The Cover That Got Me Into Trouble

Reading & Writing

When my third short story collection came out, everyone got confused. The first, ‘City Jitters’, had done well, and my US publisher asked for a second volume, so ‘More City Jitters’ appeared. By the time it was released in the UK the story lineup had somehow altered and it became ‘The Bureau of Lost Souls’.

Now my original publishing team had changed, and the new team didn’t know what to make of the book. It has given the worst cover out of any of my novels (a row of receding heads that did not represent anything from the book) and thrown out into the world – suffice it to say, this volume did not do well.

But first, it appeared as a rather too cerebral idea in a large format trade paperback. This cover took a familiar trope – MC Escher’s staircase illusion – and had bureaucrats marching to nowhere. What we didn’t realise is that the MC Escher estate is incredibly litigious, and threatened to sue the publisher.

It was obvious to me that we were imitating a much-repeated idea, not remotely in Escher’s style, and that you can’t copyright an idea. However, the publisher got nervous and gave in to the estate’s fee demands, paying them in full. The cover was wrong-headed in the first place, and now it had proven expensive.

The best cover by far was produced by the American publisher, who did a terrific illustration – but by this time the book was pretty much doomed – a pity as I always liked the stories it contained.

11 comments on “The Cover That Got Me Into Trouble”

  1. Wayne says:

    Odd that. Now I happen to like the second cover, the one that cost a lot. It along with the title I find appealing.

  2. Steve says:

    This was the first book of yours that I discovered and I have the Escher style cover. Being a lowly civil service drone at the time the title story struck a chord. I remember being taken with the cover at the time.

    It is always one of the examples I cite as to why we need bookshops in the high street. I doubt that I would have discovered you had it not been sat next to the John Fowles books during an extensive browsing session. In fact some of my other favourite authors have been discovered by their relevant proximity to authors I was reading at the time. This would not happen on Amazon etc.

    A great chance discovery.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    Well, that explains all the various covers I’ve seen while prowling the depths of the used and “like new” shops on the web, thanks. Actually, I rather like the far left (not here used as a political turn)cover, although the middle cover is clever, while far right cover (ibd.) seems to me just another genre-identifying jobbie.

  4. Roger says:

    ‘the MC Escher estate is incredibly litigious, and threatened to sue the publisher.

    It was obvious to me that we were imitating a much-repeated idea, not remotely in Escher’s style, and that you can’t copyright an idea. ‘

    Well. I hope Roger Penrose- whose original illusion it was, with his father- charges the Escher estate accordingly. I know he gets royalties from a toilet-paper company which uses his tiles.

  5. The Escher cover was also released in hardback, which I have. Somehow never realised it was the same book as City Jitters 2. (Also, following on from another recent post, I checked and my copy of Full Dark house is the wrong pipe version :-)

  6. admin says:

    Scott, you are officially a geek. In a good way. We need a term for serious collectors of Fowlerabilia.

  7. Wayne says:

    Er, my copy of Full Dark House has the wrong artwork too… And I now have it as the wallpaper on my Phone could I be a Geek To?

  8. Ooooh! I have one of the litigious copies! Kewl!

  9. Peter Lee says:

    I must be odd – of the three I prefer the black one (which I have in paperback) as I think the others look a little too garish and, especially the third, tacky. I also have the book in a boxed hardback edition, signed & numbered (239 / 250). Oh, and I have the “wrong” edition of “Full Dark House” too.

  10. glasgow1975 says:

    American covers always seem tacky to me when compared to the UK versions, sci fi/fantasy/vampire especially always has big breasted women whether or not they feature inside anywhere

  11. Helen Martin says:

    No big breasted women on that one, though, Glasgow, unless you can extrapolate down from that face.

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