Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The words as I wrote them, or more shameless hussiness

Yeah, I still have a hard time doing it.  But there it is.  And this time it's a cover that matches the book.

If I am a resurrected romance novelist, Shadows by Starlight is a resurrected romance novel in more ways than one.  And in honor of Kim Killion's wonderful cover, I think it's only fair to give some of the book's history.

Shadows by Starlight was the original title when my agent sent the partial to Zebra Books as the option book on my contract for Secrets to SurrenderOn the strength of that partial, Zebra offered a two-book contract, but the acquiring editor wanted one rather major change.  Because the book wasn't written yet, I didn't have any real difficulty incorporating the requested change; although I didn't follow the editor's suggestion exactly, I revised the element that he found unacceptable to something he could live with.  It all worked out fine, and in fact the revision actually made my concept for the book stronger.

Sometime between then and the time I completed the book, Zebra assigned me a new editor, my fourth in three books.  During the phone call she made to introduce herself, I became increasingly uneasy.  Her comments seemed not to make a whole lot of sense.  I was aware that this was her first job as an editor, though she had been in the book business for a number of years.  Friends told me not to rock the boat, play along, be a "good" author and don't be "difficult."

All of this happened 20 years ago, when there were no viable options.  If you wanted to be published, you worked with your editor.  You did what your editor told you to do.  You did not know better than your editor, even when you did.  And I was pretty sure I did.

The writer is always too close to her work.  Always.  Every book needs an extra set of qualified eyes, and every book needs improvement.  No book is ever finished; it just gets closer and closer and closer.  I never had any problem with that kind of thinking.

But -- the suggestions this editor was making made no sense.  She seemed almost not to have read the proposal.  After the completed manuscript was delivered, she began making nitpicking changes that did even worse than make no sense: they created internal inconsistencies and outright errors.  I knew that as the author I would be blamed for those inconsistencies and errors if they made it into the printed edition, so I fought to get them reversed.  Almost all of them were.  Almost.

In the interest of my "career," however, I didn't push for corrections on the rest of them.  I just plain gave up.  And that's not something I do easily or often.

I might have continued the fight if she had not changed the title. 

Fellow Zebra authors Evelyn Rogers and Martha Hix and I had laughed ourselves silly at the RWA conference in New Orleans, making up "typical" titles for Zebra Heartfire books, especially the Indian romances that were then so popular:  Arapahoe Auditor, Paiute Podiatrist,  Dakota Dentist, etc.  There was never any question that Zebra -- and to a lesser extent, all the paperback romance publishers at that time -- had a system to titling.  But when my editor called to tell me my book would be published as Starlight Seduction, I gagged.  Tacky, tacky, tacky.  But there was nothing I could do.

She did, however, promise me a spectacular cover.  I struggled to keep a positive attitude but was never able to make myself like that title.  As the time got closer to publication, I asked her more about the cover and received the exciting news that it would be a step-back, with a foiled old-fashioned gaslight on the outside and on the inside the lovers standing under the gaslight.  She told me it was gorgeous.

Huh?  There were no gaslights in the story.  It's set in a small Kansas town in the 1870s.  Even the title she had given it had no connection to gaslights.

But there was no sense arguing.  My concerns about her editing competence had to be set aside and I needed to have confidence in her marketing ability because that's the area she had come from.  The cover would be wonderful and it would sell gazillions of copies.  I had to believe that, or I'd go nuts.

I remember the day the sample cover flat arrived.  I had been at a local RWA chapter committee meeting and my husband called to let me know the cover had come in the mail.  I asked him to describe it to me. . . and he wouldn't.  He just said I'd have to see it.

When I did, I almost cried.  It was horrible.  And when I called the editor to ask why there were no people anywhere on the cover, she insisted, "Oh, there are people on it, on the back."  There weren't.  I have my guesses as to why she said there were, but this is a blog and it's going to be in print, so I'll keep my speculations to myself.

The background color was midnight blue, with gaslamps and big pink roses all over the place, neither of which were in the book at all.  No people on the cover, no starlight.  Foil lettering outlined with pink and yellow that made it difficult to read.

I wouldn't even let my husband make a frame for it, and it's never been hung on the wall.  I was more than disappointed; I was ashamed.

Fast forward almost 20 years.  Shadows by Starlight, with the original title restored, has been published on Smashwords for everyone else and Kindle Direct Publishing for the Amazon shoppers.  The rest of the little errors have been fixed, and the missing backstory has been supplied.

And Kim Killion of Hot Damn Designs took my long-winded description of what I saw in my twisted little brain as the cover and turned into the real thing.

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