Temporarily Grounded

Its always gratifying when an exceptional book gets the attention it deserves. Walter Kirn's novel, Up In The Air, was one of the best novels I had read in 2001. It's about a corporate down-sizer—someone hired by companies to fire people because they are too cowardly to it themselves—who is trying to attain one million miles on his frequent flier account. It has since been made into an acclaimed, Oscar nominatedmovie starring George Clooney, which enabled the movie tie-in edition of the book to reach a much wider audience.

How it works here at Vintage/Anchor is, at the start of every new publishing season we have a launch meeting to discuss upcoming titles. Some of the discussion is geared toward the cover. Do we want to reinvent? Do we want to focus on a particular audience? Do we want to adapt the hardcover design? We then have a 2-3 months to get all of the covers designed.

Up In The Air was launched on the morning of September 11, 2001, at a meeting that was cut short due to the tragic events of the day. The story takes place almost entirely in and around airplanes and airports. If there was one thing no one wanted to see on a book cover at that time was anything to do with airplanes and airports. So, adapting the hardcover jacket (below) was completely out of the question. No people in flames and airplanes crashing to the ground please. Understandable.
So what to do? My first attempts featured, well, airports and airplanes (what else was there?). Air sickness bags. oxygen masks, cool tarmac photos, and I forget what else. All predictably shot down. This is a challenge I come across every once in a while, where I am asked to avoid the topic at hand. "We're publishing a fabulous book about snooker, but no one in the US knows what the hell snooker is, so let's not reference it on the cover". That kind of thing.

My second attempt was to wait. Wait, wait, wait. Wait for the shock to wear off. Wait for emotions to cool. Wait until the last possible moment. It was a risky, but this book was about people flying around in 747s. After a few months I came back with this cover, featuring some non-gratuitous head cropping in reference to the main character's job:

Don't exactly remember the approval process, whether the cover was enthusiastically received or whether the whole publication had become a no-win, wrong book at the wrong time situation, but patience did pay off, albeit nine years and one movie tie-in cover later.


  1. Beautiful. If I saw this in a store I would pick it up; immediately flip it over to see the design credit and say to myself "I knew it". This has happened to me so many times I stopped counting: sometimes it's a color; other times an image or a crop but it's always John Gall.

    What a great design, thanks for sharing; I love that the FA is pointing out exits.