From the moment a book contract is signed, if not earlier, every writer imagines walking into their local bookstore and spotting their book on a shelf. The problem with that fantasy is that no author knows what their book will look like. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, or someone with a similar level of name-recognition, most authors don’t have final say on what their books look like. In fact, from what I’ve read and heard, some authors don’t even have a vote in the process.
Why? Let me explain. In book publishing, authors are responsible for the content and the publisher is responsible for the packaging of that content. The text on the back of the book, the book’s size, and even the title are considered packaging, much like you would imagine different teams at Kellogg’s being responsible for the taste of breakfast cereal and the box it comes in.
In case you can’t see where I’m going with this, packaging also extends to the book’s cover. As much as I looked forward to holding my book in my hands, I was secretly afraid since day one that I would end up with a cover I was unhappy with.
Luckily, this wasn’t the case. Before work began on my cover, my editor asked if I had any design ideas. I had always liked the DVD art for the original staging of The Pee-wee Herman Show and thought that a comparable visual might be appropriate. While looking for a similar photo, I realized the exact same shot was available to us, so I opened up Photoshop and cooked this up.
The mock-up I made was fairly well received, but there were some concerns on my publisher’s end: the text wasn’t large enough; the cover didn’t convey that this was a “behind-the-scenes” book; and, most importantly, the cover was too dark. The book went to a designer, the incredibly patient and talented Scott Barrie of Cyanotype, based in Nova Scotia, and came up with three mock-ups that addressed the concerns of the team at ECW Press.
There were things I liked about all three, but I had some reservations about all of them. The first cover, I thought, looked a little sensational and “tabolidy” with the caution-tape. More importantly, I was concerned about Magic Screen being on the cover without the “magic” inside, and Globey being turned around. The second cover was fun, although I would have preferred some of the pictures changed. I didn’t really get where the spiderweb/broken-glass concept came from, but I thought it was original-looking. I liked the style and sophistication of the third mock-up, but thought it was a little bit dark for a book about Pee-wee Herman.
The team at ECW Press favored Scott’s first mock-up, as did I, and they suggested some really awesome revisions that resulted in a pretty eye-catching cover.
So, this cover was pretty cool, right? I only really had two concerns with it: Clocky’s face was covered and I didn’t like my name being on the top of the book. I thought it drew too much attention and, with all those colors and Pee-wee’s face predominately displayed, it would be best to keep the focus on him as much as possible. My editor had some further suggestions for Scott and this is what he came up with.
I loved the addition of the blue arrows and the blue in “pop phenomenon” (if you’re hip, you’ll notice the subtitle changed a few times throughout this process!). My only issue remained that my name was on the top. After some careful design work, and the input from the ECW sales team, Scott delivered the cover that, for several weeks, was our final version.
Ta-da! Everyone loved it! I loved it, my editor loved it, I’m pretty sure Scott loved it, and the rest of the crew at ECW Press loved it. However, there were some technical glitches with this cover. The background image, which you’ve probably seen before, was too small from the photo licensing agency we were using and it would have had to have been stretched for the book cover. While it probably looks fine in the size it appears above, blowing it up and stretching it would have meant pixelation, grain, and other no-nos for a picture on the cover of the book. After exploring several different options, and several frenetic emails back and forth between my me and my editor (and her and everyone she knew who might be able to help), this cover got placed ever so lovingly into the garbage. Once again, I was asked if I had any ideas and I shot off this email:
I have two ideas. The first would be something like this: http://www.amazon.com/Pee-wees-Playhouse-2-Seasons-3-5/dp/B0002IQB3U/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1296589022&sr=8-3, which is the cover of one of his DVD boxed sets. We could extend that green background to fill the entire cover, choose a big, wacky photo of Pee-wee, and make the title and subtitle a little bit larger. The only thing is, it’s a bit of a boring visual, perhaps? The second idea (and I actually like this one a lot, I almost suggested it once-upon-a-time ago, but I thought it might be too minimalist for everyone’s taste) is to “dress” the book in a Pee-wee suit. Frame it in that glen-plaid pattern, give it a little handkerchief in its pocket, and put the title and such over a white shirt. Over the white shirt it would read Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse, perhaps followed by a red bowtie, the book’s subtitle, followed maybe by a clear white button, then my name. Or my name can be along the bottom bottom of the book, whichever. Even though his face wouldn’t be on the front cover, I think the suit and bowtie are iconic enough. Have you seen his Foursquare badge? http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_NDJxUN-93Rg/TK6aj_TIwxI/AAAAAAAAACY/By05Ku4T8bs/s1600/Screen+shot+2010-10-08+at+12.13.38+AM.png –> even though that concept is simplistic, I think implied works better sometimes. I’m reminded of the book cover for Laura Zigman’s Dating Big Bird (http://www.amazon.com/Dating-Big-Bird-Laura-Zigman/dp/0385333412/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1296589504&sr=8-1), which I always thought was so cool, and was probably just a designer’s way of avoiding having to pay for licensing a shot of the bird.
After bouncing ideas back and forth a bit more with my editor, Scott (you already saw why he earned his title of “talented,” now you see why he earned his title of “patient!”) went back to work on three brand-new designs, about two months before the book was slated to go to print.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the first cover. I thought there was a lot going on, the green was a little bit off to me, and the foreground image was a pretty crummy shot of Pee-wee. The second image was pretty cool, but I thought it was a bit strange to have Jambi on the cover turned around. I loved the colors of the second one, but the third image was pretty striking to me. First off, my editor loved it and, the more I thought about it, the more I liked it too. It was different from anything else I had seen regarding my book cover mock-ups or, frankly, anything Pee-wee related. Also, it solved a central problem: Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse has a ton of photos, but it isn’t solely about the children’s show. The book starts in 1978 and moves all the way through 2011. Pee-wee’s Playhouse is a big part of the book, but as the subtitle suggests, the book really is a look at the entire Pee-wee Herman phenomenon; its inception, it’ s decline, and its resurrection — and the people, including the fans, that were there through all of it. This cover wouldn’t mislead anyone into thinking it was just about the CBS show.
My only concern with the third cover was that I thought it didn’t communicate to readers that the book was photo-heavy. I tinkered around in Photoshop again and made a very poor man’s version of something I thought Scott might be able to try to get some more photos on the front cover.
To her amazing credit, my editor was willing to make the suggestion to Scott, but it never got that far. She thought these additions made the cover a bit too busy, took away from the concept of Pee-wee against the white background, and that all the black-and-white photos looked more appropriate for a black-and-white TV show, not Pee-wee’s Playhouse. I agreed with her. After a few minor tweaks that I’ll leave you to spot, we arrived at the final cover.
I’m so incredibly proud of this cover, which I think gives a bit of mystery about what’s inside (you’ll have to wait a bit longer before you can get a sneak peek at a page or two!) and looks silly, yet serious — just the right tone for the book I’ve written. I’m happy ECW Press allowed me to be such a voice in the process and, most importantly, I’m thankful to Scott for his creativity and sense of style.