The Guyliner blows his cover

Dating blogger The Guyliner has written a novel under his real name. Justin Myers explores the pleasure and pain behind his first cover reveal

Justin Myers aka The Guyliner: You always think having your name on the front of the book will be the biggest thrill, but suddenly this became the least important thing about it

Justin Myers aka The Guyliner: You always think having your name on the front of the book will be the biggest thrill, but suddenly this became the least important thing about it

 

The old saying goes you should never judge a book by its cover, and while almost everything you need to know about a book will, for better or worse, be foretold on its cover, there’s still a cult of mystery around the best ones.

One thing a cover won’t tell you for sure is whether a book is bad or good, or that you’ll like it. You can be seduced by typefaces or illustrations or run your finger over the blurb and let out an appreciative “hmmm” as you go, but this is the publishing world’s version of a serving suggestion on a box of frozen burgers. I mean, they kind of look appealing – and, my, aren’t the chips beside them just the perfect golden brown, and those peas the brightest of greens – but when you get them home and plonk four shrink-wrapped grey cow discs onto your worktop, you can’t help but feel dispirited.

I’m drawn to books that are beautifully designed but a bit miserable – impeccably styled dolour is my thing – but it wouldn’t fit my book

This is on my mind as I prepare to launch my own range of frozen burgers – no, hang on, that’s not right; I’ll start again. This is what I’m driving myself mad over as the release of my own book edges nearer. The Last Romeo. It’s my very first novel. No, I’m not nervous at all; I’m fine. Why do you ask? Oh, my hands always shake, don’t worry.

Anyway, the book’s arrival is getting so near the cover has been revealed. They call things a “reveal” now to make them sound more exciting, but sadly there is no whipping away of tulle, or drawing back velvet curtains in front of an audience of local dignitaries. Instead it’s just me, saying “here it is”.

It’s odd to think this cover will be wrapped around the words I typed all by myself on a variety of devices, in places ranging from glamorous Paris, or the mysterious and beautiful northeast coast of Scotland, to the more mundane Hammersmith & City line on the London Underground and the now-closed down Starbucks in an empty shopping centre in Bayswater.

A while ago now, my editor, Dominic Wakeford at Little, Brown, asked if I’d had any thoughts about the cover. I had to confess, like a terrible author who wasn’t taking any of this seriously, that I hadn’t thought of it at all. This was actually untrue. I’d thought of little else from the off, before the ink dried on my contract. I could picture the book right there on the shelf and yet, like an anxiety dream or frantic attempt to remember your PIN at the third attempt before the cash machine swallows your card, I couldn’t see the cover at all. My imagination was firewalled.

In desperation, I sloped around the biggest Waterstones within walking distance, tracing my finger along the books as I went. Unfortunately, at the time they were going big on politics and cookery, so I had to contend with a lot of Mary Berry and laments about the post-Trump pseudo-apocalypse.

I made it to Fiction and held up a few. I’m drawn to books that are beautifully designed but a bit miserable – impeccably styled dolour is my thing – but it wouldn’t fit my book. Or would it? Were these books like mine? Was there any book out there anything like mine? There had to be, right? I hurriedly jotted down some faves and sent them off.

The book wasn’t quite finished. It was daunting to see the potential cover ready and waiting, like an entitled boyfriend who crosses ahead of you only to stand impatiently tutting at the other side

I was told my cover would be put together by Little, Brown’s in-house designer Hannah Wood, who already knew and enjoyed my work, which was great to hear and strangely reassuring, but also frightening – what did she like about my work, for example? Did she see me and my writing the same way I did? You generally think you look fine in mirrors until you spend an hour staring into the big one at the hairdresser with wet hair and bad lighting, and realise you look like an algae-covered toad.

The first cover options popped into my inbox three months ago. The book itself wasn’t quite finished and it was daunting to see the potential cover ready and waiting, like an entitled boyfriend who crosses the road ahead of you only to stand impatiently tutting at the other side as you wait for the lights to change. Whether I liked it or not, this was happening; this book was coming out.

Giving feedback was frightening. What if I said the wrong thing? What if the option I liked was the one nobody else wanted? Would I look pushy? Who the hell was I, anyway? I did nothing for 24 hours, before opening them again, side by side, and staring into them. You always think having your name on the front of the book will be the biggest thrill, but suddenly this became the least important thing about it. The weight of everything else, what it was trying to say and do, took over. My editor saw through my initial vague and rigid feedback straightaway, firing back a very kind email which pretty much said, “Rightio. But what do you really think?”

This is my first book. I had to be bold. This matters. Staying on the fence and claiming I didn’t mind, I very quickly realised, wasn’t helpful to anyone. I took control of my own thoughts, picked what I thought was the right cover, suggested a typeface change, and gave comments on colour. If they disagreed, fine; at least I could say it had been a dialogue.

Anyway, they agreed, and, like I said earlier, all I have to do now is say “here it is.”

Here it is.

Hannah, along with the extremely talented illustrator, Paris-based Quentin Monge at the Handsome Frank agency, have created a cover that keeps you guessing and, I hope, makes you want to pick it up. Who are those men? Are they good men? Are they looking for something or running away from it? Who’s the right one? Or the wrong one? What, or who, is The Last Romeo? And is he there, on the cover?

Like the story, there’s light and shade, and while the blurb on the back gives you an idea of what The Last Romeo is about, if you want an actual feel for it, it’s all there on the front, thanks to Dominic, Hannah and Quentin. The most important thing for a writer is that somebody gets you. Between them, they got it, and they’ve made it real. It’s the most surreal feeling.

And the very last thing you notice, as it should be, is hiding in plain sight. Right at the top, my name. Hello stranger.
The Last Romeo is available on February 1st, 2018 on Kindle, and May 31st in paperback

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