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When it first became clear that this book might actually happen, I had one big concern: covers.

The book cover industry does, by and large, a good job. I am particularly appreciative of the non-fiction book crowd, which generally creates attractive, unobtrusive, tasteful, thoughtful images. But this was a humor book, and I was worried about what that might lead to: a hasty cartoon, or some ostensibly whimsical photocollage by a low-rent Terry Gilliam. No thank you, said I; I wanted a classy cover.

And yet it couldn't just be your average 'fake Shakespeare' (or fakespeare, if you will) cover. First of all, this book ain't your average Shakespeare parody, there's a twist. Moreover, I didn't want to be lost in the crowd with all the other wacky takes on classic literature.

What to do, what to do?


I know a lot of first-time authors worry about if they're going to be meaningfully consulted on the cover. I know this because I worried, and I did a lot of Googling on the subject and found out I wasn't alone. Fortunately, the good folks at Simon & Schuster kept me in the loop and indeed exceeded my expectations on making me feel like a part of the process. There came a point in mid-April—well before we'd even signed contracts or made legal agreements for the book—where the art guys were sort of chomping at the bit to get started on this cover. I was asked to provide my thoughts. I also provided six graphics, which I've linked for your enjoyment and/or revulsion. (They're just mockups, I knew that, I didn't make a great effort on them.)

Here's a (slightly edited) version of that conversation:

The one absolute key to all this, in my opinion, is the Shakespeare-as-Dude image. I think that image really tied the marketing campaign together, you looked at it and you instantly knew exactly what the book was about. As such, whether we use the Droeshout engraving or another painting or original artwork, Shakespeare-as-Dude is the one big constant I'm gonna back. Whatever route we go, whether photographic or artsy, I'd like the route to be "classy paperback"—I know it's a humor book, but maybe we don't need to telegraph that.

I'm better at sitting down and doing what I want than trying to figure it out in words, so I played around with Photoshop a bit these past two days.
I've attached all my little cover concepts, including the ones I didn't like. In order from favorite to least favorite:

traditional cover — very simple, in the style of all sorts of 'classic' books released by Penguin and Oxford and who-knows-what.
Pros: Simple, clear, direct, and (in my opinion) funny. I'd be honored to hold a classy-looking book in my hands.
Cons: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and the whole Quirk Books series may have beaten us to the punch on this joke.

Folger parody cover — parodying your fine products.
Pros: I love what you guys do with the typography and the beautiful color backgrounds.
Cons: No picture, so ol' Shakespeare Dude would have to be shoehorned in. I've shown him here holding the bowling ball as if it's the Alas Poor Yorick! skull.

Oxford parody cover — parodying the British line of Oxford World's Classics, just another take on the "classy reading" cover.

orange cover — this hideous concoction is merely to make the point that Shakespeare wouldn't have to look stodgy... I'm open to a "cool" cover, bright or flashy or poppy, if it's done with sufficient slickness, i.e. not my crappy Photoshop job.

curtain cover — I was initially thinking we could go stage-y or theatrical, but it ended up looking like a Young Adult novella. I'm not too jazzed, but maybe someone will be inspired.

bowling cover — ignore the really hasty cartoony Photoshop job here. I would prefer the cover be more Shakespearean than Lebowski, but the marketing department may feel otherwise, so here's one way they could bring the ol' Shakespeare head into Lebowski-land. I liked the way some of the stage publicity was using bowling imagery without it dominating the image. It could be a better compromise.

So! Clear as mud?

I like to think this was a useful exercise. A little 'show, don't tell' on my part. The thing to note is that I wasn't attached to any of these concepts (otherwise I would have sent one, not six). I just wanted to highlight the versatility of the Shakesdude. See, that was the only smart marketing decision I've ever made in my life—starting the Web site off with an image that everyone could recognize and understand, one that would show up as an instantly recognizable thumbnail in people's Facebook reposts of the Web site.

Are any of my covers great? No, and that's not the point; they got the wheels turning in people's minds and that is what was important. Okay, so there's entirely too much Trajan and News Gothic in there, but you can't do movie art without Trajan and you can't do a nonfiction book cover without News Gothic, right?

And that was that for a while.


Then, in late June (while we were still working out the legal stuff, mind you), something beautiful landed in my lap. A cover design. And an announcement of who our cover artist would be: Mark Stutzman, whose work I recognized from Mad, the Elvis stamp, and posters for various Broadway shows.

