When I put my first book out, there was no easy way of finding a professional cover designer. And I was sure it would disappear without trace anyway, so I decided to do everything on the book myself. Designing and drawing the cover was the bit I enjoyed most.
But I’ve always suspected that people could see the cover was home-made, and always wondered if the book would have done better with something designed by a professional. (One designer said my cover was good, but that it ‘lacked design finish’ – and I think people pick up on that.) So I decided not to do the cover of the new book myself.
If you try to use Google to find people to do anything on your book, you immediately come up against the problem that almost everyone offering their services is almost hilariously lacking in the advertised skills. Fortunately, since my first book, a website called Reedsy has appeared. It vets people before allowing them to offer their services, and gives a guarantee of satisfaction.
Reedsy lets you shortlist five people, and you have to write a proper brief. Then the five bid for the job, and Reedsy handles the payments. Even with this, it’s a hard decision – especially for someone like me, who breaks into a sweat just trying to decide what to have for lunch.
Anyway, I ended up choosing Patrick Knowles, who did the cover for Rivers of London, one of the rare successful funny books. I really like Patrick’s work, because it makes the books feel like a lot of care and skill has gone into them. It’s also completely clear what kind of books they are.
But it turns out that giving feedback on the various stages of a design is a skill at least as difficult to master as actually designing something. If what you’re looking at has the wrong feel for the book, how do you say that in a way that will allow the designer to give it the right feel? Never having done this before, the whole process felt like a protracted disaster to me (again, to put this in perspective, so does lunch). But Patrick seemed to take it all in his stride and see it as just the way it goes. I talked to a friend of a friend who’s an art director for a children’s publisher, and he agreed with Patrick: that’s how covers are. ‘It’s always shit till it’s not,’ he said.
I shared some of the rough designs on Facebook, and then a friend of mine who’s an illustrator said, ‘How about this?’ and posted a quick sketch. I immediately liked it, and so did Patrick, who did his own version. So that was how we ended up with this cover…
I felt a bit guilty though, because this same friend – the great illustrator and recent Australian, Edward ‘Dward’ Ward – had, months before, suggested the title. The book – and, by extension, I – owe him a lot. (E.D. Ward is a genius, as his cut-away technical drawing of a kitten (and its tiny crew) will immediately prove.)
E.D. Ward said he’d like to work up a version of the cover for his portfolio (mainly to distract himself from having moved to Australia). And I like the results an inconvenient amount. Here are two versions of it…
What do you think? It would be great to know.
I should have mentioned it earlier, I suppose, but my book is free on Kindle today and tomorrow (Sunday 23 and Monday 24 June). I advertised it on Bookbub, and they’ve done a very good description of it. That’s probably why nearly 10,000 people have downloaded it in the US now, taking it to number 10 in the free book chart. I suppose fewer people read Bookbub in the UK – 219 people have downloaded it here, which has made it number 223 in the free chart.
I have no idea whether this will have any effect on sales. I suspect it will take them a quite a while to recover in Britain, and I have no idea whether the free copies will lead to any sales in the US – I hope so, since I’d only sold a total of about five copies there beforehand.
It keeps you guessing, this lark.
I read in the paper that today is Towel Day – Douglas Adams’s birthday. He would have been 61. It’s called Towel Day because, as the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy teaches us, all a man (specifically an interstellar freebooter and stowaway) needs is a towel.
Douglas Adams has always meant a great deal to me. I was nine when I first read the Guide, and it changed my life.
It must have been in my first term at middle school. I had never really understood why nothing in Doncaster in the early 80s was the way it was on TV or in books. Everything confused me. I particularly didn’t understand school, which seemed to have been deliberately constructed to make me miserable. How else to explain swimming and maths? Then there was assembly and picking teams in PE. And the few friends I’d had in my first school seemed to have met new people and disappeared, leaving me alone.
Douglas Adams told me that I wasn’t alone. He said, with amused certainty, that the world – the Universe, in fact – is absurd and makes no sense at all. That was a deeply, deeply comforting thing for the nine-year-old me to hear. It might seem a bit of a bleak message, but it allowed me to feel that I might not be the problem. And it was conveyed in a tone of voice that instantly appealed to me.
I can’t for the moment find my copy of the Guide, but I can quote a bit from the opening pages from memory. Ford Prefect – the towel-carrying interstellar freebooter who takes boring dressing-gown-and-tea obsessive Arthur Dent under his wing – is convincing a man from the council’s planning department to lie in front of some bulldozers.
There was something about that interjected ‘as you say’ that I loved. It was a bit like putting food in my mouth and finding that it stimulated a taste bud that I’d never previously known I had. And then there was a flight of fancy about the council planner being a direct male descendent of Genghis Khan, and this meaning that in times of stress he had the sudden uneasy feeling that a crowd of bearded men with spears were all shouting at him.
Pretty much all of Douglas Adams’s books contained things that pleased me just as much, and they have all stayed with me. Even today, when I have flying dreams they happen in the Adams way – I have to distract myself as I’m falling, so that I forget to hit the ground. When I re-read Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency a couple of years ago, I was amazed at how familiar it all was – how thoroughly it had soaked in.
I can only say that Douglas Adams helped me considerably to deal with the world around me. Or perhaps he helped me to not deal with the world around me, but in a new and rather more satisfying way.
Whatever the case, I – and several million other lonely nine-year-olds – am very grateful to Douglas Adams. And I’m sad he is gone.
I haven’t posted here for ages because I’ve been running courses in America, and after that I was caught up in a tremendous whirl of activity, including Upstairs Downton (http://www.facebook.com/UpstairsDowntonTheImproVisedEpisode). Now I am in another (slower) whirl of activity, preparing for my Guardian Masterclass at the weekend. Anyway, I just wanted to say hello, as I could feel bloggers’ block beginning to develop.
I’ve always tried to tell friends if I notice something about them that I like – a new coat or a tendency to be tremendous. But since my book’s been around (I mean the one I care about, rather than the two rubbish ones I was paid to do) I’ve started to tell people who I don’t know when I like their stuff. It means such a lot to me when someone is obviously and genuinely enthusiastic about my book, that I’m now much more motivated to tell other people when I feel that way about their writing, or whatever it is. I’m sure that even successful people don’t get tired of hearing it (except Eminem).
I just wanted to say hello to Norma and Henry, the first subscribers to this blog. I’m too new to this to really understand what a subscriber is, but I’m sure it’s a Good Thing and that Norma and Henry are both splendid coves.
And thank you to the 48 people who have now bought my book. I’m sure I’ll eventually stop checking the sales figures 500 times a day and going on about them here, but not yet.
I’ve started getting lots of hits for Labour Schmaving, which has just got onto Stumbleupon. I hadn’t heard of Stumbleupon before, but I’ve just had a look and it seems like a really good idea. Anyway, if that’s how you’ve come here, welcome. Stay and have a look around, if you have the time.
This is where I will write something about me and my website.
Just making sure that this works.