There are Swords and There are Swords
My publisher is incredible. I’ve heard stories from other writers about their covers that have been horror stories. I know writers may or may not get a say in what their cover looks like. I’ve always known this. So when Evelyn Fazio (Publisher at WestSide Books) told me she doesn’t like to let writers get a look at their cover until it’s been tested on the target audience I wasn’t sure what to think. She said, “I don’t like authors to fall in love with a cover that we have to change. Evelyn knows how to market her books – she focus groups them on their target audience and on librarians – and I had to have faith in her and her team’s abilities to put forth a cover that would knock me out. I know she loved my book and the folks at WestSide also loved my book so I, after sending an initial email with my “ideas” spelled out, let things go. I have a hard time with that.
The first cover was terrific. A fencer in full competitive gear. I saw it and loved it but… I noticed the weapon he was using was a Saber. In Open Wounds Cid, the main character, only uses an épée. He is told by his teacher, Nikolai Varvarinski – the mad Russian – that he should only use the épée and not the saber. Cid also uses a rapier for teaching stage fencing for a production of Romeo and Juliet so either weapon will do just not… a saber. I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I say something? Should I let it go? My publicist said, “Say something.” My wife said, “Say something.” My writer friends said, “Say something.” I waited a week and said nothing. Then I called Evelyn and said, “I love the cover, but… it’s a saber and not an épée. Any fencer will know he’s got the wrong weapon on the cover.” Evelyn understood right away the importance of this, especially in a historical novel. She said it would be changed. They could still use the cover but change the weapon. She asked me for some pictures so they could make sure they got it right. I sent them along.
In the mean time she had sent out the cover to librarians and asked them to show it to kids and see what they said.
Open Wounds is a boy book – not that girls won’t like it but it is targeted at boys. and one thing studies have shown in the publishing world about boys is that a good percentage of them choose books based on the cover. I found out Evelyn had also sent along a second cover of a NYC landscape with a sword superimposed over it. One group in California at a juvenile detention center gave especially helpful feedback. “Kids were turned off because they’re not interested in fencing,” The librarian said. “They like swords, though, a lot.”
Yesterday Evelyn sent me a rushed email with the cover explaining quickly what had happened.” Tell me what you think,” she asked, “now!” I downloaded the cover and closed my eyes while it loaded. I waited a few moments then opened them. I loved this cover. The old one was out and the new one was in. The sword is a rapier from the late 16th century, a clamshell hilt, the perfect weapon for Cid to teach his actors with. And New York City is… well its always been perfect – especially the shot of the Empire State Building. And Cid Wymann’s world is 1940’s New York City in all its glory.
Thank you, Evelyn Fazio.