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Wish For Amnesia

The publisher says:

Barbara Rosenthal’s Magic Realism / Philosophy / Political Fiction / Literature novel, WISH FOR AMNESIA, is a modern-day mix of futuristic fable and historical fact that follows six idiosyncratic characters in New York and Rome from 1968-85, Hippiedom to Halley’s Comet.

It pivots around Jack Rubin, son of Holocaust resistance workers, who develops a Messianic Complex as he struggles to be as exemplary as his father. “His genes alone were salvaged from the wreck.” Jack embarks on a life of politics, anthropology and early computer technology, but is beset by doubt, paranoia and voices in his head. They say he has no right to lead until he has the perfect plan. A troubled relationship with Beatrice, a blind Black performance artist, moves him to marry one of her students, Caroline, stunning, Jewish and disturbed. Caroline grows up in a dismal little town, her character set by rivalry. Jack becomes a tyrant to his family. The artist is named godmother to their precocious daughter, Jewel, and she takes the child to Rome, where they fall in with a nefarious cabdriver, Toto. “Toto shut his off-duty sign and crept along the curb next to the signorine curiose, following behind them several lengths.” Jack desperately strives to fulfill the potential of his father’s sacrificed generation, but when he travels to Rome to meet up with his daughter, as he descends a ramp at DaVinci Airport on the date of a historically infamous attack there, he’s killed by someone he knows.

There are 55 of the author’s images between the chapters (50 “Surreal Photographs” and 5 collages). This extraordinary book has been in development for 38 years, and is due for release Nov. 30.


Nathan says:

This is the actual size of the image I was sent, so a lot of detail is lost. I can’t tell from the cover what the book is about, but then again, I can’t even really tell from the description what it’s about, either. However, I think everything you truly need to know about this book is contained in the last sentence of the description that came with the cover:

This extraordinary book has been in development for 38 years….

This book isn’t the work of a storyteller attempting to entertain a potential audience in hopes of some modest commercial success; this is a labor of love, worked on in bits and pieces over the years for personal fulfillment in between the other demands of life.

As such, is there anything that we can say to make the cover appeal more directly to its target audience?  The author is its target audience — her, and people who know and love her, and will appreciate the book because its hers.

I guess the only advice, then, is to enlarge the author portrait on the back.

Other thoughts? Am I wrong? Or am I right but to brusque about it?

November 21 Update:

The publisher updated with this:

I am re-submitting this cover in higher resolution. Hopefully, this will alter the understandings of your cover critics because I put the description of Barbara Rosenthal’s book on the back cover. I’m publisher of Deadly Chaps Press, and I published WISH FOR AMNESIA because this is the most extraordinary, comprehensive book I’ve ever read; not in the least a book for only her friends and family, but truly for the world. It IS aging skin, the author’s right forearm, in fact — there had been 12 proto-editions over the years; we published these last 6, and this one, due to launch Nov 30, is the Definitive First Edition. The first of our covers was pure white, then aging gradually until this one. I am taking your comments VERY seriously, since so many of you are grossed out by what I found to be extremely intriguing, so I MIGHT change the cover as time goes along, even if the inner text remains the same, but I want you to see the cover as it looks to buyers (at 100% resolution) so here it is again.



  1. Not the sort of book that I would read, but assuming I’m the exception, there is no way someone who would enjoy your book would have any idea what the book was about from this cover. Personally, I get the vibe of disorganization. It’s a shambles, which would lead me to wonder if the writing and/or story might be likewise.

    I think author loves this book and assumes that everyone will. She includes excerpts in her synopsis as though they are treasures artifacts that explain more than words alone are able. At first glance I get a sense of confusion which isn’t appealing.

    I’d go for a different angle, unless Nathan is right about the target audience, in which case it doesn’t really matter.

  2. I agree with Adrian: I can’t tell exactly what is supposed to be going on with the cover, so I will do the best I can.

    At first blush I would say that nothing whatsoever about the cover even remotely suggests the nature and subject the book being described.

