Saturday, 14 May 2011

More than just a cover

Ta -ra! Here is the cover for the German version of When I Was Joe. There's a new title too -  Mehr als nur ein Zeuge, which translates as 'More than just a Witness' In English that would be a bit of a mouthful, I'm sure it works well in German.
Loving the HUGE byline
It means that the spine picks out the word Zeuge -  witness, in a way I'd loved to have done in English. I thought and thought of possible titles for When I was Joe, but the most obvious - 'Witness' -  I ruled out because of the 1985 film with the same  name. Even though it was made years before my target audience was born, it's such a great film that I couldn't even consider using the same name.
In the end though, When I Was Joe has been a great title, partly because Joe is a popular name among teen boys and I suspect that loads of them get my book bought for them as a birthday or Christmas present. I mean you'd have to read it, wouldn't you?
It's a strange thing, seeing how a cover designer has interpreted one's book. It's the first time the book stops being a manuscript and starts being a real, three dimensional book. The cover artist creates something from your creation. If they get it right, it's like a first great review.
With the British version, I was keen that there shouldn't be a knife on the cover, for various reasons. I didn't want to glorify or cash in on the latest spate of knife murders, I didn;t want a cover that might distress victims or their relatives. I felt there had been quite a few recent knife image covers -  including Anthony McGowan's The Knife that Killed Me and  Patrick Ness's completely different The Knife of never Letting Go - both excellent books, and scary comparisons for a new author.
I felt it was a book as much about being a witness and identity, rather than  knife crime. I was keen that girl readers shouldn't be put off -  in fact I thought they'd like the book, so I wanted to attract them. 
Gorgeous boy
The team at Frances Lincoln, my publishers, were nice enough to ask me if I'd had any thoughts about a cover. 'Put a gorgeous boy in a hoodie on the cover' was my idea. The cover went through various changes, and ended up nothing like I'd first imagined (I had a vision that was more black and white and frankly emo), but I loved it. (My children however have never been sure about the boy on the cover. 'I'm sorry Mum, no one will ever buy your book' was their verdict) There is a knife there, but it's so subtly done that you hardly notice it.
Generally there's been a good response to the cover, so hah! to my kids. The blood puts off some people, true, but I did have one reader tell me that she'd never been into a bookshop before, but when she saw the cover of WIWJ, she had to buy it. 
With the German cover I had no input. I've been waiting to see what they come up with. And yes, there is a knife -  but the context is different, and so is the market. Most importantly, there are the eyes. They symbolise so much about the book -  the act of witnessing, which recurs again and again thoughtout the book. Their colour, which comes to stand for Ty's real identity. (I imagined, by the way, something more like a light olive green, rather than these emerald orbs, light olive being the exact colour of my eyes). And the feeling of being watched, judged, threatened, which is also an important theme. 
From far away the cover also looks like someone hiding -  it's only up close that you see that the eyes are reflected in a knife. 
Lia's Guide - girls only?
Covers reflect more than the book itself. They also place a book into a genre. When I Was Joe and Mehr als nur ein Zeuge look like thrillers -  does that mean that some people might be put off? I hardly ever read thrillers-  would I pick up my own book in a German bookshop? (umm, assuming I'm a 14-year-old German boy, which is a bit of a stretch, admittedly). My next book, Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery has a more chicklitty cover. Will the boys who've enjoyed When I Was Joe and Almost True be put off? Will that matter if new readers are attracted? Frankly I'm glad that these are questions for the publishers and not for me.
One of the disappointing things about owning a kindle - and I love my kindle -  is the lack of covers. Are book covers going the way of album covers? Will the art work involved be reduced to a simple avatar? I really hope not. Seeing your book turned into art is a very special thing.


  1. Quite a frenetic read this post, Keren - I had to keep scrolling up and down to look at, re-look at and compare the covers. Congratulations on the German book - I think it looks just what a 14yo boy would go for. BTW, do you know the model on When I Was Joe?

  2. I would have thought that they would keep the title, but I do like what they've come up with. I just got my German cover too, and it's also completely different and with a differnt name. I guess you just have to trust that they know their audience! Anyway WIWJ (or should I say MANEZ?) is such a good read I'm sure it'll do well there too!

  3. Great news, I love the new title but maybe slightly like the original cover better. The blood did put me off a bit at first too be honest, but after so many recommendations I just had to read it! I think Lia's Guide is a good approach because girls can get that book and will be interested it reading WIWJ too.
    Congratulations :-)

  4. @Sue Apparently When I Was Joe wouldn't sound good in German at all. Love to see your German cover.
    @Zoe, Yes, I hope it'll work that way!
    @Rachel No, sadly, we have tried to track him down, but all we know is that he modelled for some stock pictures taken by an agency called he may well be German.

  5. I love the all of the covers in this post! I think the way the knife is put into the German cover is really well done - at first I thought it was someone with a headscarf on or something, but then you mentioned it and I realised. I don't mean to be critical, but I don't think LGTWTL will appeal to boys if they haven't read WIWJ or AT. But it DEFINITELY will appeal to girls - it's gorgeous!

  6. @Zoe and Cliona.. You're right, the cover of Lia's guide is definitely one for the girls. Hping you're right and it will encourage girls to try WIWJ and AT too.

  7. Gorgeous German cover, and I do like the focus on the word Zeuge/witness. I didn't see the knife at first either (and hadn't spotted the one on the cover I have, oops!). Congrats! It must be so exciting to see how different artists/designers interpret your book.

  8. What a fascinating post, Keren! And so interesting to hear you talk about what you envisioned for a cover, what you got, and how you see it all. For what it's worth, I think the cover gods have been very good to you!