • Freaking awesome, Vivian. I vote for the top one. Regarding a blurb – find someone who will say “Chatwinesque” (I *always* fall for that on a book, though it has yet to prove true). Just kidding. Kinda.

    I read a book because of the Paul Collins blurb. But I don’t think he’d fit the bill for your cover. Does your fan Nancy Pearl do blurbs? And why not Elizabeth Gilbert (if she does blurbs, it sure couldn’t hurt!). How about Dominique Browning?

    Final suggestion – leave the cover as is, with your own blurb. I love it.

  • p.s. the reasons I respond to the first design are the orderly vignettes and the fresh colors, especially that vivid light green. But please do add more space between “France” and “Book” if that is indeed your real title (if it is, Bravo).

  • Sandy

    Yep – I’m going with the flow picking cover number ONE – it just pulls me in – Blurbs mean little to me either. the cover and title catch my eye – then browsing would seal the deal!! Can’t wait to hold it in my hands.

  • I forgot to tell you all:

    The Damn France Book, A Traveler’s Journal of Freaking France IS NOT the title of my book.

    I’ve put it here because I am still amusing myself with this little “joke”. Although I guess the joke is wearing a little thin these dyas…

    But I LOVE the voting! Because you all are confirming something profound for me — I’ll fill you in on Friday. But please keep voting– youse and me, we are on the same brain-wave.

    Merci mucho.

  • Deborah

    Minority report: I like the second one — the butterfly helps, but it’s really the colors of the second one I like. It needs another picture or something, though.

    I like the first one, too, though. I especially like the fleur de lis bracketing the title.

    blurb suggestion: Tim Cahill (Is that his name? Pecked to Death by Ducks author)

  • Mel

    Another vote for the first cover, with a suggestion. Each of the three scenes has a road running thru it. Link them. Give the illusion that the road from one scene trips in to the next one above it…

    I didn’t have to squint cos the cold medicine and puffy eyes of a spring cold were already in play. As such, it was a hazy mind I was Googling about a blurber. Was coming up with nothing when using the given criteria, namely, “writer” “France”.

    A question popped back: why limit yourself to a writer with a French connection? Why not seek a more widely appreciated travel writer? Or a widely appreciated writer, period? (Can you have two blurbs — one from the obvious source, and one from the Hey-how-come-THEY-like-it?-maybe-I-should-pick-up-this-book camp?)

  • Susie

    Cover #1 I want to be there….

    Does it need a blurb? I mean, it stands on it’s own! Your name on the cover is all the blurb I need. Of course, that would be just a few sales, me, my mom, a few friends for gifts…Or maybe your blurb could be “The Damn France Book”?
    I don’t trust blurbs by other authors for books, they sound sort of like brown nosing…

    This is pretty exciting, watching your book count down to publishing, woohoo!

  • Shelley

    Put me down for cover number one too. I REALLY like Mel’s suggestion of linking the three scenes with a road. I can picture a winding road that ties the 3 scenes together, and it looks brilliant!

    That said, I also like the colors of the second choice. There is quite a bit of green on the first cover. What do you think of using a picture with some lovely purples and blues? Or perhaps one of the village scenes with old buildings and cobblestones?

    PS – I love the idea of a cup of breakfast tequila, Vivian. What a great idea for a Monday morning!

  • Janet

    I think there are a couple of main reasons so many are gravitating to #1. Your choice of illustrations is first — the road theme is inviting and takes us on a journey through the country, and it’s impossible to resist the freshness and vitality of the greens. Overall, it’s just a plain, simple and very attractive cover. However, there are also things I especially like in #2 — elements that hint that this is going to be about a lot of different things. I really like the idea of a large dominant graphic (maybe something more along the lines of the color palette in #1?) and I love that you’ve included the pencil drawing of the table and chairs. Right now the colors in the Eiffel Tower sunset and countryside vineyards fight with each other — not what you intended I’m sure. The butterfly (even though we know you mean a DIFFERENT butterfly than what’s here) and the wine cork telegraph to me that this isn’t an ordinary travel book. If you went with this style, I bet there is something else you could use other than a stamp, too. I don’t like the background color — white is what you started with with WWCTR, and I hope you’ll stay with it. As much as I love #1, I think the second option is a bit more interesting and unexpected.

    As for the blurb, I agree with others who’ve suggested Peter Mayle. If you want this to have a “travelogue” sort of endorsement, there’s always Rick Steves. Just as common on book front and back covers are lifts from favorable reviews, so just go ahead and pick words that are bound to be used to describe your book. “Delightful,” New York Times. “Sweeter than creme brule at a Parisian sidewalk cafe,” Washington Post. “More fun than a busload of wine-swilling women on a romp across the Continent,” Travel and Leisure.

  • nicole

    Yay, I’m glad it’s getting closer to being a real book! The first cover catches my eye, makes me think of France, and a travel journal. Love the fleur di lis, the white space, the panoramic views. WANT. NOW.

    As for a blurb, personally I’d respect Nancy Pearl (whose fault it is that I searched out Wanderers) or maybe Ina Caro, author of The Road from the Past, a great book about traveling thru French history. (oh, look, she’s got a new one coming out in June – Paris to the Past – one day train trips out of the city. More books to buy!).

  • Barbara Lemme

    “YOUR obligations”…sorry. It just caught my eye. Mea Culpa. Anyway, I am so tired of everyone doing collage that I’d pick the first cover no matter what. But I do like it best; it’s cleaner and has white space. I think you should leave off the blurb or just put “by the author of”..

  • #1. Lighter, more to interest the eye, makes you want to take one of those roads.

    I’d leave off a blurb in favor of “by the author of…” I don’t like cluttered front covers, and generally expect blurbs to stay on the back covers. I like a front cover that’s about the author’s vision of the contents, what she wants the potential reader to think about that vision, and to have that reader feel compelled by her vision. The blurb feels more like someone else came along later and gave their approval, which is fine, but again, I’d much rather keep that sort of “extra” stuff to the back side.

    I’m now terribly curious about the real title, though the fake one made me smile, as did the fake blurb!

  • Barb

    I love the first, the pictures draw me in. The fleur de lis at the title are a nice touch. Can’t wait til it is out. Some one mentioned Rick Steves and you do know I am sure that he lives in the Seattle area (used to anyway). I hope he comes to one of your appearances here. Your blog subjects are so thoroughly enjoyable – Thanks for all your efforts!

  • Well I like ‘em both but the first one speaks to me a little more for whatever reason. Blurb-Mayle and colleagues but what about Sarah Turnbull? I just read her book Almost French.

    Of course a blurb from Oprah will take you places and if you’re really desperate what about Sarkozy and the Mrs.? Or Johnny Depp? Or Jodie Foster, she’s a big Francophile. Or what about that wacky psychiatrist in Burgundy?

    XO
    B

  • Rachel

    Well, I certainly feel like a late-comer to the party, since I had to take care of an automotive errand this morning.

    Yes, I really like the 1st cover. However, I am also of the *no blurb on the front cover* faction, and would like to see everything moved down a little and perhaps a bit more vertical space between the illustrations. I do think that *by the author of…* is a good choice for identification. There are surely fans of yours who are not following this process quite as closely as we are.

    Just so exciting to be this near to publication.

    As for the back cover blurbs, certainly Peter Mayles is the *american-france* person, but Danny Gregory is the *illustrated journal* person.

  • Carol

    I just love #1, too–it makes you want to go on an adventure in France, for sure. And your paintings, as usual, are great. Please, no blurb–it just doesn’t seem to be you–”by the author of,” OK. I can’t wait to read it!

  • Carol

    I love cover #2. I love the color and the scenes especially the cafe scene evoke what I think of as Paris. I suggest Betsy Lerner to write the blurb. I understand she is an editor/agent. But she knows how to write and you want the blurb to “grab” people. Lots of people. Which = lots of books sold = lots of cash = 1. cats fed and 2. funds which allows you to write more wonderful books/blogs!! I cannot wait to read the France book!!!

