Author Horror Story #4: Courier

Disbelief befalls two first-time scribes when they see their publisher's wretched cover options.
Feb | 13 | 2024
  Feb | 13 | 2024
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BY Phil Simon
  Phil Simon

Author Horror Story #4: Courier

Disbelief befalls two first-time scribes when they see their publisher's wretched cover options.
Phil Simon
Feb | 13 | 2024

Author Horror Story #4: Courier

TL;DR: Disbelief befalls two first-time scribes when they see their publisher's wretched cover options.
Phil Simon
Feb | 13 | 2024

Tom and Sandra couldn’t believe their eyes. They stared at each other over Skype in utter disbelief. (Yeah, it was the pre-Zoom days.) Almost at once, they said, “This is what their designers came up with?”

The two co-authors had just spent all of 2012 jointly penning the manuscript for their first book. They were stoked to write for a widely respected publisher. With two months until their putative pub date, their new project manager had finally sent over the cover mockups. (The previous PM had dropped the ball here, as well as on a number of other tasks.) Tom and Sandra were each understandably excited, but they decided to look at them together virtually.

The two were in for quite the shock.

The Great Reveal

At a high level, the four mockups were disappointing. More specifically:

  • The colors were dated. Think 1970s carpeting or wallpaper.
  • One option showed all text in—wait for it—Courier. At least it wasn’t Comic Sans, but that typeface wasn’t about to pique potential readers’ interest.
  • As for the images, the word prosaic came to mind. There was no way that the designer—and they used that term loosely—spent more than five minutes poking around on Getty Images.

After a few moments of silence, Tom finally broke the ice:

Tom: This has to be a joke, right? These are laughable.
Sandra: I don’t think so. I feel sick.

Tom and Sandra certainly weren’t proper designers. They had never used Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Still, they knew they could have created better starting points in the recently launched Canva. Hell, even their teenage kids could have mocked up something more enticing.

Next Steps

To this day, the topic remains a sore spot with each of them.

Tom and Sandra immediately expressed their disappointment with the publisher’s fugly cover candidates. Unfortunately, they got nowhere. A few days later, the two even upped the ante and offered to hire a proper designer on their own dime. Again, the answer was no. The PM and acquisitions editor either didn’t want to break rank or offend the in-house folks—or, more likely, the poorly paid independent contractors with zero skin in the game. Maybe they didn’t want to set a precedent with future authors. Or perhaps it was some combination of each?

Faced with no other options, Tom and Sandra invoked the spirit of Bryan Cranston’s character in Argo. They agreed on the best bad idea. A decade after their book’s publication, the topic remains a sore spot with each of them.

Coda: More Control Next Time.

The burnt hand teaches best, as the saying goes.

For their next effort, Tom and Sandra went with a hybrid publisher. I can’t show you either cover, but there’s no comparison between the two. Apples and coconuts. If they ever returned to a traditional publisher, the two took a virtual blood oath: They vowed to insist upon cover approval in their next contract.

So should you.


I’ve changed the names in this story. 

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