The Wedge of the San Rafael

The Wedge of the San Rafael
Someone has to live here, in the middle of desert beauty. Might as well be the Kellys.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's war

Oh my word, editors are even more corn-fusing than readers. Let me walk you through my encounter with an editor at Penguin Random House yesterday. (Signet is a Penguin imprint.)

a few years ago, Signet asked me to return my copywrites for those 16 traditional Regencies I wrote for them years ago, to reissue now as ebooks. I have been parceling them out to three publishers – Cedar Fort, Camel Press in Seattle, and back to Signet. Signet has reissued several of these now, and they look fine.

The dilemma is The Wedding Journey, a novel set in 1812 Spain when Marching Hospital #8 (think MASH unit) is trying to make it to safety behind the lines of Torres Vedras in Portugal. It’s a tough little story, with  appealing characters. Research was fun beyond belief, but a challenge, because it's hard to find good stuff about combat medicine in the Napoleonic Wars.

In late November, my Signet editor (she’ll remain nameless) sent me a proposed cover copy for the ebook of The Wedding Journey. It’s lovely – a handsome barouche with wedding flowers all over it. The only problem is that it reflects absolutely nothing that happens in the novel. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Here was her first email on Nov. 20: “I’m attaching the cover we’ve created for THE WEDDING JOURNEY here!”

My reply: “Well, it’s pretty, but has absolutely nothing to do with the book, set in Spain when the army is retreating and evacuating a mobile hospital. Could you try again?”

Her reply the name day: “It is a fine line because there isn’t really art that will show those particulars of the plot. Do you think that something less fancy like a bouquet of flowers would work better?

My reply: “I would probably put a wedding bouquet on a cannon. That would give a better idea of the novel.”

Fast forward now to November 27. From my editor:
“I’ve discussed this with our editorial director and we both feel that the cover is a nice mix of the wedding theme and the war elements of the story. How else can we portray that kind of detail without making an ugly cover? And I prefer this very striking cover to the landscape covers which are getting generic for the Regencies at this point.

Additionally, I want to remind you that you and I worked very hard to completely rewrite The Wedding Journey copy [she’s referring to the original back cover blurb] so it accurately reflects the storyline – which the original copy mostly glossed over. When we have the accurate copy available on the etailer page with this striking cover, I think it presents a very intriguing package for readers. Do you agree?

Please let me know your thoughts!”

By now, I see what’s going on. They have no intention of changing that cover, but they want me to be happy, happy with it. I mean, I have to be happy. Jeez Louise.

My reply: “It doesn’t matter what I think, because obviously no one’s going to change that cover. It’s lovely for a wedding in the British countryside, but not for what the book is about. I just don’t care anymore.”

And I didn’t. I know when I’m licked.

Her response:
“Hi Carla,

We absolutely want you to be happy with your cover. Is there a time tomorrow you’re free to chat so I can get a better idea of what you’d like?

Realistically, I don’t think we’ll be able to find the art for something like a cannon with flowers on it or the army tent background that I know you had originally suggested. But we can talk through some other scenes.  [She invited me to look at other covers they had done for ebooks, and I dutifully did.] Let me know if there is a good time and number to reach you!”

Numb by now, I gave her a good time to call me and my number. This morning, I figured out a perfect solution: just use two silhouettes of a man and a woman looking at each other. Just the heads. I nosed around on the Interwebs and found exactly what she can use.

This is the email I sent this morning:
“Jesse, here’s your dilemma: I looked through that blurb copy, which now actually gives away a bit too much about The Wedding Journey, but which is better than the original. If you insist on keeping your drawing of a barouche and flowers, which never once appear in the novel, it also doesn’t match in any way the new, improved copy. Believe me, I understand the issue here: no one can spend any money on these covers. Here’s a workable solution and one that surely the art editor can find by just looking around on the Internet. I did it this morning. Use two silhouettes, one a man with slightly curly hair (I found of those), and a woman. Silhouettes were all the rage in Regency England. Just use two silhouettes. That gets us around the barouche and flowers which have absolutely no place in the novel, and the back cover, which talks about war in Spain. Two silhouettes. And if you can’t find two silhouettes, then one silhouette of a woman. Simple.”

