Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

A Cover Story

Some years ago, I was at a local arts center where The Magpie’s high school class was having an open mic event as part of a class project. It was a very enjoyable event with kids displaying their admirable talents (we are fortunate to have some very talented people in this area). After a while I wandered off inside the gallery to talk the director of the center, a friend of mine who had also founded the writers’ group I was in. While we were talking, the kids continued singing and playing and reciting poetry out in the courtyard and it was just nice background music to our conversation. At some point, a fresh burst of music blew in through the window and our conversation stopped dead. We stared at each other for a few seconds, and I’m sure the expression on my face was the same that I saw on hers: eyes wide, mouth agape. We looked out the window to see who had taken the stage, then back at each other, and then one or both of us said, “Holy shit, they’re amazing!” Two brothers were playing a duet and it was clear from the very first notes that these boys were good, that they were clearly a cut above their peers. Several cuts, in fact. As a non-musician, I can’t say exactly how they were better, just that they were.

The cover design process for Powerless began with Lisa asking me questions: What did I want on the cover? What didn’t I want on the cover? I provided her with a fairly lengthy list of things, including book covers I liked, explanations of why I liked them (It could be anything: I like the color, I like the picture, I like the font, I like the way the image supports the theme. I don’t know why I like it, I just do.). Lisa took that to Designer Number 1 and a few weeks later we got covers. I was excited. I was nervous. I found something that, maybe, I could live with if I had to? I guess? It worked kind of thematically but it seemed underwhelming and we had several back-and-forths with Designer Number 1 without much progress. Lisa brought in Designer Number 2, whose covers were “off the shelf at Barnes & Noble quality. They were good, they were professional, they were finished … annnd they just weren’t right.

Joni Mitchell said you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. In the case of my cover, it was “I don’t know what I don’t want ’til I’ve got it.” The covers all had elements I had requested, but once seen in action, they just didn’t work for me. Even the really good ones felt like they belonged on a different book in a different genre. After Designer Number 1 ghosted us (and I can’t help but wonder if that departure was greased by Lisa’s emailing them comments that included my observation that some of their designs looked like “bad cut-and-paste”), Lisa found Designer Number 3, Laura Duffy. All four of the samples Laura provided were a cut above the other designers in overall quality, and they were also right. Opening up Laura’s sample file was the book cover equivalent of listening to those boys strike the opening chord of their song that long ago afternoon. Right down to the moment of slack-jawed amazement and uttering the phrase, “Holy shit, they’re amazing!”

When was the last time you found yourself poleaxed by art, and what was it?

Last week was a pretty crazy week. In addition to the cover launch I was fortunate to receive a proof copy of Powerless, the paperback from Lisa, and then received another one with different paper a few days later. It is quite the feeling to hold your book in your hands.

They’re real, and they’re spectacular!

2 Responses

  1. It IS quite the feeling of holding your own book in your hands. And it NEVER gets old!

    FYI – I’m saddened that I can’t mark my comment to notify me of other comments (or replies) anymore.

  2. I hope I get to find that out for many more books!

    Thanks, also, Stacy, for bringing up the issue with notifications. We’ll check the settings and see if we can fix that, and also fix it so that “regulars” don’t need to be approved all the time!

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