A BOOK BY ITS COVERS
It’s kind of an ego trip to look at reviews online of my first novel, originally published in 1964. Most are positive, and it is a delight to find reviewers who read it in their teens and still like it as much, though as one noted: “On Medicare now.” Several reviews referenced with approval the cover art for ANALOG’s first installment of my novel, by Kelly Freas, and his interior illustrations for all three parts of the serial.
I never met Freas until over thirty years later, at a science-fiction convention. His health was in decline and he tired easily in dealing with all the autograph seekers, but his mind was clear and agile. And he was kind to me when I identified myself, eyes lighting up, grinning, and saying how much fun he had illustrating Sleeping Planet. I just wished I’d known he’d be there, so I could take copies of the magazine for him to autograph.
The novel’s fiftieth-anniversary edition is for sale in ebook and print-on- demand versions on Amazon. I check there from time to time to see if it still sells. Pleasingly, it does, though not in the volume it sold in a Doubleday hardback following the magazine sale. I was surprised to see Amazon also listed one of those Doubleday hardbacks for sale today. Original price was $4.95.The dust cover appears a little chewed-up. But they’re asking something like fifty bucks!
The image got me thinking of books and their covers, and the old saw about judging one by its cover.
Doubleday actually sent that dust cover to me for approval back then. Publishers then seemed to take care of their authors. Ironically I only saw the finished product while wearing fatigues at mail call in a Basic Training company in Fort Gordon, GA. Talk about double vision. The book made me a real-life author. The ill-fitting fatigues and screaming drill sergeants made me a lowly puke destined to be punji-stick fodder in an ugly little war far away. It was sheer luck of the draw the Army decided to turn me into an MP and send me to Germany instead.
I was in Europe when I learned Victor Gollancz, a major UK publisher, had secured first overseas publication rights. The Gollancz editor was every bit the gentleman his Doubleday counterpart, and struck up a lively correspondence with me. I was too young and socially awkward to accept his invitation to cross the Channel as his guest for a weekend in his country place. Every time I see a movie featuring one of those English weekends I imagine that’s what I missed: tweeds and stirrup cups and maybe a driven-pheasant shoot.
Paperback sales were next, both in the US and UK. Ironically, I had transferred from Germany to Paris when word came of a German paperback sale. Royalties climbed past ten grand — heady atmosphere in the sixties. And my grandfather, with no health insurance, began to be whittled away by diabetes and ensuing gangrene. By the time I was through with the Army, book money was largely gone and he hobbled on prosthetic legs and a walker, and had hand controls fitted to his old Mercury.
The paperback companies did not show me their cover art before publication. I didn’t particularly like their treatment, But I was beginning to realize the book had taken on a life of its own. My only remaining role was to cash royalty checks.
I actually liked the German paperback cover more than the English-language versions. Always wondered how well my brand of English translated into Deutch. All these years later, the internet offers a partial answer. A German-language version featuring the sixties cover art is evidently available for download. Nothing to do with me; you’d think they could send me a few marks though. Maybe they don’t know where to find me. I lost touch with Doubleday decades ago. There have been various corporate changes.
THE GERMAN PAPERBACK COVER. NOT THE ALIEN PARATROOPERS I ENVISIONED. BUT CLOSER THAN ANY OTHER TREATMENT.
It was interesting to ask the internet algorithms to translate the German into English. The gist of the story was there. No way to know if the original translator had trouble, or if a clever translation was…um…lost in translation by an artificial semi-intelligence.
Somewhere among my souvenirs I still have an original German paperback, scored by silverfish that haunted my library before I left Florida. Maybe someday I will stumble across it.
The next cover is one I never saw until the internet came along. A Spanish version for which I have received not one red centavo. Based on its reported publication date, maybe they secured rights from Doubleday, Maybe there was an author account in New York no one knew where to send. Maybe. Emails to Manhattan and Madrid today get zero reply.
In the late 1990s, I had my first literary agent in over thirty years, who brokered a two-book deal with HarperCollins. Paperbacks, with zero promotion, they landed with a dull thunk and HC chose not to exercise an option for a third. Meanwhile my agent sorted through what remained of Doubleday and negotiated return of all Sleeping Planet rights to me.
Then he sold Lithuanian-language paperback rights. First Sleeping Planet money in years. And not much of it. I never received author’s copies. Maybe they don’t do things that way over there. I never saw their cover treatment until today. You can find damn near anything on the internet.
And here it is. My book has a life of its own far beyond my reach. This cover makes me cringe. There is not one thing that relates to the book I wrote.
Bug-eyed, menacing machine; sexual bondage; ghostly faces carved in stone? What the hell were they thinking? Looks like the cover for a horror story.
If you judge a book by its cover, how do you judge the various iterations, from Manhattan to Madrid to Lithuania? The illustrations seem to have gone downhill ever since Freas. Did anybody read the damn thing before designing the cover?
There supposedly is an audio-book version too. Know nothing about that.
What I do know is I like the ambiguity of the cover art selected by my oldest friend, and now publisher, for the fiftieth-anniversary edition. Available as noted in print-on-demand and ebook formats. If you gotta judge a book by its cover, pick that one. My piggy bank will thank you.