The Cover Story

November 19, 2014

"Don't judge a book by its cover."

I actually hope people will judge my forthcoming book by its cover because I really like it. Perhaps the saying taught to children about not judging books by their covers grew out of the reality that people do actually judge books by their covers. Thus, publishers see the title and cover design as among the important factors in selling books. Each time I received a contract from a book publisher so far, I signed away the final decision on title and cover design. Other authors and publishers confirm such contractual lines remain standard practice. Although I signed away control and final authority, I got some input each time.

For my first book, the publisher kept my suggested title, which excited me since I thought it captured attention and interest. They did the cover design on their own, but I thought they put together a nice look that fits the book well. And for the record (since I have often been asked), that is not me on the cover!

For my second book, the publisher changed my title by making my suggested subtitle the title. Unfortunately, this hurt the book since while it worked as a subtitle it made for too long of a book title that no one can remember (so I just call the book by a nickname instead: "confessional politics"). They gave me the chance to suggest cover design features, which they then created. It includes three photos I took that nicely fit the book, and I remain pleased with the look. Although we put the book together in 2010 and it came out in early 2011, it features the two 2012 presidential nominees (of course, one of them was easy to get correct).

For my third book (which will be out next month), the publisher kept my suggested title. I learned a little about framing the title based on the experience of my second book. They also asked me for suggestions about the cover. I gave them a photo I took, which they incorporated nicely into the design.

The image - a selfie as I took it of my own chest - features two stickers that together form an interesting take on politics and religion. While one sticker is a traditional "I voted" sticker, the other is an "I communed" sticker that I made for the Election Day Communion service at my church. Christian Century previously used the photo with their coverage of the nationwide communion effort in 2012. The image nicely captures the arguments of the book, so I am glad my publisher used it. Not only do I feature Election Day Communion in a chapter, but communion emerges as a strong theme throughout my look at religion and politics. These two stickers raise important questions about what is politics and how religion and politics should interact. The book focuses on those issues.