Three years ago, I decided to self-publish my first full-length book, The Slaves Have Names. My husband and I had just gotten married, and I’d been working for the past few months on building my business as an editor . . . so our funds were very tight a la non-existent.
The First Cover
So I did what any determined artist does – I made it work. (Thanks, Tim Gunn.) I bartered for formatting, and I figured out CreateSpaces printing specs. I asked good friends for help, and they graciously gave me tons of assistance. And Philip, my husband of just a few weeks, used his very impressive visual skills and a masterful manipulation of PowerPoint to create this cover for me using files we cobbled together from an Etsy image (used with permission), fonts available on his computer, and some ingenuity.
I LOVED it and still do. The image speaks of people whose identities have been partially erased by our society’s refusal to acknowledge the reality and legacy of slavery, and so it echoes what I have to say in the book very strongly.
As a digital image, it worked very well, but when it came to printing, our novice status showed, and the print covers were highly pixelated and grainy. As much as I loved the concept, the execution always belied, a bit, the hard work and strong storytelling that I know to be the heart of this book.
Still, the book sold well, and our funds didn’t get more abundant, especially as we invested more in our farm, so I didn’t change it.
The Second Cover
Then, earlier this year, I was invited by one of my dearest friend’s mom to speak about the book at her bookclub. I was thrilled. Here was a chance to talk about the amazing people in these pages AND spend time with a woman who has been dear to me for over 20 years. Because my friend’s mom was reading the book, it was around their house, where my friend’s sister – who was living with them for a time could see it.
Now, here’s where the story could seem painful but isn’t. My friend’s sister Stephanie, who is a graphic designer, saw the cover and told her mom she could do a better design. My friend’s mom shared that with me. This certainly would have been a painful word if two things hadn’t been true: I already knew the cover needed work, and I trust this family explicitly. They have earned my ear and my respect, and they are welcome to offer wisdom into my life whenever they’d like.
So when I got home, I talked with Philip to be sure his feelings would be hurt if we changed the design, and he was happy with the change. So I contacted Stephanie, and over the past few months, she has worked up this brand new cover as a gracious gift to me. On every step, she has been professional and courteous. She has made wise suggestions, and she has offered gentle nudges in the right direction. She also hand-lettered the title using her mom’s calligraphy set, which makes this new cover even more special.
Here’s what I love about this new cover – the man’s face, direct and clear-eyed. I love the coloring of the image, how it moves from the full-color of now to the black and white of then, because it shows the way history and now are part of the same piece. I love the hand-lettering and the font. I just love it all.
The Lesson of Two Covers
So here’s what I have taken from this experience and now can apply to all my publishing:
- It’s worth it, in terms of money, time, and stress, to hire a professional.
- Critique, when given by people who have earned the right to give it, can be a powerful thing.
- It’s never too late to go back and give something we’ve written a new life.
Now, I have two cover designers – Stephanie Spino and Aaron Bolton (who did my cover for Steele Secrets and is creating the one for Charlotte and the Twelve now) – who I trust, who I know I can work with, and who get the vision I have for things. That, my friends, is a great gift. (By the way, they are available for hire for cover design, so if you need a designer, I hope you’ll check them out.)
It’s worth it to do it right, my friends. It really is.
The newly-released version of The Slaves Have Names will shortly be available. Get your copy at: