Update: Colour it is…

This is an update to my post, Judging a book by its cover

May 26th 2012

Dear reader,

Thanks a lot to those who sent me comments and feedback on the book’s cover. It’s really something that has dominated my thoughts over the past couple of weeks–more so than I ever expected. Interesting to see the split in opinions. I got good explanations that have made me think about the issue in new ways. If I ever write another book–fingers crossed–I’ll be much better prepared for Cover issues…

Anyway, a rough count of my Facebook, Gmail and Blog responses show a 60/40 vote in favour of the Black and White shot. I, admittedly, am also partial to the B&W.

And yet, we have decided to go with the Colour shot. Why? In a nutshell, the two publishers–Hong Kong University Press and NUS Press–are STRONGLY in favour of Colour. After a fairly thorough discussion with them yesterday, I have conceded. They knew that I was canvassing opinion online, and so waited for that.

If the straw poll was 90/10 or 80/20, then we might have gone B&W. But at 60/40, it does seem that there are a fair number of people who also think Colour. Incidentally, the two people who have read the whole book–Simon Long and Sumana Rajarethnam–prefer different covers.

Some of you might have seen the book listed on Amazon and other retailers, with the B&W photo. Well, that was the 6-month advance catalogue posting. We’re going to have to change the cover now….boo. Thankfully, we will be able to modify the Colour photo slightly–some of you commented about it being too busy, the wording not being correct. We’re going to fix all that hopefully–not in time for the new catalogue posting, but certainly for the actual book.

I’ll explain a bit more about the thinking below–revolves around book publishing processes, politics of publishing, and marketing. But before that, I’d like to talk a bit about the two photographs, partly cos some of you have asked. Both are from our bicycling trip in 2004, when Sumana and I cycled 1000km around the whole of Peninsular Malaysia.

The B&W shot was taken at Nenasi, a small kampung about 100km south of Kuantan in Pahang. That beach is one of the many gorgeous white-yellow sanders on Malaysia’s East Coast. At Nenasi, we met a young, long-haired Malay chap named Mi, who spends every day fishing off the beach. You’d likely find him standing, facing the ocean, fishing rod by his side. He stays in that shack. He let us sleep in there for the night, after entertaining–or scaring–us with stories of village scooter racing (Mat rempits), drug addictions and AIDS over a bonfire. Might seem spartan, but one of our best sleeps of the trip. I describe our encounter with Mi in the book.

Here are a couple more shots from Nenasi:

The Colour shot is taken on Highway 3 from Kota Tinggi to Mersing in Johor. One of the best things about cycling around Malaysia is that fruit sellers bombard you with goodies. Every single time we stopped at a fruit shop, we had our fill of free rambutans, mangosteens and durians. Perhaps they take pity on parched cyclists. Of course, we realised this only after a few sheepish encounters. The very first few of those were along Highway 3.

Here are a couple more shots from there:

Why are some of our shots in B&W and some in Colour? Well, in 2004, when we were deciding what to leave behind and what to bring on the trip–weight being an issue, since everything had to be carried on our bike’s saddle bags–we opted for one small simple 35mm camera. At any point, we had only one roll in there–so, really, it just depended on where we were on our photo cycle.

In today’s digital age, I’m going to shoot everything in Colour!!! 🙂 Which can easily be modified after…

What were some of your comments about the B&W? Positive: Nice composition, matches the title, breezy, floating, idyllic, classic feel. Criticisms: too academic, stuffy, old school, represents a Malaysia of yesterday, not modern, too “kampungy”.

Comments about Colour? Positive: Eye-catching, colours represent Malaysia’s diversity; more light-hearted, more reflective of book’s tone. Criticisms: Poor composition, too crowded, could be a book about fruits, colour for the sake of colour.

There were many fans of colour who asked if I could use a Colour version of the Nenasi B&W shot (don’t have one). Interestingly, there were also a couple of B&W fans who suggested changing the Colour fruits photo to B&W.

Finally, I will come to the Publishers’ Marketing teams’ comments. They–both HKUP and NUS–are strongly in favour because the Colour cover will apparently draw a lot more attention on catalogues, websites and stores. Also, there is some worry that the B&W photo shows an antiquated “Malaysia”, rather than the modern country it is/is trying to be. So, perhaps the Colour one is more politically neutral. I agree with the first argument, not really the second.

Some of you asked whether I could get a better designer, sketch an original image, etc. etc. Which brings me to my second point. The publisher, HKUP, is not big–publishes only around 50 books a year. It doesn’t have a big budget for design. At the moment, there are about 30 other books that need cover designs. According to HKUP, I am spoilt for choice, i.e. both of my covers will work well; and are better than what other books have to contend with. So, me being struggling first-time author, and it being small publisher, not much wiggle room here.

Finally, politics. As in many other areas of life, I may want to conserve my political capital for bigger battles. As I’m learning, there are many decisions during the entire book production process–How much time for review of proofs? B&W or Colour photos within the book? Do we want to have a jacket for the paperback? How much can we rush the production?–that are essentially mini tug-of-wars between author (no name, first-time author, with little leverage) and the publisher and team, who have limited resources and capacity.

So, if I give a little here, I may be able to take a bigger bite elsewhere.

Lastly, Sales. I want to make sure that the publishers sell out the first run, at the very least–2000 copies. If they don’t break even, it’ll be harder for them–or any other publisher, for that matter–to do business with me again. So, at the end of the day, if they think Colour sells better, I don’t want to really oppose them–even though it is my book, and I can force the issue. From a different angle, if the book doesn’t sell well, I’d rather the post-mortem be about the actual text, rather than a non-marketable cover.

Which is why, dear reader, your comments were really quite useful. There were some 40% of you who wanted Colour–not my first choice–so I’ve decided to let it be. I’d gotten quite attached to the Nenasi B&W shot. It brought back good memories. Anyway, that photograph will be featured in the book’s middle “photo section”.

Colour it is. Will take me some time to get used to it. But that’s life…

2 thoughts on “Update: Colour it is…

  1. Hi Sudhir Thomas Vakaketh,

    I stumbled upon your blog by chance and find your post very interesting. Please keep up the good work.



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