Think of it this way: if you were a book, your face would be your cover. Your face is typically the first thing other people see and, quite possibly, judge you by.
A face can tell someone many things. A face can hint at a person’s age, whether they’re tired or feeling peppy, are they amiable, funny, serious (too serious?), are they inviting, challenging, interesting. Whether someone’s conclusions about any of those things are accurate or not, is up for debate. But it’s a start.
As I write this, interesting questions occur to me: What do you think your face/cover tells other people about you? Does it depend on who’s looking? If you could choose your face/cover, would you want it to reveal who you truly are, or would you prefer to remain a bit of a mystery?
But that’s getting WAAAAAY too deep for this discussion and without a shot of tequila.
As Going to Beautiful continues its journey to the bookshelf, one of the most important steps is the process of deciding on a cover (face). If you think about my question “If you could choose your face/cover…” you’ll probably recognize how important this step is. Unless a new edition comes out for the Anthony Bidulka Retrospective of Old-Timey Books in 2062, the cover chosen will be the face of Going to Beautiful forevermore.
Many authors will tell you they have little or no input into what their book covers look like. This is true. It depends on your publisher. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had a at least some say for all of my books. This goes back to 2002 when the cover of my first book, Amuse Bouche, was being prepared. The publisher had outsourced the work to an outside party who apparently had not read the book but was told it had something to do with a wedding gone wrong. The resultant cover showed two very different sized wedding rings, quite obviously belonging to a man and a woman. The wedding in question was of two men. It was also a dreadful shade of green (who knows why) and I begged the publisher to give me one weekend to come up with a better image. This was right about the time when everyone was getting their first digital camera, which I used to take about a million photos, one of which ended up being the final cover. Yup, the wedding rings, the tuxedo shirt and bowtie, even the bullets and passport belong to me.
With Going to Beautiful, I was grateful once again when the publisher welcomed my ideas to help guide the cover designer. They asked great questions about my preferences:
- covers with illustrations?
- covers with symbolism or messages that are not always glaringly obvious?
- bold design, bold colours, bold book cover vs more romantic, subtle, picturesque?
- simple colour schemes?
- a blank space as the most powerful element?
- floral, organic, nature?
- what type of fonts?
- colour scheme?
- images from the book I’d like to highlight by way of the cover?
Studying some of my prior covers, it’s clear that I like symbolic, graphic as well as atmospheric/moody covers. To me a cover image can be almost anything – a photograph, a sketch, a grouping of words – as long as when a reader picks up the book, it evokes a feeling, a tone that in some way reflects the book’s contents.
Going to Beautiful deals with loss, grief, murder, but it’s also a book about pulling yourself out of a hole, overcoming difficulties, finding your new happy, finding something beautiful where you least expect it to be, it’s a book brimming with joy and hopefulness. Getting all that across by way of a cover is asking a lot. No pressure book cover designer.
Most of the book takes place in winter, and weather makes an important contribution to the setting and mood of the story, so I hope this is somehow referenced on the cover. That being said, I do not want the cover to be one of those stereotypical brutal, prairie, this-is-Canada!, winter scenes, always cold, dark, dismal.
My broad concept for the Going to Beautiful cover would be something that communicates the contradictions and broken stereotypes that are an integral part of the story. I keep on thinking: “cold yet beautiful”, “dark yet bright”, “traditional yet fresh”.
Some covers I am drawn to:
Although I ultimately think anything like these would be too dark for our purposes, I love the moodiness of these covers, and how a piano, a flower, a body of water, typically joyful images, are made to look indubitably ominous and give warning that something serious, something of consequence happens in these books. These covers draw me in, they are beautiful and mysterious, but alas, not for Going to Beautiful.
I love the deceivingly simple, in some cases almost structural components of covers like these. Like The Mourning Wave (above), the poor clare and Few & Far have a wonderful tactile look. The Mourning Wave looks like the book might be wet to the touch, and I can almost believe the poor clare and Few & Far covers are almost like running your hand over rough fabric. With all of them I like that the title is clear, no fuss, no muss, and how the artwork cleverly communicates a sense of the book’s content/ambiance without hitting you over the head with it.
My idea is that the cover be some kind of ice-scape that shows the cool sharpness of ice contrasted with something bright, like a blue of sky or yellow sunlight shining through. Maybe some sort of sun & ice graphic? The concept fits nicely with the storyline. Maybe the idea could be extended using an ice-encrusted window or snow globe somewhere on the cover, but the rest of the cover is bright like Ishiguru’s book above. I’m really taken with the beautiful structure and evocative colours of The Work cover (above). Perhaps something similar that could somehow contrast the cold colours of winter and brightness of the prairie sky? Or merging the two elements, a realistic, tactile window or stormy snow globe on a bed of structured colour like The Work.
The book cover designer is now hard at work. I am beyond excited to see (and show to you, Beautiful Bunch) the face of my new book, hopefully by end of summer. In the meantime, I’d be very interested to see any book cover images that you’ve loved or that stick in your mind long after you’re done reading the book.
As always, I look forward to your comments here and, to newcomers to The Beautiful Bunch, you can join us (and get mercifully irregular updates) by clicking below and sending me a quick message, telling me where you are from.
Hi Tony (you used “Tony”, so I’ll assume you’re okay with your fan friends doing it too.)
Your essay on book cover design got my brain moving this morning. I had never really given it much thought (if any) before. But, how often do I allow a book cover to cause me to at least cast a second glance at the book? After all, isn’t that what the seller of anything hopes will happen with whatever their product is? As you said, sometimes just a clever use of color or texture will catch our eye and cause us to give the object another second of our attention. I get slightly annoyed with myself when a cover is no more than a photo of a scantily clothed hunky guy being used to capture my attention for an extra two seconds. I quickly remind myself that the model on the cover has absolutely nothing to do with what happens between the book’s two covers. But…the cover did achieve it’s purpose. For two seconds. I did notice the book. I hope you realize you may now have ruined me for future book browsing.
Art, I hope you still enjoy future book browsing – it just may take you a bit longer now!
Tony is right. The cover is a key. I’ve also found that the title can act as an enticing, or maybe even an ‘impossible-to-ignore’ attraction. There seems to be no way to add the images and titles of my efforts here. The words alone might tickle your fancy. ‘Wrestling With Rhinos: The Adventures of a Glasgow vet in Kenya’ was the first one. The others abut lions, polar bears, and moose ( I couldn’t resist the title “Of Moose and Men”) appear on my website under the BOOKS link (surprise, surprise). Each has a picture of the animal in question on the cover. I took three of them, the publisher found the polar bear one. Again, I agree with Tony. That cover is vital
Of Moose and Men – love it Jerry!
Title is key. With my first series I chose titles that were quite unorthodox for mystery genre books, in the hopes of telling readers that what they would find within the book is not your standard mystery. I also loved tying the titles to the places/locations my protagonist travelled in each book.