Fancy book design has "Toyer" author fuming

The 12 different covers for Gardner McKay's first novel wowed design award judges, but he hates them.


Craig Offman
August 5, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

The July/August issue of the glossy magazine I.D. offers, for those in the know, a prime example of the classic conflict between writers and the artists who design their books. The issue dispenses awards for "design distinction." Knopf won for the jacket art of Bret Easton Ellis' novel, "Glamorama," and Little, Brown snapped up an award for its inventive packaging of Gardner MacKay's thriller, "Toyer." The novel -- about a lobotomist who performs his handiwork on a dozen female captives -- features 12 different covers, each a head shot of a different young woman. Designed by LB creative director Michael Ian Kaye, the multiple covers earned the wrath of the author and booksellers alike when it shipped last January.

"You should know that he absolutely hated the covers," MacKay's agent, Roger Jellinek, told Salon Books. "And if he calls you back, be prepared." (MacKay ultimately wasn't available for comment.)
The author wasn't alone in his vexation. "It was mostly a nuisance factor," said Bob Contant, the co-owner of St. Mark's Bookstore in New York. "The publisher wants you to face it out," he said referring to the retail practice of shelving books so their front covers face outward, not their spines, "but it's difficult in stores where every inch counts. You want to be equitable to a book. We found this one a true inconvenience. Affected variation of a book's design just doesn't work. It makes a splash in the design world, but it doesn't work." Perhaps the verdict from Powell's Bookstore in Portland, Ore., was even more damning: None of the four employees Salon Books spoke to, including one who worked in the thriller section last January, could remember the book.

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But designer Kaye counters that, if anything, the 12 covers did the novel a great service. "We were trying to make a buzz about a book that wouldn't otherwise get attention," he told Salon Books. "Little, Brown put in a big commitment, with an objective to get a little more space in the stores." According to Kaye, Gardner offered a lot of criticism and a lot of antiquated ideas. Kaye said that the Hawaii-based author complained that, "these women ain't pretty enough."

Kaye also told Salon that the author sent in a mock-up of his own cover idea, in which the Y in "Toyer" was a silver scapel -- the book's fatal instrument. "Using the murder weapon on the cover is Design 101," sighed Kaye, who thinks MacKay will be happier with next year's mass-market cover for the novel, which features a body bag's zipper on the Y. "That's what he wanted."


Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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