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[SWP: Behind the Book] The Cover
Written by
Ann Hedreen
January 2014
Written by
Ann Hedreen
January 2014

The first cover I saw was gorgeous, but I knew immediately it was not right for my book. And that certainty made my heart sink, because this is my very first book and this was the first and most important step in the design process and right out of the gate, I was going to have to be the bad guy.

My book is called Her Beautiful Brain. It’s a memoir about my mom and her younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease and how it changed our lives: hers, mine, everyone’s in my big, loving extended family. It’s a sandwich generation story, about raising young children while my mother started to crumble: first slowly, then very fast. It’s a late-20th-century story, about a woman who rose from poverty, weathered divorces and widowhood, went back to college and back to work, raised six children and was the strongest woman I ever knew.

It is not about a woman who ever had much time or inclination to knit. So when I saw that first elegant cover design, which showed a black silhouette of a woman’s head, in profile, with a bright pink ball of yarn inside it, one long strand of yarn unraveling out of her head and down the center of the frame, I thought: no. I don’t want a ball of yarn anywhere near this cover. I also don’t want anyone to ever think that the kinds of thoughts that filled my mom’s mind had anything to do with pink yarn. Too literal? Maybe so. But I also didn’t like the notion of Alzheimer’s disease as an unraveling, because let me tell you, it is not. A brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease is not quietly unspooling, it is suffocating. It is choking on plaques and tangles. It is a mess. It is not pretty or elegant and it’s definitely not hot pink.

But for some reason, I did not express ANY of that. I simply said, “I don’t think it’s right.” I told myself I wanted to respect the designer’s creativity, not try to micro-manage or direct her, but why on earth wasn’t I more blunt about my aversion to yarn? Because sure enough, the next round of designs featured two yarn-centric covers: one, a big ball of yarn unraveling and the other, a knitted hat. I loved the layout and the font, but the yarn: I just couldn’t. Wouldn’t. I felt like a stubborn kindergartener.

There was an alternate, featuring a photo of my mom. But when I showed it to one of my sisters, she felt strongly about not having our mother’s picture on the cover of a book, and I felt strongly that her feelings were very important to me.

Ach! What to do? Who knew choosing a cover could be so hard?!

Then my husband thought of the idea of a clumpy ball of electrical wires, instead of yarn. We looked online and found the image that seemed just right. Just like what Alzheimer’s is: disconnected, tangled, malfunctioning, blocked, clipped neurons.

And that is the image you’ll see on the cover of my book, when it is published later this year. I like to think my mom would have approved. That she would have said: Yes, that is what my brain feels like. Please try to describe that in your book, because I want people to know what it’s like. I want them to understand, when they meet someone with Alzheimer’s at the store or on the street.

Her brain really was beautiful, a long time ago; and that’s why it was so important to get this image of what happened to it right. I am so grateful to designer Patti Capaldi for her patience, because it’s the cover we should have. The cover we do have. One big decision down, many more to come between now and September!

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  • Ann, I loved this post! I have been ensconced in the middle of the same back and forth with my precious cover designer.  Here I am -- four months later -- still without the cover I want. I think THE title makes it hard to graphically translate to a cover. I get that, I do. Lord knows she is trying her best to make me happy and I love her for that. But, I am too nice to say outright, "it's not right". I just keep telling her I love it, because I do, just not for my bookcover. Anywho, thanks for posting. I think I know what to do now. I look forward to your memoir and I love, love the cover. By the way, I also know what you have been through. I lost my husband from a brain tumor and it has the same MO as Alzheimer's. Two words: IT SUCKS! 

  • Kim Defforge

    24/7 in France: Congratulations - the cover perfectly depicts the visual image of the disease and yet, is appealing.

  • Roberta Dolan

    Congratulations on your book and book cover! The timing of this post is perfect. I received the first three images for my cover today and haven't responded because I can't quite find the words. Your post was a comfort. You made me realize I have to be straight forward about what feels right and what doesn't. Thank you and best wishes on the next steps towards publication.

  • Christine Morton

    Covers are tough.  In the realm of pregnancy/childbirth, there are so many covers of a beheaded pregnant body.  I wanted a full woman, with her head. It was my single non-negotiable.  Cover design has its own vocabulary, and I soon learned I didn't possess a particularly useful one.  The esthetics of font, color, placement, was beyond me.  Feelings were hurt, assumptions made and it was a challenging process.  In the end, I learned I had relatively little control as author and eventually had to agree with something I wasn't thrilled with, but could live with.

  • Stacey Aaronson

    As a book production professional—including being a cover designer—I loved your expression of the process of arriving at the perfect feel for your book. I know firsthand that some authors have a difficult time articulating this, because sometimes they simply don't know exactly what will convey the book's meaning best. The truth is, as you know, there are thousands of ways to approach a book's cover design, so speaking from my own experience, I'm always grateful when there is wonderful collaboration between the author and me. I'm so happy you dug deeper and found that perfect image for your book ... I'm sure your designer was thrilled to deliver such a lovely finished product to you that felt like the perfect reflection of your mom and her poignant story. :-)

    Wishing you all the best on your book's production ... and a successful launch in September!

  • Maureen E. Doallas

    You made the right choice. The memoir's title, which I like a lot, stands in contrast to the tangle of wires. It's a book I'll look for. Wishing you much success with it.