This post refers to a deleted post that was really much sharper than this one. But it’s Friday and I had to write something.
I got an email this week. It was from Sandy Cull, an art designer who did one of my book covers for Penguin. Normally, the art director who designs my covers is Karen Trump-Scott Here is the first cover that Karen did for the book:
You see, back in those days the book was called The Summer of Seth Parrot and not I'm Being Stalked by a Moonshadow. People I respect convinced me that The Summer of Seth Parrot was far too poetic a title, given that the book is, basically, a funny rom-com for boys. Though I did like this cover because Karen had somehow found a photo of two kids who look exactly like the kids in the book, and the fireworks were a nice touch, because there are literal fireworks in the book. However, the powers that be weren't crazy about the cover. They thought it looked old-fashioned and unfunny, and nobody liked the title. So, the first thing was to find a new title. I liked the sound of I'm Being Stalked by a Moonshadow, because I'm Being Followed by a Moonshadow is such a sweet song, and 'stalking' is such a nasty concept. The collision of opposites like sweetness and nastiness often gives you a funny outcome.) So the book had a new title, and a new designer in Sandy Cull. And this is the first new cover I was given:
It was very different from what I was expecting, but it grew on me. The title character, Seth, had uncontrollable red hair. The artist decided to go overboard with this, and I decided I liked it. So it was full steam ahead. Which is why i was so surprised when I was presented with this as a fait accompli:
Where on earth had that girl come from? She wasn't part of the equation. Why did the she have spider eyeashes when MIranda, the girl in the story, never wore makeup? Perhaps more importantly, given that Seth makes such a big deal about how beautiful Miranda's arms are, wouldn't it be a good idea to actually give her a pair of arms?
The point is, I thought the cover art was so unexpectedly bad (in that I’d been given no real warning about what I might end up with, as it was nothing like the previous image of Seth with his tornado of red hair) and I didn’t seem to be getting very far with Penguin in my polite but doubtless annoying requests to have it changed to better suit the story, that I did something stupid. I changed the completed cover art myself, using Photoshop. I added some arms, I got rid of the spider eyelashes. Now, there are a lot of artists in my life and I know how much they hate this. Indeed, I would hate it if a designer took one of my stories, re-edited it, then submitted it as an example of how it should be written. My good friend Jane Tanner recently had this experience with an author who is really too famous to name. He didn’t like the way some of Jane’s artwork for one of his titles was going so he used Photoshop to ‘fix’ it himself.
Jane was cut to the quick. I don’t blame her, because I know how hard she worked. Anyway, after I sent the email with Photoshop ‘improved cover art’ attachment to Sandy Cull, I realised that what I had done was probably unfair. I felt bad about disrespecting the artist, and decided to email Sandy to apologise for photoshopping the artist’s work. Sandy emailed back immediately stating that it is every art director’s nightmare when a writer gets hold of Photoshop and messes around with art in an effort to show what they would prefer. Sandy went on to say that she hoped I would find a self-help group in St Kilda for 46-year-old men with too much time on their hands. Now, this really was a spectacularly rude email for Sandy to send (even if only because it reminded me that I was 46), and I only rediscovered it long after I had received it, when I was going through piles of emails in a spring clean-up. It occurred to me that I should have responded to this email and not merely left it to fester on my hard drive. As always, my timing was way out, and I decided to respond to the email in a blog post – years later. I wrote to Sandy that it is every author’s nightmare when they are given a lackluster cover for a book on which they have likely spent years, and that the art designer can’t grasp why this would conceivably be important to said author. (I am paraphrasing, out of necessity.)
The post was written so long ago that I was surprised to get an email from Sandy Cull recently. She titled it ‘very humbling’ and she apologised very sincerely for her behaviour. I felt so bad for Sandy that I hacked away at the original post on my blog so that the ‘nasty’ part where I alluded to Sandy’s lack of empathy was removed. The result was a very boring post, but, I consoled myself, it would make Sandy feel better. But it didn’t, and this is where I really must take off my hat to Sandy. (And it isn’t a metaphorical hat, I’m actually wearing one. It’s St Kilda, I can wear what I like.) Sandy opined that bowdlerising the post made it boring . She was right, I just thought she would be pleased to see how I had ‘fixed things’. Of course, in deleting the potentially offensive bits of an email, I hadn’t fixed things at all. I had merely beeen untrue to myself. My original post, which was far better than this one, really, it was, represented an accurate summation of the frustration and impotence I felt at being given a book cover that I felt was no good – though people have since professed a liking for it. It was an emotionally honest post. In editing it, I made it dishonest, and Sandy had the guts to email me and say so. So, thanks to Sandy Cull. The lesson of all this, I think, is to stand for what you stand for, provided you’ve given it enough thought and consideration, and not to dilute your message in an effort ‘not to offend’. Our blogs should be written from the heart and left as written, unless you go back to do some necessary grammatical editing or spelling correction, such as turning ‘alright’ into ‘all right’. Our blog posts are our emotional and philosophical outpourings. And for whatever reason we write them (for posterity, out of protest, in an attempt to sharpen our writing skills or simply to be – gulp- understood and loved) they should be left alone.