coverage


A book cover is a welcome mat. Cover art compels people to enter.

Once we had my book title, I knew exactly what I wanted on the cover. I arrived at the photo shoot with the necessary props: a bright blue piece of heavy paper for a backdrop and a miniature table set made of bamboo.

Lights! Camera! Action!

We spent the whole morning positioning the stools and decorating the table with impossibly small Japanese replicas of various foodstuffs. At one point the photographer gingerly placed items with tweezers, as if playing Operation. The photos were perfect. I breathed a happy sigh.

A few weeks later, I received the first round of covers from Dan Shafer, the graphic designer.

old-version-2

 

old-version-3

 

old-version-1

 

I dutifully provided feedback on each: yes to more of this, no to this, how about this?

Dan continued working his magic, but I something was missing.  I was seeking that click! of happy recognition when you lay your eyes on the book cover you want to hold in your hands.

old-version-4

 

old-version-5

Dan kept at it.

old-version-7

We were honing in but weren’t quite there.

Spring was shifting fast to summer, and the need for a finalized book cover was immediate. A placeholder was on certain online sites out of necessity. Bruce Rutledge, my publisher, was sharing advanced digital copies. In the final throes of the cover design conversation I was having with Dan, Bruce received a fateful email from a contact at Publisher’s Weekly who was enthusiastic about the book, but not the cover.

Bruce, Dan, and I convened on email. Bruce suggested a few tweaks based on the feedback. Dan agreed and offered to try some new ideas.

No more than 48 hours later, Dan had an email in my inbox. The first two attachments tweaked my original vision yet still did not sing. I clicked the final attachment and heard the aria I awaited.

My back bolted straight and I leaned into the screen.

That’s it!

We fiddled a bit more on details and there it was.

mmatbt-cover

 

As soon as Dan was free from my vision, he had the creative space to contribute his own. That’s lesson that I’ll apply to any number of situations in the future: don’t hold too tight to an idea or you might miss the best one.

drafts

Writing Room (Photo by A.V. Crofts)
Writing Room (Photo by A.V. Crofts)

I never imagined writing a book would be easy. I’ve written enough to know the agony (and utility) of multiple drafts. I’ve practiced shutting out the world so I could snatch words from my head and stick them to the page.

But it’s work! Every sentence. Every page.

The first draft delivered to Chin Music Press in September 2014 was, in hindsight, just a clearing of my throat. A food writer friend said as much after reading it. While she enjoyed my writing, she felt I only told half of the story and danced around the central character of each essay: me.

The challenge became not just writing about myself, but writing about myself honestly. Who was I really at 21? 37? 13? I wanted my essays to reflect who I was at those ages, not who I was when writing them.

My second and expanded draft landed in the publisher’s inbox in February 2015. By this point, Chin Music had assigned me an editor, Allie Draper, and her careful comments on the first draft had pushed me to be more descriptive and specific.

More revisions followed, and I turned a third draft around in November 2015.

By this time, the book was beginning to gel: 21 essays, ranging from my childhood to the current year. The manuscript had them unfold chronologically. We also lifted a title from one of the essays from China: “Meet Me at the Bamboo Table.” Things were slowly falling into place.

After submitting a fourth draft in January 2016, I met with Bruce and Allie to discuss the current state of the manuscript. We were fixed on a September 2016 publication date. Working backwards, we would need the cover design early 2016 and a final final final draft to Chin Music by early summer. These deadlines were almost a year away from the meeting and already weighing heavy on my mind.

It seemed like forever and also a blink. I was now well aware how long drafts and revisions took. Each draft was pendulum between personal narrative and the food experience. One more course correction was in order.

I produced a fifth draft in April 2016. We were so close. A few essays still needed tweaks, but I could sense an end in sight.

Soon, it arrived. I turned in my last draft May 2016. I was done! For now.

The next step? The files were shared with Dan, the graphic designer, who would start the process of laying out the book page by page.

I caught my breath and waited eagerly for the galley.