The Art of Book Covers

While researching cover design for my YA novel The Big Deep, I stumbled across a brief imagesbut fascinating film about the cover of The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer: BBC Entertainment and Arts.  It gives an insight into the vision behind the design and the various interpretations the art department at Harper Collins came up with.  This was very much a collaborative process, with the Art Director, the illustrator (Charlotte Farmer) and Filer himself talking about its development and how ‘connecting to the feel of the book’ was one of the most important aspects (although it’s unclear how much input Filer had on the final decision).

A good cover does a lot of work on the writer’s behalf, giving a flavour of the story, almost a promise of what is to come, and I’m all too aware that I don’t have an art director to help steer this delicate balancing act.  I do have Mrs Editor Lady though, and we spent an afternoon looking at YA novels in Waterstones getting ideas of what we liked and didn’t like (original illustrations, striking colours good, generic photographs of teenagers from a distance, gold/silver lettering not so much).

Of course, what we were forgetting was that I’m publishing an ebook, not a paper book, so while many of the considerations are the same, this is not a ‘cover’ in the conventional sense.  What I’m really doing is creating an image for Amazon, where prospective readers will see a thumbnail that will hopefully be intriguing enough for them to read the blurb, then maybe buy the book itself.  So actually, one of the most important considerations is how it will look as a small image.  Will it pack enough punch, give enough suggestion, tick enough metaphorical boxes for the reader to want to know more?  Another consideration is use of colour.  While images on the Amazon website are in full colour, once it’s uploaded to the Kindle it becomes black and white, so it needs to work in this respect too.

I’ve been working with The Illustrator for quite a while now, and we started by discussing ideas.  Visually I wanted something unusual and striking, original and non-generic.  I want it to have a sense of threat too (as the story is a psychological thriller), as well as showing something of the motivations of the characters.  I realise this is a tall order but eventually we had a first draft, which was pretty close.  It did need further development though (luckily The Illustrator is as much of a perfectionist as I am), so there have been many conversations with me saying I think we should include this, and then I think you should take that out, (sometimes it’s the same thing) and she’s been extremely patient with me while I’ve been indecisive, dictatorial and open to her suggestions within the space of a single conversation.

I think we now have a working final draft.  This is the nervy doubt-ridden time while I wait for the finished version, hoping that it will say what I want it to say, worrying how it will look when it’s the size of my thumb nail.  I’ve found one of the best ways to check this is to photograph the illustration, upload it to my laptop and size it right down to check if the image is still clear and the title and name still readable.  The decision making at this point has been if you can’t see something clearly, does it earn its place?

As with The Shock of the Fall, this has been a collaborative process.  I’m sure my experience has been more full of worry and insecurity and rubbing out, but I have been my own Art Director and this level of input and creative decision-making is the thrill of becoming an indie writer.  I have full control over my own work and how it is presented.  I can connect my own vision to the feel of the book, and I will own what I do wrong as well as what I do right.  And that is truly empowering.

Here is a random selection of book covers I love, ranging from classic to contemporary, with varying degrees of success as a thumbnail.  I always love hearing from you, so let me know what book covers stand out for you, and why…

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2 thoughts on “The Art of Book Covers

  1. Can I propose another important area to consider when getting a cover produced? The illustrators’ network and the noise they make. Eg: you have ten great illustrators to choose from (all of them adequate for the job): which one shares their artwork on-line with a big fan base who are salivating at whatever designs they produce next? Pick that one. I believe authors (and publishers) should be leveraging the networks of every individual involved in the publishing process in order to ensure the book spreads. Thoughts?

    1. That’s a good point, and something I had considered. The network of everyone involved in the creative process undoubtedly has an influence on the success of the finished product. I have decided to go with someone I know personally, not just because of this relationship but also because her work is stylistically distinctive. For me the fact that she’s an unknown artist is irrelevant. For anyone working in the creative arena, having people who believe in your work at an early stage is crucial, and I’m hoping it develops into a long term partnership.
      Thank you for your thoughtful suggestion, and thanks for visiting my blog.

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