Grist. “What a great title!” I’ve heard this repeatedly, along with, “what a beautiful image!” What else can people say as a book is launched and before they have opened it? Of course, despite sage advice to the contrary we all judge books by their covers. We know it, and “they” know it, and everyone in the book business knows it. This is why the title and the cover are such a big deal for publishers. I have had experience with small, medium and large publishers and with everyone the look of a book is critical.
I have long (I mean for about 15 years) thought Grist would be a wonderful title for a book. At one point I thought my second novel would be called Grist but the central story moved off in another direction. Both my first two novels had their titles changed after long discussions. Publishers just didn’t like my working titles. They were too this or not enough that. I capitulated in both cases bowing to their superior knowledge and more extensive experience in the business. Several years ago I was talking to a publisher who asked me what I was working on and when I told her she said it sounded great but of course the title would need to be changed because no one knows what “grist” means. Not this time, I thought. Not again. I’m using that title!
Luckily I found a terrific publisher (Roseway, an imprint of social justice publisher, Fernwood) who embraced the title and the book whole-heartedly. So Grist it is! What I love about this word is that it is very much a 19th century word so it immediately helps set the period. It is true that few people would be able to define the word with precision. All that is left for most of us today is the expression “grist for the mill.” In fact, grist is simply any grain that is destined for a mill. Anything that goes into the stones is grist. What distinguishes a handful of oats from a handful of oat grist is an intention. This oats is not earmarked for sale or fodder or seed; it is earmarked for the mill. It is grist. For the mill. It may be ground into flour (a sifted product) or meal (not sifted). The word embodies the ideas of grain, milling, fate, and choice simultaneously. Penelope MacLaughlin, my protagonist, is also noun, verb, and an idea. She is the subject and the object. The mill provides her with a living, a home, a place for her family, an identity, but the mill is also her nemesis, her enemy, her destruction. She grinds and she is ground. “I married Ewan MacLaughlin of my own free will,” she says. All through the novel she makes choices within the confines of her milling life. As she says to her granddaughter: “Perhaps it is God that grows the grain; I leave this to you to ponder. But it is man who determines which kernels will be planted as seed and which will be hauled to the mill for grist.”
That is the title; now what about the cover design? Choosing the cover image is one of the really delightful jobs of publishing a book. Once the heavy lifting has been done and we are down to more clerical types of editing and publicity duties, the first cover designs are floated. In the case of Grist I received five very different cover designs to consider. One I didn’t like, two were lovely, and the last two were intriguing. The one I didn’t like was easy to discard. The two lovely ones I sat with for a while but ultimately they were simply too static. They looked like the story was already over and everyone was living happily ever after. With only a slight tug to the heart I let them go. Then Bev (the publisher) and I began debating the relative merits of the final two. The images were 1) a technical drawing of a waterwheel and 2) the cropped image of a nineteenth century woman (which we ultimately chose). We went through many versions of each. I loved the waterwheel diagram but in the end I thought it would not be as likely to attract the reader I thought would most enjoy the book. The cropped woman is not conventionally pretty, just as Penelope is not. The image is off-centre and the top half of her face and head are out of the frame. It puts the woman in the “wrong” place. This contributes to a sense of unease—something is wrong. It suggests movement and troubles but also strength and a powerful female presence driving the novel.The cover of a book calls out to its readers and I wanted my cover to be calling in precisely the right pitch. I think the cover’s sepia colouring, the 19th century dress, and the off-centre cropping give a very accurate representation of the story. Although I was sad to see the waterwheel drawing go, we were able to use the image elsewhere. It is reduced in size and you can find it reproduced at the start of each chapter. Of course in addition to the image and the title the front cover must feature to author’s name. In my humble opinion, it all looks terrific. But then as any writer will tell you, when a book finally has your own name printed on the cover it is hard to see it as anything other than absolutely gorgeous!
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Follow the Rest of the Tour:
Monday, April 14
Interview & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, April 15
Review at Reading the Past
Guest Post at Closed the Cover
Wednesday, April 16
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Thursday, April 17
Guest Post & Giveaway at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Monday, April 21
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, April 22
Review at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, April 23
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Thursday, April 24
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Friday, April 25
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection