Guest Post: What American Publishers Were Thinking When They Butchered The Covers Of My Favorite Irish Books

According to his internet Zodiac profile, Daniel Resner likes simple foods and antiquing, dislikes surprises and familiarity. He plays the tin whistle and totally wants a Corgi but won’t admit it.

I already had my coat on. My index finger hovered above the computer’s Off button. Then Rob stuck his sweaty bald head through my cubicle entrance, held out three manuscripts, and said, “We’re publishing these tomorrow and we forgot to make covers for them! The design guy’s out today, but I think your computer has Photoshop on it. Can you throw something together?” Of course, Rob. It’s not like I had to shoot 9 holes and then take the kids out to some new competitive eating movie with that girl from Winter’s Bone they’re dying to see.

Wispy scenic verdant inexplicable isolated island? Check. Dark rich rolling hills in distance, covered in sheep? Check. On second thought, cut the sheep, we’ll let them be implicit sheep. Slightly unsettled yet serene pastel sunset clouds overhead? Check. Throw in some emerald water… can you make it glow sort of magically? Like harpist faeries had pissed a night’s worth of Jameson into it? Niiice. I think we’re done. Oh shit, wait, how do we fit the title and stuff on there? Maybe since John McGahern is known for being sort of old-timey and backwards we can put it on a faded postcard. Ruffle up the edges and put some celtic-looking knot thing for the stamp… k… I’m so glad they’re selling it in the States as By the Lake instead of its messy original title, That They May Face The Rising Sun. We would’ve never been able to fit all that onto one postcard. And no one would’ve read all those words either. I like it nice and simple, you know? That’s what sells. Beginning with a preposition is always a good touch. And the new title just evokes, you know, being adjacent to a medium-sized body of water so vividly.

I don’t know about you, but first thing I notice: This one’s by a girl. The only way we’re gonna sell Irish girl books in the States: slap a fiery redhead on them. Google image search “Redhead.” We should probably have her in the sea, too, since if you didn’t know Ireland is actually an island, so change it to “Redhead beach.” Most of the chick lit market is beach reads, so we’ll have some market overlap with that. Can she look sort of artsy? and therefore distressed, because these are girl short stories and usually girl short stories have some dark stuff in them, especially when they’re Irish stories written by (I’m gonna guess moody and priest-haunted) girls. “Sad arty Redhead beach.” Alright, no color. The book’s called Antarctica, so we can make it all chilly and blue. No one will notice that you couldn’t kneel in a tidepool and swish the watery sand around in an arty hemp dress in Antarctica without dying instantly of hypothermia, no matter how moody you and your stories are. Is this book actually set in Antarctica? I just skimmed the titles and I don’t think so. O well. Is there at least a tidepool-swishing scene? Probably. I think we can assume. If not, that’s not really important. The idea is to sell the book, you know, the essence of the book, not necessarily its contents. I’m telling you: redheads are hot right now. Or that’s at least what I’m telling Rob, who only follows twelve people on Twitter so what does he know.

Why did we get the rights to this one? I thought we sold books with plots. Let’s see… repackaging a classic. It’ll sell regardless of what we slap on the front, especially with some discussion topics in the back (“Pick a word from the first page, e.g. ‘Tuckoo,’ and talk about it as a group for three hours. Realize that you paid $1,056 per credit hour to do this.”), but this cover’s a true gimme. You see, there’s this famous picture of J.J. as a schoolboy looking troubled and contemplative—very Stephen Daedalus, you know—it’s an actual portrait of the artist (who wrote this book, get it?) as a young man. As a modernist, there’s nothing Joyce wanted more than to be taken literally. Hook, line, sinker. And watch this… I’ll just use the pencil for the ouline… then the spray paint tool to fill out the head. Why pay for the photo rights? And there we have it. I’ve never even taken an art class in my life, but look at that shadow! It’s almost the same shape as baby J.J.’s head. Close enough to where I’m not gonna do it over. Some green lines between the title—just enough to suggest a few pints of stout at a quaint wooden bar, some fiddle and flute music banging away in the corner, and that hot redhead from that Alaska book we just did or whatever it was called at your arm. And to top it all off, a leprechaun winks at you, from the lady’s bowl of cereal. He slips you a marshmallow four-leaf clover.

Well, boys, that’s a day’s work if I’ve seen one. I’ve got a 5:30 tee time and believe me when I say I’m about to get my Rory McIlroy on. (Okay, I admit, I just Googled “Irish golfer” and he was the first result.)


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