Judging a Book by Its Cover

This is the second post in a series about publishing my book independently. 

Once I decided to publish Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis independently, the next task was to figure out exactly how to do it. That meant breaking down the process into separate tasks and to figure out what those were, I did a lot of research. Throughout my reading of numerous books — David Gaughran’s Let's Get Digital is fantastic — and more blogs than you can shake a stick at, two things became evident. One, indie authors are incredibly generous with sharing their experience and advice. And two, although you can learn to do a number of things yourself, there are two aspects of publishing a book for which you should hire a professional: cover design and editing. Both of these are essential to the first impression of your book by presenting a professional, high-quality product. Because if you plan to make a living from writing, you intend to be a professional and as such, there are things you just don't skimp on.

I have been very lucky — or somewhat prescient — when making friends. Dan Handler and I became friends 25 years ago and I've always loved seeing the things he's designed, both as a graphic designer and an artist in many media. He has a unique style and truly amazing talent that really speaks to me. Until very recently, I've enjoyed his art in a more personal way, being the lucky recipient (or purchaser) of several wonderful pieces. Naturally, he was the first person that came to mind where there was time to get a cover for my book. Luckily, he agreed to work with me.

The first step in the process was telling him about my book and talking about what sort of themes I liked. I told him that the Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis series was about the journey from being stuck and scared, through empowerment to living well with RA. I said it was about finding peace and freedom and then I told him that I liked ocean-y and sandy themes.

It is a mark of a truly gifted designer when they can listen to such vague prattle and create something that doesn't look at all what you had in mind, yet perfectly conveys what you meant.

And so it was with Dan and me. He gave me a number of what I have since learned are called preliminary comps using different concepts to interpret what I babbled on about. There were covers with water, others with sand, covers with my photo on them and covers without. As I leafed through them, my heart sank, because although they were all beautiful and evocative, none of them grabbed me. And then I came to the very last one.

It was love at first sight. It was nothing like what I’d imagined, but it was the concept of the book made real in a graphic. It was so perfect in fact, that we only did minor tinkering after that first comp. We brightened and enlarged the title and my name a bit for easier reading on any ebook reader and moved the opening in the wall a little to the right. And that was it. Of course, these changes happened on and off over the course of a year — the initial cover was created in early 2012. As I was rewriting the book and learned more about publishing, certain things required adjustments in the cover.

Throughout the design process, Dan was nothing but patient with my questions and several "just one more" changes. I knew nothing about graphic design when we started and working with Dan was like taking a master class in the art of creating a graphic representation of an idea. After all these years of being his friend, I got to meet the pro side of him and it was a trip worth taking. He'll be the first person I call when I need a cover in the future. And Dan? I promise I'll be less of a nightmare the next time!

If you're looking for a graphic designer, you can do no better. You can contact Dan at Handler Studios.