Titles and Covers and Authors, Oh My

Publishers tend to think that authors aren't good at making sound marketing decisions. Marketing being defined as cover art and book titles. And in my experience, they're right. Take, for example, the title of my latest book, The Art Forger. That wasn't my first choice, it wasn't even my second or third. As a matter of fact, I was completely against it. My title was The Empty Frame. I chose this because the book is based on the robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum—the largest unsolved art theft in history—and because empty frames hang on the walls where the stolen artwork used to be. Good title, right?

Wrong, according to Algonquin Books. They explained that The Empty Frame was too nebulous, had no drive or specificity. It could be about a lost love or a dead child or really pretty much anything that could be contained within a picture frame. While this was true, I argued that I was referring to the empty frames in the museum. They smiled indulgently and suggested The Art Forger. I vehemently disagreed. It was without nuance, so harsh and direct, exactly what the book was about. Again, the indulgent smile. Suffice to say that I grudgingly accepted their idea, which turned out not to be just a good title but a great one: straightforward, descriptive, compelling and easy to remember. Exactly what the book was about.

You'd think I'd have learned my lesson when it came to the design for the cover of the forthcoming paperback. I love the artwork on the hardcover—evocative, compelling, sophisticated—and was surprised when they suggested something new for the paperback. There were no easels or brushes or cans stripped with dripping paint. Instead, a swathe of red fills the cover revealing the nude back of an artists' model in a narrow slice of the left corner. What were they thinking? I protested it gave the wrong message—a nude woman?—looked too much like a romance and lacked complexity. More indulgent smiles and another capitulation on my part. And guess what? Now that I've seen the finished book, I love it, too. The cover's rich and lush, and who can turn away from that beautiful, deep red drape flowing around white lettering?