Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wimpy Cover

Reading this piece about designing a book cover by Diary of Wimpy Kid author (and my pal) Jeff Kinney raises just one question in my mind: How did he get off so easy?

I can only conclude that Jeff is kindly but futilely soft-pedaling the cover-making ordeal so as not to crush the dreams of any potential authors before they bloom. Because I've done the same thing twice, with exactly the same editor and publisher, and it's been a brutal, teeth-gnashing, bone-snapping process of arguing, crying, pleading and bleeding while scores of sketches and drafts shoot back and forth for weeks.

Perhaps Jeff is simply more talented and cooperative than I am. Or perhaps I exaggerate for humorous effect.

The topic of designing a book cover actually came up during my recent lectures at UC Davis for a couple of reasons. First, it's an opportunity for designers to really strut their stuff and contribute to the look and feel of a book. Second, it's about the only time in my experience when the act of writing a book involves more than the author, editor and designer. That's because a book's cover is primarily a marketing tool, not an editorial one. If you can't entice someone to pick it up in the first place, they'll never see the terrific stuff inside. So suddenly you're collaborating with a lot of people with opinions and veto power, including some who haven't read the book. Aside from the decision to publish the book in the first place, to which I'm not privvy, cover design is the only part done by a committee. Changing something on the inside of my book takes a five-minute chat with my editor; changing something on the outside can be a slog through the Black Gates of Mordor.

Still, Jeff wrote a nice piece, accurate as far as it goes, with good illustrations of the process. Also notice the accompanying photo with the clay model of Wimpy Kid protagonist Greg Heffley: that's what his balloon is going to look like in this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Yeah. That's what I said. Jeff's just that cool.

Maybe someday I'll get to hold a balloon rope. I've always wanted to do that.


Unknown said...

Thank you for posting about this! I had to select an article for one of my LTA classes that related to Book selection for the library. I chose an article that related to what you say, "people do chose books by the cover". My Instructor dinged me a point for my article selection, saying I could have found something better. He didn't agree that people choose by the cover. Would you mind if I shared your blog with him? I love proving my point, even if I can't get the grade point back!

Brian Fies said...

Share away! I'd never discourage anyone from reading my blog for any reason. In response to your instructor, I'd say that even if it's true that readers don't choose books by their covers (I disagree but concede it's debatable), publishers believe that they do, and devote a lot of effort and expense to making them as enticing as possible. Many designers make good livings specializing in book covers. Their employers must have reasons to believe they're getting their money's worth.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your perspective on cover making. Very interesting....

I thought you might like to see the piece that David Wiesner did about designing the art for his Art & Max book -- on the same blog as the Jeff Kinney piece you referenced, but this time at:

Enjoy. Best, Nick Glass,

Brian Fies said...

Thanks for the recommendation and new perspective, Nick. Appreciate you taking the time to comment.