Author, Editor, Publisher

Tag: design

The Stephen King Book Covers That Might Have Been

One of my favorite jobs at Cemetery Dance Publications is the day-to-day book production work.

We published two new Stephen King books in 2010: the World’s First Edition of Blockade Billy and the Deluxe Limited Edition of Full Dark, No Stars. Most collectors never get to see “behind the scenes” of the creation of a Limited Edition book, so I thought it would be fun to discuss how the cover artwork and design for Full Dark, No Stars came to be.

If you’ve read Full Dark, No Stars, you know this book has a really dark heart, which made deciding on a cover image and designing that cover a serious challenge.  Plus, we were publishing three editions of the book (Slipcased Gift Edition, Signed Limited Edition, Signed Lettered Edition), so this one book would actually have three different dust jackets.

First, we needed an artist. After much discussion, and once we rejected the idea of going with an AC/DC “Back in Black” style dust jacket, we hired Tomislav Tikulin to paint the cover. We had been impressed with his work on other projects and we felt he would bring a fresh perspective to this particular Limited Edition. We knew we wanted a wrap-around cover painting (artwork on the front cover and back cover) with the back cover somehow “showing the inner darkness” of the character on the front cover, but those were the only instructions we gave him so he wouldn’t be limited by our ideas.

Tomislav spent weeks on the painting, showing us each stage and discussing ideas and looking for feedback and suggestions to nail the tone, and he has very graciously allowed me to reprint those different drafts on this page, so you can get a better feel for the process of how the artwork was created.

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How I Ended Up Working at Cemetery Dance Publications

Since this is a really common question, I thought I’d answer it early: how did I end up working at Cemetery Dance Publications?

In the spring of 2002, I was graduating college, getting married, and looking for a job in the Baltimore area — and I had no idea what I was going to do.  I was graduating with a Communication/Journalism degree from Shippensburg University, but didn’t want to be a journalist.  (Now that’s planning!)

But I had been doing freelance book marketing on the Internet since I was 15 years old (during the 1990s when the Internet meant AOL to most people), which had always been fun, and I had done some freelance work for Rich Chizmar the previous summer — basic marketing stuff, putting together plans to promote a few books, etc — which I liked a lot.

I’d been fascinated by the publishing business since I was a kid writing my first stories, so it made a lot of sense (to me) that I should try to land a job at Cemetery Dance — even though the company was just two employees at the time (Rich and Mindy) and Rich had never hired anyone outside of family before.

Instead of just emailing or calling Rich to pitch the idea, I decided I should make it blindingly obvious that I could help his company immensely so he had to say yes.

I put together a 17 page proposal, complete with charts and graphs, outlining everything I could do in the first year alone to increase the company’s visibility and alert more casual horror fans to CD’s existence.  This was a really over-the-top, well-planned, kind-of-crazy proposal — complete with a presentation folder!

Off into the mail the proposal went… and then the waiting began.

I tried to follow up via the phone the next week. Mindy said Rich was in a meeting.

The next week: he was in a meeting.

The next week: still in a meeting.

(Maybe it was just one really, really long meeting, right?)

Finally, an email arrived from Rich: “Let’s talk about this!”

The details came together quickly, and by the end of the summer I was married, living in Baltimore, and working at Cemetery Dance Publications.

I have no idea what Rich and Mindy thought in those first few months when Kelly Laymon and I — the first two “real” employees as they called us — started helping out, but it was a blast for me.

Everyone at CD does a bunch of different jobs and no project could get finished without the help of someone else. Like many small business, everyone works together and that’s the only way everything gets done.  It’s very much a collaborative workplace in the best sense of the phrase.

In August 2002, I started by packing orders in the basement of Rich’s house. I can’t remember what Kelly was doing at the time… maybe reading submissions and editorial work? My memory is pretty fuzzy now because everything was happening so fast and life was changing in so many ways that year.

In September, we moved to our current offices in Forest Hill.  (There are photos on our website of what the office looked like in those first six months. Some things have really changed, others… not so much!)

Before too long, I was helping with the email newsletters and updating the website and selling ads in the magazine.

Not long after that, the newsletters and website were all mine and I was helping Mindy with customer service, too.

Soon after, Rich gave me my first book project to take through the production process.  This is where things got really interesting!

The small press isn’t like a New York publisher where a bunch of people each have one important role to play during the publication of a book. In the small press, when you manage the production of a book, you might handle ALL of the steps from beginning to end: negotiating and issuing contracts; editing, copyediting, and proofreading; working with the artists and the designers; sending the signature sheets to the contributors; getting review copies printed and distributed; creating the “spec sheets” that tell the printer what materials to use; working with the media to get coverage for the project, etc.

Basically, you take the manuscript and make sure everything gets done to turn it into a real book. It’s a ton of work and extremely rewarding when you hold the final product in your hands.

Thanks to CD, I’ve worked on projects by many of my literary heroes, which is an awesome experience that I never imagined possible when I was a senior in college just trying to figure out what I was going to do next.

Nine years later, I honestly can’t imagine working anywhere else. There have been some stressful times over the years — after all, there are just five of us trying to do all of the work a publishing company does, so 60 hour weeks are just kind of the norm anymore — but the work itself and the people I work with and the readers and collectors I’ve gotten to know so well can’t be beat.

PS: By the way, I’m still running the website and the newsletters and writing all of the product sales copy and announcements, so any problems you see with those are all my fault. Feel free to email me about them. 😉

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