Monday, February 24, 2014

The Difference Between a Yam and a Sweet Potato

The title of this post was a working title for Jealousy & Yams. Even though I changed my mind – for various reasons – I thought I should point out that I know this difference exists because my cover shows the word yams on top of a picture of sweet potatoes.

I made this cover like I’ve made most of my book covers…

Step 1: Decide on a vague idea for the cover.

Step 2: Take tons of pictures of something related to that vague idea.

Step 3: Pray that one of those pictures looks something like a book cover.

Step 4: Ruin it with bad font or special effects.

Step 5: Start over.

Step 6: Make several versions of the same basic cover and show those to others for feedback.

Step 7: Be mocked for lack of artistic ability.

Step 8: Try again.

Step 9: Settle on a cover that is okay at best.

Interested in the specifics? For this latest book, I thought sweet potatoes might work so I planned to mash some for dinner. I arranged them in piles before and after washing. I took pictures of them peeled and unpeeled and whole and chopped. I snapped a few of them in the boiling water and I got one last shot of the peels – the garbage – only because I had captured everything else.

The image I liked best was of the sweet potatoes in the pan. They turned a brighter orange while cooking and I thought the eye-catching color might make a good cover. Unfortunately, one of the first people who looked at that version said it made him think of sex. I guess the bubbles in the boiling water looked like soap. He could not explain to me why soapy vegetables are sexy. Perhaps it’s a guy thing. Since I write clean fiction though, I couldn’t risk giving others the wrong impression. That cover went into the figurative scrap pile.

My second favorite image turned out to be the peels. Since that picture was mostly an afterthought, it turned out to be a bit blurry. No problem. We like sweet potatoes. I made some for dinner again the next week and snapped lots of pictures of my garbage pile. On another whim, I included the peeler.

Originally, the peeler was aimed downward. This made people think murder. No one has ever been murdered in any of my books. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler.) Inverting the picture made it clearer that it was a kitchen tool and not a murder weapon.

I set a precedent for font with Andrew's Key, the first book in the series, so that part was easy. The color, however, proved challenging. An actual artist would likely look at that picture and know what color would work best. I think I tried at least six different colors. I wanted to pull something from the background and nothing seemed to have enough contrast to make the words readable. I eventually used the very shiny part of the peeler. I'm still hoping people will open the book before they judge it.

It’d be great if I could stick to writing and pay someone else to design the covers. Even if this was in my budget though, I’m not sure how well it would work out. I’m afraid I would still have vague ideas about what I wanted and I’d drive the artist nuts trying to explain what was or was not working for me. Case in point: I recently created a new cover for Weathering Evan and I’m not going to tell you how many times I made my cover model change his shirt. Lucky for everyone, all this crazy indecision stays in my head when I’m writing.