October is a very busy month for me. This month I will have launch meetings for my Fall 2015 books. The launch is a big deal - at this meeting we decide the title and the cover direction of each book. We also discuss what the back cover should look like, decide on a series name if needed, and the "brand" or look we want to create. Super-duper important stuff. And the success of this meeting falls mostly on the shoulders of the acquiring editor. It's an interesting process and more than one person has asked how books are titled or where the covers come from.
My first step is reading the full manuscript or whatever materials I have. There are times when we have to launch a book before the manuscript is completed. In these cases it's imperative that the author and I have a good working relationship. Which leads me to my next step - I ask the author what they want. Most of the time the author and I are on the same page - we have similar ideas for covers and titles. Sometimes we are on opposite ends, though, and in those cases I have to go with my best judgment. (Those are pretty rare occurrence.)
After a conversation with the author, or sometimes concurrently, I start my research. I look for similar works already published - you can judge a book by it's cover in the crime fiction world. Cozies look like cozies. There is some variation, but a reader won't confuse an illustrated cozy cover for a photo-realistic psychological suspense. I create a set of notes that I send out to all those who attend the meeting. That includes - Publisher, Production Manager, Production Editor, Art Director, Cover Designer, Publicist, Sales and Marketing Manager, assorted Sales folks. And here are what my notes looked like for a book we launched yesterday:
I confess - for meeting the description of the novel was a lot longer, but I didn't want to give away too much! What is missing from this set of launch notes are comparable titles published by other houses. Because this is the fourth book we are doing with Catriona, we have a look already established. Our books with her are stand alones, so while we don't have a template, they do have a certain look/feel to them.
At the start of the meeting, we talk about the physical parts - trim size, whether we use an author photo or not, is there a pen name, etc. Then we get into the good stuff. First I give everyone a little more info about the book, a more detailed description, as well as if I am asking the author to make any major revisions or not. I will also add in any note- such as note worthy facts about the author or any previous books published either by us or others. Quite often sales will chime in on feedback they received from buyers. Then I offer the title the author and I have agreed on and we discuss... and discuss... and discuss... Sometimes it's super easy. We launched Jeff Cohen's second Asperger's book on Tuesday. He turned in his manuscript with the title - The Question of the Unfamiliar Husband. Everyone loved it. So we moved one. But for as many easy title decisions, there are just as many difficult discussions. From "I just don't like that" to "can it be a two word title?" There may be truth the rumor that our conference table has dents from me pounding my head a little too often.
The title and the cover design need to meld together. Sometimes it's helpful to table the title discussion and move to the cover design. Every launch meeting is different and has it's own life. There are some books where I ask the art dept to use the exact photo I have provided. There are some books where I give them some elements and I ask them to work them into a design. The latter is often the case for illustrated covers - I don't know why that is, other than the fact that we hire illustrators so it's important that they have some flexibility. It is very important that the cover designer gets what we need into a mocked up concept that we then send to the artist. In the case of Catriona's book, she and I both looked for images of bridges and we ended up with the selection above. Our cover designer builds the cover in house, so he and I can tweak it until we are all happy with the end design.
In all cases, with both title and cover design, the loudest voices in the room tend to be mine and sales. Between my experience as a bookseller and bookstore owner, and the immediate feedback the sales department gets from customers, we hopefully have the pulse on what trends are happening. For example, it was well over a year ago that skulls and crossbones seemed to start dropping off cozy mysteries. Previous to that, they were pretty commonplace on the vast majority of cozy books.
There are times when we need to just stop to the meeting and reschedule. And there are many times where we decide on a title and I am not in love with it. I will let it sit and eventually the author and I come up with a title we love. In those cases, we reschedule a meeting, or meet via email to approve the new title. If we have an issue on cover design, we always have a new meeting.
My role in the cover and title meeting is rather schizophrenic. I am representing the author in that meeting, but I am also representing the line. I may have to convince the author to accept a title or design that he or she doesn't love. I also have to choose my battles. It's unfortunate, but it's true. I would like to say that every book I publish is perfect - that I love the title or design. I can't quite say that, but over the last five years (I believe my five year anniversary at Midnight Ink is next week!) I have gotten a bit more... crankypants, one might say. I work tirelessly to make sure everything is a perfect as I can make it. It serves no one, not the author nor us as the publisher, to put out a book that isn't 100% fantastic.
Thanks for listening to my rambling! I hope this answers a few questions. I purposely left out any horror stories, the ones where I beat my head upon the table, but hey, catch me at a conference and I might just share a few. :) And I apologize for not posting last week. I was home sick. :(
See ya next week, folks! Drop me a line if there is anything about publishing you want answered!