The Writer's Life

You were right about the yellow



I remember when Fourth Estate first showed me the paperback cover to AGE OF CONSENT. I really hated it. I mean, I still think it’s awful. It may come as a surprise to you but authors have disturbingly little power of the appearance of their books.

This is true even if you’re super famous. I could give examples but I won’t. It happens even when you and your editor team up in order to veto a cover that has arrived from the art department on a bad day and is so ugly you think it ought to have a smell.

Or maybe she loves the cover – you both do – but the marketing people hate the cover. Or maybe you reluctantly agree on a cover but the sales people propose a change that makes the cover just so much worse but there is not thing you can do now. ,

Oh well. It will be good enough, you think. And they say they’ve had covers like this before on books that have done well. Why argue with success?

The first time Fourth Estate (Harper Collins, UK) showed me the yellow cover I about threw up. It was then rejected for another cover. Crisis avoided.  But the following year when they were publishing the book in a different format back came that same yellow cover you hated before.

Oh no, you think. Not THAT cover. Yes, that cover. Like a dress my mother bought for me in 1978 and that I never wore but thought maybe I ought to wear because it was expensive. The dress that got hauled from apartment to apartment until, at last, I could afford and house and then it went into the attic and was later (I am so sorry to admit) devoured by field mice. Sorry, Mom. 

Anyway, there it was, a cough drop yellow cover with some sad girl on it in a plaid skirt that made no sense to me.

“Do you love it?” they asked.

“I told you last time you showed it to me that I don’t love it.”

“Well, we love it. We ALL love it.”

They all love it. That means, I am not allowed to hate it.

“It’s fine,” I grumbled. 

“We knew you’d love it!”

They knew I’d hate it but that I’d agree to it, which I did. Everyone remained friends and the book went to print in it’s bright yellow jacket. Like a stinging insect or a banana or a yellow crayon. I mean YELLOW.

But now, years later, I think I’ve changed my mind about that jacket. It’s like I finally pulled out the yellow dress, the expensive ugly dress my mother lovingly purchased and that was later consumed by mice.  But this time I think it’s okay.

The cover can never be beautiful but the publishers were right about one thing. It stands out. The photograph you see is the bookcase in my bedroom, or rather one of my many bookcases. Don’t worry, I would never read one of my own novels again. I have no idea why it is shoved in there near Paul Watkins and Mary Oliver but there it is, still bright, shouting “pick me.”

I don’t ever look at my old books again, not on the inside anyway. But I did think to myself today that it wasn’t so bad. And that, yeah, they were right about yellow.

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