Behind the Scenes, 7-29-23

Selecting the title and cover design for the Wild Wild East

Selecting the title for a book, as well as the cover, is an important part of the publishing process. It says to the potential reader: pick me up, I’m interesting to read.

Most authors, myself included, always have, what I refer to, as a working title for the book they’re writing. In my case, this gives me a sense of focus and also shows the publisher’s editorial staff the type of title I find appealing. For my first book, my working title was: The Wild Wild East: A chronicle of the Life and Times of an American Investment Banker in Modern Capitalist China. This title seemed to reflect the primary theme of the book: a financier telling the story of how an investment in a Chinese company slowly disappeared through cultural disconnects and business deception.

This title seemed to work for a while, but what I also wanted to tell the reader was how they could avoid some of the pitfalls this financier experienced in China. Everyone doesn’t lose money in China. In fact, many companies generate huge profits there. They just know what to do. Subsequently, as I was about half way through the manuscript, I changed the title to The Wild Wild East: Refkin’s Rules for Successfully Navigating the Business Minefields of Modern Capitalist China. This seemed to better reflect the message that, if you adhere to some basic rules and stay informed, you have a much better chance for success in modern-day capitalist China. Eventually the final title of book was transformed, thanks in part of my editor, into The Wild Wild East: Lessons for success in business in contemporary capitalist China.

Now that I had the title for my book I wanted to have a knock-out cover. My publisher has a fantastic cover design department and they usually nail it when it comes to having the cover reflect the theme of the book. But they also like to receive input from the author to see if we have any ideas. At this point, I didn’t. I was still trying to put together my thoughts. One night, when I was at dinner with some friends, someone asked me what it was like to do business in China. Without any forethought I said it was like the wild, wild east and that everyone should be in cowboy garb instead of business suits. It was bustling, energetic, uncontrollable in many ways, and rules and laws were, to a great extent, reactionary. The only thing missing in Beijing, I added, was Wyatt Earp. It was at this point that I thought why not a Chinese person in western attire? That’s exactly the image I’m trying to convey.

When I got home from dinner I was excited. Even though it was late I went into my office and performed a Google search, looking for Chinese wearing western attire. But I didn’t find what I wanted. The next few days my searches produced the same results. I had almost given up hope, and was starting to work with cover design on an alternate cover when, fortunately, the answer fell into my lap. On that day I was reviewing the picture archives from the Museum of Performance and Design in San Francisco, where I’m a member. In their archives I happened on two photos of a Chinese man in western attire. Both were holding a lasso. Perfect! These photos were exactly what I’d been searching for. I contacted the museum and obtained their permission to use the photos as covers for my book. My publisher loved them, cover design loved them and the rest, as they say, is history.

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