The designer was Jason Heuer, whose work I'd seen on such books as Paul McCartney: A Life and the work of Annie Proulx. He sent along these two designs.

My agent encouraged me to take my time before offering my thoughts: "Covers can be tricky," she said. I was so jazzed that it was hard for me to wait.

… the bowling bag one is better—something to fill in the negative space. I figure the artist was just providing options in case there was to be promotional text or something there.
In the execution of the actual artwork, I'd encourage the artist to err on the side of caution with the breeches—to lean toward baggy shorts with separation between the legs. It could be too easy to read as a skirt otherwise.
On the same note, if the hose are to be light-shaded, the texturing should of course be such that they don't read as naked legs.
Finally, the beard/mustache in the sketch comes off a little devilish. I would recommend the National Portrait Gallery's image of Shakespeare as a model, he was a little bushier.
But yeah. I am sure it's going to come out great. I think the color scheme is very handsome and the joke of the ball as Yorick's skull, in a word, works. I told Mike long ago that we would know, just plain know, if the cover was right or wrong, and I think we should be very pleased with this.

I made two mistakes in judging this cover. The first was thinking Shakespeare would be black-and-white in the final (I assumed, since they'd colored his glasses in the sketch, that they were making an artistic choice to color just the one thing, like Schindler's List). The second was that the non-drawn portion of the cover design was pretty much set; I should have said how much I liked it, but I didn't comment at all, and so they changed it.

It would have behooved me to ask what was temp and what wasn't. Maybe, subconsciously, I was afraid to: in my day-job work, I create temp graphics and mockups all the time and it drives me up the wall when clients don't understand the purpose of a temporary anything, nor what is and isn't fair game for comment. I should have gone ahead and asked the dumb question.

Incidentally, there were a couple of alternate designs I didn't see while all this was happening. The smoking one looks a bit noir-ish for my taste, but the one with the head turned out kind of nice, it could have made a good poster or something.



In late July arrived the second draft. (Hey, that sentence is totally iambic pentameter.) My editor, Mike, pointed out that there would be gold and red foil involved; he said he liked the art but thought there was more attitude in the rough sketch. I was stuck at work at the time, but I coughed up a few thoughts (below, slightly edited) in time for turnaround.

The illustrator did a fabulous job. I understand your concern about losing the 'attitude', I think that's just a natural part of going from B+W sketch to more tight drawing. — I think the _hair_, which the illustrator also took from the National Portrait Gallery image of Shakespeare, is also softening it for you. Maybe a compromise can be reached between that hair and Jeff Bridges' wilder locks, or the more coiffed look of the Droeshout engraving. If there is time.

My main concern is that this cover is very yellow. I preferred the more desaturated, aged color scheme of the previous draft. Especially since yellow has been incorporated into the costume. (I also liked the textured feel of the old draft, the little flecks, the damage.) I know Jason says it's not gonna look so monochromatic, and it's obviously hard to judge how the foil will look from a JPEG in any case. Maybe the costume detail and hose could be brown(ish) instead of yellow, to balance it out? If nothing else, I think the hose could be darkened, so as not to bleed into the yellow of the background.

The same color issue applies to the text. I think the brown was more readable. If I wasn't on deadline right now, I'd open up Photoshop and play with the colors myself just to be a jerk. Lean a little red over yellow, drop the saturation a bit and we're good to go.

I am willing to be trustful that the foil etc. will look good. My concern is that a very bright image might come off too cartoonish or "wow, golly, this book is a funny one" — what I liked in the old version is that it was underselling the image a tad.

Despite my concerns, I knew one thing was working; there was no way this cover wasn't gonna engage viewer interest. You see this in a bookstore, there's no way you're not picking it up. It works from far away, too: you could see that title jump out at you from across the aisle. That's important.


And that was that for a bit. Until one glorious August summer day.

And all at once, there it was. The color scheme was in place, the rendering was finalized and damn if I don't love those bowling shoes.

The little flecks and bits of damage made all the difference to me. As a side note, the entire image is painted, that's not a Photoshop background. Same deal with the text, hand-lettered. It's sort of funny how a project that began on the Internet is now being represented with an image done by hand. Kind of nice, actually.

I think we did good here.