Styled … The Real Book Cover
I don’t know how it is for everyone when shooting their book, but for me it was a regular ‘snow show’ (a phrase that is part of my new G-rated vocabulary since having a child). I’ll get into how insane it was later, but just trust me when I say that things like the cover somehow become a non-priority amid the havoc. As we were shooting I wasn’t thinking what would make a good cover, my goal was to get the most beautiful photographs possible for each shot and then we’d choose one later because we’d have soooo many to choose between. This was not the case – I mean we had hundreds of beautiful, even perfect, photographs but having them be perfect for the cover was another issue. In retrospect I absolutely should have gone for “cover options” as often as possible, but we didn’t know what the title or subtitles were, therefore we didn’t know how much negative space they should have, nor did we even know the book size to do the perfect crop. The front cover went on the back burner, so to speak.
After we finished shooting, our wonderful publishing company (Random House, Clarkson Potter) worked on finding the cover from our photos and they sent through these three options:
The first one didn’t feel young enough (even though I designed that room). I loved the pops of that perfect peacock blue but it felt like a different designer’s book (ironic, eh?).
Now, this shot I LOVE, but it too didn’t feel very ‘me’. It felt too rustic and masculine. Although in retrospect I do think that it was pretty strong as a cover. I did like that font, though and tried to convince them to go back to that later. (This photo is from the home of the SchoolHouse Electric owners/founders, which is stunning).
When I first saw this one I was like man, this just isn’t me. Its so dark and heavy, even with the pop of color. But of course now I’m like eh, that’s a strong cover, too…(this is from the home of stylist and artist Emily Katz).
After I gave them that feedback they found this photo and mocked up some covers:
Let me tell you about that photo – it was part of a much larger, more pulled back photo that they just cropped in on. It’s not that well styled and has very little context or environment around it. I’m not the biggest fan of those flowers, even though in the big pulled back shot that it was cropped from they looked good. Had I known it was going to be a cover option I would have absolutely styled it differently. Also that white piece is a janky ikea piece that we put awesome vintage brass legs on that couldn’t really hold the weight. I pretty much said it was totally off the table and that instead I would reshoot this vignette in my house, styled as I liked it. Also I didn’t like either font option. So I pretty much just tore these options apart. I was starting to feel VERY high maintenance, which really isn’t my best look. There were so many people involved and weighing in, way before I even saw these options so to take all their hard work and just nix it sucked for everyone involved. But they were absolutely open to other options because everyone wanted the same thing: to have the best cover possible (that would sell the most amount of copies). They know what people buy and I really needed their expertise in that realm.
They told me that what they liked about it was that it felt light, bright and happy – and I totally agreed. So when we reshot the cover, that was our goal – well that and to find a shot that represented MANY different styles. I wanted something more “on brand” and just more me, but also a photo that was styled in a way where many different kinds of people saw themselves in it. Not just someone who liked Mid-century or “California”.
We styled two major furniture pieces with 1 million styling options on top (only 8 shown here because so many of them were just slightly different that I couldn’t even tell them apart when I was prepping this post).
It’s like one of those annoying games on the last page of a tabloid magazine where you are supposed to “spot the difference” in the two photos of Ben Affleck holding a big gulp and talking to his questionable nanny. They are hard to tell apart but they are all different and I just really wanted to give them enough options so that we wouldn’t have to reshoot.
I really loved that series of options. I felt that the blue was really strong and caught your eye but the string art provided enough quiet space for the title (this is before the title was set in a big block of gold). I think #7 might be my favorite, but that has changed pretty often. I would have been happy with any of them for the cover.
Obviously this had to be giffed out so you can properly see those props dance around.
But my publishing team really liked the lightness of the white piece, so I reshot that as well that day, with a ton of styling options on top. Now, REMEMBER, THESE PHOTOS ARE NOT PHOTOSHOPPED. That janky, BOWING, piece was hard to look at in person and even harder to look at in the photos, but had it been straightened and the air conditioner vent taken out it in post, it would be WILDLY easier to consider as an actual option.
