A Story about Designing a Book Cover


If you’re anything like me, when it finally comes time to design your book cover, you have a rough idea of what you want but none of the skills necessary to accomplish it. I’m lucky because I once worked with someone with a boatload of design and marketing skills and she has been my book cover designer ever since. She’s less lucky because I’m a bit of a control freak (okay, a lot of a control freak).

When I eventually finalised the manuscript for my latest book, Project January: A Sequel About Writing, I contacted her to to ask if she would do the cover for this one as well and she agreed. She had also done the cover for Project December: A Book About Writing, which looked like this:

The photograph on the cover is a selection of books from my personal collection that I styled to look interesting. I styled and sent my designer another photograph of a different selection of my books, assuming the cover for Project January would be much the same as the cover for Project December. After all, I reasoned, when you publish a sequel, you want the two books to look like they belong next to each other on a shelf.

So I was a little bemused when this book cover draft arrived in my inbox:

The accompanying message read, “OK, so bear with me here… I really wanted to have a stab at a different feeling cover. Something a little more modern. I have kept the typography very similar. Feel free to tell me to go shove it and stick to the original design, but just thought I would try.”

She also sent me a text message saying, “I’ve been doing some research into book cover design. I have read that strong, bold colours with contrasting graphics are good for catching the eye. And blues and blacks encourage dependability, trust, authority and intuition.”

I actually liked the alternative design and I liked the fact that she’d put so much thought and effort into it. But my designer was at somewhat of a disadvantage in that she hadn’t read the book and I hadn’t told her anything about it except that it was a sequel to my previous book, which I don’t think she read either.

I responded, “It might be a bit too bold and modern. Doesn’t really suit the whimsical, conversational nature of what will be between the covers. It looks quite legalistic, especially the anonymous books. If I had to choose between this and the original design, I’d choose the original.”

She wasn’t bothered and happily went about producing a version that matched the Project December cover. This is the ebook cover of Project January:

And this is the paperback cover of Project January:

Normally, that’s where the story would end. I ordered five copies of the paperback version (one for me, one for my designer as a thank you, one for my grandfather who the book is dedicated to and two for a couple of giveaways I was planning) and waited the estimated two to three weeks for them to be printed and arrive in the mail.

But when they did, they looked like this:

In case you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong, the covers are black and white. It even took me a moment to realise they weren’t right. But when I did… arrrggghhh! When I contacted the printers, they apologised profusely and assured me this was a rare aberration and five replacement copies would be in my hands within a week via their expensive expedited shipping.

They were as good as their word. I thought they would ask me to return the defective copies but they didn’t (perhaps because the printers are all the way across the other side of the world and they didn’t want to spend any more money on books that would ultimately end up being pulped). I wondered what to do with them.

In the end, I decided to call them “collector’s editions”. I wrote pithy messages inside the front covers, autographed them and delivered them to various members of my family. One of my sisters wasn’t home when I called past so I left her copy propped up against the front door. A few days later, she called to thank me and I explained why it was a collector’s edition.

“Oh, really? I think the black-and-white cover looks fantastic!” Which makes three different preferences of three different covers from three different people.

Well, that’s my really long-winded way of getting around to a few pieces of advice when designing a cover for your book:

*When you’re ready for a book cover, find a designer whose previous work you like
*If you know what you want your cover to look like, tell the designer
*If you don’t know what you want your cover to look like, explain what the book is about and ask for a few options
*Trust your designer – if you’ve chosen a good one, then they will have good design instincts
*Ask a few family members or friends what they think about the various options the designer has provided
*It’s your book and ultimately you must be happy with the final design
*The book cover is your “Director of First Impression” – make sure it’s a good one


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