Wednesday, June 8, 2016
The Marines and My Book Cover
One of the less lovely aspects of self-publishing is that the author has to do it all. There’s no publishing house to provide the backup of cover design, writing the dust-jacket blurb, formatting the book for printing, etc. You can, of course, hire people to do some of this, but the results can be unsatisfactory.
I’ve always taken the lead role in designing the covers of my mystery novels. I flatter myself that I have an above-average visual sense, and I have worked with photographers and graphic designers throughout a 40-plus-year professional career. So I usually come up with a concept for the cover, along with supporting items to get the project started, before turning it over to my go-to graphic designer.
One of the things I like to do in this regard is take a photograph that can serve as a basic template for the cover design, and it was in the course of doing so that the story you are about to read unfolded.
The Best Laid Plans
For the cover image for my fourth novel, I needed an image of a football field. I wanted the image configured in a certain way, with the field in the foreground, a yard-line number showing clearly, and the goalposts in the background.
Such a photo no doubt exists within the stock archives available to graphic designers, but it could be hard to locate, and subtle distinctions in terms of what I wanted could result in a number of false starts.
So I decided to take the picture myself.
One of the high schools in our area has a football field with southern goalposts backed up by a row of trees. With no identifiable background, it could pass for anywhere. Monday night after dinner, Linda and I set out for that field to get the photo from the exact angle I wanted.
We got to the high school, parked, and walked up to the athletic field. It was nearly deserted, the light was perfect, yet the picture I wanted was impossible. With football season long over, the field had been converted to soccer, and a huge soccer goal directly under the football goalposts ruined the shot.
Marines to the Rescue
Off to the side of the field, on the track that circles it, I saw a group of young men in shorts and T-shirts, with a slightly older man holding a clipboard. Thinking he might be a coach at the school, I went up and asked if he knew how long the soccer goals would remain where they were.
It turned out that the clipboard man was not with the school, but rather was a Marine Corps recruiter, who was testing several applicants to see how physically fit they were. He asked me what I wanted, and I explained that I needed to get a photo of the football goalposts without the soccer goal underneath them.
“Oh, we can move that for you,” he said. And he ordered his recruits to push the soccer goal out to the 30-yard-line so I could get on the field and take my picture. The goal was on rollers, but was big enough and heavy enough that Linda and I couldn’t have done it. For seven husky Marines-to-be, it was a piece of cake. I got my cover photo, they pushed the goal back, and we all got about our business.
So when Book Four comes out this fall, there will be a line in the acknowledgements reading, “Thanks to the U.S. Marine Corps, Santa Cruz Recruiting Office, for visual assistance with the cover image.” This is the story behind that acknowledgement.