Never judge a book by its cover?
Why not? Given how many books are out there and how many more are issued each year – I think we all need help choosing what to read next. In the UK alone 184,000 new and revised titles were published in 2013. In such a massive market, books need a little help, too.
If a novel’s to be noticed, it needs to stand out from the literary crowd and what better way than with a cover that shouts: READ ME?
I’m fortunate to have a designer whose work does exactly that. Daniel Raven-Clift of HCT Creative is the man who created all the cover images for my DS Bev Morriss crime series and okay I’m biased, but I think they’re brilliant: striking, enticing, teasing classy and most important – they convey the quintessence of the story.
I happen to know that Dan likes my work too, and my clever publishers at Creative Content came up with the brilliant idea that he and I interview each other to discover the other side of the cover story.
Here, I put the questions – Dan’s turn in the next post.
If, as they say, a picture paints a thousand words then a book cover has to encapsulate getting on for a hundred thousand! It’s quite a task. How do you set about it?
Dan: It really depends on the design brief from the publisher. Sometimes I’ll be given specific direction, other times I’ll have a completely blank canvas to work with. If the latter, I’ll usually ask for a summary of the plot and I’ll also have the manuscript to refer to when I’m thinking of ideas. I prefer to keep things simple and, for a novel, I like the cover image to be something that’s both literal and symbolic.
For Death Wish I knew I wanted to have a long braid of hair, which features in the book, but I also wanted to get across a sense of isolation and vulnerability, themes I felt were a strong thread throughout the story. And I really liked the idea of using an image that perhaps isn’t quite what it seems at first glance; to me this felt representative of the series, and maybe even Bev herself.
I usually ‘see’ a cover in my head as I write a novel but I have to admit it wasn’t the case with Death Wish. The plot has so many strands I couldn’t picture a single striking image that ‘said it all’. I love what you produced, Dan, but do you find some covers more difficult to design than others?
Dan: Thank you, Maureen! And yes, some are more difficult. A while ago I designed the covers for some classic titles and these were surprisingly challenging. Partly because I had preconceived ideas about the books themselves which, of course, had an immediate influence on my ideas, but also I couldn’t resist heading to Google to see what other designers had done in the past. This was both useful and daunting at the same time! With a book like Heart of Darkness that’s had countless jacket designs over the years, to think of something completely different didn’t make it the easiest job ever. Hopefully readers enjoyed my efforts!
Are there differences between designing covers for stand-alone novels and those for a series of books?
Dan: Yes, there’s a bit more freedom with a stand-alone book in terms of the general layout of the cover. For something with a series or author style, there will be certain things that have a set look and feel. Like with Bev Morriss series, we always have the title and your name in the same typeface and size, and I work within those constraints so the series has a cohesive feel to it.
Having said that, with Death Wish the publisher and I decided to give the cover a slightly updated look. I think this is important as you have to be mindful of trends and look to see what the general flavour is for book jackets of a particular genre. I think even with some quite subtle changes we’ve given Death Wish a fresh look, but it still feels part of the family.
Does it help when you’re designing if you like the story?!
Dan Yes, it does make the process more enjoyable! I did a cover for a book of short stories – Gracious Lies by Hilda Lolly – which I really enjoyed, so much so that I thought it would be fun to have individual designs for each story.
We ended up using these in the book as an introduction to each one. For the book’s cover I wanted to reflect both the style of the writing and the mood of the stories in one, so the wonderful Carol Kemp did the hand lettering for the title which was all flowing and lovely, and then I made it look like it had sprouted some sinister looking thorns.
Authors are often asked if they have a favourite book they wish they’d written. Is there a book ‘out there’ you’d really like to have designed the cover for?
Dan: Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes — simple, clever and oddly amusing.
If I had to reveal my favourite Bev cover, and it’s a very tough call, I’d probably choose Grave Affairs.
But then again there’s Working Girls, Dead Old, Baby Love etc etc. You get the picture – and so does Dan, every time. Thanks a million.
You can see more of Dan’s designs and my books at Creative Content:
Thanks for reading!