The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 25, 2013

Lee Duran: Sense of humor helps writers handle publishing's perils

JOPLIN, Mo. — When I was a newspaper reporter, readers occasionally excoriated me about the headlines on my stories. I always referred them to my editors, because reporters don’t write their headlines, generally speaking.

Same goes with covers for books. Most authors see their cover after it’s complete, and whining about it does not usually help. Even when the characters on the cover do not resemble those inside, there is rarely anything the author can do.

In one particular case, I was that author.

It was my third book for Harlequin: “One More Chance” by Ruth Jean Dale, my Harlequin pseudonym. With the publication date looming, I still hadn’t received my cover flats — an unfolded version of covers, front and back.

Then I got my shipment of flats and almost had a heart attack. Please remember, I was just a beginner in those days and such things still got to me.

The cover looked absolutely nothing like my characters, especially the man. My model had been Nick Nolte — remember him, back when he was still hero material? Tall, strong and blond. On my cover was this wimpy little guy with wavy brown hair and nothing whatsoever to recommend him.

I happened to see that cover the same day as a meeting of the San Diego chapter of Romance Writers of America. As it happened, the speaker that day was a cover artist. First came lunch, and then came the program. Maybe I’d get some insight.

During lunch, I showed my cover to my friends, all of whom offered sympathy. Unbeknownst to me, the day’s speaker overheard us and asked to see the cover.

Awful, I told him, handing it over. I don’t know how it could be so bad when I sent a picture of Nick Nolte and avocado trees.

“I did that cover,” he said.

I don’t think I said anything. I think I just stared at him in horror.

Then he laughed and told us what had happened. The cover had been assigned to another artist. Before he could get going on it, the artist died.

That’s right, he died. My book apparently killed him. I was rightly horrified.

Only then did our speaker get the assignment. Naturally, it was a rush job, and he had to squeeze it in with all the other stuff he was working on. First he looked for models.

The guys all bulk up before they take pictures for potential jobs, he explained. Normally, he would check out several models before choosing, but this time he had no time.

And he had no idea what the book was about, or that Nick Nolte’s name and picture had ever been mentioned. He got the avocado tree right because he lived in Southern California.

When the model arrived, the artist realized there was a serious problem. “Why do you think I posed him behind the heroine?” he asked. The man looked nothing like his photo.

By then, we were all laughing, and so was he. I apologized for being so critical, and he apologized for the crummy cover, and that was that.

The moral of this story? Pick your battles. When future covers were good, I celebrated. When bad, I shrugged. Stuff happens, and I sure didn’t want to kill another artist.

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