Despite the familiar caution against judging a book by its cover, appearance can be a make-or-break factor in reader appeal. Great cover art is like a strong handshake, a book’s initial chance to make that all-important, positive first impression.
Along with writing and teaching, I’m an artist. My undergrad degree is in graphic design. So I consider myself, if not an authority, well, at least competent when it comes to book covers.
And when it came to my book, THE NAMESAKE, I had definite ideas. I waffled between my protagonist’s face and something more content-based, perhaps a nod to the Saint Sebastian imagery in the novel. Excited at the prospect of Evan’s story being out in the world, I imagined it wrapped in a variety of beautiful designs.
But there was another important fact I knew about covers. As an author, especially a first-timer, I’d likely have little or no input regarding mine. That made me nervous, considering some of the truly awful covers out there.
Merit Press’s initial concept was an abstract portrait, similar to the original design for Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. I liked that proposal, a melding of my own portrait and image ideas. I waited expectantly to see a picture of Evan, perhaps with an element of the Sebastian imagery (an arrow, maybe) integrated with his sensitive face.
After a few weeks, my agent, Gelfman Schneider’s wonderful Victoria Marini, forwarded an email from my editor, Jackie Mitchard. It included a jpg and the message “Hope you love it!” Expecting Evan’s face, I excitedly opened the attachment and saw…an empty hallway.
It was actually an emotional moment, realizing the face of THE NAMESAKE wouldn’t include a face at all. My wife and I were silent, absorbing the unexpected. Then we simultaneously said, “Wow!”
Following the initial shock of Really? A hallway? I pretty much fell in love. And I also realized this mysterious hallway was a better fit, more in line with my novel. After all, I avoided detailed physical description precisely so readers could visualize Evan themselves.
That hallway nicely represents a lot: Evan’s school, the retreat house, the mystery surrounding his father, Evan’s journey to truth. Plus, I love those colors.
The lesson is this: sometimes when you know exactly what you want, something even better comes along. So, thanks to Jackie Mitchard and everyone at Merit Press, I’m happy to have readers judge THE NAMESAKE by its beautiful cover—as long as they also take the time to look inside.