Telling a book by its cover
It would be a gross overstatement to claim that choosing the cover was one of the biggest tasks in writing and producing a book. But it is one of the most memorable ones -- and fun and communal (unlike the rather solitary experience of writing). Everybody from author to editor, artist to publicity person, can put a useful oar in. Does this cover capture what is in the book? Will it encourage people to pick it up in the bookshop? Or linger online?
My book that's just coming out comprises, as a basis, some of the favourite reviews and essays I've written over the last 15 - 20 years. But they have been rewritten, re-edited and reordered to make what I hope is a convincing WHOLE .. which introduces readers (in roughly chronological order, starting from Minoan Knossos and ending with Astérix the Gaul) to the ancient world, and more to the point to what the current debates about it are. What's going on in Classics now? What are people arguing about? (Plug over)
We spent a long time with the cover -- and even with the title.
As you can see here, it started life with a working title of "Classical Traditions" and a rather elegant Piranesi style column on the front. That was fine while the book was still being constructed, but as soon as we had the text, it looked simply wrong. For a start the title looked really conservative -- rather like a homage to the Greeks and Romans, not an engagement with them. To put it another way, it sounded like a book that was going to be good for you, but not hugely enjoyable.. and certainly not remotely argumentative.
And that appeared to be the message of the column capital too. Aesthetically fine -- but where are the people that actually play a rather large part in the text?
Yet we all quite liked the overall idea/concept....
Some of my last, and some of my most enjoyable, discussions with Peter Carson were about precisely this. First thing to get scrapped was the title. We quickly got rid of the PASSIVITY of 'traditions' (even the plural wasnt good enough to rescue it).. and went through a variety of bosh shots: Meeting the Classics, Classics old and new (ugh), Do Classics Matter? Challenging Classics....
Until we all liked "Confronting the Classics", which has more bottle than "Meeting...", and is to be honest what the book is actually about.
So the image...The first idea was to replace that column with a human being of some sort, to keep the nicely elegant neo-Classicism, but to disrupt it slightly, to capture a bit of (what we hoped was) a sense of fun.
The first mock-up was a Roman soldier/Julius Caesar, with a magnificent, punk-style red plume, to match the binding. A step in the right direction, but ever so blokeish -- and possibly a bit too punk to appeal to some potential readers! So we spent one of our last afternoons with Peter, looking at what the artist came up with next. The brief was: keep the jokey feel, but with a slightly more female touch (or at least a slightly less aggressively male touch). In the end, after a glass or two of Pinot, we all agreed on what you now see. So I hope you like it.
Eagle eyes will also spot that the text on the front cover has been lightened up too. Crucially the "B" word has gone... If there is one basic message in the book trade, it has to be "never look as if your claiming your own book is BRILLIANT". Easy to do, but it looks horribly overconfident, and a hostage to fortune.