  • JOAN

    I’ll echo what everyone else said: First cover for sure…it draws me in, makes me wonder what this author/illustrator has to say about her travels, where she journied both literally and emotionally.

    Although I love the CHAIRS on the second cover, love that they’re drawn instead of painted, I don’t care for the collage format, it seems congested and doesn’t make me want to open the book.

    As for blurbs…none has ever induced me to buy a book. I like the one you posted. Made me chuckle, gave me an indication of the author’s humor, made me think, “Hmmm…This is probably a fun romp through France.” Then I snatched that last copy from the front table of Barnes & Noble Booksellers…my home away from home, sauntered over to the Starbucks coffee bar inside the store and had a flip through the book session while I sipped my Vanilla Latte.

    Joan

  • I really like the first cover exactly as is (leave your blurb in – it reflects your style and self effacement and gives the reader an idea of who you are)

    I’d love to win an Advanced Reading Copy of this freaking book

    xoxo

  • Jeannie

    I like to be different, so #2. I don’t buy books because of blurbs, but what about one from Frances Maynes and one from Danny Gregory, that way you appeal to two audiences. Or, I could write the blurb and people would pick up the book because they wondered who the heck I am!

  • Randi

    Truly, I like #2 best. The color is what draws me in, and the simple unclutteredness of it, with perhaps more spacing between the elements (everything looks sort of jammed together). But I see I’m waay out-voted, and you’ve already expressed your preference for #1 and altogether it isn’t a BAD cover, I just like #2 better. And so did Meryl Streep, which helps!

  • mo

    i cast my vote for the first cover, it caught my eye immediately. the colors, the arrangement, it’s just lovely. no matter that i love purples, the 2nd cover just didn’t do anything for me at all, sorry.

    i’m with all the others who say they don’t select books based on blurbs. if anything, they’ll make me turn away, just too obvious as a marketing ploy. but, if you MUST have a blurb, then i vote for Mark Twain because he wrote a fab travel journal, or Jack Kerouac for his road books. i mean after all, you might as well aim for the top, right? ;)

  • mo

    oops, you might try Jessica Wesolek as well, who does charming art journals, including illustrated journals of her travels (limited to the US, but lovely nonetheless). you know who she is, right?

  • Linda Jacks

    I would like the second one without the butterfly.

  • Mindy

    Yet another vote for cover #1 for all the reason already stated (white space, vibrant colors, pulls me into the scene).

    Forget the blurb and move the drawings down a bit. If you have to have a blurb, Frances Mayes (not Maynes) would be my choice.

  • I love cover #1. I love the style you’ve developed and to me, that one looks like your style. It’s a style you don’t see often in artistic books. The other one looks great too, but you see so many elements of collage now when walking through the bookstores. That’s why “Wanderers” practically screamed to me from across Barnes and Nobles- a simple, elegant, traditional painting insisting that I purchase it. I didn’t even think twice.

  • Nancy

    Without question the first cover–more colorful, more intriguing.
    Sorry, but I have no ideas about blurb writers.
    I so look forward to seeing the book at my local bookseller.

  • robs

    What message do you want to convey?
    To me the first cover is reminiscent of the artists who have moved to the French countryside to worship the clarity of the light. It is a happy cover with a promise of displaying the beauty of the landscape with a light touch of commentary.
    The second cover seems more seductive and somber displaying the romantic side of France and seems to suggest a sultry almost erotic commentary.
    My preference is the first cover but maybe thats because I have been following your blog for sometime now and delight in your sense of humour.
    I will just add that I do not buy books because of blurbs (for what that is worth).
    I want this book.

  • Diane

    I love the first one and agree with Janet that the colors in number two seem to fight one another. Also no blurb except by the author of When wanderers…
    Or maybe Rick Steves or Nancy Pearl?
    Thanks for including us in this process even if you completely ignore us.
    Can’t wait for the publishing date!

  • patty

    I agree that it needs no blurb. The simpler the better! I think it would be cool to use the first version, but stack the three pictures like suitcases (a nod to the first book), with “The Damn France Book” at the top, and “A Traveler’s Journal of Freaking France” underneath the stack and your name under that.
    Maybe a cat on the side staring up at the stack, and that’s all it needs.

