Thursday, August 24, 2006

More from the Mailbag: Judging a Book by Its Cover

Today's t-shirt: The shirt from my college dormitory. It says "I slept with 3000 people last night" on the front, and on the back it says "Jester Center Halls" and has a drawing of the big, high-rise dorm complex. At the time, it was the second-largest dormitory in the world. The first time I wore it to come home for the weekend, my mom was scandalized because people who didn't know about Jester might just think I was a slut if I advertised sleeping with that many people. I pointed out that most sluts don't run out and get t-shirts made to advertise that fact (I will refrain from the obvious joke about sorority party shirts), and who could hit that number in one night anyway, so wouldn't people assume there was some kind of twist or joke on the back of the shirt rather than taking it literally?

I think I've managed to respond to all of the reader mail I've received so far (though there's always a chance that something is lurking deep in my in-box that I somehow missed). If you've written to me and haven't received a reply, there is a chance that it ended up in my spam filter and didn't have an identifiable subject line. I don't open messages in my spam filter that have subject lines like "Hi!" or that have no subject line. If you want to make sure I see your message, be sure and use a subject header that sounds like it might be a message from a reader, like maybe the book title or "Great book!" or even "your books." My spam filter is sometimes overly diligent, so I do check it, but if I can't tell what the message must be from the subject and if I don't recognize the sender's name, I just delete it.

It's sad and pathetic confession time again. Yes, a lot of the reason I get behind on responding to reader mail is because I'm busy (I'm behind on responding to family and friends mail, too). But the other reason is that I seem to be acting sad and pathetic as a way of trying not to look like I'm sad and pathetic. I check my e-mail pretty frequently (sometimes almost obsessively), unless I'm away from my desk or really being good about working on something. I read the e-mail as it comes in, but I don't want to respond as soon as a read it because I don't want anyone to think that I have nothing better to do than respond to e-mails instantly. If I wrote an author I didn't already know personally and got an instant reply, I'm sure I'd think, "Gee, don't you have anything better to do? Shouldn't you be writing, or something?" Plus, sometimes I like to think about the response. So, I wait a little before responding. Of course, then my in-box gets clogged with lots of other stuff, and I get sidetracked, so later becomes much later. I think in the future I'll just set aside a little time every day (unless I'm totally crazy busy or out of town) to deal with whatever e-mail has come in since the day before. Some people may get a response almost instantly, and some may get a response a day later, but hopefully no one will get a response three months later.

Speaking of crazy busy, I have one more chapter in book 3 to revise, and it will be a bit of a rewrite. And then I have some serious work to do revising book 4. My agent had a lot of suggestions, and it's the kind of thing where I want to smack myself on the head and wonder why I didn't see those things myself because they're so very obvious. I'm already excited about what the final product might look like, though.

And now for some short mailbag responses (rather than my usual essays).

Q: How much input do you get into your book covers or titles? (Also, do you draw the book covers yourself?)
My publisher certainly asks for suggestions on the book covers. When I sold the first book in the series, we had a lot of talks about the kind of cover I wanted. We agreed we wanted something cartoony, to match the fun tone of the books. I sent some suggestions of book covers I liked that had the kind of look I was going for. I liked the idea of cartoons on a white background. Then they turned that info over to the art department, who hired an artist (I DO NOT draw the covers myself. You can tell because they aren't stick figures.) to do the art. There's also a designer who puts the art together with stuff like the title and my name and the various text elements that go into a cover, as well as the design of the interior of the book, like those drawings on the chapter headings and the way they make the title page look. The names of the artist and designer are on the back cover.

When they have a draft of a cover, they send it to me for suggestions or approval. I've loved what they've done so far (I had a couple of tweaks to the details of the design for Once Upon Stilettos), so I don't know what they'd do if I totally hated something. I doubt they'd go back to the drawing board, but they might try to make adjustments based on my biggest concerns. Now that we have a look established, we're pretty much sticking with it, so it's likely that the next covers will be drawn by the same artist. We also like the idea of using the frog and the fairy in various ways to reflect each book. They're not meant to actually represent any characters in the book (though I did end up writing the frog in as a character), just to convey an overall impression of the kind of books these are.

As for titles, again, I have some input, but it's really a collaborative process. My working title for Enchanted, Inc. was Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc. I only used that title because I knew I couldn't submit it as Book or the file name I was using, Fantasy Draft, so I didn't mind them changing it. At first, I wasn't too thrilled about the title they suggested and I came up with a bunch of alternatives (one was Totally Unenchanted), but they pretty much sucked, and I learned to live with and eventually love the new title. I did come up with the "Hex and the City" tag line. The working title for the second book was Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, and everyone was totally on board with that -- until some other author at another publisher had a book with that title that was scheduled to come out a few months before mine, and she was much more famous. We decided to change it, but nobody could think of anything because that was such a perfect title for that book. Eventually, one of the marketing copywriters came up with Once Upon Stilettos in the middle of the night, and it stuck. Book 3 had no title for the longest time. The contract is written for "book 3." I turned the book in as "book 3." I joked that I didn't want to hinder the creativity of the marketing department with my input. And then I had a shower epiphany (why do the best ideas come in the shower?), came up with Damsel Under Stress, and that ended up being the title. Book 4 does have a working title, and chances are very good that it will end up being the final title because everyone seems to like it, but I'm not going to announce it until it's set in stone.

And a related question ...
Q: How much input do you get on the translated editions?
Next to none. I don't get a say on the translation titles (which are often entirely new titles rather than translations of the English titles) or the cover art. In fact, I usually don't see the covers -- with the titles -- until they're a done deal. The Chinese translator has contacted me with questions and clarifications, and I've worked with her on finding ways to translate some of the more peculiar American idioms, but otherwise, I have no clue what's inside the pages of the translated editions. I couldn't say whether they're good or accurate translations. I have a friend with family in Taiwan, so I'll have to hear from him how well that translator did with the information I sent her. I read some German, so I may take a stab at reading the German edition if I get bored, but it would be a slow slog requiring a dictionary because my German is survival German. I can get around the country and order in a restaurant, but reading a whole book -- even if I wrote it -- might be a challenge.

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