I didn’t hold out much hope, but I think I’ve been proved wrong. Here’s the email I got later this morning:

“Thanks so much for your feedback. We think we’ve incorporated your suggestions into these new concepts, while still keeping the overall look that our Art and Marketing departments have created to brand the Regency releases. We want them clearly visually branded as Signet Regencies with this art style, which is why design options are so limited. I’m attaching the original artwork and two options more in the tone of the story. I think the second incorporates your silhouette request really strongly, and both steer clear of traditional bridal flowers or themes. Let me know what you think?”

I think they’ve done it. The open road and the lowering clouds really fit the book. Generically, the landscape could easily be Spain. I honestly did not think Signet would try to find a solution. It’s nice to be proved wrong. I emailed back and told her that the open road and lowering clouds really fit the tone of the novel.
So, dear readers, if you have a hankering to be published in the national and international publishing world, do be careful what you wish for. Dealing with editors who are convinced and won’t bend are as numbing as some readers who are wicked mean. But now and then, there’s a glimmer that they really do want me to be (ahem) happy. And I am. They could just as easily have left that #^&^% barouche and flowers on a Spanish battlefield.


  1. Hang in there, Carla. It sounds as though the publishing world is as much a battlefield as ever was found in Spain.
    By the way, The Wedding Journey is one of my all time favorites.

  2. The whole exchange just became monumentally funny. I had to write this blog just to point out the crazy business of publishing. BTW, I never did get that call from the editor at Signet. I guess since I agreed to the cool open/empty road, she figured she was through. And she was. Those young editors are overworked and underpaid. When I wrote The Wedding Journey, I was interested (still am) in those Napoleonic Marching Hospitals. And I wanted a surgeon who talked to Hippocrates occasionally.

  3. The Wedding Journey was the first book of yours that I found in my library- King CountyLibrary System in the Seattle area. I thought the book was wonderful and I looked for more of your books but KCLS didn't have very many and I couldn't find them in bookstores. But your name kept turning up on blogs and in interviews when authors I admired listed their favorite authors. So I have been excited every time I found another one of your books released as an ebook. I have been enjoying them immensely. Novels have spurred my interest in the Napoleonic/regency period of history. What would you recommend for a reliable but readable nonfiction book on the peninsular wars? I think the new cover is excellent for Wedding Journey and I'm glad you stuck to your guns, so to speak. I am also enjoying the LDS books and look forward to the Mexico books. This was an era I only learned about during the presidential campaign this year. So much of the noise of the discussion was just irritating but I found myself wanting to know about George Romney's early life.
    I hope that you will do a reading in the Seattle area. I have two sistersin Utah, one in SLC and one in suburban American Fork. On my next visit to them, I plan to make a trip to your area to visit your museum. Our father was born in a lumber camp in Boville Idaho so we are very interested in western history.

  4. Leslie, sorry I am so slow to answer. I think the most enoyable history of the Peninsular Wars is Elizabeth Longford's Biography of the Duke of Wellington, "Wellington: The Years of the Sword." Longford was a direct descendant of the Iron Duke's wife; believe she was a Pakenham. Jac Weller's "Wellington in the Peninsula" is OK. My favorite account of someone in the ranks is "The Letters of Private Wheeler," by William Wheeler. I believe I got all these books in used book stores or online.

    The New Mexico series is going to be fun for readers, I think. I love borderlands history, and have always enjoyed writing and reading about Spain in America. A graphics artist friend of mine is created a map that will be in the front of each book in the series.

    I might be in Seattle this spring or summer. I'd like to see my editor there, and meet the publisher of the New Mexico books and some of those old Signet Regencies. Let me know when you're in Utah, and I'll make a point to be at the museum in Helper. We can chat about books.