    I have seen the scrapbook style used to great effect before…but here it needs to be A. more exaggerated (the elements are just a little too close to being square on the cover) and B. more obviously laying on or attached to a surface. A slight drop shadow would help that.

    There is no imagery that says anything about the book, other than than the insect: but that is so idiosyncratic that only someone who already intimately knows the book would understand the connection.

    The back cover really is a mess, both typographically and visually. I would absolutely abandon all of those logos.

    If, as Nathan suggests, the market for the book is aimed squarely at the author and her friends and family, it really hardly matters at all what she does.

    But if it is not, the entire cover needs to be rethought.

  3. The main question concerning this book, as I see it, is “Are you planning to market this to a broader audience or not?” My first impression from seeing the thumbnail was that this is some kind of literary fiction, since it doesn’t really look like anything; nothing in the description gives me any reason to believe it’s anything else. If this is intended for an audience limited only to the author’s friends and relatives, all that’s necessary is making sure that what’s on the cover is something they’ll like.

    What such a limited audience will like is rather out of our jurisdiction, since you as the author know these people and we don’t. If you’re looking to appeal to a broader audience beyond just your friends and family, we might be able to give you some more advice, but we definitely will need more information; starting with a much bigger picture of your cover. Even then, literary fiction is a rather tough sell any way one looks at it, being mostly in the rather difficult-to-market “art for art’s sake” genre.

    If your target audience is just your friends and family, in other words, you don’t need any advice from us. If your target audience is the rather tiny literary fiction crowd… well, about all we can tell you is to look to other writers of literary fiction who’ve had any success and copy whatever marketing techniques they use. I’m sorry if that sounds rather vague, but literary fiction tends to be an awfully vague genre; criticism can only have as much clarity as the subject being criticized, and the “art for art’s sake” genre doesn’t have much of a reputation for having any clarity at all.

  4. DAMMIT. Somehow, this page got lost and I lost my original post, so I’ll shorten it.

    Using aged crinkled, wrinkly skin as the book’s cover strikes me as wrong in every sense. Nobody runs to wrinkled skin, and the symbolism isn’t lost on me, either, (Holocaust Survivors), but, still. It’s repellent, either simply taken as-is, or when contemplated in the Nazi connection.

    I don’t know why you’d use simple serif and sans, for the font choices. That’s, what, Garamond, or maybe Janson, for the serif; and it’s something like Helvetica or Arial for the sans. Nothing exciting there. If you’re pitching the book as magical realism (there’s a tangent I won’t go off on), why not take advantage of that, and use more interesting fonts?

    I’d redo this. In every sense. I get the skin angle, but without major BPH backing, I don’t see this flying. Now, if the labor of love isn’t intended to sell, then, fine, leave it as is. (Although, presumably, you’re here to get feedback on a cover, so that the book will sell, yes?)

    While “literary fiction” doesn’t have a list of cover rules, like fantasy or sci-fi does, it has some. One of those is that the book has to look “classy,” for lack of a simpler term. High-class. Needs to look good on a coffee table, so people can make sure that those who see it know that they’ve read the latest hot thing. Nobody is going to want to put that book on their coffee table. I think it will not only not attract buyers, but repel them.

    Sorry, but that’s my $.02.

      1. Ron:

        Not supposed to be,, that’s what it IS. Zoom it. I can’t tell if it’s the neck, or the side of someone’s face, AND the neck…but yes. It’s aged human skin.

        It’s extremely off-putting. Extremely.

  5. Wow, this is…certainly one of the more unusual publication journeys I’ve heard of, but that’s not really the question here, so all right. If you want an actual assessment of this cover, can do.

    Start over from scratch. There’s nothing worth keeping.

    -Start with a clean template, rather than cut-and-pasting over another book cover, leaving the word “philosophy” still faintly visible on the spine. Clean up the edges so they aren’t covered with cloning mistakes.

    -For the love of God, get rid of the skin. It’s repulsive. It would make me actively avoid touching your book.

    -Lose all the white boxes. They’re unattractive and the offset angles look like a mistake. Use a background light enough that the text is legible without boxes. (And if you must use boxes, be careful not to clone the gross skin over them, as you did on the spine.)

