What is a book cover supposed to do? Depends who you ask. I would say it’s supposed to work against stereotypes and give a clue as to what’s inside the book. My book is a history. It explores the path that brought snowboarding to the world. It proposes snowboarding as an example of how the mainstream manipulates and distorts subcultures and how the distorted version defines those subcultures for the public.
I was recently sitting in an apartment in South London, on vacation. In an effort to decompress from the mania of throwing myself into something for a whole year, I was visiting my sick grandmother. However, my editor was calling about the cover. After seeing some faxes of proposed covers and talking to both the designer and my editor, I realized that my book cover, and therefore my book, and therefore I, was about to become an example of the mainstream distortion that I hate.
Why? One simple word, which I’m sure you are all quite familiar with: MARKETING.
And I was stupid enough to think that everything had been worked out. I had gotten them to let one of my favorite designers do the cover. He was willing to do it for a pittance, they finally said okay. BINGO. What could go wrong. They saw his work and accepted him. We were dialed, right ? Nope. The designer did create a gorgeous cover, an old beautiful photo, full bleed, simple type. It was perfect. But then the marketing people looked at it and said that there wasn’t enough going on. They wanted an “aggressive,” “dynamic,” “heavily graphic” cover. The art director told the designer to juice it up. In other words, they wanted it to be, God help me, EXTREME.
This was a big problem. I was on the verge of looking even more stupid than I was already going to look. My book is not about the “extreme” lifestyle of snowboarders. I tried to tell them what a ridiculous hypocrisy it would be, how a fucked up, action-oriented cover (especially with a title like “Sick”) would go against everything on the inside. It would be a completely inauthentic representation of the product. My words fell on deaf ears. In their eyes, an authentic representation of the product would not sell. And after all, why listen to me? I don’t understand the bookshelf browse or any of those marketing terms. The way the publishing system is set up, if the marketing people don’t like something, it changes. They’re the ones who sell it to the bookstore people. It was cute how passionate I was, but this is not my territory to pee on. I was just the author: a weird, kooky “snowboarder,” who doesn’t know anything about the bottom line. The only thing a book cover is supposed to do is sell the book.
Oh, ha ha. Obvious. Me. The sucker. Again. Of course, I felt like there were at least a few things that I knew for sure:
1. If a book looks lame, it doesn’t matter how good it is. No one wants to own something that they are embarrassed to have on their coffee table.
2. Creating something for your own scene is easy, but if you choose to deal with the world of lazy corporate fucks, you’re asking for a fight. Be ready.
3. Compromise sucks. It’s stupid and weakens everything.
4. If the book cover ends up looking like a Mountain Dew ad, I was going to beat someone up.
So if you see some really lame looking book called Sick, give it a chance anyway and rest assured that somebody got the shit beaten out of them.