By Suzy Vitello
This is the month that many writers take the plunge and re-prioritize their lives to take part in National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, in other words. Probably if you’re reading this article, you’re on a break from the marathon. Or you’re simply not doing it. It’s a huge commitment, this pledge to write 50k words in a month.
Five years ago, I embarked on a failed NaNoWriMo adventure – and I say failed, because I didn’t come up with the whole 50, but, November, 2010 was the year I crystallized my obsession with the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and the effort eventually produced two books. The first one was published by Diversion Books in September of last year.
The level of joy when your book find its way to the hands of readers is only matched by validation you get when a New York publisher says, “Yes. We will invest in you. We believe in this book.”
But it was short-lived.
Over last winter, I continued the story (the book was always meant to be a series), and wrote the second Empress Chronicles book. I had it professionally edited, rewrote it, and sent it along to my agent in late spring. We both felt pretty confident that Diversion would put the sequel out, too.
But they passed.
Though claiming The Keepsake was “a delight from start to finish,” they felt they needed to focus on books with more robust sales numbers.
This is a polite way of saying: your first book tanked, and we’re moving on.
The level of self-doubt when your book gets rejected is only matched by frustration when a New York publisher says, “Show me the value.”
Because, value is subjective. Value is an abstraction. Value, my friends, should be tied to something intrinsic, but at the end of the day, value is tied to numbers. And consumers. And a system as random as a Las Vegas slot machine.
The hardest thing, for an artist, is to maintain belief in creation in the face of rejection. It’s not just about tenacity. It’s not just about revision. It’s more than that.
It’s finding that audacious place inside you and pulling her out. Talking to her with tough love. Asking her the hard question: “What is standing in the way of success?” And then, “What do you really want?”
When I answered those questions, here’s what I came up with:
My tendency to value myself only if fancier people value me.
Connection. All I have to give is my love of language, story and the dream that plays out on the page.
And here’s where the miracle comes in. When you live inside a decision to find connection, you do.
I decided to put The Keepsake out myself, and I found an extremely talented and passionate street team to help me.
Today, I want to talk about one particular individual whose passion and commitment have been an enormous part of transforming The Keepsake from manuscript to book. His name is Kit Foster, a book cover artist who lives in Scotland. He managed to reach into my heart, find the spirit of the book, and give it a cover that any New York publisher would be pleased with.
After working with him, and seeing his unflagging commitment to “getting it right” (I did put him through a lot with this cover, I have to admit) I wanted to know more about his passion for design. So, without further ado, here is my interview with the creative genius behind Kit Foster Design.
SV: You haven’t been in the cover design business all that long, and yet, you’re super busy. How did that happen?
KF: I have no idea, frankly! I think I’m quite lucky in that I am in a job where people are constantly advertising my services, merely by using my designs. I think I also started the business at a time where independent publishing began to explode, and it isn’t showing any signs of stopping! We offer a good service for a reasonable price, and I think people recognize that!
SV: You work with indie authors as well as publishers. Is the process different? Who’s pickier, authors or publishers?
KF: As a general rule, I would say that authors tend to be pickier .This is probably as a result of having a deeper emotional investment in the book. Authors can get very detail-conscious, as they know every single little detail of the book inside out. This can be a great thing (especially in things like non-fiction and historical titles where accuracy is key), but it can also lead to the dangerous territory of trying to shoehorn too much in to the cover; trying to tell the whole story on the cover.
SV: If you were to distill your success, what are three things that set Kit Foster Design apart?
- I believe one of the most important skills of book cover designer is the ability to distill a story down to a single, powerful image (that sells). To my mind the greatest cover designers are those who are able to say lots about the book using the most simple designs they can. Kind of the Hemingway school of thought for designers, in terms of ‘complex simplicity’. I think the experience of over 1000 published book covers helps me to achieve this quickly and effectively. Being able to cut directly to the heart of your story / book really streamlines the process for the author, and makes the book more identifiable to the potential reader.
- A love of book covers! I know it sounds cheesy, but I genuinely do love book covers! I love the idea of having a functioning piece of art, and to my mind, some of the greatest works of art in recent history have been book covers.
- Robert. Robert really is a differentiator. He’s so easy to work with, and makes all of our clients feel comfortable and at ease. He’s a genuinely nice guy, who is genuinely excited to help you out; and not in that grim, plastered-on-smile-for-customer-service kind of way. He’s actually excited about the process of book creation, and he knows his stuff, so you’re in good hands!
SV: What’s your favorite thing about book cover design?
KF: I have a very short attention span, so, for me, the best thing about book cover design is the variety that it offers. I started out as a writer, but found it to be a lot of work, and because books take a long time to write, I found that I tended to give up on every idea within a couple of months. With cover design, in the morning I could be working on a swashbuckling pirate novel, then after lunch it’s a book about the history of tea-cosies. No two days are the same, and you learn a lot of interesting things!
SV: What’s most challenging?
KF: It is a massive responsibility. I designed a cover for a chap the other week, and he informed me that he had been working on this book for the last twenty years. Twenty years! Twenty years of his life had been given up to creating this book, this magnum opus, and I had been entrusted with designing the cover. When you think about it in those terms, you feel under an immense amount of pressure to get it right. The cover is the face of a book. It is the first thing nearly every potential reader will see, and more often than not, it will play a vital role in their decision to buy the book (or not). I continue to be humbled that people are willing to trust me to carve a face on to their life’s work!
So, friends, in lieu of NaNoWriMo, this November I’ll be further exploring the theme of “connection” and “faith,” and I wish you all a prosperous, love-filled month.
Suzy Vitello’s award-winning short fiction has appeared in Mississippi Review, Plazm, Tarpaulin Sky, various anthologies and other literary journals. She has been a prize winner in The Atlantic Monthly Student Fiction Contest, and has been a recipient of an Oregon Literary Arts grant.
She holds an MFA from Antioch, Los Angeles, and is a long-time coordinator and participant of an infamous writer’s workshop in Portland, whose members include Chuck Palahniuk, Lidia Yuknavitch, Chelsea Cain, Monica Drake and others.
Her young adult novels include THE MOMENT BEFORE, THE EMPRESS CHRONICLES, and THE KEEPSAKE.
For more info, visit suzyvitello.com