As many of you may know from this comment thread, Scott Westerfeld, noted author of Peeps and the upcoming The Last Days, while otherwise a perfectly cromulent human, is nevertheless a confirmed Pluto Hayta, dedicated to the proposition that our smallest planet is not, in fact, a planet at all. Well, I told this little fact to someone very special, and this is what she had to say on the matter.
Speaking of trusting your publishers to know what they’re doing, over the weekend Small Beer Press sent along to me the three books in their Peapod Classics line, Howard Waldrop’s Howard Who?, Naomi Mitchison’s Travel Light, and Carol Emshwiller’s Carmen Dog, and I found myself inclined to like the books even before I actually, you know, opened one up.
That was almost entirely due to the playful design of each of these books; the Peapod Classics are cute as the proverbial button, from their small, nearly square proportions to the Kevin Huizenga cover illustrations, and practically beg to be picked up and looked at. Probably someone could avoid smiling at these books, but that person is not me. This is genius packaging, since if you can get people to actually want to pick up a book, that’s half the battle right there. It helps that the books themselves are short and whimsical and thus perfectly suited for their design, too; I zipped through the novella-length Carmen Dog, and am enjoying the hell out of the Waldrop stories I’ve read in the Howard Who? collection. It’s a nice marriage of content and packaging.
I like the design because of what it is, but I also like it for what it isn’t, which is exclusionary. Each of the books in the Peapod Classics line is a fantasy work (indeed, the whole point of the line is to reissue fantasy books/stories the editors like but which have fallen out of print). The design of the books doesn’t hide the fantasy element; it simply casts it in a way that people who aren’t already of the fantasy ilk could find accessible and engaging. You can get people to read just about anything, provided the cover doesn’t send them running, and these are fantasy books whose covers don’t fire off anyone’s “I can’t be seen with this” triggers. Except possibly teenage boys. But, well: teenage boys. What are you going to do.
Anyway: Nice design job, Small Beer Press. I enjoyed these books, both before and after reading them.
Justine Larbalestier points to all the things an author has no control over, which is useful information for when, say, you look at a book cover and wonder to yourself what the hell the author was thinking. Justine’s list is pretty much correct (there are a couple other additions to the list in the comment threads), although I would make the caveat that some of this is contingent on other factors. There are some of my books which I have had quite a lot of participation on things like cover and jacket copy and so on — but in all of those cases that was contingent on the willingness of the publisher/editor to let me be involved. The point is ultimately the decisions on a lot of things about the books is not the author’s.
It’s also worth noting that this is not always a bad thing. A writer’s core competency is writing, it’s not book design or art or marketing… or how all three of those fit together, for example, to sell a book. Writing a novel is largely a personal endeavor, but turning that novel into a book is a group endeavor, as is selling it. When you’re lucky, the other people you’re working with are good at what they do, and you can trust them to do their jobs well — so you can focus on writing.