I nearly made a big mistake.
You remember a few months ago I blogged about the development process for the cover of Lifeform Three.
Oh it was brilliantly nifty. To save you reading the original post, I made dummies of different concepts and asked people to interpret what they said about the book. I thought this was a good way to teach myself the language of covers, which I’m not exactly fluent in. But I have to confess there was one flaw. In my haste and certainty, I neglected one thing.
I didn’t get the opinion of someone who’d READ the final version.
Getting reviewer reactions was another thing I’ve left until the last possible moment. It’s because I like to do my ultimate edit when I’m making the paperback. If I see typos or edit to change line lengths, I want the print copy to be identical to the Kindle and ebook versions. Also, seeing it properly typeset is a great way to see errors or awkwardnesses you’ve got used to tuning out on your standard Word display. I wouldn’t recommend editing on page, though, unless you’re setting your own book interiors. An external designer won’t like all that faffing. (But you could change your font in a late editing stage and see what new horrors you spot.)
So. I finished my interior and zapped it off to the people who’d asked for advance copies. One of them came back: ‘That cover is badly wrong for this book. Really.’
I have to admit it was not what I needed to hear. Not after many months of on-off cogitation with no concepts that would work (the designer’s a friend, though he might not be now). By the time I got the final version we were out of ideas.
In case you’re wondering, it’s this:
When I tried it on my cover group, I liked some of the reactions. Nature, rebirth, 1970s sci fi (it is in the tradition of Ray Bradbury, so that was good). I also had aliens (no), apocalypse (no), body modification (thrice no!)
I thought that, bar a retune to quench the apocalypse, we were there.
Until my friend made his apologetic suggestion. And then proceeded to demonstrate, in a long email, that he understood my target readers better than I do. Darn, he was right.
This is what makes writing so curious – especially literary fiction. You think you’ve controlled everything the reader feels about this event and that character. You’ve set it up with minute care. You’ve made sure the themes are catching the right amount of light. You get your images and language humming together, your gut instincts are satisfied.
But it’s as if you’re making a machine, and you really don’t know what it does until you set it going inside the mind of a reader.
We’re used to getting feedback from critique partners and editors, but they’re so involved with the building of the book that they can’t judge it afresh. Certainly my lot had no more distance than I did, and in any case my overall thematic impression didn’t come together until the final edits. And although a designer would be able to give you the fresh perspective by reading the novel, they usually don’t have time to (except at the most prestigious end of traditional publishing). So now I’ve learned the value of keeping somebody back for this final stage, a reader who hasn’t seen the stumbling versions, who will test-drive the book and tell me what I’ve made.
At least this is the virtue of being indie. If we’re not tied into a list or a corporate look, we can try completely different identities for our books. That cover is one way to interpret the book for a particular market, maybe. But it’s not what I need to emphasise. Blitz it from your mind.
I’ll show you the new cover tomorrow. You will hoot when you see how drastically I nearly went wrong. Crumbs. Thank heavens for wise friends. (And if you’d like an advance review copy of Lifeform Three, email me on rozmorriswriter at gmail dotcom)
In the meantime, tell me: has someone stopped you making a big mistake with a book?