Covers and Titles
One of the questions I get asked most frequently by readers is “How much say do you have in the covers and titles of your books?” My quick answer is “very little” but that really doesn’t do it justice, so I think some explanation is required.
Each of my books has a working title when I am writing it. Then at some point, usually after I’ve sent it to my editor, I get a call or e-mail asking about possible alternative titles. Let me use my first novel as an example. When I was writing, I called it THE KOMMANDANT’S GIRL. After it was accepted for publication, the publisher decided that the title was too historical and asked me to come up with a list of alternatives. I came up with about forty titles and the publisher took half of one of my suggestions and called the book A FINE CRACK OF LIGHT -- leading my family and friends to call it “The Crack Book” and teaching me never to put a title on a list unless I loved it. Then one of the major bookstore chains said they liked the book but not the title. So the title reverted to THE KOMMANDANT’S GIRL and the cover was redone to meet the bookstore chain’s preference as well (a very interesting lesson in market power.)
It has been much the same with my other books. THE DIPLOMAT’S WIFE had a working title of HEART OF EUROPE. ALMOST HOME was once titled FOREVER ENGLAND (but in the UK will be called THE OFFICER’S LOVER.) The title that the publisher ultimately decides upon is almost always better than the original, no matter how much I loved it. So I’ve learned not to get very attached.
Book covers are different, though, because they don’t originate with me. I’m asked to give ideas of images and themes from the book that may help the artist. But I’m usually not looped in on the actual artwork until pretty late in the game, when various cover concepts have been vetted in house and there is one frontrunner that most people really like. Then I give input mostly on minor changes, like font or color, unless I feel really strongly about something bigger.
I’ve also been asked by readers if I mind my limited control over the title and over process. No, not at all. For one thing, the people who make these decisions are among the best in the business and I have great trust and confidence in their judgment and skills. I do my job (writing the best books I possibly can) and I let them do theirs. And I am always amazed by the ability of the artists and others at the publisher to get inside my head and find a cover and title that totally capture my vision of the book. These are some of the first indications with a new manuscript that people are “getting” what I am trying to say, and seeing our ideas come together is one of the most exciting parts of publication. So while I am not that involved in the process, I am almost always blown away by the results.
Many thanks again to Pam Jenoff for this guest post! An interesting look into the development of titles and covers, wouldn't you say?