When I first began thinking of publishing The Naked Dame, I thought it would be a cool idea to produce a few hard copies in an actual pulpy paperback format. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, to send self-produced paperback copies to prospective publishers? It would be a nice presentation piece to accompany the manuscript, and it would ideally give the publisher a notion of what the book might look like in published form. I’m probably naive about this kind of thinking, but if I were a publisher (and I have been), I would appreciate the extra effort on the part of a writer to send something unique, rather than just the standard, boring double-spaced Courier manuscript. I’m all into the “little details”—those facets that make any project or effort unique or noteworthy.
Normally, printing up a single copy of a book would be cost-prohibitive and time-prohibitive. You’d have to find a printing facility willing to take on such a minuscule job, and you’d have to fork over an absurd amount of cash to set up the press—a process really suited for large print runs and wasted on such a small one. But! It is my excellent fortune to know Kirk Whitham, creator of the SimpleBind paperback binding system. With this ingenious contraption, you can easily assemble a paperback book, and all you need is your own paper, a quality printer, a nice cutter, and a glue gun. (There’s a little more to it than that, but it really is amazingly simple.)
So, together, we typeset the book to my liking, then tackled some artwork in PhotoShop for the front cover. Because this would be a not-for-sale version of the book used for presentation purposes only, we decided to use existing art from other pulp novels on the market—in particular, the classic Nude on Thin Ice by Gil Brewer, and Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips. That last book is a Hard Case Crime reprint, actually, and wouldn’t you know it, Hard Case Crime is precisely the publishing house I was aiming for. See, I wanted to get my book into the hands of Charles Ardai, the publisher of Hard Case Crime.
Anyway, up at the top right is a copy of the artwork we came up with for this early version of Dame. I share it here just as a lark, and just to give you an idea of the evolution of the book’s presentation. To make a long story short, Ardai did read Dame, and he gave it a long, thoughtful, encouraging rejection. But it was the presentation that made him take notice and send such a thoughtful reply. Because I spent so much time and care assembling the submission package, I know that he felt a little extra motivated to respond to it with similar time and care. I guess I’m saying that maybe this is a lesson for some would-be authors out there submitting their work to publishers. When I was accepting submissions for Dark Highway Press, I was shocked by some of the sloppiness I saw. I received stories that didn’t have anything to do with the subject matter of the book I was publishing … I got blurry, hard-to-read xerox copies of manuscripts that had obviously been through the agent/publisher circuit repeatedly … I received stories that still had editing marks on them from past readers. Lazy! I mean, when you want someone to pay attention to your stuff, at least show them some respect! And show some creativity. Make your submission stand out in some way.
You might ask why I didn’t stick with the original cover for the Amazon and Smashwords ebook version of The Naked Dame. Well, the answer should be clear: In the presentation copy, I’d used two copyrighted images—the naked dame on the Nude on Thin Ice cover and the dude in the background on the Fade to Blonde cover. If I was going to actually sell my work, I’d have to use art that was purchased. So, the result is a fine cover—this time in collaboration with Darin Sanders—that’s original and legal.
I do like comparing the old cover with the new one, though. They’re very different illustrations, and yet the composition is quite similar. Speaks to my basic concept for the theme of the book. But the illustrations almost speak to entirely different audiences: the first one to a more pulpy, ’50s-era reader and the second one more to a present-day graphic-novel throwback audience. I guess it goes without saying that I love both of ’em.