On the left is the ‘cover’ (illustration, really, as it will never be printed) of my first short story, ‘Toast To Go’, which is set at Sydney’s Bondi Beach and has a Valentine’s Day theme. Northern Hemisphere readers may be intrigued at the idea of Valentine’s Day in the heat of summer. Having lived most of my life in the Northern Hemisphere, I certainly have a hard time getting to grips with Christmas in summer!
As a self-published author, and a fairly miserly one at that, I have a marketing budget of exactly zero dollars. Yes, I know, I paid $21 for the cover image of ‘Too Close’. And I wasted $30 on facebook ads for ‘Ship to Shore’, but I loved those balloon graphs. In order to cut down on additional costs, I decided to create all the artwork for the first two short stories myself.
First, the bag.
I generally bring my lunch to work, but I needed a supply of those white bags that takeaway (‘to go’ in North America) sandwiches come in, so for one week in January I bought my lunch. I ended up with four white bags (and one brown!) in different sizes. I used a handwriting font to typeset the note that the hero of my story, café owner Dave, slips into the bag along with the toast for my heroine, Jemma, then printed that and cut it roughly from the paper.
Second, the toast.
I had some excellent bread in the freezer. Thick, chunky, multi-grain and multi-seed toast. Very photogenic, I thought. The only problem was that I had just two slices left. With big air bubbles near the top. That meant I had to get the toasting perfect first time around – not too dark, not too light – and be careful in handling the slices so as not to break them near the bubbles.
Third, the oil.
How much oil dripped onto the white paper bag would create the effect of blotched translucency that I wanted? Too much oil would make the ‘window’ too large; too little, and the words on the note would be illegible. There went two of my four white bags in oil tests.
Fourth, the toast again.
In the story, Jemma’s toast is “dripping with butter and honey”. But I feared they would make my photo props soggy, and also stain the bag. So which to opt for, form or function? Function won. The toast was dry.
Fifth, the position.
Toast up. Toast down. Toast peeking coyly from the bag, or thrusting out proudly? Where to put the note? Which words should show? Portrait or landscape?
I spent a good half hour taking photographs of this toast in the bag, dashing after each one from photographic studio (a table in the living room near the window, with a bright even light) to design studio (my desk in the same living room, where my laptop lives) in order to download the photos from the camera and place them in the InDesign file for the cover.
After 15 photographs of toast in a bag, I managed one that fit the design of the cover, showed both toast and note, had no distracting background, and left room for the title and my name.
By now, it was late morning, and I’d been working on this photo shoot and cover design for quite some time. Breakfast was hours ago. Lunch was a vague, distant plan. And there was my edible photo prop, sitting in its bag. Remember I said I was fairly miserly? It was good bread, healthy and tasty. Would have been a shame to throw it away.
So I ate it. Peanut butter and jam will hide even the defects of cold, less-than-crunchy toast.
A later post will be about the cover of my second short story, which is themed around Easter. It’s called ‘The Perfect Chocolate Martini’, and I took the photo. What do you suppose that post will be titled?