Dispatches | October 15, 2010

One very nice perk, I’ve learned, to working with a smaller press is that your chances improve of having input into your book’s cover. With great perks, however, come great responsibilities (to paraphrase Spiderman), and I write this post on the heels of a forty-eight-hour photograph-viewing bender. Headache? Check. Nausea? Check. My pixel hangover comes after viewing roughly five thousand images, three thousand alone of Ferris wheels: towering, small, daytime, nighttime, dusk, full, empty, colorful, monochromatic, you name it. It’s astonishing how, when you have three thousand Ferris wheel photos at your disposal, you feel the need to inspect all of them to be sure you’ve chosen the best one.

Of course, there is no “best one.” I know that. Midway through my search, before settling on the Ferris wheel, I emailed a handful of photographs to a few friends, and everybody had a different favorite. One friend liked the splattered candy apple on the boardwalk. Another liked the beach panorama. Another liked the out-of-focus kid with the in-focus fishing lure.

Does any of this matter? I began to wonder. After all, plenty of well-known books have awful covers.

Then again, someone must have liked them. Whoever designed these books wasn’t rubbing his hands together, grinning maniacally and thinking, This time, I’m going to design something hideous.

Or maybe you’re thinking these aren’t hideous at all.* Our preference for literature is subjective, and our preference for book covers, I sense, is even more so. One of my friends hates shoes and feet on covers. Just hates ’em. Especially toes.

My wife likes “clean lines” and dislikes clutter. (On book covers. In real life she’s more tolerant of clutter.) I don’t like cursive writing; it usually looks amateurish to me. And I’d imagine that every person reading this has his or her own book-cover preferences and pet peeves. You know you do. (And please do share them here–as long as you don’t reveal your long-standing hatred of Ferris wheels.)

After a few thousand images—the Advil wearing off, the headache returning—I reminded myself that you can’t judge a book by its cover, anyway.

Then I told myself what a crock that was. I judge books by their covers all the time. The search continued.

My editor and I eventually settled on one of the simpler, more colorful daytime Ferris wheel photos. A fairly small, rickety Ferris wheel, which I like. Nice clean lines, so the wife is pleased. I hope my editor can get permission to use the photo. If not, there are thousands more to choose from. 


*Except for this one. There’s just no defense.


Michael Kardos is the author of the story collection One Last Good Time, forthcoming in February 2011 from Press 53. While earning his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri, he served as Contest Editor for The Missouri Review. He currently co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University. His website is michaelkardos.com.