The Cover That Got Me Into Trouble
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.