  • Hi Vivian,

    I love the first cover and like the blurb to say by Vivian author of When Wanderers Cease to Roam. Besides the money books I’ve read that have been endorsed by Rich Dad Poor Dad guy, I usually don’t buy it just because of that. I would buy it because of the watercolor paintings, the subject of France, and because it’s by you, of course:-)

  • Gary

    Clearly, go with number 1. No matter what species/genus/phyllum/variation, I do not want to read a book about a country populated with giant butterflies large enough to scare people away from their wine at a cafe, and then clearly plan to drop a giant cork on the Eiffel Tower.

    I’m just saying.

  • The first one grabs my eye more, though from a composition standpoint I like the second one. And I love your blurb. How could I top that?

  • I love your blurb. I’d buy the book from just that…I’d know it was going to
    be clever and different and worth the read. I like Cover #1.

    If you had to have a blurb from someone else, I’d try for Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson. Charlie Sheen anyone? :)

  • emily m

    # l is absolutely perfect…says it all.

  • Maria

    #1 is absolutely my vote. It is immediate, crisp, fresh, lighthearted,and enticing. Draws the eye to it. The other cover is dark, dull, and more foreboding. My suggestion would be to make one of the color sketches larger than the other two, as that would draw the eye in even more–preferably the one of the countryside fields–lovely! And what about a sketch with some quintessentially French food or wine? Food is so important in France, how can you have a book about France and not put that symbol right on the cover? And it needs no blurb at the bottom.

  • What ever you choose it will be wonderful.

    The fleur de lis bracketing the title is fantastic. Do you plan to do one of your minimalist borders (as in WWCTR)? It makes a great frame.

    I vote for cover #1 but with less images. Your first cover was “less-is-more” and that worked beautifully. It catches your eye and draws you in.

    Ideas:
    -Use just two of the rectangle images plus a Vivianesque line drawing of a couple chairs and a cafe table (or a cat perched on a Peugot). I looked at WWCTR for sketches that feel dynamic/French. Here’s a short list:
    p. 59 – boots casually lined up
    p. 102 – with balloons
    p. 105 – in a ball gown
    p. 130 – rocking chair facing away from viewer
    p. 134 – postcard from France
    p. 144 – drawing France

    - Personally, I’d prefer a street/cafe scene from St. Malo more than an image of the Champs (St. Malo seems like it’s more reflective of your France).

    - I liked Shelley’s suggestion of using cover #1 and those wonderful fresh green images, but also incorporating some of the purples and blues of cover #2. This made me go back and look at your first cover. I like how each of the suitcases doesn’t take up lots of space and is its own color and yet all tie together (the suitcases echo the title colors).

    Other thoughts:
    -Stack and center the title and subtitle (as Terry suggested)
    -Skip the blurb on the front and just put “by the author of “When Wanderers Cease to Roam” (as Julie suggested)

    When I looked at the books on my shelf often the blurbs are from the NYT, LA Times, Washington Post, etc. However the usual suspects (Mayes, Mayle and Oprah) are good as are the other suggestions you got such as Steves, Carhart and Turnbull. Also, of interest may be:

    -Adam Gopnik (Paris to the Moon, writer for The New Yorker)
    -Alistair Horne (Seven Ages of Paris, The Fall of Paris)
    -Ann Patchett (Bel Canto and other novels)
    -Alice Kaplan (French Lessons: A Memoir)

    Thank you for including us in this adventure!

  • CarolM

    The color in #2 draws me in more, but alas when I think France I have to go with # 1 for the exquisite scenery and and romantic countryside .
    Blurb? Why would a lovely book like this have to have a blurb-the art says a lot!

  • Pamela

    Hi Vivian,
    I like the second one – it has romance, mystique,and lavender. . .all for which France is famous. I would guess the butterfly has a story, so keep it on.
    Catherine Deneuve for a blurb or nothing.
    ~Pamela

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