I remember losing pretty much all objectivity and perspective somewhere between option 12 and 42. Had #15 been photoshopped I probably would have really liked it. I think we actually gave them over 30 options that day, and my brain just hurt trying to figure out what looked the best. I think that white piece did look more light and airy, but It just bugged me that it was on the cover because I knew how janky it was.
I sent all those options off, feeling pretty darn good about them. There cover was CERTAINLY in there, right? Wrong.
Around that same time the Domino Magazine story came out and they saw this picture. First off it’s taller than the book proportion, secondly its more pulled back. They liked the breath and air that this one had that our options didn’t.
Of course I just wanted to kick myself for not having us pull back to see some of the shelving but I thought that it would be too busy and that it was better to keep it simpler. So, we had to reshoot again. That’s a double reshoot, which no, isn’t free for anyone involved.
At this point we had literally thrown away the white piece (we kept the legs, don’t worry) because I had decided to keep the teal dresser in there (which is now for sale at the Studio Sale, sept 19th – or you can contact us now to see it). But the thing is that the publishers had a really strong reaction to that blue dresser. They thought that it looked like a Bellman, yes like a hotel Bellman, and it was absolutely off the table. In retrospect I should have just asked the to change it to white (but keep the gold trim).
So we reshot (again) and gave them these two furniture options that they had approved beforehand.
The one on the left is a Paul McCobb piece and while it was technically ‘lighter’ they knew something that I didn’t – that they wanted to put a big gold box on the cover, so a big box above a big box is not ideal. I love that piece a lot (but maybe just because I’m a total sucker for Paul McCobb anything). The piece on the right was a good option because it had the same shape and style of the white piece but had more integrity as it wasn’t, you know, falling apart.
By this point you know which one was chosen, #18. When David shot this there was a lot of sun coming in so he had to basically block as much sun as he could with a big scrim and then move that card around (taking a picture each time) and then he basically composited them all together. Plus we got rid of the air conditioner vent (obviously).
Phew. By the time the publishing team came back with the cover with the graphics/title on it we were WAY behind our deadline (because generally I was behind on the whole process). So while I wanted to tweak and futz and change things, the threat of not being out by October was terrifying, with real consequences. Basically if your book isn’t out by October then it doesn’t get the same marketing support (read: ad dollars) as other books that are out before the holidays. They don’t really release books in November or December mostly because PR for holiday is wrapping up at that point and it just isn’t as effective. Another reshoot wasn’t an option, nor did I even know what I would do.
I love the cover – I feel like it looks like me and has enough universal elements to hopefully draw many different crowds to pick it up. Are there things I would change about it? Yep. Is it the one that I would have chosen out of all of those above? I actually don’t know. The thing is that I trust my publishing company – from years of focus groups, book marketing, analyzing sales and general 8-ball style research they know what covers pop on screen and in stores, and they they know why people then buy that book. I can tell them that peonies are more beautiful than roses, but they know what font treatment or gold foil will catch your eye. Ultimately we all wanted the same thing – for the book to be as successful as possible.
A few of you have asked why I’m not on the cover and this was a debate for sure. I didn’t want to be all posy on the cover or anything but I thought maybe I could be mid-styling or maybe in a little box or something. But there is a pretty good reason for it – many “special markets” don’t want to sell covers with “people” on the cover. These are the West Elms, Anthropologies, Urban Outfitters of the world who have a really strong brand identity on their own and simply don’t want other people all over their store. These stores are extremely important to me (in many ways) so even the chance that they wouldn’t carry it, or that they wouldn’t promote it as much was a threat that I heeded strongly to. I’m on the back, by the way – don’t worry.
So what are your thoughts? This whole debate is a bit tricky because so many people worked so hard on it so I don’t really want to open up the debate for 30K opinions (many which would surely be less than positive) that can’t actually change anything. It’s like your husband telling you that he doesn’t like your outfit AFTER you left the house. There is really no point and it just hurts and ruins your time – and I’m not talking about me – I’m used to negative feedback, I’m talking about all my friends at the publishing company who worked so hard on the book and obsessed about the cover. The cover is printed, the books are shipping from the warehouse any day now. There is no going back. But I still love an open dialogue here on the blog, so if you want to weigh in, in the most positive way possible, go for it.
Also not sure if you know, but the book is on pre-sale now (it comes out October 13th).