Birth of a Book, Part 2

20130302-073504.jpgOn the process of book cover design, my love of designing poetry, and the challenges of nailing a good cover … For the design of the cover of David’s Inferno, I wanted to create a cover that might cause people to react—my hope (?) is that they would feel uneasy with the lack of a horizon (I was playing around late one night and flipped the bottom photo of the labyrinth upside down), and they would wonder about walking into the woods. . . think Hansel & Gretel (getting lost/no way out) . . . And the best part is the cover still invites them to read the book because the type tells its own story. Check out the cover of David’s Inferno, at left (note the flames of the fire licking the top of the book 🙂 …. . My agent desk copy just arrived yesterday—a joyous occasion.


You can imagine how thrilled I was . . . I sat in front of the fire, drinking a beer, and just propped the book up and looked at it. A LOT OF WORK went into this “project,” for I was the agent, friend, acquisitions support-editor for Hatherleigh Press, designer, page compositor, marketing director, and publicist. Really.

DavidBlisteinandmeinHobartIt has been a lot of fun to work with David Blistein, the author. I consider him one of my closest friends now, and he is a truly compassionate, thoughtful man, who likes to crack jokes and adopt a “bad-boy” persona! We both love the challenge of marketing a book—David was the owner and creative director of one of the most successful advertising agencies in New England.

What we really have in common, is the journey of his book, David’s Inferno. I read Dante’s Inferno in Robert Pack’s class at Middlebury, but I don’t think I was able to quite understand one of the most famous works of literature, due to ‘senior burn-out’ and springtime weather in Vermont forcing me to skip many classes….need I say more?

REUTERS.An edition of Dante's 'Divine Comedy' from 1564 is seen displayed at an exhibition of artefacts from the Vatican Library at the Braccio Carlo Magno in the Vatican.
An edition of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ from 1564 is seen displayed at an exhibition of artefacts from the Vatican Library at the Braccio Carlo Magno in the Vatican.

Dante Alighieri, like my client, David Blistein, was a man of middle age—interested in philosophy, politics, women, and love. Oh, did I say poetry? Oh, yes, and did I add that Dante was obsessed with a woman named Beatrice, who died quite young and left him with a tragic view of life. In mid-life, Dante was exiled yet again, and roamed around apparently writing his allegorical journey through the Nine Circles of Hell (you got it: nine, as follow: Limbo, Lust, Gluttony,Avaricious, Wrathful, Heretics, Violent, Fraudulent, and Traitors . . .). And this is just Volume 1: The Inferno.

When I started to work with David, he had all sorts of book projects—you can read about them here, and Carrot is our next book to sell to the book trade—but there was “this blog,” called “David’s Inferno,” that I was attracted to. Depression is something that effects most of us, personally, or we have a loved one or friend who suffers from the sometimes debilitating effects of depression. The next step in marketing the book is working with NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to get the book trailer on their website, and offer books for sale to help the millions of people in the world who suffer, mostly alone, with depression.

Photograph (C) Beowulf Sheehan
Photograph (C) Beowulf Sheehan

I said, “Give me your depression blog, and we’ll turn it into a book.” And David did not disappoint. He literally poured his heart and soul into this book, and with the help of a fantastic team — editor Suzanne Kingsbury was his first step and she gave him much confidence and support on his own writing journey; then his literary agent, moi; then his development editor for the project, Catherine Adams; followed by more detailed editorial work with Hatherleigh Press’ Anna Krusinski, and support from the publishing team of Andrew Flach (publisher), Ryan Kennedy (associate editor), and Ryan Tumambing. Last but not least, I presented David’s Inferno to the sales team at Random House, and I was thoroughly impressed by how quickly they “got it.”

Not since William Styron’s Darkness Visible, or more recently Kay Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind, has a book made the experience of depression so understandable and real—both for those who suffer from it and the people who care for them. David’s Inferno combines intensely personal reminiscences of the author’s two-year nervous breakdown with contemporary insights on how major depression manifests, is diagnosed, and treated. At the same time, its gentleness and wry humor offer hope that there is a way through the minefield, and real light at the end of the tunnel. As acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns writes in his Foreword, author David Blistein

“has given us all a map and some basic instructions for doing the hard work we may need to summon when the inevitable vicissitudes of life threaten even the most controlled and controlling among us.”

With its reflections on Dante’s own journey through the Dark Wood and fascinating discussions of diagnostics, drugs, and alternative medicine, David’s Inferno goes way beyond memoir to explore depression’s ability to transform our relationships, our creativity, and our very selves.


If you are interested, please watch this beautiful book trailer, with the author and his friend of 40 years, Ken Burns. It is truly a gift—not just in terms of an agents dream of marketing a book, but a real gift—that of love and friendship, and support for someone who literally “went through hell.” Thanks for all your support!

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