Effective book covers do a lot of work on behalf of the stories they contain. On a business level, they tempt booksellers into placing the book in a more visible location in their stores. They pop out of online catalogues. They attract the eyeballs of readers.
On a more substantial level, they offer clues—both explicit and implicit—about the nature and tone of the story within. They work as shorthand: This story is grim and fantastical. This story is romantic and nostalgic. This story is set during an era when women wore elaborate dresses while walking alone in a field.
On a very non-substantial level, they give writers something to stare longingly at, to share on social media, and to sneak into a more visible location every time they visit a bookstore.
The cover of Lump—which features a semi-squashed, yet somehow still resilient-looking rubber duck on a bare blue background—has done a very good job on all of these fronts. That poor duck has been Lump’s ambassador. Every time I visit a bookstore and ask if it’s okay to sign a few copies, the owners will inevitably say: “Oh, the duck book!”
The fact that Lump is the duck book is all due to the brilliance of Laura Boyle, Dundurn Press’s Art Director. Early on in the process, while the final edits were still happening, I was asked to provide some input on a possible cover. Laura has written about this process:
At Dundurn we supply every author with a ‘cover vision form’ to get a sense of what they would like to see on the cover. We don’t necessarily follow it to the letter, but wherever possible we like to incorporate the author’s ideas.
I felt strongly that the cover should be fairly minimalist, with maybe one object representing the book. I offered examples of covers I liked that worked that way, even if they were very different from Lump on a tonal level, such as the ones for Night Train by A. L. Snijders and Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder. Laura ran with this idea and came back with a version very close to the final one. Everybody at Dundurn loved it. There was one problem: rubber ducks did not appear anywhere in the novel. Which is of zero relevance to anyone except the author, who immediately objected. That prompted an email from my editor, Russell Smith: “How can you not love that rubber duck cover?”
Or, as Bugs Bunny once said: “Don’t be so dang literal.”
But because I am so dang literal, I asked if I could insert at least one reference to a rubber duck somewhere in the novel. After what I assume was a short period of intense eye-rolling, this request was granted, and now there is not only one brief reference to a rubber duck in Lump, there are two.
And one of them is squashed.
Nathan Whitlock is the author of the novels A Week of This and Congratulations On Everything. His work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The Walrus, The Globe and Mail, Best Canadian Essays, and elsewhere. He lives with his family in Hamilton, Ontario. Learn more here.