Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Judging a Book . . . Update

 After writing the last blog, on book covers, I expected to put the topic behind me and move on to something else of interest to, well, me, if I’m being honest (and perhaps one or two others). But, to my utter delight and amazement, I had an email from my editor, Tiffany, at Five Star, asking me what I thought about the sample cover she had attached. This is where I admit that I read that short sentence two or three times, just to let the pleasure of being asked to comment on the cover sink in. (I also reread jokes to savor the full impact—I was raised to be a dour Protestant.)

            Tiffany’s note was short, since she’s nursing a broken collar bone and can type with only one hand. But it was clear and to the point. Does this cover work for my story? I opened the attachment, scanned it on my laptop, then printed it out. I was immediately pleased that the designer seemed to have read the story, or at least understood it. The novel, Under the Eye of Kali, is the first in a new series featuring Anita Ray, an Indian American woman living in South India at a hotel run by her aunt. It is a land of palm trees and high rises shooting up next to low-slung traditional houses with thatched roofs, with long white beaches running unhindered up the coast. And the cover pretty much got it—high rises behind a row of palm trees, water lapping gently against the coastline. But all was not perfect.

            Now, I do not in any way regard myself as visually artistic—I enjoy taking photographs, mostly for fun and my own pleasure, and I have strong views on what works and doesn’t work—but I would never dare tell a designer how to do his or her job. But Tiffany asked for my opinion.

            The one discordant note for me in the proposed cover was the image of a rug beneath the waves and a beringed hand emerging over the rug but still in the waves. It just seemed to be too much. After thinking about it for a day or so I emailed back that I thought the rug and the hand were a bit too much—they made the cover fussy. My thought had been an image of a deity emerging into view beneath the waves. I sent that back with thanks for having been invited to review the cover. I didn’t expect anything else to come of it, and wondered when I’d see the final book.

            Just a day later Tiffany sent me a revised cover—with exactly the image I had imagined. There just below the water’s surface, slowly emerging into view, is the figure of a deity with a necklace of skulls/heads. It’s fabulous! I sent back my enthusiastic approval and thanks once again to Tiffany.

            The cover for Under the Eye of Kali, due in May 2010 from Five Star, works perfectly in my view—with the story and the depiction of contemporary South India. The story takes place in a modern resort surrounded by palm trees, the murder victim is found along the shore, and the villain . . .  You’ll have to read the book.

            And now, if there are any complaints about the cover, those complaints come straight to me. I can’t hide behind the excuse of being only the writer and having nothing to do with the design of the cover. If I get to say what I like and don’t like, I get to take the heat if others don’t like it. But even so, this is one two-edged sword I’m glad to grasp with both hands.


  1. Great news about the new series, Susan! I really look forward to reading Anita's adventures in novel length. And glad you were able to affect the cover design.

  2. Thanks, Edith. You've had the fun of watching Anita develop, and it has been a long process.