Monday, March 12, 2012


As any debut author will tell you, the moment you see your first cover is like the moment you glimpse your firstborn child.

So imagine if your newborn were whisked away from the hospital nursery in the dead of night, and you were told, Not to worry! We've got an even BETTER baby in store for you, and a few months later a completely different infant appeared in a basket (or, as the case might be, a FedEx delivery envelope) on your doorstep.

And then it happened again.

Now, it's not unheard-of for a book jacket to undergo changes before publication, as it passes through various hands on its way to the bookseller's New Release table. And to be fair, Overseas defies easy categorization: a sweeping, old-fashioned love story rooted in the First World War, narrated by an utterly modern young woman in twenty-first century Manhattan. Is it historical fiction? Is it contemporary? Is it romance, or simply romantic? In designing a cover, do we focus on the historical aspects of the book, or its modern heroine? Do we market to devotees of historical fiction, or do we throw out our net for a broader readership?

When the first Overseas jacket art came in, I fell in love. The art department had imagined a dreamlike cityscape at sunset (or was it sunrise?), golden clouds merging with aquamarine sky, and then those beautiful words: OVERSEAS, a novel, Beatriz Williams.

It was lovely. It was perfect.

"Can I share it?" I begged my publisher. The answer came back in firm yet gentle tones: not until after the fall sales conference, when the online retailers pick it up. That way, people have something to click and (one hopes) pre-order.

So I waited and waited, and in mid-November Overseas popped up on Amazon with its dreamy cover, and I let loose a torrent of rapturous tweets, Facebook updates, and blog posts. Oh! Ah! sighed my peeps and tweeps, and I basked in that happy delivery-room glow, gestation and labor complete, my baby's precious picture plastered all over the internet for the world to see.

Until the next day, when it disappeared.

I sent an email to my editor, who was on the other side of the world at a book conference. "So, like, the Overseas jacket art seems to have been kidnapped from Amazon. And also from the publisher website. Anything, um, you know, wrong?"

A deathly thirty-six hour silence followed. I waited. I envisioned messages crossing the globe, time zones jostling. At last an email appeared in my inbox.

Good news and bad news, my editor said. The good news is, the sales force loved Overseas. The bad news, they want a new cover.

A new cover? Like what kind of new cover?

Bigger. More...bestseller-y. Special effects.

I had no idea what that meant. Special effects? Does the book blow up in a controlled fireball? Does a holographic image of the my dashing First World War hero reach out from the pages to embrace the reader? But I did like the sound of the word bestseller, so I hunkered down to wait.

And wait.

I tried not to look at pictures of my old cover. I tried not to wonder what the new one would look like. ("The special effects will be...special," my editor assured me, which you know what? Didn't help much.)

Fall turned to winter, the holidays came and went, January stretched out cold and lonely before me. And at last, the FedEx guy parked outside my house and tossed an envelope on the porch with, really, a little too much casual disregard.

I snatched it up, ripped it open, and beheld:

I loved it. The gorgeous sapphire color, the piano die-cut to reveal a bookcase stamped with a glittering nighttime cityscape: it spoke to the novel's contemporary elements, to the music that united the separate worlds of Kate and Julian. It was perfect.

Again I let loose with the social media, again the world sighed with me. Publishers Weekly gave Overseas a starred review and interviewed me for an author Q&A. My baby was beautiful, healthy, happy. I was gurgling with joy.

Until my agent sent me an email with a PS (always beware the PS!): By the way, we have a few tweaks to the jacket art.

A few tweaks?

It's a pretty cover, she said, but I don't think it really captures the book. The new one will arrive tomorrow.

By now, you may have perceived that I'm like any new parent: I love my baby so much, I don't care what it looks like. Whatever the eye color, the nose shape, the degree of ear protrusion, I will just adore the pants off the little mite, because it's mine. So I locked the die-cut piano away in a corner of my heart and prepared to greet the new arrival with joy. After all, how lucky was I to have an agent and a publisher so committed to the book, they'd burn through three designs to get its cover just right?

But when Cover Number Three thumped on my doorstep the next day, inside a box of galleys conveniently printed with Cover Number Two, I gasped.

This was it, I realized. This was Overseas. The glittering city, the mysterious twilit sky, the luminosity. Romantic, enigmatic, depthless. They've nailed it.

I love it. It's perfect.

But, as I said, I'm too partial to judge my own baby. You tell me. Which cover do you like best? Which book would you pick up?