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.

photo shoot

Photo By Josh Samson (samsonimages.com)
Photo By Josh Samson (samsonimages.com)

One rainy January day Dan Shafer and I collaborated on a photo shoot with photographer Josh Samson. I requested that the shoot capture a cover photo, as well as document letters, slides, and ephemera for Dan to add to the visual mix of the book. It was a day of gratitude for my pack rat sensibilities. Dan would add these new images to his growing collection of my sketchbooks and personal photos I’d already provided.

Josh’s home studio linked his camera to his laptop, so we could immediately see each image in greater detail. After staging my cover shot, we moved through my life one item at a time: old passports, party favors (photographed above), and a stiff section of Wisconsin birch bark were put under the lights. Dan frontloaded the process so that the most difficult shots were tackled first, with the easiest ones left for the end of the day.

Outside of a lunch break, we worked steadily. Dan and I arranged the items; Josh manipulated his camera and the lighting. Josh took multiple shots of each item until we all agreed we had a winner. Josh’s biggest coup was capturing slides illuminated through a light box he’d devised at my request. This required three exposures that he would later overlay in Photoshop. Huzzah!

I walked away that day with a new batch of memories in digital form and a cover. These visuals made the book feel more tangible and I was motivated for the homestretch of final drafts and layout.