    -Write a proper, grammatically correct logline, or else leave it off. “A tale of A and B and C and D and E and F and G” is not a logline.

    -A book must belong to ONE genre, not four, but in any case, you don’t print the genre on the book.

    -Stop telling us how long this book to write. That isn’t a mark of quality.

    -Either include the author portrait large enough to see or don’t include it at all.

    -The book cover doesn’t need to tell us where we can buy the book. And it certainly doesn’t need to tell us the names of the distributors, information useless to an end consumer.

    -Nice try name-dropping awards that have open nominations as if being nominated were an honor, but no one is going to fall for it. Lose those, too.

    And those are only the active problems that need to be immediately fixed. None of that addresses the basic issue: Nothing on this cover tells me what the book is about or intrigues me. It does nothing to attract potential readers.

    1. I am certainly with katz on the skin, but that’s hardly a surprise.

      I’m also going to side with him about this next thing–let me iterate that unless the author was nominated by the Pulitzer committe to be a finalist, she was most certainly not nominated. An “entrant” is simply someone who has submitted their book for consideration, or whose book was entered. That is a far cry from being an actual nominee. The only Barbara ever nominated, is Barbara Kingsolver. That simple thing–claiming to be a nominee, when you are not–would prevent me from ever buying the book.

      I’d redo this from the jump. There’s nothing on this that works for me. I’m sorry to sound harsh. But it’s just not a viable, commercial cover. You’ll notice that you actually received, for, very few comments. That’s a sure sign of a cover that just needs so much that the guys give up before starting.

      Good luck to you. I don’t understand why on earth someone thought that wrinkly skin would be a good backdrop, or use all the detritus all over the back cover. Who did this cover? You or the client/author?

  6. From what I’m seeing on the author’s Amazon page, it seems this Barbara Rosenthal has quite a liking for avant-garde abstraction; “art for art’s sake” indeed! To state the problem plainly, the target audience for such material is indeed a tough crowd: just about the only demographic looking to buy avant-garde writers’ novels is… other avant-garde writers. If you’re fine with selling to just that audience (which amounts to maybe just a few thousand people worldwide, of whom only a tiny percentage are interested in buying any books at any given time), a book made to look as if it’s wrapped in wrinkled and varicose-veined old-lady skin might sell fairly well to what little of that audience there is.

    If you’re looking to sell to a broader audience, however, you’re just going to have to swallow hard on any high-minded aspirations to abstractly artistic greatness, and go all shamelessly hardcore-commercial-lowest-common-denominator-mainstream with the cover art. For that kind of marketing endeavor, wrinkled and varicose-veined old-lady skin wrapping is beyond untenable. You really are going to have to start all over from scratch if winning a larger audience for this book is your ambition.

    Either way, every one of katz’s objections to your current cover is valid, though I do differ on a few finer points:

    1) Yes, you need to start with a clean template; a bunch of artifacts from whatever you altered to make this cover are glaring through it.

    2) I don’t know whether katz is exactly part of the mainstream, but certainly any mainstream audience is likely to react the same way to seeing the skin print on this cover.

    3) In addition to being unattractive, those white boxes look extremely amateurish; even the weirdest of the covers on Barbara Rosenthal’s other books at Amazon don’t have them, which suggests she already knows better than to use them and certainly wouldn’t recommend that you use them either.

    4) While your description on the back cover may technically be grammatically correct, it’s what we “grammar Nazis” who take such matters seriously call a “run-on” sentence; it tries to pack a whole paragraph of information into a single sentence. As any English teacher worth her salt will tell you, the description will sound a lot more dramatic and intriguing if you break it up into about three or four concise sentences the way educated adults do, rather than trying to pack everything into one long outburst like a hyperactive child.

    5) Actually, a book can belong to as many genres as you like; for publishing purposes, however, try to stick to one. When a previous guest with a “fantastically complicated story” to tell brought us a cover to be critiqued, his description did indeed make the story sound like it could belong to any number of genres. Nonetheless, he specified from the beginning that he was marketing it as a paranormal romance, and never anything else. Go thou and do likewise: figure out which genre best describes the main conflict driving this book’s story, and then stick to that genre.

    Also, while I have seen a book’s genre listed on its back cover before, that’s not really for advertising purposes so much as a librarian’s notation telling where to shelve the book in question. As such, don’t make this listing so large or put it anywhere so important as the top of the cover. Some tiny letters in the space down next to the bar code box should be more than sufficient if you feel you absolutely have to indicate the genre.

    6) In fact, trying to tell prospective readers what a labor of love something was by mentioning how long it took to write reeks of desperation. Stick to telling them about the content, not the process. When you start extolling the virtues of the producer in place of the product itself, people start getting suspicious that you’re trying to con or guilt-trip them.

    7) No, you don’t need the logos of any of the company platforms from which you’re selling this book (since the vast majority of people already know that Amazon and Barnes & Noble are the main booksellers online these days) and the publisher’s logo only needs to be on the book’s spine. Don’t waste valuable space on irrelevancies.

    8) Speaking of wasting space, once you get rid of all those irrelevancies, you should have a lot more room for the author’s picture if you really feel the readers need to see her for some reason. If that’s what you decide, that picture should go up somewhere next to the “About other books by this author” section, not at the bottom.

    9) Even if those nominations for literary awards were closed and more difficult to get, being nominated for anything isn’t much of a selling point to anyone but professional critics. Virtually no “man on the street” is swayed into watching a movie he might otherwise pass up just by hearing that it was nominated for an Academy Award. The logos advertising these nominations are likewise also space-wasting irrelevancies.

    Beyond katz’s points, I should also mention that the book’s skin covering combined with the lackluster font used for the synopsis and blurbs on your back cover makes it rather difficult to read and a strain on the eyes. Your current smorgasbord-of-clip-art-on-a-complicated-background approach isn’t doing the front cover any favors, but it’s absolutely killing the back cover. Clear out the clutter and try to give us a cover with more unified and immediately accessible imagery that actually looks like it might be relevant to something prospective readers might hope to find inside it if they read it.

    1. This is the most magnanimous group of people I have ever encountered in this lifelong process! Or in any endeavor I have ever endev’d. One of the 1990 proto-editions has an image and font, etc, that might work, if it’s developed into a cover more complete than it was then
      . The design team is going to see what can be done before the (presumed) release date of Nov 30. If we don’t tax your patience, we’ll send that cover to you, too!! I CAN NOT THANK YOU ENOUGH!!! (Barbara Rosenthal (( And Joseph is beside himself with joy, too, but just had a new baby, so is also beside himself with obligations.

      1. Thank you for all you have said, Cover Critics! This is what we are going with for the release tomorrow. We decided to keep these boxes and main font because we do want to reference the published proto-editions, and not make this look like an entirely different title by perhaps a different author. The red rubber stamp we made a sharper angle, as per your advice. It is her logo image for all work in all media, and is always at a slight angle. As you can see, the biggest changes we made as per your biggest crit, the background image and the information on the back cover. When folded into a cover-shape, each segment, I hope, does not look cluttered. We might issue a tweaked version in January, so whatever feedback you would like to give me now, I would appreciate. Here is the new cover, sent separately because I have not seen a way to attach an image to the comment.
        Best, Joseph Quintela, Publisher, Deadly Chaps Press, NYC

        1. Definitely much, much better; the description on the back is much more clearly organized and everything’s a lot less cluttered. Just two things:

          1. If you insist on keeping the text boxes (some sort of avant-garde thing?), maybe don’t make them such a glaring white? A light grayish-blue would be easier on the eyes while still promoting legibility.

          2. Is “Black” really supposed to be capitalized? In the vast majority of contexts, a person’s race isn’t generally what I’d consider a proper noun.

  7. Thanks, RK and katz, et al. We did a small print run with the new cover as you saw it. Barbara Rosenthal has made still more little tweaks of the text, and as some early reviews and comments have been coming in, we will make some small changes to the cover, too, but basically, your comments have been wonderful, and the cover has been radically changed because of them. Thanks again! Joseph Quintela, Publisher, Deadly Chaps Press.

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